Bread. I love bread. I especially like crusty, rustic, round loaves of bread that have jagged holes from air inside and crunch when you bite into them and . . .
What I don't like? Paying $6 or more for a loaf of that awesome bread at the fabulous bakery downtown.
This quest began when a friend handed me a jar of sourdough starter, morphed into following a couple of recipes I found with the help of Google, and wound up here when I posted something on Facebook about said sourdough starter and a friend posted a picture of her bread. Her HOMEMADE bread. All round and crusty looking. I swear I could smell it through the post.
When I asked her to teach me how to make it, she pointed me at Tartine Bread*, a bread bible of sorts whose author is a fanatic (and fabulous) baker in San Francisco. I found it at the local library (because I'm trying to reduce my book collection, and I don't find cookbooks to be a kindle-friendly kind of book) only to discover the man devotes 38 (or more) pages to the basic version of sourdough bread.
Thirty eight pages.
Granted, there are a bunch of photographs, which are more helpful than straight text, but come on. Bread is flour, water, salt, and leavening. The end. How intimidating can you make something so simple? I know how hard it is to screw up bread and I was intimidated for a couple of weeks, but my curiosity (or stubbornness) got the better of me and I sighed loudly and opened the book.
The two pieces of genius in this book are in the technique of turning (no kneading required, but you still get the joy of seeing and feeling the dough change consistency over time) and the use of a dutch oven to create the steam you need to make that crusty crust that sings to you. I've kept those in this version.
This is not as "easy" a recipe as I usually post, but the execution is surprisingly uncomplicated. It's a 2-bowl, 2 day affair, with maybe 5 minutes total of hands on work. Turning the dough might become your favorite comfort activity.
And the smell of singing bread has to be experienced to be believed.
Special equipment: a dutch oven, a bench scraper, a pair of bowls, and 2 non-terrycloth dish towels. I use a 2-quart pyrex measuring cup as my "turning" bowl and then use it as one of the bowls for rising; you can also just have 2 similar-sized other bowls.
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SOURDOUGH BREAD (makes 2 large loaves; freezes well!)
(inspired by "Tartine Bread" by Chad Robertson.)
1 c starter (Watch here for feeding sourdough!)
2 c water
1 c whole wheat flour
5 cups bread flour or all purpose flour
1 TBS salt
additional .5 c water
1. Mix starter and 2 c water together, then stir in flours to combine. Let sit for 20 minutes or so.
2. Sprinkle salt and additional 1/2 c water on dough and squeeze to combine. Put into a smallish bowl (a 2-qt pyrex measuring cup is perfect). Cover lightly with cloth.
3. Every 30 minutes for the next 4 hours, "turn" the dough in the bowl by getting your hand wet and reaching in along the sides and lifting the bottom part up to cover the top. Do this 3-4 times around the dough bowl, getting all the dough.
4. Put the dough on a board and cut in half. It might be a little bit runny. Don't worry. Working with 1/2 at a time, sprinkle a bit of flour on it and turn it over, then fold the dough in on itself to make it neat. Let it sit on the board, covered lightly, for 30 minutes.
5. Again working with 1/2 at a time, sprinkle with flour and stretch into thirds, folding the dough into a nice package. Put it on a NON-TERRY CLOTH towel that's been sprinkled with cornmeal and flour, and put this package in a bowl. Repeat with the other half of the dough.
6. Put in the refrigerator overnight.
7. When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 500 with the top and base of a dutch oven in the oven (make sure the rack is low enough to make this work!). Preheat for 30 minutes.
8. Leaving the top in the oven, take out the base. Sprinkle one ball of dough with cornmeal and tip it into the HOT pan. Working quickly, cut a deep pattern (square or triangle or?) into the dough with a sharp knife. Put the top on the pan, and slide it into the oven.
9. Bake for 20 minutes with the top on the pan, then remove the top and continue baking for 20-30 minutes. You are looking for it to be a deep brown, so this will depend on your oven!