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Weekly Bread

April 15, 2010

Lately–weekly–I’ve stuck with the same recipe for bread, based on recipes and techniques from Wild Sourdough by Yoke Mardewi.  It incorporates a fair amount of whole grains (your choice; I’ve used whole wheat the past two weeks, but have used a high proportion of rye with lovely results), forms a sticky dough you’d think was unmanageable even with a mixer, and yields a soft, chewy, lightly open crumb (the technical term for the inside of the bread).

The recipe is fairly flexible.  I’ve added more flour for a stiffer dough or skimped on the flour for a wetter dough and turned it into a bread pan to give it something to climb up as it rose.

my rye sourdough starter

If your sourdough starter isn’t very active, you may want to increase the active dry yeast to 1/2 teaspoon; if you’re confident in your sourdough’s abilities, however, you can leave off the active dry yeast altogether.

  • 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 Cups water/milk, divided
  • 1 Tablespoon honey or molasses (buckwheat honey works well, but any will do)
  • 2 Cups sourdough starter, room temperature, fed 8-12 hours ago (I use Hydra, my trusty rye starter)
  • 3 teaspoons salt (large grain sea salt)
  • 2-3 Tablespoons olive oil, melted butter, or fat of your choice (optional)*
  • 2 Cups bread flour
  • 1 1/2 Cups whole grain flour (your preference; I use either all whole wheat or a whole wheat and rye mix)

Heat half of the milk or water (3/4 Cup) to yeast-loving temperature (typically 100°F-115°F; I never use a thermometer, though.  Dip you pinky in; it should be warm, but not scalding).  Mix in honey/molasses and stir until dissolved.  Pour over active dry yeast in a mixing bowl large enough to add all the ingredients.  Let sit until it blooms.  You’ll see foam or bubbles once it’s proofed; about 5 or 10 minutes.

Stir in remaining liquid–room temperature or warm is preferable.  Add your room temperature starter & mix.  Stir in salt then bread flour, one cup at a time.  By now the mixing will become difficult.  A sturdy, long-handled wooden spoon is best for this; metal and plastic may bend on you, but the wood will remain firm.  Stir in the whole grain flour of your choice half a cup at a time, making sure each is thoroughly mixed before adding the next.

At this point, if the mixture is still goopy, sloppy, soft, and sticky, you’re doing it right.  I’ve been adding extra flour by feel for a slightly firmer dough because I’ve been making rolls and a loaf and want my rolls to have some form.  Typically it’s around another half cup.  If you plan on baking the dough free-form, you will probably want to mix in up to another cup–again either half a cup or even a quarter cup at a time.  It’s easier to mix and harder to add too much.

When you’re happy with the state of your dough, give yourself a break.  Pull the spoon out and let the dough sit.  The whole grains will use this break to absorb more of the liquid.  Make yourself a cup of tea or wash the breakfast dishes or check your email and come back in 20 minutes.  (a bit longer won’t hurt it, but don’t abandon it for more than, oh a half  hour in a warm room or an hour in a cooler room)

After 20 minutes eye your dough skeptically.  Do you really think something that sticky can be kneaded?  Well, certainly not with just a slap-dash sprinkle of flour.  Not without your counters (and arms) being eaten by the dough.

What do you do instead?  Taking a page from Yoke Mardewi, I oil my surface and my hands, then turn out the dough.  Instead of my counter or a cutting board (glass might work, though why you have a knife-dulling glass cutting board is beyond me), I oil a silicone baking mat.  The mat itself resists the stickiness, but this dough even tests that ability, so I still oil the mat.  Slap the dough around with your oily fingertips.  Scoop it up in your hands, toss it lightly back and forth (don’t hold your hands too far apart), smack it down on the oiled mat.  If you dough isn’t too sticky you may be able to push & fold it over itself on the mat, but that only works for less wet doughs.  Re-oil your fingers as necessary; you may be able to just rub more oil from the edges of the mat on your hands.  Some dough will still stick to you.

Slap the dough around for 5 minutes.  Then plop your gluten-happy dough back in its bowl.  You can either reuse the mixing bowl as is, or wash it out and oil it lightly.  Give your dough baby another 20 minute rest.  This rest is for the gluten to form into long strands, yielding chewy bread.

