150g bubbly, active starter
350g water, preferably filtered
1 tsp. vanilla extract or 1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped
500g bread flour
50g cocoa powder*
9g fine sea salt
65g chopped walnuts
150g semi sweet chocolate chips
fine ground cornmeal, for dusting
powdered sugar for decoration
* I used Hershey’s Special Dark, a blend of natural and Dutch process cocoas
** You will need a 6 quart Dutch oven for baking
- Make the dough: In a large bowl combine the starter, water, sugar and vanilla. Stir with a fork. Sift the bread flour and cocoa powder together and then add to the bowl. Squish everything together with your hands until all of the flour is absorbed. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest (autolyse) for 1 hour.
- To the dough: Add the salt, walnuts, raisins and chocolate chips. Lift and fold the dough over itself several times and squish with your hands to incorporate. The dough will tear slightly as you fold and the salt will not fully dissolve. Don’t worry- this is normal. Work the dough as best you can until it comes back together into a rough ball.
- Bulk fermentation: Cover your bowl with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel. Leave it in a warm spot to rise. Your dough is ready when it no longer looks dense and has increased in volume about 1½- 2x its original size. This can take anywhere from 3-12 hours depending on the temperature of your ingredients, the potency of your starter and surrounding environment. *See note below. Optional Step: about 30 minutes into the start of the bulk rise, you can stretch and fold the dough.
- Stretch & fold: To strengthen your dough, do a series of stretch and folds every 30 minutes for the first 2 hours of bulk fermentation. Simply gather a portion of the dough, stretch it upwards and then fold it over itself. Rotate the bowl ¼ turn and repeat until you have come full circle. You will have completed 4 folds. Try to keep the fillings tucked into the dough and not on the outside. This will prevent burning when baked.
- Shape the dough: To cut and shape the dough, divide your work surface in half; lightly flour one side (for cutting) and leave the other half clean (for shaping). Remove the dough from the bowl and place onto the floured section. You do not need to ‘punch down’ the dough; it will gently deflate as you fold and shape it. Cut the dough in half to make 2 loaves, or leave it whole for a single loaf. To shape, use a bench scraper to move your dough to the non-floured section (if there is any flour present it will be difficult to shape- brush away any excess). Gather the dough, one side at a time, and fold it into the center. Flip the dough over and place it seam side down. Using your hands, gently cup the sides of the dough and rotate it using quarter turns in a circular motion. You can also pull it towards you to even out its shape. Repeat this process until you are happy with its appearance.
- Second rise: Place the dough into a cloth lined 8-inch bowl, or floured/lined proofing basket. It will need to rise again, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. It is ready when the dough is slightly puffy.
- Preparing the baking vessel: Preheat your oven to 400F. Generously coat the bottom of a Dutch oven(s) with cornmeal to prevent sticking. Carefully invert the dough into the pot. Use your hand to gently guide it in.
- Slash the dough: Right before your bread goes into the oven, make a shallow slash about 2 inches long in the center of the dough. Use a bread lame, sharp pairing or serrated knife.
- Bake the bread: Place your bread into the oven (lid on) and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the lid, and continue to bake (uncovered) for an additional 40 minutes. During the last 10 minutes of baking, crack open the oven door. This allows the moisture to escape, leaving your bread with a crisp crust. You can also take the internal temperature of your bread to double check that it is done. For sourdough, it should read about 205 F.
- Cool: Remove the bread from the oven, and cool on a wire rack for at least an hour before slicing.
- Dust with powdered sugar before serving.
Because sourdough does not contain commercial yeast, it takes considerably longer to rise. In the summer months, it can take anywhere between 3-4 hours @ 85 F whereas in the winter, about 8-12+ hours @ 65 F. In the winter, I make my dough in the afternoon and leave it to rise overnight at room temperature. In the warmer months, I bulk ferment in the fridge to slow down the rise time.
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