Jeffrey Hamelman’s Vermont Sourdough

This is the famous sourdough formula from Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman. It’s a 65 per cent hydration pure sourdough made with organic white bread flour and a little whole rye, water and french sea salt and a liquid sourdough levain.

I rebuilt my usual white sourdough to the required hydration of 125% over 24 hours and ended up with a much looser and frothier starter than I normally use. I’m not sure that my palate can distinguish between a sourdough made with a liquid and a stiff starter. Hmm.

Usually I keep my starter at about 90 per cent hydration. I don’t bake every day, so I find it keeps better in the fridge when there is more flour than water in the mix. It usually sits quite happily in the fridge for about five days, then after seven days or so a layer of hooch appears on the top and if I am sensible I discard and feed at that point whether or not I plan to bake. The hooch takes much longer to appear on the rye starter, I don’t know why they are so different but they are.

I mixed the dough up and following the instructions, left the salt out and left the dough for 45 minutes before gently kneading it into the dough.  I used some quite coarse grey french sea salt which has a wonderful flavour.

I was very interested to feel the way the dough softened and changed as the salt dissolved into the dough. Before the salt went in it was very tough and not very extensible, once I had worked on it for about two minutes I could feel it change, fascinating!  I did the usual light kneading and then I left it to bulk prove with one fold after 90 minutes.

I made two 750 g boules, let them relax a little, shaped them again and put seam side up into  two linen lined bannetons heavily dusted with rye flour for the final prove.  Covered with shower caps and…

..back to the poodling pool to throw squeaky toys and have a dabble myself. Pretty mellow for a very hot Friday afternoon in the suburbs…. a hot air balloon or two passing overhead…

Only too soon it was time for heating the oven and the slashing……I did a finger test and figured the dough had almost doubled and the dough felt good and bubbly…

One of these days I will try and work out how to take pictures and slash at the same time, but this was not the day…sorry….

This time I thought, how about a J and a B. Can’t be too difficult can it? The S worked pretty well the other day, surely I can slash any initial on the bread.  Pride comes before a fall…..that was almost impossible. I need to go back and practice calligraphy I think. Not my finest moment, but hey you win some you lose some :)

You can see the results here. So you see the S the other day was a fluke!

I had to bake the B in the top oven as there wasn’t room in the bottom one for two big round loaves.  I can’t get steam into the top oven easily and you can see the difference, I reckon J sprang about an inch more in height and the slash of the lower part of J opened up beautifully,, B looks OK but is not as well risen. Steam really does make a huge difference! Believe in the steam, get it into the oven somehow. Iron trays, spray bottles, japanese rocks. wet flannels, well maybe not the latter, but get the steam in there. It only has to be there until the bread has sprung and begun to take on colour, then you can open the door and let it all out again, it will have done its job. I also think something mysterious happens to the temperature in my oven when I go from 220 C to 230 C.  I certainly can’t use 235 C which is what JH’s temperatures translate to.  230 C gives the very dark crust you see on J and the flour on the top has caught slightly.

As this bread wasn’t retarded the taste was mild and cool,  a little dryer than the Bristol sourdough which has olive oil worked into the dough, with good umami flavours from the very dark crust adding to the general happy mouthfeel of this bread.  It’s the sort of bread that if you didn’t know it had rye in it or you didn’t know it was a sourdough you would probably not really think about it at all.  It’s just a good bread!

The notes that accompany the recipe are beautifully and carefully written, you learn so much from reading this book. Go on, join the Mellow Bakers and have a go at some of these wonderful breads. It’s easier than it looks, (apart from carving your name with pride!)  And, if you’re looking for the recipeso as to dip your fingers in the flour for the first time, try Susan on the site – her Norwich Sourdough is derived from the Vermont sourdough.

24 thoughts on “Jeffrey Hamelman’s Vermont Sourdough

  1. Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial

    J & B! I can’t get my slashes to resemble anything – probably a product of baking at high hydrations (75 – 80%). I’ve now given up, so admire your efforts enormously. Loved seeing the photos of the gritty salt being incorporated – I was just thinking yesterday that I needed to investigate different sorts of salt – I tend to always use the same two or three. Great read, thanks Jo!

