I dreamed last night of snow. Actually, I dreamed of the anticipation of snow; everyone was in a huge rush to get home or far away before the storm.
That happens a lot here in Austin this time of year. If there is even the slightest chance of “weather” the city panics. I get it, though, as what we have here are ice storms, and no one can drive in that.
The first time I experienced one I’d only moved here the year before. I grew up with snow, serious snow and I sneered at the panic. Nothing happened as far as I could see, so in the morning I stepped out as usual to get the paper. I found myself flat on my butt in my driveway! The whole thing was covered with black ice, and I laughed at myself for being an idiot. I ended up scooting over to the grass in order to stand up, no way could I get back on my feet on that ice!
Now I believe them when they warn us, or at least I pay more attention to keeping a fuller pantry just in case. And, a cold day is a great excuse to keep the oven on! So, now when I hear the “weather” is coming, I haul out my sourdough starter.
The starter was given to me by a good friend. It has been dozing for years in the back of my fridge, and while I don’t bake just on cold days (I’d only have bread maybe twice a year!) I love the rhythm of bread baking.
Baking with this starter is a two-day process. Day one you wake the starter, day two you harvest enough to start the next batch and tuck it safely away, then actually make the dough and bake. The house smells yeasty and warm (yes, it smells warm, at least to me) and I am happy.
I feel certain that there are boulangeries, bakeries in France where they’ve been baking for so many decades in the same spot that they no longer need yeast. My kitchen is not quite that blessed, but I think I must have a pretty good wild yeast colony, as my loaves almost always rise as expected and I refresh my starter only once a year.
If you’re not lucky enough to have a friend willing to part with a bit of starter, you can certainly make your own. It may take a few tries, but it is easy and is basically just flour and water, so it doesn’t cost much. And, once you get it like you want it you are set!
My actual bread recipe varies. Sometimes I add herbs or cheese, or make it with a cup of whole wheat flour as well and the other flours, but I don’t stray too far from the basics I offer you below. Amounts of flour to water vary slightly depending on humidity and other factors, but basically is goes like this:
2 Loaf Sourdough
1 C sourdough starter
1 C tepid* water
1-1/2 T oil (I use olive oil)
2 T sugar
2 t salt
4 C flour (I use 1 C semolina flour and 3 C all-purpose)
Mix all, and knead (first in the bowl then on a well-floured board) adding flour if needed beyond the 4 cups until smooth.
Turn the dough back into a large clean oiled bowl, cover with a clean damp cloth and let rise for 6 hours or until doubled in bulk. The damp cloth keeps the dough from drying out while letting it breathe.
Punch down, turn out and form into 2 loaves or rounds. Put these on parchment on cookie sheets and cover with clean damp cloths. Let rise again, preheating the oven to 450F during the last hour of the rise. (This is the only tricky part timing-wise as you don’t want the bread to over-rise as it can fall/fail when baking.) Slash the dough with a very sharp knife just before putting the bread in the oven. This allows it to expand when it hits the heat.
Reduce the heat to 400 as the loaves go in. Bake at 400 for 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 and bake 1/2 hour more. For a crustier bread, spray the inside of the oven with water (lightly!) as you slide the loaves in, or put an oven proof pan in the bottom of the oven with a cup or so of water in it as you heat the oven.
When the bread is finished turn the oven off and let the loaves cool in the oven with the door cracked for 20 minutes, then finish cooling on a cooling rack. This makes fantastic French toast if there happens to be any left a day or so later, or you can slice it for crostini for appetizers. It is also amazing in pappa al pomodoro, a bread based Italian tomato soup.
OK, I’m hungry now. I never think I will be, after Thanksgiving dinner, and yet… I’m off to brunch! My bread is rising and I have plenty of time to go out, eat, enjoy my friends and still get back in time for the next step. Let me know if you try this and how it works for you! Bon appetit…