Bread! I know the big thing for the last few years has been to be Paleo, Keto, Gluten-Free and those life styles can work well for some people. I even lived that way for a year and felt ok on it, but I just wasn’t happy. I love bread. But even more than eating it I love baking it. I remember a therapist, yes I have seen plenty in my days no shame in that, had me compose a list of things that I found relaxing as well as potential hobbies. Making bread was on the top. She argued that it was actually a household chore that I had convinced myself I enjoyed doing, which I had a tendency to do enter gardening, organizing, homeschooling etc. I convinced her this was not the case with baking. If I was ill I wanted to make bread. Happy- bread. Sad- bread. You get the drift. I attended a class once about using food to encourage positive relationships in your family and community. The chef shared a story of how he often had either bread or cookies backing every afternoon right as his teenage children came home from school. Typically the kids would disappear into the abyss of their bedrooms and phones, but if he let them know fresh baked goods would be available in ten minutes they would often plop onto a near by stool and share the going ons of their day and lives. He claimed something about the smell of baking bread just made them relax. I thought back to a truly good moment of my early childhood with my mother and I too remember helping her bake bread. Bread is an easy way to show those around me that I am thinking of them.
I started with plain white bread, moved on to 50% whole wheat, whole wheat I ground myself bread, part rye, French, croissants, bagels, rolls, buns, and pretzels but my very favorite to make and eat has been sourdough. I have fond memories of weekends with my dad as a teenager. He would bring home a whole loaf of sour dough bread and we would toast it all, drench it in butter, and sit around and watch movies. It is just so delicious.
For my first loaf someone gave me a sour starter. With sourdough the starter is a naturally occurring leavening. It used to be how all bread was made pre commercialized bread yeast. Families and friends would share starters back and forth. Women kept and fed them when they traveled or moved. You can make your own starter. It isn’t difficult. Equal parts flour and water are mixed and placed in a glass jar. Set it aside and keep it warm. Every day add a bit more flour and water. Naturally occurring yeast floats around in the air. The water and flour mixture captures it and feeds it. It metabolizes the carbohydrate in the flour and the by product is rising.
If you are really into the science there is a ton of information about sourdough out on the internet. I will just follow by sharing my no fail starter and bread recipes. I will start with the easiest, sometimes called “cheater” options first. Sometimes you just need to feel successful rather that purist and these recipes will hit the spot.
Easy Cheater Starter
1/2 cup whole wheat or unbleached flour
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup yogurt
Mix in a glass bowl, must be glass not metal, cover lightly and set on a warm counter. Every morning, and night if you remember and want to grow it especially fast, add 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of chlorine free water and stir. Repeat. In about two days you will have a mildly acidic starter you can use. You know it is working because it will bubble and the level will rise in the jar. Do not seal the jar. Just set the lid lightly on top. My steward kept assuming I forgot to tighten the lid and the starter exploded all over my kitchen. Really!
Regular Sour Dough Starter
1/2 cup whole wheat or unbleached flour
1/2 cup chlorine free water
Follow mixing and storing instructions from above.
The easy starter works so well because of the yogurt. It just grows fast and sours quickly. The regular starter usually works as well but it can be a bit more finicky. If it isn’t warm enough sometimes it will grow mold before it grows. Just keep an eye on it. A light brown fluid that rises to the top is just alcohol which is a bi-product of the yeast, stir it back in or pour it off, your choice. Watch them both for grey or green mold. I have only ever had this happen once.
I feed my starters twice a day morning and night if I remember. They grow fast and happy. I pour out a tiny bit of my starter if my jar is getting full then stir in 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water, that is what feeding the starter means. They often grow just fine if you only feed them every couple of days and don’t want to end up with a ton of starter. If you know you aren’t going to be using the starter in can be refrigerated for up to a week unfed then removed, warmed to room temperature, and fed a couple of hours before use. You can also dry your starter to use again. Spread very thinly on tin foil, allow it to dry, break into pieces and store in an airtight jar.
When it comes to making sourdough bread you must ask yourself two things:
- How much time do you have?
- Are you a sourdough purist?
If you are going to use sourdough starter to be the only leavening in your bread, no added yeast or baking powder or soda, expect it to take at least 8 hours. It just takes more time for the little yeast buddies to do their work. You mix everything then allow the dough to rise the first time for 5-12 hours. Shape. Then do a second rise of 60-90 minutes before baking. These loaves are delicious. Often more sour and they have small air bubbles. This is the purist method. Some people claim they can digest gluten better using this method because they are actually more intolerant of the commercialized yeast then they are of the gluten. The first extra long rise really allows the yeast buddies to go to town on the gluten in the bread. Is this true?? Who knows.
Purist Overnight Bread Recipe
3 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 cup pure water (no chlorine)
1/4 cup your sourdough starter
Mix ingredients. Cover and set aside overnight. Shape into ball and place on cookie sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Bake 25-35 minutes until brown.
“I want to eat sourdough bread in the next few hours” Recipe
1 cup recently fed starter
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
2 teaspoons instant yeast—–GASP! Hey you wanted this baby quick!
2 1/2 teaspoons salt- if using extra fine developing country ground salt go closer to 2 teaspoons
4-5 cups of unbleached all purpose or bread flour. Once again you want this to be successful. You need that bread! After a few attempts you can start mixing in some whole wheat or rye and see how you do.
Combine all ingredients. Knead in mixer or by hand until elastic.
Place in an oiled bowl and let rise until doubled, about 90 minutes. Yes this is 30 minutes longer than normal 100% commercialized yeast bread. I turn on my oven to about 150 degrees while mixing up the dough, turn off the oven, then put the bowl in the oven with the door open while it rises. If your dough isn’t rising it is usually because it isn’t warm enough, especially here in Lagos where the air conditioning is always blasting.
Divide dough into two balls. Place on a cookie sheet sprinkled with corn meal, it will work fine if you don’t have this but that crunch is so nice. Let rise for an additional 60 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425 F
Spray with warm water, that helps the crust turn gold and shiny. Carefully slash and X on top with a serrated knife or razor blade. You can skip this but it may expand to one side and you won’t end up with a round loaf.
Bake for 25-30 minutes until it is very golden brown on the top. Cool.
Yum! Chewy crust, nice big bubbles inside.
We eat a whole loaf usually in the first hour. It is 3 hours start to finish give or take. But you are only physically doing anything for about 15 minutes.
Bread, it just plain makes people happy and I am always willing to share some starter. I keep enough going to make two loaves of bread every other day.
I am adding some photos of two different starters. One grown exclusively with whole wheat or unbleached flour the other is a mixture of whole wheat with BLEACHED flour. The bleaching action often makes it difficult for the natural yeast to grow. The same can be true with highly chlorinated water. If all you have is bleached flour for making the actual bread consider adding in some whole wheat or unbleached flour just into the starter every once in a while to support good growth. Unbleached flour and whole wheat can be difficult to find some places internationally. I am saying my thanks to the Amazon gods!