Monday, February 1, 2016

Sourdough Bread Making: four ingredients for delicious bread

Flour, water, salt and sourdough starter--that's all you need to make delicious bread, once you have a sourdough starter going. Starters are made with flour and water, plus wild yeast. The science behind wild yeast, and the making of a starter is a larger discussion, better explored elsewhere, but making your own delicious, affordable sourdough bread at home is relatively simple. We explored the process this winter in our annual bread baking workshop with Alex Chambers. We walked through all the steps and everyone had a chance to shape and bake some bread to take home. We also sent everyone home with sourdough starters.

What follows are instructions for a great tasting bread made with “wild” yeast. There is no commercial yeast added. It is not hard to keep the sourdough starter alive, and you only need to store a small amount of starter in between baking sessions. There are several steps, and lots of resting and rising time, but the times are flexible and most of it is unattended.  It is not difficult to get into a routine of making sourdough.

No-Knead Sourdough (makes 2 loaves)

Step one: activate the Starter
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon of sourdough starter (kept in the fridge when not in use.)
Mix these three together and let it sit out for 3-6 hours*.

Step two:  Make the Leaven
1 cup flour
½ cup water
The Activated  Starter that you mixed and let sit for 3-6 hours
Mix these together and let it sit for another 3-6 hours*.

Step three: Save Starter for next time.
Take out 1 tablespoon of this mixture and put it in the fridge as a Starter for next time.

Step four: Make the Dough
6 cups flour (I use mostly whole wheat, ideally a finer grind than stoneground. I recommend experimenting with various proportions of whole wheat, white, rye, and anything else you think of.)
2½ teaspoons salt
2-3 cups water
The Leaven that you mixed and let sit out for 4-8 hours.

Mix the dry flour and salt. Add some of the water to the leaven and mix it, adding more of the water, until it becomes soupy. (Sometimes this requires squeezing it through your fingers, since the developed gluten has trouble absorbing water.) Mix the soupy leaven and the rest of the water into the dry ingredients. Add enough water to mix it all into a “shaggy mass” – a pretty wet dough.
Let it sit for 4-8 hours, until it has visibly grown and become airy and tender to the touch.*

Step five: Shaping and Proofing
Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel or saran wrap and let rise for about 30-45 minutes. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

Step six: Bake using one of the two methods below:
Covered Pot (dutch oven) Method (if you have a pot that will work, this method gives the bread great oven spring and a wonderfully crunchy crust)
At least a half-hour before dough is finished proofing, heat oven to 450 500 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid,
Turn oven down to 450  place in oven, and and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Steamy Oven Method (if you don’t have a pot to use, or want to bake more than one loaf at a time, use this method) Preheat the oven to 525 (or as hot as your oven goes), and pour 1 cup hot water onto a tray underneath the baking tray right after putting the loaves in the oven. After about 3 minutes I turn the temperature down to 450 and bake about 30-40 minutes, until the loaves are golden-brown and give a good hollow thump when I tap the bottom.
If you don’t trust your thumb and ears to determine when the thump is good and hollow, you can check the loaf’s doneness with a kitchen probe thermometer/meat thermometer. For a lean loaf like this one, the temperature in the center should be about 195-205°.

*depending on the temperature of the room. Note that any of these steps can be slowed down further by refrigerating.