I love the smell of fresh-baked bread, but who wouldn't? That's why I went to the "boulangerie" religiously every morning when I was living or visiting France. The crispy crust of freshly baked pain de campagne which is French sourdough, is the best thing you can have in the morning. I like french bread that is made only with flour, water, and (natural or baker's) yeasts. These simple ingredients make wonderful crispy hard crust with soft texture inside. But, bread making is labour & time intensive, I couldn't make it often. I wish we had at least a boulangerie in a town in Canada. But, I'm pretty sure that my wish will never come true within hundred years.
However, I'm pretty content with my bread self-supply since I've been baking some decent sourdough bread with the sourdough starter I cultured. Sourdough bread's mildly sour taste water my mouth each time. This delicious sour taste is made during a long fermentation of dough using natural yeasts, called sourdough starter. The lactic acid produced by the lactobacilli, or natural yeasts, generates this gently tart taste. And I am glad I can cause that wonderfully sour taste at my own home. It's true that my sourdough starter opens a door for me to try my very own sourdough bread. The active time is not more than 15 minutes in total, but rise time, especially first rise, takes long time. However, you know what? You can just leave the dough and forget about it for a half day. Then, let it rise by itself. After mixing the dough, you have almost nothing to do, but waiting.
Here goes the recipe I've been using so well. This makes a huge dough. I usually keep a half loaf for my family, and share the other half with my neighbours or bring it to the work.
* You can easily halve the recipe. When you halve the recipe, use a smaller cast-iron skillet to bake a bread with a nicer shape.
** You can swap half of white flour with whole wheat flour, to make a darker/healthier bread.
Homemade sourdough bread
(adapted from www.instructables.com/id/Sourdough-Bread)
6 c. bread flour (bread flour works best, but all-purpose flour works fine)
3 c. water
2 t. salt
1/4 t. yeast
1. Pour two cups of room temperature tap water (not warm) into a very large bowl. Scoop out 1 cup of sourdough starter and stir it in. The starter likes being stirred up and aerated, so stir or whisk it together vigorously.
2. Take a moment to replenish your starter right now. If you're making one batch of sourdough and using one cup of starter, replenish with 1/2 cup water and 1 cup flour.
3. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon yeast and 3 cups bread flour. Mix until smooth. If your kitchen is very warm, you don't need that extra beat of yeast. Using only 1/4 teaspoon means that the yeast flavor doesn't dominate the sourdough flavour.
4. Stir in the 3rd cup of water.
Add the salt and mix thoroughly. The salt will slow down the fermentation. This is a good thing. The longer the sourdough takes to rise, the more sour the bread will be.
5. Stir in the remaining 3 cups bread flour.
Stir until completely mixed. You do NOT need to knead this bread. The sourdough starter will actually do that for you. All those little yeasts get rowdy and over time inspire gluten fibers to form. This gives the bread its unique sourdough texture.
6. Cover the bowl of dough with a towel and set aside in a draft-free place. Don't be jiggling the dough while it's doing its thing. Leave it alone. And then leave it alone some more. The bread dough needs to just sit and do its thing for 12-15 hours in winter, and 6-8 hours in warmer temperature.
When it's done, the dough will be bubbly and BIGGER than it was at the start. If the bubbles start to pop, then it's gone too long. It doesn't hurt to peek at it from time to time.
7. It's time for the step that we call "turning out the dough." Start by sprinkling some more flour across the top of the dough.
Then plunge your hands into the flour bin and get thoroughly floured up. Start by sweeping your hand around and under the dough in the bowl. Scoop the dough up and over. Get a little more flour on your hands. Scoop and roll the dough over. It shouldn't take too many scoops and sweeps before the dough starts feeling elastic and practically alive.
Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface OR a large piece of plastic wrap that has been sprayed with nonstick spray.
8. Now comes the less-fun but necessary part: washing out the bowl. After washing and thoroughly rinsing the bowl, dry it completely.
9. The dough is ready for its second rise. You oil the inside of the bowl so that the dough will roll out easily when it's time to put it in the oven.
10. Let the dough rest. The sourdough still has not finished creating gluten fibers, so it needs a few more hours. Cover the bowl with a towel and set in a draft-free area.
How long the dough rests will depend a lot on the room temperature. If your kitchen is fairly cool, you should let the dough rest another 4-5 hours. If your kitchen is warm, you'll want to keep an eye on things and consider baking the bread after only 2-3 hours. (In may-June, my dough needs only a couple of hours)
11. The type of pan you use is actually very important. The very best option is a heavy cast iron dutch oven with a cover. A covered roasting pan works well, too.
12. Turn your oven on to 450 degrees and stick the pan and cover in to preheat.
13. .Pull the pan out of the oven, being very careful not to burn yourself. Sprinkle corn grits or oatmeal on the bottom of the pan. This will keep the bread from sticking. Gently roll the dough out of the bowl and into the pan.
14. Pop the cover back on and put it in the oven. Bake at 450 degrees for 30-35 minutes.
15. Then remove the cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes. This will brown up the top of the bread.
After a total of 45-50 minutes, you'll carefully take the bread out of the oven and tip it out onto a cooling rack.
The very best time to eat any bread is about 30 seconds after it comes out of the oven.
And the very best WAY to eat bread is with butter melting away instantly.
Does it look complicated? But, believe me, it's very simple and easy. You don't even need any kneading. And as I wrote above, active time is not even 15 minutes. Hope you enjoy baking your bread as much as I do.
Homemade Sourdough Bread