Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Vermont Sourdough

This Vermont Sourdough from Jeffrey Hamelman's book "Bread" would be the first sourdough bread that I've made since I cultivated a levain culture 2 weeks ago.  I used Jeffrey Hamelman's liquid levain formula found in the same book which is of 125% hydration.  I made a stiff sourdough starter before using Peter Reinhart's formula but months of neglect transformed it from a healthy doughy consistency to a greenish icky mush.  I didn't bother trying to revive it as it's fairly easy to make a new one and Hamelman's procedure was for me, certainly easier than PR's.   I had a very active culture from the very beginning and only hit a short time of inactivity when I started feeding my starter with only white flour instead of a combination of white and rye flours.  I also decided to start a rye culture since there were a lot of Rye breads in Hamelman's book that seem really delicious like the rye sourdough with raisins and walnuts (yum!).

I admit that one of the reasons why I hardly make breads like these is having to equip your oven for hearth baking -- using a baking stone, steaming the interior of the oven, setting the oven temperature really high, etc things that I'm not confident that my oven can really handle.   But I found that using a dutch oven solves having to do all of these as it simulates the same environment required for hearth baking.  The spaciousness of the DO can handle the expansion and rise of the dough, the heavy bottom and lid trap all of the steam inside which help create the ideal crust for breads such as this one.  Plus, the material of the DO which is cast iron distributes the heat equally all throughout the pan so there will be uniform browning of the crust.  The top part of my Vermont Sourdough as pictured browned too much as I made the mistake of opening the lid of the DO too soon.  I initially thought that it was a must to remove the lid of the DO 20 minutes into baking and transfer the bread on top of a baking stone or baking sheet a few minutes until it's fully baked to let the crust brown further.  But after doing some research, I found out that doing this is not necessary.  In fact, the bread will brown even if you don't remove the lid of the DO at all.

I thought scoring the bread would be the simplest thing to do but I still lack the confidence in doing this for fear of cutting too deep and deflating the dough.  I know now that it wouldn't hurt to cut a little deeper.  

EDIT: After more research and reading the section about scoring bread in Hamelman's book I know now that a shallow cut is more feasible as cutting the dough deeper might cause it to collapse.  Also,  it's not about how deep the cut should be but is more on the technique.  I realized now that I scored this bread pretty well actually using a curved lame at a 30 degree angle causing the crust to have the ideal "ears."

I revised the recipe so it would only make one loaf instead of 2 and converted the US measurements to metric (much easier for me!).  Baking two loaves at once is too much for us.  For anyone who's interested, below is the scaled down version of the Vermont Sourdough recipe.....Procedure can be found in this blog (even if it's a different formula, the procedure is the same).

Vermont Sourdough
Adapted from Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes by Jeffrey Hamelman


Bread Flour     68 grams

Water     85 grams

Mature Culture (Liquid)     14 grams

TOTAL:     167 grams


Bread Flour     340 grams

Whole Rye Flour     45 grams

Water     210 grams

Salt     17 grams

Liquid Levain     153 grams

TOTAL:     765 grams (1.5 lbs.)

 VERDICT:  For anyone looking into making their very first sourdough bread, this is it!  The procedure is very forgiving to the novice bread baker and it even requires minimal kneading because of the autolyse stage.  Flavor-wise this is awesome (just a hint of sourness from the starter) and went really well with the Bacalao a la Vizcaina that I cooked.  If you want a sourer bread it is recommended that you retard the fermentation overnight and I also think that the more mature the levain you use, the sourer the bread becomes.  Personally, I have yet to taste a really sour sourdough bread so I still don't know what my preference is in that regard.

*This bread has been yeastspotted*


  1. I love making bread, this one looks incredible!

  2. What a beautiful loaf, Janis. It's as if I'm looking at a bakery display. Gorgeous! And the crumb is just beautiful. I love how open it is. You're tempting me in making my very first sourdough bread, ha ha. I'll see if I can find Jeffrey Hamelman's book in the library and try this :o)

    1. Oh thanks Hanaa! It's so much fun making a sourgough starter and it's such an amazing sight to see them come alive. It's also much more fulfilling for me to create a bread out of yeast that I actually cultivated myself. I find Hamelman's book the best so far when it comes to wealth of information regarding sourdough breads :-)

  3. I love Hamelman's Vermont Sourdough and your version looks great. What a nice open crumb and crunchy crust.

    1. according to your formula the salt is at 3.7 %. in Jeff's book it is 1.9% . Is this a typo?

    2. Hi Dan. Thanks for your feedback and yes, this may be a typo. I don't have access to Hamelman's book right now so I have no chance to correct it but by all means follow what is written is his book. Once I get all my info, will adjust the written recipe. Hope your bread will be a success!

  4. Thanks for the recipe. unglazed Romertopf if you haven't already, these things are awesome. I have two that I purchased and they're superior to a Dutch oven because the water/steam in the clay oven circulates to create the perfect artisan crust.

  5. Sorry, message was cut off, I suggested you try a unglazed Romertopf if you have not already. After lining the oven with Mexican tiles and using the spray bottle method I got good results but what a pain