Sourdough: Basic Bread Dough; English Muffins. And Foccacia.

Today I decided to try making English muffins for the first time. The dough is pretty much the same as a sweet bread or bun dough. I don’t generally use sweetener in my bread, but otherwise it’s the same as bread dough too.


I start with a potato. If I’m making a regular sized batch of bread I usually use two medium sized potatoes. I peel and boil them so they’re good and soft (mashable.) Sometimes I do it the night before but sometimes I do it right before I make the dough.


Here I’ve got my stuff ready. Once the tater is boiled I add all the water I’m going to use and blend it with a stick blender. You can just mash it but the blender is fast and thorough. *The water plus the potatoes plus the starter should end up lukewarm. So if the starter is straight out of the fridge I use warmer water, but if the potatoes were just boiled (and still hot) I use slightly cooler water.


Next I add the starter, honey, a glug of sunflower oil and salt and blend it again. You don’t really need to blend here, but it’s fast and the blender needs to be washed anyway!


Around this time I turn my oven on to “warm” and put the rack lower so my bowl will fit.  If it’s warm in the house you can let it rise on the counter; I’ve also heard that the top of the fridge can be a good spot.  But it’s winter and our house is quite cold (around 64 F or 18 C.) so I use the oven and it works well.  I leave it on “warm” for five minutes and then shut it off.  If the oven light worked I would turn it on and leave it on while the dough was rising, but it doesn’t. So it just coasts.


Anyway, then I add flour.  I’ve been using No Name All Purpose or Unbleached All Purpose.  Start with two or three cups, depending on the size of batch, and then once you’ve mixed it well add a cup at a time to see how stiff it’s getting.  I goofed a bit here by adding two cups at once and it was almost too stiff but not quite.



Then I knead it roughly, usually just in the bowl with one hand.  The oven is off now, so I put the cover on my bowl (which is really a big jam pot) and pop it in the oven. If you aren’t using a big pot you can cover the dough with a bag, cut open if necessary, and a tea towel.

Next I let the dough rest for a bit. Here there are two ways of dealing with the dough: traditional kneading, which is good and I always did until recently, and the new “stretch and fold” method.  They are both good.  If you have to go away then go with the kneading, but if you’re around anyway then the stretch and fold is easy. (I can do the stretch and fold with the baby on my hip, so it’s easier than kneading.)

If you are going to go with the kneading method, let the dough rest for a few minutes here and then knead it, put it in its rising place and leave it until it’s double or so in bulk.  (For me that’s usually six hours.)

OR- for the stretch and fold method, which I am using today:

I set a timer for 45 minutes and pop the dough in the warm oven (its rising place.)


* Now is a good time to feed the starter, while everything is still out and messy!

After 45 minutes I take it out. It hasn’t really changed in appearance or size yet. That’s fine.


I flour the counter, dump out all the dough and stretch it out flat.



Then I fold one third over the center,


And then the other third (just like a letter.)


Then I flatten it out again and do the same thing sideways.

I end up with a nice squarish blob. If it’s softer dough (had I used less flour) I sometimes fold it in half again here. Then it goes back in the bowl, covered, and into its rising place.  I set the timer for 45 minutes again.


Again, the dough hasn’t changed much in size or appearance, but you can feel that it’s softer.  I stretch it out on the floured counter and fold it the same way as before. It’s getting pretty smooth now.

It goes back in the covered bowl in the rising spot.


Now I leave it alone (unless I feel it needs more mixing, in which case I’d repeat the 45 minutes and fold once more.)

I generally have good luck letting the dough rise six hours from the beginning of mixing, shaping it (loaves, buns, etc.) and then giving it three more hours until baking time.  So if I start the dough at 8 AM, even if it takes until 10 AM to get all the stretch/folding done, I start calculating the 6 hours at 8 o’clock. In that case the dough would be ready to shape around 2 PM and to bake around 5 PM.


Now the dough is nice and big and light (not necessarily twice its original size, but that’s because its six hour rise was interrupted with the stretch-and-folds.)

If I was making buns or loaves this is when I would shape them and let them do their last rise before baking.

But today it’s English muffins, so here we go:

I rolled out the dough, half at a time. You can see my fancy equipment for cutting out the circles. They turned out a bit smaller than I’d like so next time I’ll use a bigger can! They also shrunk a bit right after I cut them because the dough was still stretched. If I had waited a bit after rolling it out the dough would have had time to relax and they would have stayed more round.

Anyway, I made way more dough than I needed for a nice batch of English muffins, so the leftover dough got turned into foccacia. It was quite good, but it’s better with an unsweetened dough. That being said, the sweetened dough would make excellent pizzeria-style garlic or cheese fingers.

Basically the foccacia is flattened dough pressed into a greased pan, left to rise, and then topped with a mixture of crushed garlic, olive oil, salt and herbs. I used an “Italian Seasoning” mix; mainly you want rosemary, basil and oregano.

But back to the English muffins! They had their second rise, and then got “baked” in a dry (no grease) cast iron frying pan.  Normally you would use cornmeal to prevent them from sticking but I didn’t have any so I just used flour and it worked fine. It takes about 10 minutes per side, on medium low.  I’ve read that if the insides aren’t done then you can finish them in the oven, but I didn’t need to.

And voila!


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