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Oh-so basic sourdough

February 11, 2010

Lately, I’ve noticed a trend in complicated bread.  Like, Daniel Leader’s book Local Breads: Sourdough and Whole-Grain Recipes from Europe’s Best Artisan Bakers, which comes across as snobbish in its insistence on authentic French baugettes and real German rye bread.  As though whatever you make in your kitchen anywhere in the world could not be just as delicious.  The book also insists on particular procedures and tools for bread making, like throwing in ice cubes at the beginning of baking your bread to give it a more authentic crust, or using proofing baskets to achieve the right shape.  (This book isn’t the only party guilty of complicating bread making, but it’s the one I’ve been most recently annoyed by)

Bread–good, homey, flavorful bread–can be made a home.  Easily.  Simply.  With a few ingredients and very few tools–which you’ll most likely already have.  Yeast. Salt. Water. Flour.  Large bowl. Spoon. Baking surface. Mix. Knead. Rise. Shape. Rise. Bake. Bread.

Sourdough can make this process even easier.  You’ve already got a happy, active yeast colony–and all the moisture you need.  Add flour and salt and you have a dough.

The best part about baking bread is that most of the work is done when you’re not around.  Sure, you need to mix and knead the dough, but the dough rises itself in these long periods of time where you can do anything else you need.  You can even shove the dough in the fridge and forget about it for half the day, or longer.  Amazing.  And with sourdough, a long rise equals a long fermentation, which means a chewier, more complex sourdough flavor.  Yum!  All that for letting your dough sit around?

Don’t let the kneading throw you off, either.  If you don’t have a fancy mixer or bread machine to do the muscle-work for you, work your muscles in a few sets of punch-slap-press.  Do a kneading rep, wait 10 minutes, do another.  The bread is easier to work with each time you come back to it.

The recipe?  Ah yes, I can indeed include one of those:

  • 2 Cups bread flour
  • 1 ½ Cups sourdough starter (I used Hydra, my rye starter)
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt


Mix the ingredients together, reserving, if you like, the last half cup of flour to gauge the wetness of the dough.  Or, throw it all in and add dribbles of water when kneading, as needed.  Tumble onto a lightly floured surface and knead.  I kneaded in three sets, resting the dough for 10 or so minutes in between.  The perfect time for cleanup.

Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let rise until doubled.  If, towards the end of the first rise, you’re headed out the door for lunch and yarn shopping and you’re not confident you’ll be back in time to bake from a second rise, punch down and allow rise 1.5.  

When doubled, shaped and allow it to rise until doubled.  I rose my shaped dough on a silicone baking mat dusted with flour (probably unnecessary) because I wanted to preheat my baking surface (a cast iron skillet) before transferring the dough.

Flour the top, if desired, or use an egg white wash and poppy seeds, or leave the dough baby naked as the day it was wrenched from flour and water by your bare hands.  Score in a pleasing manner, transfer to your baking surface, and pop into a 400°F preheated oven. Baked at 400 until you remember that your oven always runs hot (about 15 minutes) and turn it down to 350°F, praying you don’t burn the poor thing. Remove when golden and hollow-sounding when tapped on the bottom. Mine took about 45 minutes.

This particular recipe makes a tiny loaf.  Adorable, really, especially if you manage that cute round shape that was totally accidental on my part.  Let cool, driving away loved ones with your wooden mixing spoon (oh, wait, I used that red spatula . . . well, that works, too).  Makes excellent sandwiches.

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