Vermont Sourdough – Redux & Step-by-Step

Since I decided to skip the next two breads in the challenge, these being the challah (yet another egg bread and one I’ve done before)  and the Ciabatta (again, previously done) I decided it was time to get me some tasty sourdough. Since I was on my own that week (Punkin being off visiting the ‘rents for their 50th) I decided to spoil myself. I also decided I’d follow the pattern I’ve been doing for the last few weeks and do the step-by-step thing.

This Vermont Sourdough is now somewhat of a “classic” recipe and is from Jeffrey Hamelman’s tremendous book Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes. This is another book that should be “mandatory” in a bread enthusiast’s library. Aside from recipes, as with the BBA, the book is chock full of great info that teaches you more than simply “how to make this or that bread” but gives you the technical knowledge to help you learn what’s going on with your breads.

Be sure to click the image to order it from Amazon if you don’t already have a copy.

So here we go, grab a coffee or whatever and follow along.

First, the now mandatory “Mise en Place”:


As you can see, the ingredients list here is pretty simple: flour, salt, water and some form of leavening, in this case, a shot of Audrey-2.

I should point out that the kosher salt went for a fast spin in the coffee grinder before it was actually added to the dough since it’s got rather large flakes. And you’ll want to weigh the Kosher salt to match whatever the recipe calls for since a teaspoon of Kosher is going to be somewhat less salt than a teaspoon of regular table salt.

I got the starter going the night before so I’d have the required amount to add to the recipe. Jeff says to make the starter up 12 – 16 hours ahead of time and use his formula which is about a 125% hydration starter, a little wetter than Audrey is. I never use all my “mother” starter in a batch and then just hope I remember to keep some. I always make what the recipe calls for separate from a regular feed of the starter, unless the “discard” is enough to supply the recipe. Currently Audrey is on a 15g/30g/30g feed cycle so I’d have at best 60 g of starter to add to a recipe. This recipe wanted 334 grams (11.8 oz) so I built that up separately from Audrey.

The next step, done on day two after the starter has shown it will expand well, we add all the ingredients into the stand mixer bowl, except the salt.

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Give the mess a good spin  at low speed (#1) just long enough that you get a “shaggy mass”.


Next we cover and let rest for 20 – 60 minutes (autolyse).


At that point, we sprinkle the salt over the dough and mix for a couple of minutes more at speed #2.

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At this point, the dough should be about 76ºF which is spot on for us here.

Next we let the dough rise or bulk ferment for 2.5 hours.


So into the tub it goes with its shower cap.

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During the bulk ferment, we take the dough out every 50 minutes (so three times all together) and do a Stretch and Fold.

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… and then back into the bowl for a while longer.img_0199800

At the end of the 2.5 hours, it’s time to get the dough shaped into the final loaves.

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I’ve divided the dough in two and formed two normal batards. Not shown (because I only have two hands and can’t take photos): the dough is rolled and the skin tightened so we have good tension. Here, the seam is on the bottom. I can now transfer this to the couche.

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I place the cloth onto a tray so I can transport everything afterwards. Note the cloth has been very generously coated with a mix of 50% rice and 50% all purpose flour. The rice flour is the “secret” to the dough not sticking to the canvas. The first loaf is placed towards one side with enough cloth remaining on the right to cover it in a bit.

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I then create a fold with the cloth to the left so that the next loaf can push against the first without actually touching. I’ve now added the second loaf and used that little extra cloth to cover the right hand loaf.

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I now take the remainder of the cloth and snugly wrap across both loaves. There’s plenty of cloth left to do a third loaf if I had one. I simply fold over the remaining cloth on top to keep it all neat. The loaves are now snug together and somewhat tightly held by the couche so they can expand more up as opposed to sideways.

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Now I place the tray and couche inside a plastic bag so the dough won’t dry out. I’m not worried about “food grade plastic” here because the bag doesn’t get into contact with the dough at all. The bagged loaves are then placed into the refrigerator (which happens to be 45ºF – I checked!) and they’re off to sleep for “up to 18 hours”. You’ll want to clear a spot out first… I had to do some rearranging in the fridge to get enough space!


The next day, about 14 hours later…


I get the tiles into the oven and fire it up to 460ºF. The tiles get a good 45 minutes of pre-heating.

