One of the things that puts people off baking at home is the amount of time that it seems to take. Everyone loves the smell of freshly baked bread, and the idea of baking your own loaves, but the time involved can seem overwhelming. That is the attraction of bread machines and ‘quick loaves’ I suspect, but the danger is that the disappointment that frequently ensues from the resulting loaves puts people off altogether.
For sourdough loaves that might need to prove for up to 8 hours it can seem difficult to imagine just how anyone with family or work commitments could possibly fit it in to their lives. In this blog I will work to dispel that fear.
In fact sourdough is substantially easier to fit around a busy life than yeast-based loaves. The timings are considerably more flexible. The main trick is to plan ahead. It is clearly not possible to decide in the morning that you would like a fresh sourdough loaf for lunch unless you already have a dough mixed and proving.
What follows are a couple of different suggested timetables for sourdough baking. They follow the same principles used in the other tutorials. Have a look at the slashing and baking  tutorial for a description of baking a 100% sourdough loaf, and have a look at the proving tutorial  for a description of proving and using the fridge. I have given timings for Saturday baking, but obviously you can adjust them to suit your own life and when you have time to bake.
1. Basic timing (this produces a loaf in the evening, and requires you to be around during the day)
- Friday morning - refresh starter - leave for 24 hours (if starter has been in fridge you will need to refresh on Thursday, then repeat on Friday)
- Saturday morning ~8am - mix dough (three quick kneads over thirty minutes)
- Fold at hourly intervals until dough has plenty of air bubbles when slashed (eg 9am, 10am, 11am)
- Shape (~12midday) and place in proving basket
- Bake (~4pm)
- Let cool after baking for at least 3/4-1 hour (ready ~5.30-6pm)
The above timetable gives the most reliable and consistent results, but has the disadvantage that it produces a loaf in the evening, and needs you be around the house (even if in and out) for much of the day. I don’t manage it that often.
2. Using the fridge for a lunchtime bake
- Thursday morning - refresh starter
- Friday morning - mix dough before work (3 quick kneads) then put in the fridge during day
- Friday evening. Take dough out of fridge, and fold at hourly intervals until dough ready to shape (usually 2 or 3 folds). Shape. Put dough back in the fridge
- Saturday morning. Take dough out of fridge. Leave to return to room temperature and rise (depending upon room temperture it will need between 2- 4 hours out of fridge). Eg if out of fridge at 8am, baked at 11am, ready to eat 12.30-1pm
The above is reliable and effective, and has the advantage of a fairly long period of dough development in the fridge giving a more intensely sour flavour (the version below extends this even further). It can be a bit tricky to get the timing of baking right after the dough has come out of the fridge. The overnight prove is perhaps equivalent to 2 hours of proving at room temperature, but the dough has to return to temperature in the morning before it will rise.
3. Extra sour flavour (3 day sourdough)
- Wednesday morning - refresh starter
- Thursday morning - mix dough - put in fridge
- Thursday evening - couple of folds at hourly intervals - back in fridge
- Friday morning - shape, back in fridge
- Saturday morning - take dough out of fridge, let rise, bake (eg out of fridge ~8am, bake ~11.30 ready to eat ~1pm)
4. No time sourdough
- Thursday morning - refresh starter
- Friday morning - mix dough, put in fridge
- Friday evening - shape - put in fridge
- Saturday morning - Turn on oven when you get up, and take loaf out of fridge bake as soon as oven warmed up. Eg 8am oven on, bake 8.45, ready to eat ~10.30
If life is busy it can be hard to even find the time to fold dough after work. You can also reduce the wait in the morning, by baking as soon as the oven has warmed up. This schedule involves a minimum of time, and will produce a great tasting sourdough loaf, albeit the structure of the loaf won’t be as good. The loaf is a bit underproved, but it doesn’t matter too much.
If you have small children (who drag you out of bed early), or are a natural early riser, then it is possible to have bread for a late breakfast using this schedule.
5. Breakfast loaf
Having a fresh loaf ready to eat first thing is tricky. Given that you need at least 3/4 hour to warm up your oven, 3/4 hour to bake, and 3/4 hour to cool before eating, it is hard to have a loaf baked in time. So if you turn the oven on at 6, you can have a loaf ready to eat by 8.15.
You also need to have dough that is proved and ready to bake. There are a couple of ways to achieve this
- Set your alarm clock for 2.30 or 3, drag yourself out of bed and get your dough out of the fridge. (This is really only suitable for extreme enthusiasts, or for those whose bladder or small children wake them anyway)
- Let the dough prove slowly at a cool temperature ~8-10C (warmer than the fridge, but cooler than normal ‘room temperature’). This way you can leave the dough out overnight, and it will probably be about right by morning. (In Melbourne I can do this in winter on my balcony, but it isn’t possible in the warmer months)
- Bake the loaf from the fridge (as in the no-time schedule). This means accepting a less than perfect crumb structure, but being compensated by fresh bread for breakfast, without needing to get up in the night!
Of course the above schedules are only a couple of possible permutations. There are all sorts of variations that you might need depending upon the activity of your starter, the temperature where you are baking, and the recipe that you are using (not to mention the pressures of life, family and work). They are really just designed to illustrate how flexible sourdough baking can be, and how it can be adapted to ordinary life.
Next time - understanding and adapting sourdough recipes…