My family has pizza night once a week, and that’s also when I bake bread. Why? Because I only have to make one giant ball of dough and turn our house into a furnace once a week!

So, I’m going to share my human and oven energy-conserving approach. I use the Grist and Toll Sourdough Bread Formula because it’s designed based on flours like mine. These are the tools I find useful:

  • Rubber spatula
  • Proofing basket
  • Bench scraper
  • Baking stone
  • Combo cooker Dutch oven (the lid that doubles as skillet, or, more significantly in this case, surface with side handle is why I prefer this over a standard Dutch oven)
  • Lame (razor with handle because who wants to bleed on their bread?)
  • A tea towel or old T-shirt

The night before

While I eat my toddler’s half-chewed bits and bites, clean-up from dinner, and determine whether this unlabeled jar will give up its real estate for leftovers, I take out the sourdough starter goo from the fridge. I don’t feed it between use, so it’s pretty flat. I scrape out all the starter into a mixing bowl–about a cup’s worth, give a sniff for how sour it is, and then add enough flour and filtered water to quadruple its volume while retaining the same consistency. Once thoroughly mixed, I cover the bowl with a tea towel and take care of my kid’s bedtime routine before collapsing into slumber.

Day of bread + pizza night

Around 8 or 9am, I check on the ferment to see if it smells sweet without sour or funk, and I look for bubbles. If it’s a bit funky, I know it became very active and I add a bit more flour to appease the spirits. Otherwise, I add 8 cups of flour and 3 Tablespoons of Kosher salt (I use Diamond), then mix with a rubber spatula. I haven’t used my hands yet because I’m also making breakfast for my kiddo and it’s their job to make the utensils and handles sticky. Once mixed, I add filtered water in one cup increments and stir until the dough is shaggy. It looks like a Lion’s Mane mushroom, or the Abominable Snowperson’s coat. It’s shaggy. That’s when I form the dough into a ball and let it rest. Alex reminded me that whole wheat takes about 30 minutes to absorb water and stabilize. So, I don’t judge whether it’s hydrated enough until after I’ve had breakfast with my kid.

Once breakfast is over, I check the dough for elasticity. If it can stretch the length of my forearm, I don’t add water and drizzle 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil onto the dough and mix. It’s a trick I learned from Adrian Hale that makes the crust a bit more tender, which is our preference. If I don’t get the stretch I want, then I add 1/4 cup of water at a time until I get the dough I want. Then, I turn the dough in the bowl, pulling from the bottom to stretch it over the top, which forms a ball.

All that takes less than five minutes. I leave it alone in a warm, not drafty place for 30 min in the bowl with a fabric on top.  I work Pomodoro style, so I stop every 30 min for the next three hours to stretch the dough from below and pull it up and over itself. Sometimes I leave it for an hour before turning. Sometimes four hours. The dough is pretty self-sufficient.

It’s about noon now and time for a lunch break. Dough isn’t lunch, so I don’t tend to it until after I eat. Then, I prepare a dry cutting board for shaping the dough. I cover the board in brown rice flour because this flour doesn’t integrate into the dough and becomes an easy way to handle what’s pretty unwieldy and wet dough. I scrape out the dough from the mixing bowl being careful not to break it up, then I eyeball half the dough and cut with a bench scraper. I hold one end of the dough up so the whole thing stretches with its weight, and lay it across the board. I begin folding, which is way easier to understand by video and the internet has everything so please consult other electrons. Folds become shaping, and then there are two pretty bumps on the board. I let them rest for 30 min before a final shape.

The final shapes go immediately into proofing baskets lined with brown rice flour-dusted tea towels. I place them in the fridge until 5:30p.

Go time!

I need to get dinner on the table by 6pm, so I preheat the oven to 485 at 5p. The baking stone is in the middle rack and combo cooker on the bottom rack. I take out one dough and divide into four pieces with the bench scraper. I roll one out, slide it onto a pizza peel (I tried to get away with using the cutting board, but it’s an unusually tense situation trying to get a smooth transfer with heat in your face and staving off a toddler from touching the oven), and get the first one baking at around 5:30p. Each pizza takes 8 min to pre bake before a final 4 min with toppings. Once all the pizzas are out, the bread dough is transferred to the combo cooker and placed on the baking stone. This gives the bread dough an additional hour or two of fermentation time compared to the pizza dough.

By the time we’ve eaten and cleaned up, the bread is ready to cool on a rack. My kid gets to see the bread before going to bed, and has something to look forward to in the morning.