Friday, March 04, 2005

Sourdough Bread

Alright. So about 5 days ago I gave you guys a simple recipe for sourdough starter. In that time, if you mixed up the starter and set it out, you may have captured some wild yeasts. If, in fact, you did so, your starter should be bubbling and smelling nice and sour. Now it's time to make some bread and see whether the yeasts you captured are worth a shit. Here we go:


1 c. starter
1.5 c. warm water (105-115)
4 c. bread or all-purpose flour
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt

All of the sponge
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 c. bread flour

1/2 c. water
1 tsp. salt


One or two days before you are ready to eat some sourdough, mix the starter, water,
flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl or crock. Stir everything together thoroughly. It should become fairly stiff and may be difficult to stir. Regardless, make sure everything is fully mixed. The resulting agglomeration is called the sponge. Cover it with some saran (I use a rubber band to hold it on), and let sit in a warm place until has doubled in volume.

Depending on how fervid your yeast is, it may take anywhere from 3-12 hours for the sponge to double in size. My first sponge took something like 12 hours, my second something like 4. I don't know why the great difference, but just keep an eye on it the first few times.

When the sponge has doubled, stir it down and sprinkle on the baking soda. Then, stir in flour 1/2 cup at a time. I have found that I can stir in maybe 1/2 a cup before the dough gets too stiff. After that, I have to knead in the flour. Either way, you want to stir/knead in at least 1 1/2 cups of flour (the recipe calls for two). Once you have mixed/kneaded rest of the flour in, proceed to knead the dough for another 5 minutes or so on a floured board. If it gets sticky, add another tablespoon. You can tell the dough is done when it is smooth and elastic. Poke it with your finger and it will rebound. If it doesn't, it is too slack and you need more flour. Cut the dough into two pieces, cover with a towel and let sit for 5-10 minutes. This will allow the gluten to relax and make it easier to shape. If the dough asks for a cigarette, just let it have one, it aids in relaxation.

Once the dough is good and relaxed cut, form each piece into a ball. This may require some additional kneading, slapping, patting and gentle persuasion. This next part is key: Line two round baskets or colanders with a dish cloth and sprinkle the cloth with flour. Place the loaves in the dish cloth, sprinkle some flour on top, and fold the cloth over them. Place both loaves in a warm place and let rise until double.

Grease a baking sheet. Place a tray with 1 1/2 c. water in the bottom rack of the oven. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Prepare the wash. When the loaves are risen and the oven hot, place the loaves on the baking sheet. Brush each loaf with the wash and, using a serrated knife, cut an X in the top of each loaf. Place the loaves in the oven and cook for about 30-40 minutes. When the top of the loaves are medium dark, they are probably done. Tap the bottoms of the loaves. If they sound hollow, they are done. Place loaves on a rack to cool for 5 minutes before slicing. Eat with relish. Or butter.


When I give times, they are obviously very rough estimates. Your yeasts may be very active, or they may be inactive. Just watch and guage. Basically, you want your sponge and your loaves to double. If you go beyond the doubling point, your dough may actually taste a little weird or collapse in the cooking for having risen too much.

Your first loaves are a test batch. You want to see if the yeasts taste good. They might taste nasty. If so, throw the starter out. If they taste good, though, keep that bad boy. Who knows, you might have captured something that will live for generations in your family.

Baking the loaves in a moist environment is key. This is what gives the loaves the crispy shell that you (or I) equate with good french bread. The wash achieves the same effect. You should find that 1 1/2 c. keeps the air moist for about the first 15-20 minutes. That's all you really need.

Very Important!
Do not forget to feed your starter after you make the sponge. To start out, I'd just put 1/2 cup warm milk and 1/2 cup flour in their. If the bread turns out good and you want to keep the starter, then go and add another cup of each. Once you have a full batch of starter that has fermented nicely, cover it tightly and put it in the fridge until you want to use it next.