Keeping it simple.

I recently spent several days in the hospital. I came home weak, exhausted, and very depressed only to discover my sourdough starter was mostly alcohol. Yet sourdough bread is one of the few things I can eat when I’m feeling really bad — as long as I keep it very simple.

Reactivating a colony of sourdough starter in extremely hot humid weather was my first challenge.  The wild yeasts and bacteria that make real sourdough work best in weather that is normal wherever you live.  Remember, wild yeast is very geo-specific, that’s why it is worth the time to attract and maintain your own colony of sourdough; it will always work better than sourdough made somewhere else, and is much easier to digest than any bread made with storebought yeasts.  I like to keep no more than 1/4 to 1/2 inch of alcohol on top of my starter to protect it against mold, but when I came home I had at least 3 inches of dark brown alcohol on top of the colony.  I poured off all but a sheen of alcohol, cleaned my crock,  added some bread flour and water as usual.  Fortunately a good colony of  sourdough starter is very hard to kill!  I had to repeat the cleaning three or four times before I had some very active sourdough starter to with which to work.

“Happy,” active, well fed sourdough starter will always be covered in bubbles.

My mouth hurts so much I didn’t want a crusty bread, but I did want a moist good tasting bread that would be very, very easy to digest.  So no oil (other than to oil the pans,) no egg, no milk, no herbs. To keep it moist it has to be a very soft dough.   The flavor comes from a very, very long rising time — in the refrigerator since it’s so incredibly hot outside.

Simple Bread (makes 1 small sandwich loaf)

Combine in the bowl of your stand mixer or bread machine:

250 grams bread flour (“hard” flour in Europe)
150 grams water
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup sourdough starter

Mix by hand, or on the lowest setting until all of the flour is dampened.  Then let the machine do the kneading for at least 10 minutes, until the dough is very soft, sticky, and smooth.

Meanwhile, lightly oil a medium sized bowl that will fit in your refrigerator.   Using a scraper, or a lightly oiled hand, transfer the kneaded bread into the bowl, and tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Let it rise in the refrigerator for 24 to 36 hours.  It will double in size (or even get a little higher than that!)

Very lightly oil a small sandwich size bread pan.  Flour your counter (or wherever you’ll shape the dough) and your hands.  Use as much flour as necessary to handle the  dough.

Do not “punch down” the dough!  Instead use a scraper, or your lightly floured hand to gently move the dough to the counter.  Keeping as much of the air in the dough as you can, shape the dough to into an oblong that will easily fit in the bread pan.  It will look far too small for the pan.

Since there’s another long rise, put the entire bread pan in a plastic grocery store bag, and seal the bag with a twist tie.  Alternatively, you could cover the whole pan with a huge bowl — anything you can think of that will keep all the moisture inside, yet still fit in your refrigerator.   Let it rise until it has a “dome” on the top — 6 to 8 hours.  (This is where I made my big mistake — I went to bed rather than keeping an eye on the bread.  Yeast will only rise until it’s exhausted, and then it falls flat, leaving the spent yeast and unused flour on top of the bread, turning it pure white.)

Oops! I let it rise too long, and the "dome" collapsed.
The white top surface is because I was too tired to stay up and wait for the dough to form a good “dome.”  I baked it the next morning, and the underside of the bread is the picture on top of this post.

Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 35-40 minutes.  Bread is done when a probe thermometer registers 190-200° F.

Happy Eating!



“Never Fail” Sourdough Bread

(… well, it almost never fails…) Not the typical recipe, but it’s easy to mix, easy to knead and the resulting loaf always tastes sweet and good.  It’s “typical” in one important way: it starts with very active, rather liquid sourdough starter. But, of course, “failure” depends on your expectations… If you’re looking for the “perfect” loaf the very first time you make bread you’ll probably “fail” no matter what type of yeast you use. But if you’ll be happy with bread that smells as good as it tastes — without a lot of “if’s” and “but’s” in the recipe — this bread is for you!

Makes 1 large loaf

  1. In a large bowl mix together

 3/4 cup milk

1 and 1/2 cups very active starter That’s a lot of starter!

