Hi there folks! This is part two in my bread baking series. In my last post I wrote about getting a sourdough starter going, and in this post I’ll give a basic recipe you can customize, as well as give you my “bread baking schedule” to show how I can provide my family with homemade bread, and still have a life outside of my kitchen.
First off, here’s my basic bread recipe:
1/2 cup of active sourdough starter, or a tablespoon of regular yeast, if you don’t have a sourdough starter.
3 cups of water, milk, whey, or whatever kind of liquid you decide to use.
A generous Tablespoon of salt. (This really is a personal preference kind of thing. I’ve used up to a tablespoon and a half, with nice results.)
A Tablespoon or two of honey, sugar, molasses, or don’t use sweetener at all. The sugar can help to give your bread a nice golden crust, but it’s not necessary for getting the bread to rise.
Three or four Tablespoons of Olive Oil. I’ve used melted butter, or coconut oil also with nice results. The more oil you add, the smaller the holes (or “crumb”) you will get, and the more soft the bread will be. When making an artisan style loaf, I will sometimes only use a couple tablespoons of oil. You don’t have to even add oil, but it seems to help the bread not go stale as quickly.
Between seven and nine cups of flour. For an artisan, “crusty” style, you will want a slightly wetter dough. For a sandwich loaf, less wet is desirable. If you use whole wheat, or whole grain flour for some or all of your bread, you might notice you will use less flour, because it tends to really soak up the water. I would also suggest that using a mix of white flour and whole wheat or whole grain works best as far as getting a nice rise to your bread, as opposed to using 100 percent whole wheat or whole grain flour. That being said, if you just don’t want to use any white flour, go ahead with the whole grain/whole wheat. It will be denser, but nutritious!
Directions: Mix your ingredients, preferably in the order of my above list, until the flour is mostly moistened. It’s ok if there’s some lumps, but you don’t want big areas of dry flour. Let the dough rest, covered in your bowl, for about ten minutes. After roughly ten minutes (I’ve let my “resting” dough go a half an hour or more, and still got good results) moisten your hands, and do some kneading. I do it right in my bread bowl to cut down on clean up, but if you prefer, you can knead your dough on the counter, with a bit of flour to keep it from sticking. I do a technique called “stretch and fold” along with some basic kneading. On my next bread post, I’ll try to video tape my technique, along with a few other tricks I’ve learned. After kneading your bread dough, cover again, and let rise for about six to eight hours if you are making sourdough. If you are making regular yeast bread, your rise time will be more like two hours. All of this can change, however, depending on how hot or cold your kitchen is. (The warmer it is, the faster everything seems to go!)
Once you’ve allowed your dough to rise, I like to do another “stretch and fold” or a quick bit of kneading. (some recipes call for “punching down”, and that’s more or less another way to do this.) At this point, you can put your dough in the fridge, for baking over next day or two, or you can shape loaves, to bake the same day. I prefer to let the dough rest overnight in the fridge, because it allows for flavor development, and is easier to work with when shaping cold. I find sourdough looses it’s “oomph” as far as being able to rise, after about four days, but can still be used for pizza dough and other flat breads. The longer it sits in the fridge, the more sour it gets. I like an assertive flavor, but if you prefer a softer flavor, I’d bake it after only one or two nights in the fridge.
When you are ready to bake your loaves, preheat your oven to 350 degrees for a sandwich type loaf, or roughly 425 degrees for a crusty, artisan style loaf. (I’ll go into more detail in my next post on how to get that lovely artisan style look to your bread!) Ovens often vary in how hot they run, so keep in mind these temps are based on what works for me. I tend to use at least part whole grain, and bake my sandwich loaves for an hour, or until they look done. The white bread loaves seem to take less time, more like forty five minutes. Again, this is what works for my oven, you may need to cut your time if you have a newer oven. To get a crusty loaf, I bake my artisan style loaves in one of those enamel, turkey roasting pans. I bake it at the higher temp, (about 425 for my oven) with a little water put in, and covered, for about 25 minutes. Then I turn the oven down to about 400degrees, remove the cover, and finish baking another 15 to 20 minutes depending on the size of my loaf. I like a darker crust, but you may want a lighter one, so again, you will need to play around with time and temperature with your oven.
When done, pull your loaves out of the oven, and (here’s to hardest part!) try to allow them to cool completely, or at least an hour before cutting into them! It’s hard, but they will cut better and have better structure, and will tend to not be gummy in the middle if you don’t cut into them while they are hot.
This post is getting long, but I promised a schedule of my baking to show how I can to this while still being a busy gal, so here it goes:
My sourdough baking is typically a three day process! Luckily, I am not tied to my bread bowl the whole time (Cause, that would be really weird).
The first day, or rather evening, before I’m going to mix up my batch of dough, I feed my starter (dump out half into the bowl I plan to mix my bread dough in, and replace with roughly a quarter cup of water and flour. I then feed the starter in my bowl as well. I tend to add a bit more flour for a thick pancake consistency.), and leave both on the counter all night. I put my jar of starter back in the fridge in the morning to store it until I need it again.
The second day, I mix my bread dough, let it rest for about ten minutes, do the kneading and “stretch and fold” technique, and then just let it rise all day while I run errands, do housework, take care of my garden, chickens, etc. I might check on it now and then, but I don’t really have to, and often forget about it till late afternoon or evening. So, if you work outside the home, you can mix your dough in the morning before work, letting it rest for ten minutes or so while you are getting ready, do the kneading before you head out and let it rise till you get home. I will usually refrigerate my dough at least over night.
On the third day, or “bake day” if I wait an extra day or two, I take my dough out of the fridge, cut out a nice chunk, and shape it into a loaf while it’s still cold. I then leave it to rise on the counter for several hours before I bake. (The dough I’m not using yet, goes back into the fridge.) While it’s rising, I can again, run errands, do chores, dance a jig, etc. For those that work outside the home, I’d suggest shaping your bread loaf in the morning before work, covering with saran wrap, beeswax cloth, or what you are comfortable using, and put it back in the fridge before you leave for work. It will actually rise, albeit slowly, in the fridge while you are gone. When you come home, you can pull your shaped loaf out, and let is sit at room temp while you preheat your oven. Then, you can bake your loaf while you’re getting dinner ready, or showering, or relaxing. You can also plan your baking for a day off, do a double batch of dough, bake several loaves at once, and freeze a few for later in the week, along with having some baked fresh. To use the frozen loaves, pull one out of the freezer before you go to bed, and it will be thawed and ready by morning.
So that’s my schedule, in a nutshell. I make my bread baking routine work for me, instead of me having to make my schedule work around bread baking. I’ll be posting my last post in this series soon, and I’ll go into more detail about kneading techniques, shaping loaves, and baking tricks for a crusty bread!
A note on sourdough starter maintenance: To keep your starter happy, you will want to feed once a day if you keep it at room temperature. If you keep it in the fridge, try to feed it at least once a week. This is easy, if you bake at least once a week. If you take a break from baking, and forget to feed your starter, don’t worry too much. Just bring it up to room temp, a few days before you will need it, and make sure you feed it once or twice before your use it to mix your dough. This way it will be active and ready! Sometimes, when left for a few weeks or longer, the starter will go dormant and produce a gross looking liquid on top. It’s usually kind of a greenish gray. As long as it’s not a bright pink, or obviously moldy, you can still revive it. Pour off the liquid, throw away at least half, and then go through the feeding once a day cycle, until it’s active again.