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Sourdough in winter


During a couple of early cold snaps, I learned that making sourdough bread takes forever in a cold kitchen. Though all the experts seem to like the idea of a long, slow rise, I don’t have forever. The leaven process must complete overnight, and the rest of the job must be done in time to bake by 5 p.m. or so the next day.

The method I’ve hit upon is to let the dough rise in the oven with the oven light on. Then things seem to happen at about the same rate as during the summer. And while I’m at it, I set a jar of clover sprouts in the oven with the dough. All seeds (as far as I know) germinate better when they’re warm.

The standard abbey sourdough loaf is big — about three pounds. It’s half whole wheat. The whole wheat dough rises nicely, but I don’t get much oven spring with half whole wheat. The crumb is far from dense, though, and it’s great hot, cold, or as toast. When there’s company, or for a showy loaf, I use unbleached flour. That makes a much higher loaf with dramatic oven spring.

The thermostat on a typical winter morning

The dough doubles after about four hours in a warm oven

Ready to put the lid on and bake. The parchment is for lifting the dough out of the bowl into the Dutch oven. Lining the dough-rising bowl with parchment, then lifting by the edges of the paper, is the only way I’ve found to transfer the dough to the Dutch oven, which is preheated to 500 degrees. Upending the dough bowl over the Dutch oven deflates the dough.

Another finished loaf of abbey bread

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