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Celia, I think with high hydrations that you just need to do one super dramatic slash, nice and deep and hope for the best. But I agree it is much harder! The salt goes in surprisingly easily. I had ground that one up a bit first, it was even coarser out of the bag.

  2. cityhippyfarmgirl

    Thanks for taking the time to do all that. I am playing around with sourdoughs at the moment, and sometimes I get just a littttlle confused as to what I am supposed to be doing. I should have done a bread making course before I threw myself in to the dough.
    With the steam, (this might be a dumb question) where are you spraying if you using a bottle? Does it make any difference at all if the water gets on the dough?

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Cityhippyfarmgirl, it can be very confusing, especially as everyone does it differently! What sort of sourdough are you making at the moment?

      The way I do steam is:

      I have two wire racks in the oven. One at lower middle, so the dough sits in the middlish of the oven. One below that. On the lower rack I put a smallish oven tray, it’s about 12 cm by 5 cm and about 2 cms deep. That goes in at the same time I start to heat the oven up. I boil the kettle just before I slash the dough. Then ideally, you put about 200 ml of boiling water in the hot little tray five minutes before you are going to put the dough in. Then you put the dough in. Shut door, go back to kettle and put another sloosh of boiling water in the tray. Shut door. Defog your self etc. Then after 8 – 10 minutes, open the door of the oven and let the steam out again. Bit of a performance! Completely irrelevant if you are baking in a pot of course! I tend not to spray the dough in the oven, simply because I have glass doors and worry about them cracking. I find that misting the dough itself makes very little difference, you need the evaporated steam in the oven to make the magic happen. Some people put little stones in the tray and pour the water over them, I’ve always thought that sounded like a great idea. The steam keeps the skin of the dough moist and stretchy long enough for the oven spring to happen and probably does something else, as I always seem to get better colour with steam, but I don’t know the tech reasons for that. If you don’t pre steam the oven, even putting steam in two minutes after the dough has gone in, is much better than no steam. So if you forget there is time usually to boil a little water and open door and carefully pour it in.

      1. Zoya

        Thanks for your explanation. I’ll have to try it next time I bake bread to see if it makes any difference. Now I just need to figure out how to get a starter going (on my third attempt at the moment)

        1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

          Hi Zoya! What method are you using to make a starter? Can I offer any help at all? Here is a link to a Caterersearch article about one of Dan Lepard’ s methods with useful pictures. Have you tried something like this? The version we are chatting about above uses dried fruit, but as he says here, that’s not necessary.

          And there is the famous pineapple juice method, which I haven’t tried, but seems to give many people great results, you can read about that here on Paul’s blog . All beautifully explained with pictures again.

          I think that both of these methods would work well and there is no point in me reinventing the wheel and writing it out here as I don’t have much to add to Dan’s method, as this is more or less what I did.

          1. Zoya

            I’m not really following anyone’s method, which probably explains why I can’t get it to work. The last one seemed to be ok, until I changed flours and now it smells a bit funny. I’ll try Dan Lepard’s method. Thank you for the info.

            1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

              Ah, the best thing to do if they smell funny, is to rebuild it with just 1 or 2 teaspoons of the old one and 50 grams each of fresh flour and water. And repeat for a couple of refreshes in the same way and the smells should go away. If you change flour it will smell different, yes I’ve noticed that too :)

              Starters give off many smells, eggy, cheesy, apples, vinegar, yogurt. They tend to disappear when you bake the bread though but I only like the vinegar/apple/yoghurt smells myself. Try feeding your starter with some whole rye flour and see how it goes. You can always swap it back to wheat flour if that’s what you need. Don’t starve them, I know it feels bad to chuck stuff away, but it’s always best to refresh just a small bit of the old starter, otherwise it just gets more and more acidic as the waste products of the yeasts and bacteria in the colony build up. Less is more. If you want to store it, either dry some by spreading it out thinly on some cling film or just put in the back of the fridge in a clean jar with fresh food and water and it should be fine for a few weeks at least. If it grows mould that is the time to start again.

  3. Anne Marie

    What a great post. I have my loaves retarding in the fridge over night. I am off to Shakespeare in the park in 95 degree weather. Please go jump in the lake for me.

  4. Abby

    I loved your step-by-step photos, Joanna. Your descriptions are beautiful and make me eager to try this one! (Your bread is beautiful, too, and I think you’re being too hard on yourself in regards to the slashing – the initials are awesome!)

