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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sourdough Sandwich Bread

In my last post, I gave instructions for creating a sourdough starter. It should be fed and grown on the counter (not the fridge) for a week before the first time using it. I find the best success in rising my dough when I feed the dough the night before I want to use it, so that it gets really active during the night. Then I mix up my dough in the morning. 

Here is a recipe I use most often- It makes a uniform, easy to slice bread which is great for sandwiches. It has a thin top crust (not super crunchy like Italian bread, but not soft like store bought sandwich bread.) I have also made dinner rolls, and Chris has made bagels, all with the same starter. The dough gets nice and sour, which I like- but you can experiment with rising time and amount of starter used to get yours less or more sour.

Sourdough Sandwich Bread

-2 cups active, 100% hydration starter {as mentioned above, feed it and let it get bubbly (active) before using it. For me, this is best done overnight.}

-3 cups bread flour (I try to use whole wheat if possible. Sometimes I just can't find it, so I use white flour. But I always use bread flour for recipes with yeast- or in this case, starter. It has more gluten and will lend better to a stretchy dough, and then will provide for a better bread consistency.)

-2 teaspoons-2 tablespoons sugar (the sugar is not really needed to feed the yeast in this recipe- the flour will do that just fine. The sugar is only for taste, and can be left out if preferred.)

-1 teaspoon salt

-2 tablespoons oil, plus more for oiling bowl- you can use olive oil for the flavor. If I don't want that flavor I use sunflower oil instead. Both work fine.

-warm water- I don't measure the water, I only add until I get the right consistency.

1. Mix everything but the water in a large bowl. I start out with a spoon but eventually it is just easier to use your (clean) hands. The dough will probably be a little scraggly. It might seem impossible to get all the flour incorporated. This is where you add some warm water. I add just a few tablespoons at a time- I don't want it getting TOO wet, I just want it to all come together and be one mass and not scraggly bits.

2. Once the dough comes together, dump the ball onto a clean, lightly floured surface. Knead with the heels of your hands for 15-20 minutes. The longer it is kneaded, the more gluten is formed. The more gluten is formed, the chewier the inside of the finished baked bread. One way to know if it is kneaded enough is to look for a "baker's windowpane."

3. Put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl (I just oil the bowl I mixed it all in, in step 1, and then move the kneaded dough ball back to it.) Cover the dough with a clean, damp kitchen cloth or plastic wrap, close to the dough to prevent a skin from forming and to allow it to maximize rising. Put the bowl in a warm, draft free place- I like to put it in the oven (turned off, of course.) I let it rise 3-5 hours, or until the dough is doubled in size, sometimes more. It all depends on how sour I want it to get- the longer it is allowed to rise, the more pronounced the sourness will be.

4. Punch the dough down a few times, and roll it onto a clean surface. Knead it a few times and transfer it to an un-greased loaf pan. Cover it again with the kitchen cloth or plastic wrap. Let it rise another few hours, or until the dough reaches the top of the pan.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the kitchen cloth and transfer the loaf pan to the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until lightly browned on top. To check if baked through, tap on the loaf- it should sound kind of hollow.

6. Remove the loaf from the pan, and allow to cool before slicing. Although, we never really let it cool enough before "testing" it.

Will you try making your own bread? I find kneading therapeutic, and the smell of baking bread is a-ma-zing when the temperature dips. Who needs candles? ;)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sourdough 101

As the weather gets cooler, there are several things I can't help but crave. Tall boots with skinny jeans or leggings tucked into them. Thick, chunky, soft, cozy sweaters. Shades of navy blue, grey, black, brown and army green. And gluten. I just can't help it- as the weather cools down, I eat more pasta and bread. Through the summer it is easy to eschew it in favor of raw fruits and vegetables. I am still eating lots of produce, and keeping a majority of it raw, but I have been making lots of bread, too. I make it instead of buying it because  I feel that by making it, we savor it more and we eat less than if I just bought it. I can control the ingredients, it is fresher than what is found in the store, and making it is cheaper. From start to finish, baking a loaf can take hours, depending on rising time. But it is not all that labor intensive, other than maybe 20 minutes of kneading. And it makes the house smell great. 

For a while I was on an Italian bread kick, in search of a perfect crunchy crust with a fluffy/stretchy inside. Lately, though, I have been making sourdough bread. I made my own starter first, and after a week I was good to go. It is super easy, but the steps seem long, so I will make this post about the starter alone, and follow up with another post about the actual bread. 

Sourdough Starter

2 cups all-purpose flour*
2 teaspoons granulated sugar (optional)**
1 packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) of active-dry yeast
2 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees F.)***

* I use bread flour- it has a high gluten content. I use bread flour exclusively when yeast is the leavening agent, and pastry flour when baking soda or baking powder is the leavening agent. Bread flour is higher in gluten, which makes the bread have a chewy texture, instead of a crumbly  texture like cake or cookies. I try to stick with whole wheat for both types, if possible. 
** Adding a little sugar will help jump start the yeast process, as yeast feeds on sugar for its energy. Yeast rises by feeding on the sugars in flour, and expelling carbon dioxide in the process. That's why using just a little sugar can help boost this process. Don't overdo the sugar.
*** Our water runs through a filtration system which removes chlorine. Chlorine can inhibit yeast activity, so you may need to use bottled or distilled if your water is not filtered. Experiment!

Mix the flour, sugar, and yeast together in a clean and sterile container (use only glass, glazed ceramic or crockery to hold your starter. No metal or plastic) that can hold two quarts. Gradually stir in the water and mix until it forms a thick paste (don't worry about any lumps, as they will disappear).
Cover the container with a dish cloth and let it sit in a warm (70 to 80 degrees F.), draft-free place. NOTE: Temperatures hotter than 100 degrees F. or so will kill the yeast. The dish cloth will let wild yeasts pass through into the batter. The mixture should bubble as it ferments (this will foam up quite a bit). Sometimes I place the container in my sink (if sourdough spills out onto your counter, it is hard to clean off once it has dried).
Let it sit out (at room temperature) for 2 to 5 days, stirring it once a day. The starter is ready when it develops a pleasant sour smell and looks bubbly.
Once your starter starts bubbling, then start feeding it daily with flour and water according to the directions below. Then stir it, cover loosely with the cloth- I used an elastic to hold it in place (allow a little breathing space), and store it on your counter top or in the refrigerator (your choice).

Your starter should be fed daily if left sitting on the counter. Every other week, if refrigerated. I keep mine in the fridge as I am not making bread every day, but only once or twice a week. When it is time to feed it, scoop a cup of it out (after stirring) and stir in one cup flour, one cup warm water. When scooping a cup out, you can either use it in baking or you can throw it out. I typically use it to bake since I am baking once or twice a week. I will go into more detail about the process I use when preparing to bake and the actual baking in my next post. 

Do you like sourdough bread? Do you have a weakness for gluten like I do? I guess there are worse things, right? ;)