After this 20 minute rest, repeat the tossing about and slapping of the dough for another 5 minutes.  Then toss it back in its bowl.  Let it sit in a draft-free area and  rise until doubled.

I leave out the oiled silicone mat for shaping.  When finished rising, pull off about half the dough–with oiled hands–and shape, as best as you are able, into a loaf or log (rolling or folding are acceptable methods) and place in a lightly oiled bread pan or cornmeal-dusted baking sheet or bread peel or let rise on the silicone mat (as you prefer).  Repeat with the other half of the dough.

Alternately, use half the dough to form rolls.  Pull off anywhere from a golf-ball sized lump to a fist sized lump (depending on how large you’d like your rolls) and roll between your palms to form a ball.  Place on a greased or cornmeal dusted baking sheet.  Repeat with remaining dough, re-oiling your hands between rolls.  You could also make  smaller balls and place three of them in a well-greased muffin tin to make little pull-apart trefoil rolls, which look lovely when brushed with butter or oil or egg-white before baking.

This recipe makes two loaves or one loaf and 6-10 rolls.  Allow the shaped dough to rise until doubled.  Depending on how stiff the dough is and when you are rising it in, the bread or rolls may expand sideways instead of up.  But even when somewhat flat, this dough results in soft, tender interior bread, so don’t fret.

Preheat your oven to 400°F.  If using a pizza stone or cast iron pan to bake your loaf/loaves, place it inside the oven to preheat as well.

Rolls will typically be ready to bake before bread. When rise is finished, loaf/loaves should be slashed with a sharp knife to allow gases to escape and prevent cracking.  Dough can be brushed with butter or oil, or, if you want toppings, brush with an egg-white wash (with a little water beaten in) and sprinkle on poppy seeds or sesame seeds or whatever else strikes your fancy.

Put pan/tray/baking surface inside or transfer dough to baking surface.  Bake at 400°F for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350°F for the remaining time, 20-30 minutes, usually.  The top of the bread should be golden; it will be darker if a wash was used and darker still if you used molasses, rye flour, or a higher proportion of wheat flour.  The bottom of the bread should sound hollow when tapped.  If the bottom is soft, it needs to be baked longer.  If you’re unsure, Yoke Mardewi recommends leaving the bread in the oven after you’ve turned it off for 15-30 minutes.

Allow bread to cool completely before slicing.  I know it’s hard, but the bread is still technically cooking while it cools.  Rolls can be eaten warm.

*Adding olive oil or any other fat to the dough will retard gluten development somewhat, giving a little less structure.  I don’t like very crusty dough and add the oil for a softer, more tender crust.  Oil can also be brushed on the outside of the dough to help with that.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 16, 2010 8:33 am

    Your breads all look delicious. I’m still trying to tackle yeast, but am excited for the day that I can bake lots of good breads too ;]

    • April 16, 2010 10:25 am

      Thanks! I think it tastes better than it looks, but that’s just my photography, haha.

      My first attempts at yeast were worse than awful . . . I didn’t realize you had to proof it and just mixed it right in with the flour and salt. Terrible, terrible not-bread. Yeast gets easier when someone who knows what they’re doing shows you how to do it. Repeatedly.

      Good luck with your yeast adventures! Your blog is lovely and your photos quirky (in a wonderful way that makes me look at them again and again). Thanks for reading.

  2. Miss Kim permalink
    April 25, 2010 9:40 am

    Kathy, Oh Kathy! Your bread looks so much better then mine! When will you come over and teach me??

    Today I am going to make bread pudding with my leftover bread from last week. No raisins, so I guess it’ll be dates that I put in!

    • April 26, 2010 7:07 am

      Thanks, Kim! I’m making more today. Yum. I’d love to have a bread baking day! We definitely should.

      Bread pudding with dates sounds divine. My bread never hangs around long enough to become bread pudding. You wouldn’t think two people could go through two loaves so quickly, but somehow all I end up with is half a crust and a handful of crumbs by Thursday.

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