The Hands-off Sourdough Approach for Busy People
There are occasions when my work schedule means I am out of the house for twelve or more hours a day. In this article, I’ll explain how I maintain sourdough baking easily during these busy periods.
Baking using this type of method reminds me that sourdough doesn't need to be complicated. Using strong bread flour and maintaining a decent fermentation means we don’t need to spend time stretching and folding, laminating, or kneading.
For this process to work we need to use strong bread flour with a protein content of 12% or above. I have found that a hydration of 70% works really well for the flour that I am using.
Once we have the flour and the hydration dialled in correctly, the dough will build strength through the fermentation period. Once mixed we don’t need to manipulate the dough to build strength.
It is really important to get the hydration spot on for this recipe. Different flour absorbs different amounts of water so you may need to tweak the hydration a little depending on how thirsty your flour is. A sourdough recipe calculator will save you time and avoid the possibility of making mistakes.
Managing a Hot and Humid Kitchen
During the filming of the YouTube video that accompanies this article, my kitchen temperature fluctuated from 14 to 18 degrees Celcius. This temperature is perfect to leave my sourdough starter and the dough unattended at room temperature for long periods without checking in on it.
If your kitchen is too warm then you will need to manage the temperature. In the video (you can watch it at the bottom of this page) I show you how you can use a cool box and ice blocks to create a cool chamber for fermenting your dough.
Experimenting with different sizes and quantities of ice blocks helps in regulating the temperature. I prefer using the cool box for the bulk fermentation as the dough isn't too cold and still proofs nicely. The trick is to find the right balance, the cool box is cool enough to enable the dough to ferment without the risk of it over proofing.
I find that the bulk fermentation stalls too much if I place the dough in the fridge. But the fridge works perfectly for the end of the final fermentation while the dough is in the basket.
If you are struggling with warmer temperatures you can use cold water to make your dough. This will drop the temperature of the dough and extend the fermentation a little.
You can also place your starter into the fridge just before it peaks. When you make your main dough you can use the starter cold from the fridge. Again, this will drop the temperature of the dough.
Reducing the amount of starter that you use in the main dough will also extend the fermentation period. Using a recipe calculator is helpful as you can play with the amount of starter while maintaining the target dough weight and hydration.
I am in the process of plotting fermentation times to create a guide too. I'll add this to the calculator once it is completed. If you've downloaded the calculator you'll be notified when the chart is complete.
There is no magic formula for managing the fermentation and you can use a combination of the suggestions I have given you to manipulate the fermentation times.
The hands-off sourdough recipe and schedule
My first step is to feed my starter and I am currently using the scrapings method. You can read more about this method here on the website.
During these cooler months, I am able to feed my starter between 20:00 to 21:00 in the evening and it is ready to go the next morning.
This means I can make my dough before I go out to work. It only takes about 5 minutes to bring the dough together. I cover the bowl and leave it out at room temperature until I get home twelve hours later.
Using strong bread flour and a good fermentation period means we don’t need to knead, stretch, fold or laminate. The gluten will develop over time.
When I get home I shape the dough and place it into the sourdough proofing basket. I leave the dough in the basket on the kitchen worktop for a couple of hours to begin the final fermentation. Before I go to bed I place the basket uncovered into the fridge.
From this point onwards I have a big window to bake the sourdough. If I’m at work the next day I can bake it when I get home the next evening. If the following day is Saturday and I’m at home, I bake it first thing in the morning so we have freshly baked bread for breakfast.
This is more of a routine than a method. Managing the temperature and the amount of starter used in the recipe is key to making this work.
I found that experimenting over the weekends meant I could keep an eye on the process. The key is to manage the bulk fermentation so that it’s happening while you are out of the house.
This recipe makes 750 grams of dough
Times & temperatures
My kitchen temperature: 16c / 60f
Oven temperature: 220c / 430f
Oven setting: Bake mode (top & bottom heat with the oven fan turned off)
Bake time: 20 minutes covered, 30 minutes uncovered
Recipe & Method
98g Sourdough starter
1. Add 256 grams of water to a bowl and add 98 grams of active sourdough starter that has recently been fed and peaked.
2. Mix the starter and water together. You don’t need to dissolve the starter completely, it will break down during the fermentation
3. Add 9 grams of salt to the bowl and mix with a spoon.
4. Add 387 grams of strong bread flour with a protein content of 12% or above to the bowl.
5. Bring the mixture together with a spoon. With a wet hand, work the dough together until there are no dry bits of flour. The dough doesn't need to be completely smooth but all the ingredients need to be well combined.
Aim for a fermentation period of 10-12 hours. There is no need to stretch and fold the dough, a combination of strong bread flour and time will build strength in the dough.
6. Once the bulk fermentation is complete it’s time to shape. You can see how much the dough has increased in volume in the video below.
I shape the dough into a rough ball. Dust the top lightly with rice flour and flip it over.
The dough is rolled up into a large cylindrical shape while tucking in the ends of the dough to keep it neat and tidy. I pinch the seam closed.
The dough is rolled in rice flour and placed in the basket with the seam facing upwards.
7. I leave the dough in the basket uncovered on the worktop for about 2-3 hours for the dough to begin its final fermentation. You can see how much the dough has increased in volume in the video below.
I place the basket in the fridge uncovered to finish its final fermentation. The dough can be baked the next morning or the following evening.
8. When it is time to bake I preheat my baking stone and oven to 220c or 430f. I slide the dough onto the baking stone and cover it with a large pot. The bread is baked covered with the pot for the first 20 minutes. I remove the pot and continue to bake for 30 minutes at 220c / 430f.
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