Sunday, February 09, 2014

Favourite Sourdough Bread

We finally have a weekly ritual of making sourdough bread.  We've tried so many ways of baking bread over the years, from traditional yeast breads with lots of kneading, to artisan breads in "5 minutes a day" method, to unleavened breads, to biga and pre-ferment breads, to several-day-multiple-stage-elaborate sourdough breads.  Since we love to play around with ferments (kimchi, crock pickles, kombucha, beer making, wine making, yogurt making...) we really do enjoy the sourdough process the best.  However, we needed a version that was simple enough to follow with only a handful of steps, with a little kneading and shaping but lots of slow rising time that is flexible, functional yet with an artisan look and taste, and one that can be adapted with wholegrains and lots of seeds, and most importantly that can easily be incorporated into a family's life.  I think we've found it.  And best of all, if we don't have time to bake bread on a given week, we simply feed the starter as usual but use it to make sourdough pancakes (from our favourite recipe in the Tassajara Bread Book).

Our version of sourdough bread is based on a recipe for Country Sourdough Bread in a great book called Baking Bread with Children.  It's a Waldorf-inspired baking book that incorporates loads of ideas on how to engage children in the tactile process of working with dough - including stories, legends, songs, poem and rhymes about bread, lots of simple recipes (including yeast breads, quick breads, and a few sourdough breads), and also information on how to build a wood-fired pizza oven and use it with children.  Since we already have a well-used and much loved wood-fired cob oven we especially enjoyed seeing this section of the book among all the delicious recipes.

Speaking of fantastic kids books that talk about sourdough, here is another fun one-of-a-kind kids book that has made it into our collection - Suzy's Sourdough Circus.  It uses a circus analogy to explain how the wild yeast makes the bread rise, and their website is packed full of information such as recipes and where to source a sourdough starter from someone near you (called "the sourdough share")!

We're certainly not experts in the sourdough bread process but we have developed this recipe that is simple, straight-forward and works well for us.  Here's our wholegrain sourdough bread version.  All books mentioned above have good instructions for how to make your own sourdough starter to get going with this process.  Below are photos of several of our recent loaves!  We love adding sunflower and sesame seeds.

Sourdough Bread

5 cups hard bread flour or combination of wholegrain flours
1/2 cup wholewheat bread flour
1/2 cup rye flour (adding some rye gives bread the extra "chewy" texture)
2 cups filtered water (at room temperature)
1 cup sourdough starter (ideally reserved from previous batch of bread or pancakes)
1 Tbsp sea salt

Step 1 - Mixing the Sponge:  Mix the 1 cup sourdough starter with 2 cups water and 3 1/2 cups of the bread flour or wholegrain flours.  Let sit overnight in a cool place (let sit at least 8-12 hours).  It should be bubbly and tangy smelling when it's ready to use.

Step 2 - Feeding the Starter: Now add the remaining 1 1/2 cups of bread flour or wholegrain flour, plus 1/2 cup wholewheat bread flour and 1/2 cup rye flour.  Then stir well.  Take 1 cup of this dough and store it in a glass or ceramic jar in the fridge.   This is your sourdough starter for your next batch of bread!  It should be used every week in order to maintain it.

Step 3 - Mixing the Dough:  Add 1 Tbsp sea salt.  Stir in more flour if necessary to make a firm dough but be careful not to add too much at once as you don't want the dough to become too dry.  There should be just enough flour added to keep the dough from sticking to your hands and the table.  Knead for 10 minutes to help dough become elastic and develop strong gluten fibres which help the bread to rise.

Step 4 - Rest Dough & Shape Loaves: Let dough rest for 15 minutes, covered with a damp cloth.  Then divide into 2 loaves and shape into rounds or oblong.  Stretch and fold the dough, roll it up tightly into a log and sealing the seams underneath.  Coat with flour to keep from sticking.

Step 5 - Rising: Cover with damp cloth and let loaves rise on oiled or floured baking sheet for 2-3 hours (depending on air temperature and humidity) until they have doubled in size. 

Step 6 - Preheating Oven & Baking: Preheat oven to 450F.  When loaves have risen to double in size (and oven is preheated) score the top of each loaf with a sharp knife.  This allows the bread to expand without bursting.  Bake for 5 minutes at 450F, then reduce heat to 400F and bake for another 30-35 minutes until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped.*  Let cool, then slice.

*A great way to bake bread with delicious crispy crusts is to bake directly on a ceramic pizza stone, or by adding a roasting pan underneath where a cup of hot water can be added to bring steam into your oven.  We love using our outdoor wood-fired cob (clay) oven since the breads get a very dark crispy crust from baking on a stone hearth with the high heat we can use from the firing.

- add small amounts of other wholegrains such as millet, oats, barley, buckwheat...
- add raisins or cranberries, apple slices and cinnamon...
- add other seeds (sunflower, flax, sesame, pumpkin), or nuts (walnuts, pecans), or dried fruit...
- add leftover moist grains such as cooked rice, cooked oatmeal, cooked millet 

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