Food & Drink

How Mike Lata Makes Sourdough Bread

Recipe yields two loaves of bread

A lauded chef creates a Lowcountry riff on a classic bread while in isolation

photo: Mike Lata


As families across the country shelter in place, home cooking has become more important than ever, be it pantry-clean-out dinners or long-put-off projects. With sudden time on their hands, professional chefs, too, are keeping busy in the kitchen. Like many others, Mike Lata,  chef-partner of the Charleston institutions FIG and the Ordinary, turned his attention to an activity sweeping the nation during self-quarantine: the making of homemade sourdough. 

“In the real world, there’s simply no way we’d be able to spend this much time making bread,” says Lata of the multi-day process, which he worked on while isolating at home in Charleston with his wife, Jenni, and eight-year-old son, Henry. “As a chef, bread making is by no means foreign to me, but in the past, I was always more of a brioche guy. Having to nurture a starter every day is a whole different ball game.” 

photo: Courtesy of Mike Lata

The Latas adapted their sourdough recipe from San Francisco’s Tartine Bakery, where the now widely used method of baking the bread in a cast-iron Dutch oven originated (you can find the Smithey version Lata uses here). With a few small adjustments—the addition of Jimmy Red cornmeal to the dough and a dusting of benne seed—the bread takes on a distinctly Lowcountry quality, perfect for griddled sandwiches or savoring straight from the loaf. “The sourdough is great many ways, but I’m partial to a BLT,” Lata says. “We’re also getting creative with our leftovers—just throw a few slices of bread in a skillet with some butter and whatever you have on hand. We had some braised pork shoulder left over from dinner that I sliced up for crisp, crackly Cuban sandwiches the next day.”  

photo: Courtesy of Mike Lata

Influx of baked goods aside, Lata and his clan are looking for the positives. “The blessing in disguise is how much family time I’ve been able to spend with Henry and Jenni, who’s expecting,” Lata says. “As uncomfortable as this moment might be, we’re all just trying to make the best of it.” As for new cooking projects on the horizon, the chef and his family are still expanding their gluten repertoire. “The natural progression seems to be from sourdough to pizza dough. We’ve already had a few pizza nights, which has been a lot of fun. We’re also suckers for a good egg sandwich, so we’re embarking on bagel-making next.”


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Cast-Iron Dutch Oven by Smithey Ironware Co. Shop Smithey Ironware’s Dutch oven at Fieldshop by Garden & Gun.


Ingredients

  • For the starter:

    • 50 grams whole wheat flour (about ¼ cup)

    • 50 grams white wheat flour (about ¼ cup)

    • 100 grams water (about ½ cup)

  • For the dough:

    • 200 grams starter

    • 800 grams bread flour (about 5¾ cups)

    • 100 grams whole wheat flour

    • 100 grams Jimmy Red Cornmeal

    • 825 grams filtered water at 72-82˚F (about 3 1/2 cups)

    • Benne seed (optional)


Preparation

  1. For starter:

    Day 1: By weight, combine equal parts flour and water. Lata used 50 grams whole wheat flour, 50 grams white wheat flour, and 100 grams water. In a quart container or glass bowl, mix together to a sticky, pancake-batter-like consistency and cover with Saran wrap. Poke a few holes in the plastic so the starter can breathe. Let sit at room temperature.

  2. Day 2: The starter should begin to show signs of life (bubbles equal fermentation). Feed it in the morning, same as Day 1, with equal parts flour and water. 

  3. Day 3: Feed again in the morning around 9 a.m., with 100 grams flour and 100 grams water; you will continue to use these amounts in the days afterward.

  4. Day 4: Feed again in the morning. You might need to transfer it to a bigger bowl at this point.

  5. Day 5: Discard half of the starter. Feed remaining starter. 

  6. Day 6: Feed again in the morning.

  7. Day 7: Feed again in the morning. 

  8. Day 8: You should be ready to make your bread today. Feed starter again at 9 a.m. You will be ready to make dough 3 to 6 hours later. 

  9. Make the dough:

    Starter should be vigorous and active between 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. after a 9 a.m. feeding on Day 8.

     

  10. In a large bowl, combine 200 grams starter with bread flour, whole wheat flour, cornmeal, and filtered water. 

  11. Form a claw with your hand and stir together with your fingers until all ingredients are combined. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let sit for 30 minutes. 

     

  12. Stir in 25 grams (2 tablespoons, plus 1 teaspoon) kosher salt. Cover again. Let sit for 3 hours at room temperature. 

     

  13. During this 3-hour period, fold the dough every 30 minutes. Use damp fingers to pick up one side and fold it into the center like an envelope. Rotate the bowl and do this 4-5 times, until you’ve folded the entire dough. 

     

  14. Shape the dough:

    Line two medium mixing bowls with a lint-free towel and dust with flour or benne seed.

     

  15. After the 3 hours at room temperature, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide in half. Shape both into tight balls by repeating the folding motion. The side on the work surface will become the top of your bread (the presentation side). 

     

  16.  Transfer folded, tight dough balls into the prepared bowls. Cover and refrigerate for 12-24 hours. 

  17. Bake the bread: Remove dough from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature, about 3 hours. 

     

  18. Preheat the oven to 525˚F. Place a lidded Dutch oven in the oven to preheat for at least 30 minutes. 

  19. Uncover dough and dust top with flour or cornmeal (this will be the bottom of the bread). 

  20. Remove preheated Dutch oven carefully from oven. Flip dough into the hot pot. Using scissors or a sharp knife, cut a couple of slits in the top to allow for expansion. Replace lid and return to the oven. Drop temperature to 450˚F and bake for 30 minutes. 

  21. Remove the lid and bake for another 12 minutes.

     


  22. For information on how to support the restaurant industry in your community during COVID-19, visit saverestaurants.com. “Restaurants are essential to the fabric of our communities, not to mention the second-largest employer in the country after the government,” Lata says. “If we don’t take action, we’ll see the shuttering of countless neighborhood spots across the board. The Independent Restaurant Coalition is a great place to start educating yourself on how to be part of a larger voice.”