Admittedly a squirrel, my panty is full to capacity of staples and condiments waiting to be utilized, be it for unexpected guests, my cooking club or in case of supply-chain interruption, earthquake, economic collapse or zombie apocalypse. It makes good sense, regardless where you live to have a stockpile of simple ingredients on hand to whip up the basics; bread, soup and casseroles – comfort food. That being said, when you run out of yeast what do you do for bread? I’ve actually had anxiety thinking about the possibility of a future without bread and I didn’t like it.
You’ll be pleased to find out that sourdough bread doesn’t need to use commercial yeast; I know I was. Sourdough utilizes a “starter” which is simply flour and water that has been allowed to ferment and capture wild yeast from the air. It takes a good week or so to get your starter going, (and a couple of days of rising for each loaf) so this is a recipe that is more of a project rather than immediate gratification, but once you get your starter going you can keep it going for years (and years) to come.
Starting with as little as ¼ cup of unbleached white flour and a few tablespoons of water (if you have filtered water on your fridge use that) you can start your own little experiment in creating mouth-watering sourdough bread. Get a glass bowl with a cover; add the flour and water; mix thoroughly. Cover the bowl with a piece of cheesecloth and leave it on your counter where wild yeast that is in the air can find it, but flies can’t. Each morning and evening add the same amount of flour and water and mix thoroughly. This is called feeding the starter.
After a few days, you’ll notice some bubbles slowly rising in the mix, the beginnings of fermentation, aka sour dough. You will also notice that the dough is starting to pick up a familiar sour aroma. It should smell delicate, like the inside of a loaf of fresh sourdough bread or like fermenting hops. It will get more pungent over time, forming its own sourdough personality. You may also notice a watery liquid forming on the top, known as the hooch. You can mix this back in or just add a little less water during the next feeding. If there is too much hooch, or you have not used your starter in some time, you can pour that off and feed your starter, adding fresh filtered water. Some folks are very strict with their measurements, but my experience found the starter to be pretty forgiving.
When your starter begins to rise about double in-between feedings, (in about a week) you can put a loose fitting lid on it and put the starter in the fridge. Continue to feed it about once a week to keep it viable. NOTE: I have forgotten my starter in the fridge for close to a month, stirred it vigorously, added more flour and water and it still works just find.
Beware of starters that smell “off” or have mold on top or a pink tinge, this could be bad bacteria and you should dump this and start over. Your starter should smell like fermenting hops or have a beer aroma. It should be pleasant and be light gray or beige in color. Google “images of bad sourdough starter” and you’ll see some unappetizing, but good examples. I’m not an expert in starters but I’m diligent to keep it refrigerated when I’m not baking with it.
For baking, I use a 3 ½ quart Le Crueset, enameled cast-iron Dutch oven and it works perfectly. I know a $300+ pan for bread, but; a) it was a gift and b) it really works perfectly. Since this recipe doesn’t require kneading, you need a pan like a Dutch oven, or a cast-iron with a lid as you are pouring the dough into the pan and baking it at a covered for most of the time at high heat. The dough would be too thin to stand on its own on a baking sheet. [It is possible to knead additional flour until the dough is smooth, elastic and holds shape. Let it rise again on a baking sheet. When ready to bake, moisten the dough with water to encourage steam and browning and score the top with a few slits to encourage the typical sourdough cracks in the crust.] For the purposes of this recipe, though we will be making a pourable batter.
Sourdough Bread by Debra Crawford
Makes 1 Large, Sourdough Round
The night before you want to eat your bread, feed your starter and bring it to room temperature.
Remove 1 Cup Starter and store the rest of your starter back in the fridge.
In a large bowl (I use the largest Tupperware bowl) whisk together
- 1 Cup Starter
- 3 Cups Unbleached Flour
- 2 Teaspoons Salt
- 2 Cups of Very Warm Water
- ¼ Teaspoon Commercial Yeast (optional but it helps get the rise starting)
Beat thoroughly, then add
- 3 Additional Cups Unbleached Flour
- 1 Cup Warm Water
Mix thoroughly, scraping down the sides of the bowl. The dough will be sticky. Cover the container loosely with the lid and then a clean kitchen towel. Let it rise on the counter overnight.
The next morning your dough should have risen and look rather spongy. In fact, this is called “the sponge”. Lightly sprinkle flour over the entire surface (approximately ½ cup) and mix thoroughly, scrapping the sides. Prepare another large bowl by lightly oiling it and then pour the sponge into the second bowl. Loosely cover with the lid and drape with a kitchen towel. Place in the fridge to rise all day.
THE NEXT DAY:
When it’s time to make dinner (about an hour and a half before you want bread) remove the dough from the refrigerator to bring the dough out of its slow-rise refrigerated sleep mode.
Put your Dutch oven in the oven and then preheat to 425. You want the Dutch oven to be as hot as your oven. That is the key to getting a crisp bottom crust and keeping it from sticking, you want your Dutch HOT so the batter sears as it enters the pan.
Have handy – oil for brushing the heated pan and oatmeal or cornmeal to sprinkle on the bottom of the pan before baking.
When you are ready to bake, carefully remove the Dutch oven. It will be HOT, so be very cautious! Quickly and lightly brush the interior of the Dutch oven (not the lid) with oil and sprinkle the bottom of the pan with oatmeal flakes or cornmeal, to further prevent the dough from sticking. Pour the dough carefully into the hot Dutch oven without smoothing it, put on the lid and bake for 40 minutes. The dough will naturally even itself out, so if you didn’t do a perfect pour, don’t worry about it, this is rustic bread. At the end of 40 minutes remove the lid and bake an additional 20 minutes or until the loaf is deep golden brown. Turn the bread out onto a breadboard.
Cool if you must, but we usually start cutting thick slices and buttering them as soon as we can touch the loaf without burning ourselves. Since this is such a large loaf, you will hopefully have left overs. They store quite well in Tupperware but the crunchy crust is a one-time only event, the next day it will be soft. Perfect for slicing and making some of the best French toast or grilled sandwiches you’ve ever had.