Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Plain White Sourdough Recipe

It's been about three weeks now that I've been working with the new starter and so far the results have been good. Last week, I even made a batch of rye bread while I still had the potato-starter rye around for comparison. The sour taste is stronger and the overall rye bread is heavier, but it really seems to shine when toasted or used to make a grilled cheese sandwich.

For sourdough breads, they seem to keep exceptionally well before going stale-something I've complained about with store-bought sourdough. I haven't seen how they stand up to freezing yet as they don't hang around long enough to be frozen. Rarely do we finish every last bit of a loaf of bread without resorting to croutons or breadcrumbs-not the sourdough however. I literally cannot bake these fast enough.

So here is what can be considered a very basic recipe and much to my surprise, it works best with all-purpose flour. We like our breads crusty on the outside, but if you prefer a softer crust; skip the steam in the oven.

You Will Need:

1 cup fed starter
1 ½ cups lukewarm water
5-6 cups all-purpose flour
1-tablespoon salt
1-tablespoon sugar

Place the cup of fed starter in a large bowl. Add the warm water and stir to break it up a bit. Add three cups of the flour, stir very well and cover. At this point you need to let the sponge sit, and the length of time it sits will determine the level of sourness. You need at least two hours at roughly 70 degrees to accomplish a working sponge. I've found that four hours is adequate for a level of sour that does not overwhelm the bread. This works well as it is also the length of time my re-fed starter needs to sit before going back in the fridge. Setting one timer is always easier to keep track of. You can let it sit up to eight hours but you probably don't want to.

After the dough is happily bubbling away and growing larger, stir in the salt, sugar and as much flour as you can add without it becoming dry. The wetter the dough, the larger your crumb will be, generally. You must knead this dough very well, or it will be flat and wide as it rises. I find it a bit more difficult to develop gluten in this bread than others, perhaps owing to the all purpose flour. My advice is to slap the living hell out of this dough as you knead. You should also feel free to scream, "I'm still waiting for my engagement ring after fifteen years of marriage", or maybe, "Pick up your socks you slob", but that's of course optional. "Pain Levain" indeed (if you don't know us personally that joke will make no sense).

Place the dough back in the bowl and let rise another two hours or more until doubled. This bread rises quite slowly; so don't be shocked if it takes three hours particularly if your kitchen is cold.

Remove the dough, divide into two loaves and place on cornmeal dusted baking sheets. Let rise another 1-2 hours until not quite doubled.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees (yes, that's quite hot). If you use a pan to create steam, heat it at the same time. When loaves are risen, slash and place in oven. Create steam if desired and bake 20-30 minutes or until golden and hollow sounding when rapped. I baked them to an internal temperature of 180 degrees F. but 190 wouldn't hurt if you like your bread a bit drier.

Cool completely before eating. The flavour will develop fully if allowed to sit overnight. You may be surprised to find the bread increase in sourness by the next day-this is normal.

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