Fresh bread. Mmmm…
I did remember (aren’t you proud of me?) to take pictures of the “hot outta the oven” loaves, so I pretty much captured the entire process. It take a bit of planning, but not really a lot of time, and although (as a friend’s son succinctly put it) you cannot rush bread, I find it soothing, calming, and often just what I need to “be in the moment”.
This is a two-day sourdough. I got a lovely cup of starter, gee, I guess it was a couple of years ago now, from a good friend. Its been happily gurgling in the back of my fridge since then, with relatively frequent “refreshing”.
It is simple, really, once you have a good starter. Now those of you who are gluten-free for whatever reason can ignore this week’s post, or read on, try it, and astonish your non-gluten-free friends. And those of you who live where the bread is always good, crusty, fresh and wonderful, can ignore this as well, but I honestly believe that I am sometimes invited to dinner only so I will bring the bread. Hmmm…
Anyway, day one, take your starter out, scoop it into a big bowl, and mix well with 1 cup of warm (not hot!) water, a bit (2-4 T) of sugar, and 1-1/2 to 2 C flour. I use good white bread flour at this point, and can switch it up with whole wheat or even a bit of rye later on. Cover the bowl and let it sit somewhere out of drafts and not too chilly overnight. I used to set mine on my stovetop, but since I got the new stovetop that doesn’t have “always on” pilot lights, I find that setting it in the oven with the light (light bulb, I mean, not pilot light) on is perfect. Warm but not hot, and no drafts.
I tend to be up early anyway, but on “baking day” I make sure I get out of bed early early, at least long enough to do this next step. So, in the morning the sponge should be bubbly and happy looking. Be sure to tuck a cup away for the next time (!!) then, to the balance add another cup of warm water, about 1 T oil (I use olive oil), 2 T sugar, 2 t salt, mix well and add by cupfuls, about 4 C flour. I have to say “about” on the flour because it will depend on how dry the day and your flour are, and if you are using all white flour or a mixture. It should be kneadable but not tight…
I like to make my bread like I make my pasta, in a big enough bowl to knead it right there. It works fine for me, and since I have a second big bowl for the rising, I never do make a mess on the counter. So, knead it working in a bit more flour if needed,, then when it forms a nice ball and is good and stretchy, put a bit of oil in the other big bowl, and put the dough in there to rise.
I turn it over once or twice to slightly coat it with oil, then cover the bowl and let it rise (back into the barely warm oven you go, my dearie) until roughly double. Depending on the day, this can take 5-8 hours.
Once it has doubled, punch it down (kids love this part), divide it into loaves and either put them in lightly greased loaf pans or set them on parchment on baking sheets. Cover loosely and let rise again. It will go faster the second time, in my experience.
Preheat the oven to 425F at least a half-hour before you plan to actually bake. The oven really does need to be HOT. Just before baking, I slash the tops of the loaves, open the oven door and spray a bit of water inside, and get ’em into the oven quick!!
After about 15 minutes I turn the oven down to 350F, open the door just enough to use my spray bottle of fresh water to add some more steam to the hotbox, and bake for another half-hour.
The hardest part is waiting for the bread to cool enough to cut or tear apart. Really. I usually take one still-warm loaf over to my neighbors, wrapped in an clean old kitchen towel.
They are wonderful friends, and this makes a nice general thank-you, I think. Other than the one incident when they turned their backs and the dog got the bread off their kitchen table they tell me they have enjoyed every loaf I’ve made over the years.
So, let me know if you try this, ok? It really doesn’t take much actual time and the results can be truly wonderful. Mmmmmm…..