Ashley is a homesteader/farmer living on a small farm in rural Nova Scotia, Canada with her husband, Daniel and their two children Ellie and Anderson. On the farm side they breed Wagyu/Angus cattle and forest raised pigs, on the homestead side Ash has her Dairy cow, Janet and their laying hens. She loves cooking and exploring in the kitchen and teaches online live sourdough classes for people to tune into from anywhere in the world.
There is no denying the fact that most of us wait all year long for spring and summer to sink our hands into the soil of our gardens, and harvest bounty to tuck away for the coldest months of winter. Traditionally when homesteading, the summers are spent working hard for the winter – harvesting, canning, cutting firewood, processing animals for the freezer. It is assumed that most of the harvesting/putting away would be done within these months, however, sourdough thrives in an opposing season.
Fall and winter is your time to shine with sourdough bread! It is the most forgiving time of year to dive into daily baking and experimenting. I spend most of the winter baking every single day and both feeding our family fresh fermented breads, but also stocking our freezer for the summer months. You see, summer time is a hard time to bake – it is so hot indoors that baking in an oven at 500F is daunting, but also, it’s difficult to maintain a proper starter in such intense heat and humidity. Heat = fast fermentation. When you feed your starter, you are giving the food it needs to thrive and become active enough to leaven your bread, but when it is so hot outside it eats through its food much faster. It can become a frustrating dance trying to catch the window for which it sits in its peak activity. In the winter that window can be up to six hours, in the summer it can often be less than an hour. Good bread begins with a nice active starter/leaven. Flat, unattractive sourdough can be a common experience for homesteaders in the summer months due to underactive leaven and over fermenting/proofing dough. The good news is sourdough freezes better than any other bread out there, it’s an excellent thing to stock up on in the winter months, but there are also some things you can do to help with your summer baking if freezer space is limited.
Feed your sourdough more “food” not more often:
Flour and water are the “food” for your ferment, in the winter I give my starter about five times the amount of food to the amount of culture, this means it can gets to eat and expand to its fullest potential rather than just a 1:1:1 ratio in which the culture itself has to compete to eat the amount of food that is there, resulting in a starter that ferments much faster and does not have the opportunity to reach its fullest potential. In the summer the time it takes to eat through the food is much faster, so to avoid being tied to multiple feedings each day during the heat, I feed it more food so it takes longer to eat through it. I feed a ratio of 60:60:10 flour:water:starter. This way there is plenty of food for the culture to work its way through and you still get a nice active starter that will triple in size.
Shorten your Bulk Ferment and Use the Fridge:
In the winter months I find the autolyse and bulk ferment portion of my bread process to be very forgiving. Many times I have accidentally left my bowl of dough out on the counter in February, only to wake up to it over flowing onto the counter. I can usually “bring it back” by building proper tension and a shorter proofing time, but in the summer months that would be so much more difficult. Sticking to a strict bulk ferment is key in the summer and usually it ends up being a lot shorter than you’d think. I typically autolyse for about 20 minutes, add my salt and let it sit on the counter another 1.5 hours – in that time I do two stretch and folds and then promptly put my bowl of dough (covered) into the fridge! The fridge will still ferment, but it will be a lot slower than if it was on your counter and a lot more manageable when the humidity is high. A trick to understand that if there is humidity outside, you will still have humidity IN your fridge, so even the time for which you put your dough in there will be less as well. The fridge is such an ally in the heat of summer!
DON’T overproof your dough:
When in doubt, underproof! When people plop their loaf out on the pan to score, a big issue many have is that it will immediately flatten before it ever gets to the oven. I always do a quick counter proof – in the summer that really is no longer than 1 hour and often is much less! After that counter proof it goes back into the fridge, I always bake right from cold. This trick is really helpful because when the dough is cold it will hold its shape a lot better for you to score, which ultimately results in a much nicer oven spring! I hope these tips are helpful! If you are curious about learning more about my process, you can visit turnerfarm.ca and register for any of the upcoming sourdough live classes!