Once you have starter maintenance down, you’re ready to make a “country” loaf of sourdough bread that our pioneering families would have made just about every day. This is the epitome of simplicity in both ingredients and process. The actual time spent in mixing, stretching, folding and forming is less then an hour. Rising and fermentation times can be anywhere from 6 to 8 hours. The ingredients are flour, water, starter and a little bit of salt. That’s it! Next time you’re thinking of buying a store bought loaf of bread, read the ingredients label. They add so much stuff to make the bread faster, fluffier and consistent that they have lost the basics of real, natural nutrition. I truly believe many of the current ailments we are suffering from are due to consuming so many processed commercial foods. (We’ll discuss health benefits of sourdough in a future post.)
Start with this simple loaf and once you’ve gain experience, you can branch out into the wonderful world of sourdough breads. My jalapeno/pepperjack loaf is made by simply adding jalapenos and pepper jack cheese. Add rosemary or any other spices you like and you have a spiced bread you can not buy from any store. The only trick is learning how much of these ingredients to add to the recipe and how much bread to make at one time. We will cover these tricks as we share our recipes.
a 270 g Warm water a 525 g Active Starter
a 420 g Unbleached bread flour a 105 g Whole wheat flour
(Try different combinations of bread and wheat flours to suit your tastes.)
For example, for a more wheaty bread use:
200 g unbleached bread flour and 325 g whole wheat flour
a 21 g Sea salt
This is a 66% hydration recipe and will yield two loaves of about 1½ pounds each or one nice 3 pound boule.
Start with a very active starter. If you are just taking your starter out of the fridge, let it come up to room temperature and feed it per your maintenance schedule. Once a little bit of your starter floats in a bowl of room temperature water you’re ready to go.
Mix the warm water with your starter and stir to incorporate the two.
Add your combination of flours in a separate bowl and mix until they are evenly distributed. Then add to your water/starter combination and mix until everything comes somewhat together. Cover and let the shaggy mass autolyse for about 30 minutes.
Add the salt and mix with your hands to really get the dough to come together. I mix the dough in the container it is in by scooping down one side and turning it up into the middle. Turning the container around as you do this will get all the little bits of flour from the bottom of the container incorporated into the dough. Let the dough rest for another 10 minutes and then turn the dough out onto a clean board. Don’t oil or sprinkle any flour on your board. Using the stretch and fold method really gets the dough to come together nicely. Now is a good time to let you know I reject those expensive, fancy bread making machines. I believe we need to slow down and smell the flour. Dumping all the ingredients into a mixing bowl and letting the machine do the work is a shortcut I don’t prefer. I will be working out the recipes for working folk so they can still work and make amazing bread starting in the morning before they head out to work and when they get home from the salt mines they can throw their dough into the oven for fresh baked bread with their dinner.
Once you’ve turned out your dough onto a clean board, use the stretch and fold method to work the dough. Using your hands like a claw gather the dough up, stretch it, flip it over and slap it onto the board. Fold the remaining dough over onto itself. Continue this method for at least 10 minutes or until the dough starts to release from the board easily and starts to firm up. Use your bench scrapper to gather the loose bits of dough into a ball, cover and let it rest for 10 minutes. After this rest period, use the stretch and fold technique for another 5 to 10 minutes then let it rest for another 10 minutes. Repeat this process one or two more times or until the dough forms up into a nice tight dough ball.
Once you are happy with your dough, sprinkle a bit of flour on your board and drag the dough through the flour to lightly coat the bottom. Use one final stretch and fold and a tension pull to form up a nice ball of dough. Place the ball of dough into your bulk proofing container, cover and let rise until one and one half times to double its original size. This step has many variables such as how warm your kitchen is, how well you worked the dough, the humidity in the air and how active your starter was. Check the progress of the rise periodically until you get to know the average time to get to at least one and one half times the original. A typical rise time for my really active starter is around 3 hours to double in size. I’ve found that letting the dough go for longer then doubling its size runs the risk of your dough collapsing once the bacteria has finished eating everything it can.
Now that you have a nice lovely ball of dough, carefully and gently turn it out onto your board. It is time to decide what shape your bread will become. Everyone likes a big old boule as it hearkens back to the good old days. You know, where everyone had to be up before dawn to get their chores done and you had to fire up the wood burning stove in order to bake the bread. These days I prefer to split the dough into two halves and form them up into two 9” bread pans. Gently stretch and fold each portion into a loaf shape finishing up with a tension pull. Thoroughly coat your bread pans with Ghee or butter and place the dough into the bread pans. Don’t skimp here or the bread will stick to the pans. Let the loaves rise in the bread pans for at least an hour or until they double in size.
Turn on your oven (or fire up the wood stove!) and set it to 350 to 375 degrees. (177 to 190 degrees Celsius for our metric friends). Again, not every oven was created equal so some experimentation will be in order. Once your oven has reached the temperature you set, make a cut on the top of and the length of the loaves. Slather some ghee on the top of the loaves and put them into the oven.
Depending on the size of your oven, the pans you are using and the phases of the moon, you will need anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes. If the bread is browning to quickly, lower the temperature. If it isn’t doing anything, raise it up a notch. The good news is all you need is a temperature probe thrust into the middle of the loaf and when it reaches 190 to 200 degrees you and the loaf are done! Keep in mind that every time you open the oven door the temperature will drop and it will take longer to get to the finish line.
Remove from the pans, rack ‘em up and let them cool completely before you tear into them. (If you can!) Let them dry out and then bag ‘em up and store for a week in a cool dark place or freeze to keep for longer durations. (Yea, like that’s going to happen!)
And there you go! Some flour, water, starter and a little salt and you have the absolute best bread you can put in your body! No chemicals, preservatives or lord knows what else they put into store bought bread, your body will thank you!
Make it Happy, Make it Sour!