Remember those Amish Friendship Breads? The ones you DREADED getting? The gooey yeasty concoction in a plastic zipper bag that you were forced to “feed” twice a day then make something out of before it turned into a rancid gelatinous horrid mess? Well, that my friends is nothing more than a bread starter. You can make any kind of bread with that, not just the quick breads (I say quick because technically, sweetbread is the nice culinary term for such things as the neck, throat, gullet, heart, stomach and other …<gag> glands of the calf or lamb…ok enough about that…just don’t refer to your banana bread as a sweet bread – it’s a quick bread) that you can make from the friendship bread.
I received a beautiful sour dough starter from my friend David (I told you he’d be mentioned here often) probably a year or more ago. Along with a list of rambled off instructions as to how to care for it and how to make bread. (He’s not really one to be super detailed about how to do things – “Here take this and figure it out” – is more his MO.) So after a while, I got him to write down the instructions (after several phone calls of “What was that 2 Tbsp? Or 3 Tbsp? Once a day? Twice a day? Now what do I do with it?”) and I was off on my own, making sourdough about once a week.
So if it is your desire to make a sourdough and you don’t have your own personal David, here are a few things that will come in handy to have on hand before you begin. First you need a starter. I suggest you head to someplace online like Breadtopia.com and purchase a starter. This is also a fabulous website to get the rest of your bread making gear, tips, watch videos, get more ideas, and spend a lot of money if you don’t control yourself. Next you need something to bake your bread in. For a long time, I used a dutch oven. Which worked great for a rustic round bread. I have on hand a pampered chef round clay baker with a domed top that can also be used. Find something you have at home to use first. If it doesn’t work, check goodwill. Again, thanks to David, I have a beautiful Robertopf clay baker that retails for over $30 that he got at Goodwill for $6.38. He finds them all-the-time. I must have been going after him every time I went to Goodwill because I NEVER found one EVER. But if you can find one at GW I suggest you do that. NOTE: Just make sure whatever you’re getting has a heat tolerance of up to 500 degrees.
Finally, and this is kind of important, get bread flour. BREAD FLOUR. It is not the same as white flour. For a year or more I’ve been making BEAUTIFUL sourdough breads that unfortunately no one could eat without ripping their gums apart. Then I remembered that I had bought some bread flour for something or other and I tried it and VOILA! Soft bread. DUH. You can feed your starter with the plain white flour, but when you make your bread, use bread flour or a bread flour combination. Oh, and lest I forget, this bread needs to rise for a minimum of 4 hours (2 hours at a time) so do it on a day when say, you’re making yogurt or you will be able to be home.
MAINTENANCE OF THE STARTER
Now, David’s instructions are to feed the starter 2 Tbsp + 1-2 Tbsp of water twice a day – every 12 hours. I don’t do that. (sorry David.) What I do, is I feed it once a day or there about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of flour and the equivalent weight of water. I usually just guesstimate and put almost the whole 1/4 or 1/3 cup of water and stir it up well. Replace the lid and set it somewhere not drafty but not hot. Decent room temp. I do NOT recommend putting more than 1/3 cup flour in your starter at a time. I did that once. I put in a full cup of flour because I wanted to bulk up my starter quickly and it ended up overflowing all over the place and making a mess. I suppose the yeast equivalent of a NYE bash drunkenfest. So lesson learned, learn from my mistake.
INGREDIENTS FOR BREAD:
3 C BREAD flour (or I use 2 C bread flour 1 C unbleached white flour)
1 1/2 tsp Kosher Salt (doesn’t HAVE to be kosher salt, I just prefer to use it because it’s not quite as strong)
1 C Water (you can substitute whey from strained yogurt or cheese for the water in a 1:1 ratio – just make sure it’s room temperature)
1 C Starter
Mix the dough (I use my kitchenaid now – never used to – with the dough hook) early-ish in the morning until it’s smooth. Cover and let the dough rest for at least 2 hours. You will see a little rise, but not a ton.
Go watch a movie. Or take a nap. Or whatever might take you two hours or so.
After the dough has rested, with a heavily floured countertop, fold the dough 6-8 times. Not kneading, folding. Drench the dough in flour, wrap it in a floured towel or a proofing towel, and let it rise again for a minimum of 2 hours. I score my bread at this time, rather than doing it right before it goes into the oven. Because whenever I’ve done that, it deflates. I don’t need to do this for a pan bread, but I do it anyway because I want to feel hoity toity.
Once the dough has risen, and after 2 hours minimum, you’re ready to bake. Put the cloche (your baking dish with cover) into the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Once the oven hits 500, remove the cloche GENTLY and put the dough into the hot cloche.
Reduce the heat to 450 and place the hot cloche with bread into the oven covered, for 30 minutes. Some people suggest putting another baking dish with water below or beside the bread. Meh, I never do, but if you feel the need go for it. This is basically a rustic bread, so you want a slightly crunchy outside. After 30 minutes, uncover for 10-20 minutes or until browned.
This bread is especially good with a smear of feta, goat cheese (aka chevre) and honey, or homemade Meyer Lemon Preserves – or any kind of preserves really. This is a very versatile bread that can be eaten alone or with dinner, a soup, or cheese. Or really, whatever you like. I also heard someone mention today that they use the dough to make cinnamon rolls. I might have to try that pretty soon. If I do, I’ll post it here.