Traditional Sourdough Bread with Natural Yeast

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This bread is so good.  I cut a slice (you know, just to taste test before I wrote this post…ahem). Two slices later, I am having to type just to keep myself from going in the kitchen and devouring the whole loaf.  It’s a good thing I made two loaves.
This bread is a mountain of steamy lusciousness on a plate.  Slather it with butter and you have yourself a pure slice of heaven.  In fact, maybe my heavenly mansion will have walls made with this bread.  Mmmmm.  No.  You can’t come over and eat my mansion.  Go get your own sourdough mansion.
And the cool thing about this bread is that I grew the yeast on my counter — no commercial yeast here.  Besides the amazing flavor, why would any sane person want to grow their own yeast? Here are a couple links for you to check out that explain things far better than I could:
http://ranprieur.com/readings/natleavbread.html — talks about the health benefits of baking with natural yeast over commercial yeast
http://calebwarnock.blogspot.com/2012/06/hello-world-hundreds-of-you-have-gotten.html — talks a bit about the benefits of natural yeast and also trouble shoots issues you might have working with a living, ever changing yeast
And of course, I talked about cracking the code to great bread made with natural yeast and gave you my resources for learning the art and for finding a great starter in this post.
So, say you have a thriving starter living on your counter or in your fridge.  What good is that if you don’t have a great recipe, right?  Have no fear.  Weird Food Girl is here to help you out.  Or maybe I should say Real Food Girl.  Or Real Good Food Girl.  But I digress…
Traditional Sourdough Bread with Natural Yeast
1/2 cup starter (I like my starter a little on the “sweet side”, rather than super sour.  By all means, keep your starter in the state you like it.)
2 1/2 cups filtered water
2 tsp. sea salt
2 cups freshly milled whole wheat flour (use more or less, to your liking and availability.  I made this essentially a white bread as an introduction for the uninitiated, but I have also used much more whole wheat flour, and even all whole wheat.)
4 1/2 cups unbleached white flour (obviously, you would need to adjust this amount if you change the amount of whole wheat flour)
Dump the first 4 ingredients and about half the white flour into a mixer (I use a bosch, but that’s a whole other post).  Mix the ingredients together and begin to knead, adding more white flour as necessary to clean the sides of the bowl.  You don’t want your dough to be sticky, but you also don’t want to add too much flour or you will have a dry loaf.  You can do this with your hands, but unless you are pretty energetic it will get tiring.  You really need to work the gluten if you want a good rise.  (If you’re into bread bricks, by all means just knead for 5 minutes by hand.  Snicker.) In my bosch, I knead for about 5 minutes, let the bread rest for 5 minutes and then knead for another 10 minutes.  A bosch is known for it’s ability to knead bread.  A kitchen aide is likely to take 15-20 minutes — I’m not sure exactly.  But the dough should “push back” a little as you knead.
Feed your remaining starter and put it back in its home.
Lightly grease a bowl that is large enough to allow your bread to double.  If you don’t allow enough room, this will happen:

Yes, friends.  Your bread dough is alive and occasionally it will try to take over the world.  You can avoid a coupe in your kitchen by getting a big enough bowl and keeping your dough contained.

So grease that bowl, plop your dough in and give it a turn to grease the surface.  Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and leave it alone for 6-12 hours.  Often I will mix my dough right before I go to bed, let it rise overnight and shape it in the morning.

When it has completed it’s first rise, it is time to shape the bread.  If you are experienced with bread shaping, you can make boules as I did here.  They are beautiful to look at, but they might be challenging if you are new.  It can be a little difficult to get them tight enough to retain their shape without going flat.  You can make it easy on yourself by just baking them in bread pans like regular bread.  Whichever you choose, grease your pans before you put the shaped dough in there.

Let rise for 2 more hours.  If you have a lively starter, this will be enough to make the dough double in size.  About 20 minutes before your bread is ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 F. Place a metal pan on the bottom rack of the oven (not glass, because glass will shatter.  Not fun.)  Now for the fancy stuff.

I like to beat an egg with a little water and brush the egg wash on my loaves — this gives a wonderfully crackly crust with a soft interior.  Then I generously sprinkle on the following spices:
Sea Salt (be generous — it goes wonderfully with sourdough bread)
Italian Seasoning
Garlic Powder
Onion Powder

Once your wash and spices are on, grab a serrated knife and gently cut a few slashes.  Don’t press too hard or you will deflate your bread.  Slicing the bread gives a little more room for the bread to rise in the oven.  Besides, it looks pretty.

Slip the bread in the oven, pour a glass of water into the metal pan on the bottom rack and quickly shut the oven door to trap the steam.  The steam will produce that heavenly crust and soft interior that makes sourdough bread so special.

Bake for about 25-30 minutes.  I start checking after 25 minutes so that the bread doesn’t dry out.  Just stick a meat thermometer deep into the side of the bread.  When it reads at least 190 degrees, its ready.

Cool on a wire rack — if you can.  Otherwise, slice, slather with real butter and eat while still standing by the oven.  No need to sit down.  You’ll need to get up to get another slice in a minute anyway.

Have a great day!

Angela

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2 Comments

  1. I used to make sourdough rye bread but haven't made any for a couple of years now. Thank you for reminding me about this. Mine never rose as much as yours but it may have been partly the rye flour.

  2. I never could get mine to rise very much until I bought a live starter (from King Arthur Flour, btw). Everything else was pretty underwhelming. I am wanting to launch into rye and other flours more, too. That sounds great!

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