A good homemade sourdough has eluded me to this point. My bread was dense, decent flavor, flabby crust. My starter was sluggish. I could give up and head to nearby Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop and grab a loaf there. But wait! Even better, they are offering a course on DIY sourdough.
Fire Island is offering a series of Monday evening classes ranging from vegan baking to home smoking. See the class schedule for their offerings. There was a group of ten of us, and we were put to work immediately. Friendly and knowledgeable baker, Carlyle, had us start with shaping dough. Three doughs were already prepared for us. A whole wheat, a 50/50 wheat/white blend and an all white. We started shaping the loaves to give them time to proof before baking. Starting with the wheat as it was easiest to handle with our newbie boule shaping skills. By the time I reached the full white (which was a sticky and stretchy beast) I was getting a rhythm down, the idea is to create surface tension over the top of the loaf to let it rise. This is done with a gentle rolling motion while pulling the top edge of the loaf down but keeping it attached to the counter surface.
Next was on to preparing our own dough to make at home. We were provided with prepared starter, white or wheat. A formula was provided and any wheat/white flour combo was ok. We used the fold method, where every 30 minutes the dough is pulled and folded over until it no longer stretches. A nice option, avoiding the 20 minutes or so of hand kneading I usually do, but this does require a bit more babysitting as you need to be near your dough for the next 3 hours or so.
Plenty of small breaks provided time to enjoy snacks and ask questions. Why is my bread so dense? How do I steam inject my oven? Then on to the baking. Our loaves were baked in their own fancy steam injected oven. At home you can put a oven safe pan in your oven while oven preheats, once you put in the bread pour about a 1/2 cup hot water into already heated pan to give a nice bit of steam to provide that shiny, chewy crust we are all striving for.
I left with three loaves, one batch of dough to finish myself and a large bucket of starter. Maybe some sourdough pancakes are in my future as well.