  5. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

    Anne Marie and Abby – Look forward to reading your posts soon :)

    Which park is the Shakespeare in? I think we have some going on here as well this summer….

  6. C

    Joanna, that bread looks amazing – perfect crumb and crust. It’s impressive the difference steam makes to the loaves isn’t it! I must make more of an effort to steam my oven from now on.

    Have you got a recommendation for a good starter recipe/regime. I really really want to give sourdough a go, but was massively put off by the starter I made last time which was ok to begin with but by a few days in developed a smell like acetone/nail polish remover and subsequently went mouldy. I have Dan’s book THML if you’d recommend that one? Thanks!

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      I know the acetone smell, also the apple smell and also the cheesey smell….. :)

      Dan’s THML is the one I used to make the white starter which has survived for 2.5 years. I suggest cosseting them when they are young and unstable, bottled/filtered water, best organic flour, nice bit of yoghurt.
      When they are young they are a bit ‘extreme’. I think the culture has to find its own balance over time, so even though you can of course bake with them, it’s quite easy for them to go awry in the early stages. As to mould
      I don’t leave mine open to the elements. The ‘wild yeasts’ come from the flour and the currants as far as I am concerned. I think you are more likely to get mould if you wander around trying to catch airborne yeasts ! But that’s only my opinion. I would also have at least two containers, so when you feed and discard, you do it into a scrupulously clean one. The smells are nothing particular to worry about and can be corrected but I’m not that keen on mould in my starter.

      Rye starters are much easier to get going for some reason and seem to more stable than white ones. Have another go, if you have no luck, I can stick some in the post for you to see if that helps. Or I can do that anyway if you like.

      1. C

        I’ll have another go then using THML. Glad to know the smells aren’t anything to worry about, because mine really wasn’t very pleasant! I’ve been and bought my organic raisins, but note that they are both washed and oiled! I wonder whether it would be better to use organic dried apricots or whether the yeasts on these will be no good?

        1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

          You know what… I would go on to Dan’s forum and ask him if apricots would work. He’s very nice and helpful about these things… or tweet him, I am not very good at Twitter. I can’t remember what sort of raisins I used. As far as I recall he said something like they supply back up yeasts to help it get going but they are not essential. I know the second time I made a rye starter I think I just used rye flour and water and it got going within about eight days or so, was very excitable for a while, highs and lows, a bit bi polar, and then settled down after about a month. I made one once using wild plums and that was fine for about a month, bubbled away like a cesspool, raised a loaf of bread and then expired with some very horrible smells indeed….

  7. Di

    I love all your pictures, especially the top one–that looks delicious! I think the slashing worked great, too. (I tend to be really hard on myself, too, though.)

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Di, the important thing for me is that I am doing it at all :) I love making bread and I think it’s miraculous – such a joy and such fun and you get to eat it too! Thanks for your nice words ::)

      1. cityhippyfarmgirl

        Thats how I feel too! I’m in awe that I can make a starter, make bread, love doing it… and it tastes damn delicious.
        Thanks for the steam tips, I will have a play around with it.

  8. GillthePainter

    Couldn’t you just tear a piece of bread off, sitting in the garden with some jamon and cheese at lunch time.
    Beautiful bread Zeb. I tried to carve a 5 and a grain on one of my loaves which had five grains in it, and it looked like it was for my 50th birthday.

    And I agree Joanna, make Dan’s starter, and you’ll have yourself a consistent stable, troublefree leaven. I’m passing some of mine on to friends in the post who’ve never made sourdough before, and it’s bubbling into life for them as soon as they feed it.

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Yes indeed Gill! and then gallop over to the raised veg bed and grab some salad leaves… :) But it’s pouring with rain and all the peonies have their heads bowed over full of water… just got the bbq and all… oh well I’m sure the sun will be back soon enough :)

  9. GillthePainter

    Who turned the sunshine off? OK this weekend though Zeb.
    You’ll get some heavy duty wear out of your bbq yet. I tried baking bread (puffy leaven pittas) on mine and it wasn’t too bad.
    But it’s better, or I should say more efficient baked in the oven after all that.

  10. Oggi

    I love the initials and the crumb too.

    I have also been using the French grey salt and they seem to add a wonderful flavor to the levain breads.

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