Thursday, June 2, 2011

Homemade Sourdough Bread

(does this not look delicious?)
Warning: This will be a long post (but it's worth it!)
I have recently developed a sourdough bread addiction.  For a while we were buying a loaf a week and I would make tons of sourdough grilled cheese sandwiches, sourdough turkey sandwiches, and sourdough toast.  Bryan asked if we could make our own sourdough bread, but I didn't think we could because... I don't know, it seems like it would be too hard to do and sourdough bread is kind of a mystery to me.  It was like when Bryan suggested we make homemade flour tortillas, and I thought it would a.) require random ingredients we didn't have b.) be super hard to do and c.) not be worth the time and energy.  In the end it was really quick and easy, and on top of that it tasted amazing.  And sure enough, we found out that making sourdough bread is not that hard to do, and there is a lot of information online on how to do it.
The part that intimidated me about sourdough bread is you have to make a starter, which is a mixture of flour and water that you allow to ferment until it develops natural yeast.  This is what makes the bread rise, and what gives the bread its "sour" taste.  I wasn't totally convinced it would work, but I mixed up some bread flour and water and waited for the magic to happen.  After two or three days I was excited to find that the starter was frothy and smelled a little sour.  It worked!  I wasn't sure which recipe to use, but the first one I tried turned out great (see picture above).  It may not look pretty, but it tasted amazing!  The crust was crispy and the inside was chewy, moist, and full of big bubbly holes.  It tasted better than any homemade bread I'd ever had.  And the best part is that it's a no knead bread, so it is super easy to make.
Here is a picture of the second loaf we made.  We used the same recipe but used the rising time and bread shaping techniques from Breadtopia.  The main difference is you let the bread rise in a floured towel instead of an oiled bowl, because we notice that the oil made the bottom of the bread sizzle/fry and get a little overcooked
This is our third loaf where we did everything the same as the second loaf, but slit the top.
(Isn't it pretty?)
Our third loaf was an experiment to get a more sour taste, and we also tried using one cup whole wheat flour (the Breadtopia recipe does this), which made a pretty good loaf, though it was not as light as the other loaves we'd made (we didn't get pictures because we were in St. George).  I think the longer rising time did improve the taste, but next time I would skip the whole wheat flour or use less.

If you are interested in the recipe I've posted it below.  I got it here, but I changed a few things and scaled the recipe down quite a bit.  I cooked my bread in an enameled dutch oven with a lid because that is supposed to make the crust crispy, but I've also heard that spraying your oven walls with some water can produce the same effect if your planning to cook your bread on a pizza stone or cookie sheet. If you want to make your own starter I think this is the recipe I used.
Sourdough Bread Recipe
½ c. sourdough starter*
3 c. bread flour (or all purpose if you don’t have bread flour)
1 ½  c. water
1 t. salt
*Keep starter in the fridge and feed it once a week.  When it’s time to feed the starter, first remove ½ cup starter and use it to bake bread.  If you aren’t planning to make bread, give the ½ cup starter to someone else, or simply through it away.   Now you can feed your remaining starter. You want to feed the starter 1 part water to 2 parts flour (I sometimes do equal parts).  I usually feed mine ½ - ¾ cups all-purpose flour and ½ cup water because I like to keep my starter at a thick, batter-like consistency. If the starter gets too thick or too thin, you can adjust accordingly. I've also heard it's a good idea to feed your starter the day before you bake bread because that makes the starter more active when you actually use it.

1.     Start by pouring one cup of room temperature tap water (not warm) into a large bowl. Scoop out ½ c. of sourdough starter and stir it in. The starter likes being stirred up and aerated, so stir or whisk it together vigorously. (Take a moment to replenish/feed your starter right now)
2.     Stir in 1 ½ c. bread flour. Mix until smooth.
3.     Stir in ½ cup of water. Add the salt and mix thoroughly. The salt will slow down the fermentation. This is a good thing. The longer the sourdough takes to rise, the more sour the bread will be.
4.     Stir in the remaining 1 ½ c. bread flour. Stir until completely mixed. You do NOT need to knead this bread. The sourdough starter will actually do that for you. All those little yeasts get rowdy and over time inspire gluten fibers to form. This gives the bread its unique sourdough texture.
5.     Cover the bowl of dough with a towel and set aside in a draft-free place. Don't jiggle the dough while it's doing its thing. Leave it alone. The bread dough needs to just sit and do its thing for 12-15 hours. When it's done, the dough will be bubbly and BIGGER than it was at the start. If the bubbles start to pop, then it's gone too long. It doesn't hurt to peek at it from time to time. If your kitchen is particularly warm or it is the middle of the summer, you might need to shorten this first rise time. If you notice the bubbles popping, then the dough is ready for the next step. You CAN slow things down by refrigerating the dough at any point. (And putting the bread in the fridge to rise for even longer will give the bread a more sour taste)
6.     Now it's time for the step that we call "turning out the dough." Start by sprinkling some more flour across the top of the dough. Then plunge your hands into the flour bin and get thoroughly floured up. Start by sweeping your hand around and under the dough in the bowl. Go stick your hand in the flour bin again. Scoop the dough up and over. Get a little more flour on your hands. Scoop and roll the dough over. It shouldn't take too many scoops and sweeps before the dough starts feeling elastic. The dough is ready for its second rise.
7.     Oil the inside of another bowl so that the dough will roll out easily when it's time to put it in the oven. The sourdough still has not finished creating gluten fibers, so it needs a few more hours. Cover the bowl with a towel and set in a draft-free area. How long the dough rests will depend a lot on the room temperature. If your kitchen is fairly cool, you should let the dough rest another 4-5 hours. If your kitchen is warm, you'll want to keep an eye on things and consider baking the bread after only 2-3 hours.
***Pay attention to the dough during this stage. The thing that you do NOT want is for the starter to consume all the available fuel (flour) in the dough. If that happens, the dough will collapse in on itself after rising. If you see signs of the dough starting to collapse--that means the bubbles are bursting and the center of the dough begins to sag a little--it's time to hustle that bread into the oven.
8.     Turn your oven on to 450 degrees and stick the pan and cover in to preheat for 30 minutes.  The type of pan you use is actually very important. The very best option is a heavy cast iron Dutch oven with a cover. I also use a covered roasting pan. The key is the cover. You'll need a cover to create a miniature steam oven for the first 30 minutes of baking (You might even be able to just cover a deep stoneware or pyrex pan with foil, but I haven’t tried it).  I use pans that are 4 - 6 quarts in size. The pan should be at least 4 quarts in size.
9.     Pull the pan out of the oven, being very careful not to burn yourself. Sprinkle corn grits, cornmeal, or oatmeal on the bottom of the pan. This will keep the bread from sticking.  Gently roll the dough out of the bowl and into the pan. Pop the cover back on and put it in the oven. Bake at 450 degrees for 30 minutes.
10. Remove the cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes. This will brown up the top of the bread. (It might only need 5-10 minutes)
11. When bread is golden brown and cooked through, take it out of the oven and tip it out onto a cooling rack.

If you want to use the Breadtopia rising instructions, follow this recipe up to step 5, and then use the proofing basket method (Breadtopia has a video, but basically you fold the dough up a little, wrap it in a floured towel, and set it in a bowl so it has a nice round shape when it bakes) and let the bread rise again for about 2 hours before baking.