Nearing that time, I take the bread out of the fridge and unwrap it.

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While proofing slowly, the yeast in the sourdough have expanded the loaves considerably and the lactose have had a chance to produce a nice flavour. As you can see, the dough surface is rather tight.

Not shown: actual transfer of the loaves from the couche to the peel. Again, I blame it on lack of multiple hands.

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Using my serrated tomato knife, I give the loaves what I hope are good, solid slashes, deep enough without being too deep. I won’t know until they’re baked so it’s always a bit of a crap shoot. I do not profess to being at all good at slashing. These loaves are now headed into the hot oven.

Not shown: placing the loaves, adding a cup of boiling water into the cast iron pan at the bottom of the oven. Warning: when adding water to the oven, cover your oven door with a cloth or, in my case, a piece of cardboard, so you don’t accidently drip water on the hot glass and shatter your oven door! I did have cardboard (I keep it handy for this) and accidently DID spill a good splash of water on it. Had it been the oven glass, I probably would have been ordering a new door instead of baking bread.

About 10 minutes in, I take the cast iron pan out, the steam part is done.

At the 20 minute mark, I go in and give the loaves a switch, the front to back, the inside to the outside. Sorry, no pics.

And at about 40 minutes, I test and the loaves have reached 195ºF inside. Out they come and voila:


I let it cool for about 45 minutes (yes, I managed). Then I pretty much ate half of one loaf.

And, to close, here’s a crumb shot:


And there you go, a lovely loaf with a good, crunchy crust and a not too sour tang. Awesome with cheese or, well, pretty much anything that won’t wilt when paired with a bread with a decent amount of flavour.

It will be interesting to see how the BBA sourdough recipes compare. I haven’t tried them yet and will likely hold of until their turn in the challenge. Probably.

As you saw, this was a rather easy bread to make so if you have some sourdough starter that’s developed a fair bit of character, give this a try. I’m sure you’ll love it too! And if you don’t have the book, order it now, you’ll find it will build up your technical knowledge of bread making as well as getting a lot of really good breads out of it.

Coming up next:

Another BBA Challenge bread: Cinnamon Buns!!

7 Replies to “Vermont Sourdough – Redux & Step-by-Step”

  1. Hi Paul,

    Great bread pics and instructions.
    I am making this SD for the first time and for now it’s looking good 😀

    I have a question for you: Where did you buy the tiles you have in your oven? are those quarry, unglazed tiles? I’ve been looking for them for a while now and all I found was thick fire bricks that would take way to long to heat up.


    1. They’re unglazed porcelain tiles from Home Depot. ~$3 for the 12″ X 12″ and ~$2 for the 12″ X 6″. They are about 1/2″ thick so aren’t going to be that great at holding heat but it’s certainly better than nothing.

  2. Paul,

    I hope you can help me. My bread didn’t come out as great as yours.
    I left if for 8h in the fridge, but it didn’t rise at all, then in the oven it had some rise but well nthg great. It looks like my 3rd attempt to bake with sourdough was unsuccessful.
    I don’t know what I do wrong, maybe it the starter. It was just 7 days old, but I fed it every 12h. as Hamelman instructs. How long should I wait till the starter is really ready to use?

    I will appreciate any comments.
    Thanks a lot.

    1. Hi Polox,

      Your starter at 7 days is really awfully “new” and not exactly as strong as it can be, nor has it had time to develop much character – that will come over the next few weeks or months, depending how often you let it grow and feed outside of the refrigerator.

      How to tell your starter is ready? When it’s consistently doubling in size – or bigger! – at every feed within 4 to 6 hours. If it was not able to double itself after each feed, it won’t be able to raise your bread.

      Take a moment to read over the Starter Step by Step section. Although it’s not precisely the Hamelman method, it should still show you what an active starter can look like.

      If you have other questions about the starter process, please don’t hesitate to ask, although it would be great to do so over in the Starter section itself in order that your questions and answers can be where others will be most likely to see them.

  3. Paul,

    great thanks for the links! I read everythg and it really helped me understand the whole process of building a starter.
    Your blog is so helpful, I will keep reading it.

    So, my starter needs some more time to mature and then I can try again:D

    I feel very positive about it. Thanks a lot!!

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