2. Measure into a sifter that’s sitting on a plate (so you don’t get flour all over.)

2 cups flour

You'll be adding flour gradually and the sifter is a good place to hold measured flour.
You’ll be adding flour gradually and the sifter is a good place to hold measured flour.

3) Sift about 1/4 of the flour on top of the milk and starter. You will be adding flour very, very slowly, and stirring it in, so don’t add more than 1/4 of the flour in the sifter! And stir it in until the  flour is absorbed.

There is so much dough already there, add only part of the flour that's measured in your sifter.
There is so much dough already there, add only part of the flour that’s measured in your sifter. This recipe takes a lot of stirring!

When that flour is completely mixed in, add more flour on top.. Stir that in until it’s absorbed. It will become more and more difficult to stir and fold in the flour. As it becomes more difficult, use less flour each time. You want to get as much of these 2 cups of flour absorbed — a little bit at a time — until

A sticky ball of flour has formed. (I had a few tablespoons of flour left in my sifter so I mixed that in after I took the picture.)
A sticky ball of flour has formed. (I had a few tablespoons of flour left in my sifter so I mixed that in after I took the picture.)

4) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise for one hour.  It probably won’t double in size.  It will puff up and spread out. Or it may double or triple in size…  No matter what it does, just let it sit there, covered, for one full hour.

5)  About 10 minutes before your hour is up mix together in a small bowl

Mix in the small bowl
Mix in the small bowl

3 eggs

1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup milk

1 teaspoon salt (sea salt if you have it)

Mix until the egg yolks are a bit lighter in color and the egg whites don’t form globs on top.

6) Measure another 3 cups of flour into the sifter.

7) By now your hour should be up.  Pour the liquid in the small bowl  on top of the dough in the big bowl and sift about 1 cup (1/3 of what’s in the sifter) of flour on top of that.  And stir.  It takes a lot of stirring to get this mixed into the dough you already have!!

All the liquid is now in the bowl, more flour has been added - time to STIR!
All the liquid is now in the bowl, more flour has been added – time to STIR!

 Keep adding the flour in your sifter a little at a time until you run out of flour OR you can comfortably hold the ball of dough in your hand.

It’s time to knead the bread.  There are lots of excellent YouTube videos that will teach you to knead.  This is one of my favorites:  How to Knead Bread (used without permission.)

Or, for those who don’t like YouTube AllRecipes teaches how to knead dough.

Or just Google “How do I knead bread?”  (My favorite game is “Ask The Cell Phone.”  My cellphone  has voice recognition, so I don’t even have to type!)

8)  Get the counter ready for kneading by lightly sprinkling some flour on it OR spread a very, very light coating of olive oil on it.  Don’t do both.  (I use flour if my dough feels wet. I use oil if the dough is shaggy and dry.)

9) Using the spoon or your hands, scrape the dough onto the prepared surface.

10) Knead until smooth.  (It feels a bit like someone’s bottom when it’s well kneaded.  Smooth, soft and firm all at once.)

11) Shape the dough to fit your lightly greased loaf pan.  (You can also shape it into a ball and bake it on a lightly greased cookie sheet. If you decide to make a traditional round loaf, remember it’s going to spread as well as rise.  )  You Tube video: Shaping bread for a loaf pan. (Used without permission again…  Me Bad!)

12) Once the dough is in the pan, lightly cover the pan with plastic wrap and let it rise for  2 hours!

Preheat your oven to 390° F.  It takes my oven almost 30 minutes to get this hot.

Bake for 40 minutes or until bread tests done.  Bread tests done when it sounds hollow on both the top and the bottom.  Or when a probe thermometer reads an internal temperature of 190° F.  If, at 40 minutes, you’re still unsure, take it out of the loaf pan, turn it on it’s side on a cookie sheet and turn off the oven.  With the oven turned off, put the cookie sheet holding the bread back into the oven until the oven cools.

My loaf didn’t come out “perfectly” either — but it sure tastes good!

Not perfect... But good to eat!
Not perfect… But good to eat!

Happy Eating!

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!