Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Good Bread

I have been thinking about making a sourdough bread for a long time. Years actually! But I have always been intimidated by the whole process of making a starter, feeding it(really, what does that mean?), baking with it and maintaining it.

 Why sourdough you might ask?

The flavor for one. I love strong flavors that remind me of the foods of my childhood in Cyprus. Sour yogurt, bitter greens, fruity olive oil, tangy olives, gamy meats. I never realized where those preferences came from until I began to contemplate food in this blog. I'm not forgetting my American childhood either, with the complex flavors and textures of 1960's pizza from the Upper West Side, crunchy french fries and fried onions atop a juicy hamburger.
Another reason I'm fascinated with sourdough is this whole concept of wild yeast flying around in the environment and being captured by the chemistry of flour and water mixed in a jar and left to rest on the counter. What could be better than a naturally occurring fermentation process, rather than an industrialized, forced one?
Our gut is a sensitive organ that lets us know when it's not happy. The naturally fermented sourdough is a beneficial food that makes a gut sing! In addition, as I discovered, sourdough bread doesn't mold easily, if ever. Left on the counter for a week, the flavor deepens, it may get a little dry but it never goes bad.

Yet, there are so many variables that made sourdough bread-making seem impossible to master.
Stelios has been baking his whole-wheat yeast bread for years and that made trying the sourdough superfluous. Did we really need any more bread in the house? Especially when his broke the charts whenever anyone tasted it?
In the past couple of weeks, Stelios has run out of "baking bread" steam. Maybe it's the memoir he's been working on that's taken all of his time and energy? Yet, maybe there is a time when you don't feel like baking for a while, even if your father was a baker.
So, I believe that with this shift in the bread-making universe of our household, space was made for a new bread-making adventure.
I finally got myself in the right mind-frame to dare to try a sourdough. How did I achieve that? I simply told myself that it was only flour and water and if it didn't work out, it would be no big deal. There it is, and the fear of failure went out the window and in came the excitement of a new culinary experience.
First I had to create the sourdough starter. Then, I had to find a simple to follow sourdough bread recipe.
Above are some of those results:

Sourdough starter
Day 1 - In a wide-mouth glass jar/container with a lid, mix 4 oz. flour with 4 oz water. Cover loosely with the lid and set aside on the counter. You want a jar large enough that the starter will not overflow.
Day 2 - Add 4 oz flour and 4 oz water. Mix well, cover loosely and set aside on the counter.
Day 3 -5. Repeat above. By day 2 you should begin to see bubbles forming in your starter.

By Day 5 you should have a nice bubbly starter that smells kind of sweetly sour.

Once your starter is established it's time to bake.

The Day before I want to bake I feed my starter in the morning and leave it on the counter. That evening around 10pm, I mix my bread dough.

Sourdough Bread Recipe:
1 cup starter
3 1/2 cups cool water
1 tablespoon sea salt
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
7 -9 cups unbleached all purpose flour
All purpose plain flour to dust the work surface.
You will need a large basket, draped with a clean tea towel.
I baked my bread in a 31/2 quart dutch oven.

Combine the starter, water and salt in a large bowl. Stir until the mixture is blended and the starter dissolves in the water.

Begin by adding the whole wheat flour and mixing well. Add the first 5 cups of white flour, one cup at a time, mixing well either with your hands or a sturdy spatula.
Continue mixing the dough until it is thick and spongy. Add from the remaining 2-4 cups of flour only enough to form a soft and slightly tacky dough. You don't have to add all of it. I  only added 6 cups total last time I baked. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it on the counter to rise overnight.

Line an 11 inch basket or bowl with a dry kitchen towel and rub 1/4 cup flour into it.

The next morning, turn the dough onto a floured work surface and pinch a handful, about a cup and set it aside to use as the starter in the future.

Shape the remaining dough into a round ball. Place it, seam side up, into the basket. Pinch the seam together with your fingers. Cover the basket loosely with a damp towel and let it rise slowly at room temperature for about 4-6 hours. If it has risen over the rim of the basket and it is very loose and jiggly it has over-proofed. Do not slash it if that has happened.

Place your covered dutch oven in the oven and preheat to 475 degrees. Remove the dutch oven from the oven, open the lid and quickly invert the dough into the cavity. Slash a crisscross over the top with a sharp knife or a razor.

Cover the dutch oven and place the bread back in the oven. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Remove the cover, lower heat to 450 and continue to bake for another 20-25 minutes.

The bread is ready when it is nicely browned on top and it sounds hollow when tapped in the back.
Remove from dutch oven and let cool completely before you cut into it. Yes, I know you can't wait but if do your bread, like one of mine, might be ruined.

Cut into it and enjoy!