A Tiny, Very Basic Loaf of Sourdough Bread

This recipe makes one small round loaf that is just enough to serve two people (about 6 full size slices).  Too small for a bread pan, it’s simple to go with a freeform shape. It’s easy to make yet it’s very full flavored.  The dough is moist and sticky.  It can be stretched or kneaded with little effort.  Best of all, it’s very forgiving of my mistakes yet it is extremely responsive to the many different ingredients and methods I try when I start converting a ‘regular’ bread recipe to a sourdough recipe.

Because this dough is so forgiving, this is the recipe I go to every time I want to try something new — a new method, different flours, different herbs, or even just testing a new batch of sourdough starter.  As long as I keep the basic proportions of one part liquid to two and a half (or even 3)  part solids I end up with “excellent” to “pretty good” bread.

Of course it all starts the night before, feeding my colony of wild yeasts to make them very happy.

“Happy” well fed sourdough starter

My sourdough colony of wild yeasts lives in a crock on the counter (or in the refrigerator) and is always fed 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water the night before I plan to bake.  It’s about the consistency of pancake batter, but stringy instead of lumpy.  Make sure you leave it on the counter the night before you want to bake.  Room temperature keeps sourdough bubbling and burping.  (Yes, it sometimes makes a very rude sound, so don’t blame the dog.)

Makes 1 very small round loaf

  1.  Sift together in a medium size bowl:

2 cups all purpose flour,

2 tablespoons Milk Solids (optional)

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons salt

2)   Add:

1 cup lukewarm water

1/3 cup sourdough starter straight from the crock! (There is no need to make a sponge for this loaf!)

3)    Stir with a spoon until a very sticky round ball of dough forms in your bowl and all the flour is absorbed..

4)    Let the dough rest for 10 minutes.  While the dough is resting, it’s a good time to  prepare for the next steps. Lightly oil the smaller bowl in which the dough will rise. And very lightly dust the counter with flour to be ready to knead.  You want to use as little flour as possible when you knead or the bread becomes tough.  Try to use just one tablespoon of flour on the counter for kneading,  but definitely use less than 1/4 cup!

5)   Knead the dough (or stretch it, remembering to let the dough rest between stretches!)  until the sticky mess you scraped out of the bowl turns into a beautiful, smooth and elastic ball that’s barely sticky enough to kiss your hand when you pick it up.  Put it in the previously oiled bowl, and roll it around a few times so the ball of dough is very, very lightly covered with oil.

6)   Let the bread rise for at least one hour — though 2 hours won’t hurt it.  Ideally the dough will double in size, and sometimes it actually does.  More often it simply spreads and puffs up.  Warmth (not heat!) and moisture will help.  I always cover the small bowl containing the dough with a larger bowl that I’ve rinsed with hot steaming water until the larger bowl is very warm to the touch.  Then I turn the large bowl upside down covering the smaller bowl completely.  Covering the bowl of dough with a steaming hot bowl creates a warm, moist, draft free environment to help the bread rise.  While the bread is rising I prepare my soup bowl (I  bake this bread in an oven proof ceramic soup bowl) by oiling the bowl lightly and dusting it with flour, and letting that coating dry.  It looks messy, but it works.

7)  Punch the bread down and knead it lightly.  The dough is sticky again, but try to resist the urge to add more flour.  I usually lightly flour my hands but not the counter.  It only takes a few turns to get the dough ready to shape.  It’s smooth and elastic, with a definite “gluten sheath”  that you don’t want to break.  A gluten sheath looks a bit like an almost transparent skin that surrounds a ball of dough, but it acts more like an exoskeleton.  Where ever the gluten sheath is weak or broken is where the bread will split in the oven.

8)   Shape the dough into a ball or a small oblong loaf, and put it into the oven safe bowl you previously greased and floured, or put it on a piece of baking parchment you’ve cut to fit into a pie pan.  The bread will not fill a pie pan — there’s not enough dough.

9)  Let the dough rise in it’s baking dish for at least an hour and a half. or until the dough forms a dome. Be sure to preheat your oven to 400 °F — it takes my oven 1/2 hour to get that hot!

My nice, tight ball of dough has relaxed to fill my 7 inch soup bowl, but has risen enough to form a dome. It's time to bake it!
My nice, tight ball of dough has relaxed to fill my 7 inch soup bowl, but has risen enough to form a dome. It’s time to bake it!

10)   Slash the dough before baking in a preheated 400°F oven for 35 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown and tests done. Slashing the dough breaks the gluten sheath where you want the bread to puff up or split.   Bread is “done” when it sounds hollow when tapped on the top and on the bottom.  I’m slightly deaf, so I use a small “instant read” cooking probe.  Bread is done when the interior center reaches 190°F.

11)   Don’t cut it yet!!   Let the hot loaf rest on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes!  It’s still cooking. If you cut it too early it becomes a bit soggy, and in a loaf this small, damp doughy bread is a disaster.

Happy eating!
Happy eating!
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