I have four different natural starters that I maintain. Recently, as I was doing a wholesale two-stage refreshment of the starters, I found myself with a fair amount of leftover cultures. I put them all in a single container with the intention of just throwing them away. At the last minute, rather than discarding the four-starter material, I decided instead to see if I could use it to make a decent loaf of bread. So, armed with the four-starter material and a dough recipe from Nancy Silverton’s book Breads From the La Brea Bakery (at p. 40), I embarked on making the dough using the four-starter material. In preparation for using the four-starter material, I added a bit of flour to it and let it sit on my counter overnight, to be used the next morning. The consistency of the starter material was like a pancake batter.
For ingredients, I used 6 ounces of the four-starter material (just shy of 1/2 c.), 17 ounces of flour (I used the Giusto's unbleached Artisan bread flour), 9 ounces of water (temperature adjusted to achieve a finished dough temperature of 78 degrees F), 1/4 c. raw wheat germ, and 2 1/4 t. sea salt. The dough was prepared using the fairly classic autolyse method: starter, water and flour combined and mixed/kneaded for 5 minutes at low speed, followed by a 20 minute autolyse, the addition of the sea salt, a 5 minute knead at medium speed, and 1 minute final hand knead. The dough, weighing about 2 pounds, was put into a lightly-oiled container and allowed to ferment (rise) until it doubled in volume, about 5 hours at room temperature. The dough was then gently deflated, rounded, and placed into a basket/floured cloth arrangement that I had fashioned to simulate a round banneton. When the dough rose by about a quarter, about an hour, it went into the refrigerator, covered with a sheet of plastic wrap. After 18 hours, the dough was brought back to room temperature, covered with a dry towel (which replaced the plastic wrap), and allowed to proof (still in its container) until it had doubled, about 3 hours.
About an hour before the dough had finished its final rise, I had placed a pizza stone on the middle oven rack position and preheated it for about an hour at 500 degrees F. In addition to the stone, I had also placed a metal tin with a bunch of rocks at the lowest oven rack position, to be preheated along with the stone and later used to generate some steam in the oven.
When I was ready to bake, I flipped the dough out of its container onto a sheet of parchment paper that I had placed on my peel, and scored the dough with a lame. I then opened the oven door and poured some water into the pan with the stones in order to create steam. After a few minutes, the dough was loaded into the oven, and the oven temperature was reduced to 450 degrees F. Within the next 5 minutes, I quickly opened the oven door and spritzed the insides of the oven 3 times with water from a spray bottle. The oven door was not opened again until the bread was finished baking, about another 12 minutes or so.
The photos below show the finished bread. The bread was very tasty, with a mild and pleasant sourdough flavor and a nice, chewy texture and a crispy outer crust. Overall, it was a good way to make use of the excess starter material. Next time, I plan to use some non-diastatic liquid barley malt to get even more flavor and color in the bread, as has been my practice in the past in using the Silverton recipe.