This is a method a friend of mine and I developed at our bakery. It took a lot of trial and error, but over time we developed a process that both took the strain off of our bodies and yielded some professional-quality artisan bread. This method is an adaptation on the folding method that has been used by several professional bakeries, with our own unique twists.
While finding this method was critical for us to be able to meet the volume of bread demanded in a commercial bakery, I have found it is also an excellent method for small-batch home baking as it separates the process into short steps stretched over a few days. With this method, you’ll only need to devote a few hours at a time to your baking instead of setting aside a whole day for it.
The nature of the fermentation in this method also gives the baker a fair amount of control over the sourness of the final product and also provides some tolerance for improper hydration. In principle, this method employs bulk fermentation to do most of the work for the baker by developing the gluten slowly and allowing the dough to aerate naturally. On our best days, this method produced superb loaves of bread on a wide variety of flours and grains.
One important consideration in this method is the uniqueness of each individual starter. Based on the type of flour, the age, and the hydration of a starter, there may be some variance in the process concerning the length of the bulk fermentation period as well as the initial hydration of the dough. This process was developed around a well-established starter feeding only on white flour and water. However, by using the starter to build a leaven (step 1 in my next blog post) there remains a fair amount of play for experimenting with different flour combinations even before being introduced into a recipe. Building a leaven is a great way to experiment with different flours without risking harm to your starter. In fact, it is possible to build a leaven and keep a portion of it as another starter, which I have done successfully.
Always remember: sourdough baking is just as much (if not more so) an art as a science. There are no failures, no wrong approaches. To paraphrase Martin Luther, do not be afraid to “sin boldly”. Some of our finest loaves arose out of what we perceived as monumental errors. Good luck, and happy baking!