Being on a diet where bread isn’t allowed sounds like a fate worse than death. If for some reason a legitimate medical need to avoid bread arose quite the conundrum would ensue. In Happy Tummy vs Toast, toast would likely prevail. Even up against something like “excruciating pain” toast might still win if it was served alongside a fried egg with a soft yolk. Let’s just hope I’m never faced with those type of dilemmas.
I am not alone in this, we are a family of carbivores. We are picky about our bread though, which can be an expensive habit. Unless of course you are fortunate to be married to a man who lists bread making in his hobbies. Luckily for me, I am that fortunate. Noel makes a delicious crusty artisan bread and a hearty whole wheat for sandwiches. We rarely buy bread from the store, but the one bread that consistently made it’s way into my cart at bakeries and fancy supermarkets was sourdough. Until now.
The thing that always kept me away from sourdough bread was the starter, it just seemed too complicated. Then I read an Annie’s Eat’s post about Sourdough Bread and decided it was time to put on my big girl apron and just give it a shot. Before I leapt in, I did a bunch of research and discovered two encouraging tidbits. First, sourdough is more of an art than a science which is definitely my style and second, once your starter is established it becomes very difficult to screw it up (although not impossible). I’ve been using my sourdough starter for over a year now and even though I’ve neglected it a few times it’s still going strong and tastes better than ever.
Once my starter was up and running I tried a slew of recipes that were insanely time consuming and labor intensive, which was extremely frustrating when the results were only average at best. I was about ready to give up on my dream of homemade sourdough when Noel suggested I borrow some of the techniques from one of our favorite bread recipes. With a little trial and error I developed an approach to sourdough that is less labor intensive, but still undeniably delicious. Now the only reason I wander into the bakery section of Whole Foods is to covetously stare at their amazing bread slicer. Maybe someday I’ll have an industrial bread slicer. Someday. Maybe.
Crusty Sourdough Bread with Whole Wheat Variation
- 2 cups warm water
- 5 -7 cups flour (this depends on altitude and how thick your sourdough starter is)
- 1 cup sourdough starter (unfed, straight out of the fridge)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- In a large bowl combine water, 4 cups of flour, and 1 C sourdough starter. Mix well, cover dough, and let sit for 8-12 hrs. (I always mix up the dough before going to bed and then pick up where I left off in the morning. I also feed my starter and let it sit overnight too.)
- Stir in salt and sugar. Add remaining flour 1/2 C at a time until the dough is soft and still slightly sticky, but not so sticky that it won’t let go of your hands. (I typically mix the flour in with my hands.) Basically, it sticks slightly more to itself than anything else.
- Let the dough rest for 15-30 minutes.
- Divide the dough in half. Form each half into a round loaf. Generously coat two tea towels with flour. Place the dough on the towel, sprinkle with more flour, and let “rise” 1-2 hours at room temperature. (Note: This will not be like a typical rise where the dough doubles in size. You may not even notice a difference, but it will show in the baking. I’ve prematurely put a loaf in the oven and had it be flat.)
- When the loaves have about 45 minutes left to rise, cover the bottom of a dutch oven with parchment paper or a silpat mat (I have a silpat that’s small enough to be wrangled into my large dutch oven). If you don’t have parchment paper or a small enough silpat, don’t fret. The bottom of your loaf will jut be a little bit more crispy. Place dutch oven in the oven. (I have a 10″ and a 12″ dutch oven, so I am able to squeeze both in the oven at the same time and cook my loaves simultaneously.) Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- When the oven has fully preheated, open the oven, pull the rack out so you have easy access to the dutch oven and remove the dutch oven’s lid. Gently pick up one of the loaves and unfold the towel. Carefully turn the towel upside down and drop the loaf into the pan. Don’t worry if it looks like an ugly blob; it’s beauty improves with baking. Optionally, you can cut three slits in the top of the loaf with a sharp knife for aesthetic purposes.
- Put the lid on the dutch oven and cook for 20 minutes. Then remove the lid and bake uncovered 10-15 minutes, until the loaf is nicely browned. Repeat with second loaf if needed.
- Allow the bread to cool before slicing into it. You should hear some wonderful crackling noises which means your crust is going to be unforgettable. The second loaf can be frozen if you don’t think of bread in loaves/day at your house. Store the bread in a breathable bag or simply put the cut side down on a cutting board. Storing in a ziploc on the counter can take away some of the delightful crunch.
Whole Wheat Variation: Use 2 Cups Whole Wheat Pastry flour and 2 Cups All-Purpose Flour in step one. When adding more flour in step two you likely won’t have to add as much flour I generally end up adding 1/2-3/4 C flour in my whole wheat version.