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