Thursday, September 16, 2021

Parmesan Sourdough Bread



There are breads that make you pause, take a breath, and give it a thought. 

Breads that make you understand that life is full of wonderful moments. 
Breads that feel like a golden sunset over the Hudson river at the end of a long work day, or that bike ride when you forget about everything, press on a pedal and fly. 
This is one of those breads. It's strong and chewy and malty just as sourdough bread is supposed to be; it’s laminated with tiny bits of Parmesan; it's adorned with a layer of crispy cheesy crust. And when you take a bite, OMG, all of that comes together in a symphony of umami flavors.

For a long time, I’ve been baking this Parmesan sourdough based on the formula in my "bread_calculations.xls" spreadsheet (the kind of thing every techie baker uses I guess, with measurements that are updated automatically depending on the quantities and the type of flour you are using, or ambient temperature). My spreadsheet is all it takes and I never took time to sit down and write a proper recipe. But I recently posted the pictures of this bread on my Instagram page and several folks have reached out and asked for instructions. So, I guess the time has come. Here we go and I hope that you will come to enjoy this bread as much as I do.

Total formula:

260 g (80%) King Arthur unbleached organic bread flour
 65 g (20%) Central Milling organic Type 70 malted flour
260 g (80%) water
 65 g (23%) levain at 100% hydration
  7 g (2%)  kosher salt
124 g (38%) Parmigiano Reggiano, cut into
1/8- and 1/4-inch dice 

final hydration: 82%

Baking schedule:

 7:15 am prepare levain
11:15 am autolyse
12:15 pm add levain
 1:00 pm add salt
 1:45 pm 1st stretch and fold
 2:30 pm 2nd stretch and fold
 3:15 pm 3rd stretch and fold
 4:00 pm laminate and add cheese
 4:30 pm coil fold
 5:45 pm shape
 6:00 pm cold fermentation

-- next day –

 9:00 am bake 

My kitchen temperature: 78°F - 80°F

My dough temperature: 79°F 

My location: NYC (low altitude)

If your kitchen is at different temperature or elevation, you will have to adjust the schedule and/or hydration accordingly.

#1 Prepare levain (7.15 am)
Make sure that your starter is fed well and bursting with strength before making the levain. I usually feed my starter, Elizabeth Bennet, twice a day, at 8 am and 8pm, for three days in a row. (I feed Elizabeth Bennet twice a day no matter what, but if you are keeping your starter in the fridge, make sure to take it out and feed it regularly three days before making the bread. The happiness of your starter makes a difference.) In a small bowl, mix 15g ripe starter, 27 g white bread flour, 3 g whole rye flour, and 30 g water. (I typically make a tiny bit more of levain than what the recipe calls for because there is a small amount of waste in transferring it from one mixing bowl into another.) Transfer the levain to a clean glass container and cover loosely with a lid or plastic wrap. Wait until the levain has almost tripled in volume. In my kitchen it takes about 4 to 6 hours at 76°F - 78°F.

#2 Autolyse (11:15 am)
I like to use the combination of King Arthur bread flour for strength and Central Milling malted Type 70, which really gets the dough active and very elastic. If you don't have access to Central Milling, King Arthur white whole wheat is a good substitute. (Whole wheat will do too, but you may have to increase hydration a tiny bit.) In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flours and water. Mix until no dry bits remain. Cover the bowl and leave for one hour.

#3 Add levain (12:15 pm)

Add the of levain to the autolyse. Using your fingers, pinch in the levain at first, then keep gently stretching and folding the dough over itself for about 4 to 5 minutes. If the dough resists, pinch it some more, and then continue stretching and folding -- this will help build the strength in the dough right from the beginning. Gather the dough into a ball, cover and leave to rest for 45 minutes.

#4 Add salt (1:00 pm)
Sprinkle the salt over the dough. Pinch in the salt, then again apply gentle stretches and folds for about 4 minutes. If the dough resists, pinch it a little all over to relax, and then continue stretching and folding. Gather the dough into a square packet. Transfer to a bulk fermentation container, cover, and leave for 45 minutes. I recommend using a square container with flat bottom for the bulk fermentation (anything from Pyrex dish to Emile Henry baking dish will do). Square shape and flat bottom help keep the dough organized and this will result in more regular structure compared to the dough that rested in a bowl. Try it, you will be amazed with the difference.

#5 1st stretch and fold (1:45 pm)

By now the dough would have relaxed significantly. With wet hands, release the dough from the bottom of the bulk container on all sides. Perform one set of stretch and folds. This is extremely extensible dough, and it will stretch a lot. If the dough allows you, do another set of stretches and folds. When done, arrange the dough neatly in a square packet at the center of the container, cover, and leave for 45 minutes.

#6 2nd stretch and fold (2:30 pm)
Perform another set of stretches and folds. Cover, and leave for 45 minutes.

#7 3rd stretch and fold (3:15 pm)
Perform another set of stretches and folds. Cover, and leave for 45 minutes.

#8 Laminate and add cheese (4:00 pm)
While the dough is resting, prepare the cheese. Cut the cheese into a very small dice, something like 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch. This bread is not meant to have large and visible chunks of cheese. Instead, the tiny dice will melt away, and the crumb will be literally glazed with Parmesan. Another important point -- because you are probably wondering -- lamination does not always have to come first. For quite some time I was religiously doing it at the beginning of the bulk fermentation, but I am finding that for breads with added ingredients, performing lamination towards the end is giving me better structure and control of how ingredients are dispersed through the dough. It is also minimizing tears in the dough that may occur when the dough is manipulated with lots of heavy or sharp-edge ingredients in it. Lightly wet the work surface. With wet hands, release the dough from the bottom of the bulk container on all sides and place it onto the work surface. By pulling the dough from the middle and not the sides, stretch it into a large square as much as the dough allows you without being too aggressive and tearing the dough. Spread 3/4 of the cheese over the dough, fold it halfway through, spread the rest, and then complete the folding until you have a neat packet of the dough. Place the dough into the bulk fermentation container, cover and rest for 30 minutes.

#9 Coil fold (4:30 pm)
This is optional, but you may find that this dough likes to be worked on, so complete one neat coil fold, and then let the dough rest until the end of the bulk fermentation. By now the dough will have developed a lot of strength, and this last coil fold is essentially acting as a gentle preshape.

#10 Shape (5:45 pm)
Lightly flour the work surface and the top of the dough. Gently release the dough onto the work surface, so that the dusted top is now facing the surface. Shape the dough into a batard -- batard is my go-to shape these days, but oval is OK too -- then place the dough into a banneton. (Everyone has their favorite shaping method, here is one from Breadtopia I typically do.)

#11 Cold fermentation (6:00 pm)
Leave the bread in the banneton for 15 minutes. Put the banneton into a plastic bag or cover it with plastic wrap, and transfer to the fridge. I keep my fridge at 35°F, to inhibit any further rise of the dough.
#12 Bake (9:00 am)
One hour before baking, place your baking vessel in the oven (I use Emile Henry cloche) and preheat the oven to 500°F. When ready to bake, remove the banneton from the fridge, flip the bread with parchment paper, score the bread, and transfer it to the baking surface. Spray a little bit of water around the bread and cover. Bake for 25 minutes, covered. Remove the lid, reduce oven temperature to 435°F and continue to bake for 20 to 25 minutes longer. Remove the bread from the oven and coool on a wire rack for at least one hour before slicing. (This us usually the most difficult part, because who can resist that warm, crispy, cheesy crust.)