Monday, January 16, 2012

Sourdough Bread

Right now I am blessed with time, and I have been able to whip up some truly delicious treats in the kitchen. My current obsession is sourdough bread - and other long-fermented breads.
Look into the oven - it's the bread show, starring bread!
Wheat has been getting a bad rap these days. More and more people are developing severe dietary intolerances to wheat and gluten. However, some other people are beginning to suggest that traditional bread making methods, which can include periods of fermentation over 8 hours, can make bread more digestible [for some people]. I don't feel comfortable adding to the argument one way or another - there are some nice stories and lots of scary commentary floating around online, but actual facts seem a bit hard to come by.

Seeing as we don't have trouble eating wheat, gluten, or yeast, though... bread we'll make. I love good bread and I am delighted to be able to make it at home. I am going to keep making sourdough and other long-fermented breads because of the simple fact that the flavor and texture is superior, in my opinion, to quick-fermented bread. [And hey, if there's a health benefit, great!]

I got started down this path when we received an old Le Creuset dutch oven and we could finally try the now-famous "No-Knead" bread recipe. [Okay, actually I used a very similar recipe from Cook's Illustrated.] It relies on high hydration, small amounts of yeast, a long fermentation, and baking in a covered container to keep steam in. It makes good bread. Crispy crust, open crumb, pretty tasty.
Almost no-knead bread
Then I begged sourdough starter from a friend who had some. I'd never made sourdough before. We tried one recipe from Cook's [our go-to resource these days], which came out OK.
The first sourdough loaf

The real success came from King Arthur's Extra-Tangy Sourdough recipe. Again, it relies on a long fermentation, but ditches the dutch oven for a good healthy spritz of water in the oven to keep humidity levels up. [The recipe suggests adding citric acid - sour salt - for very sour bread, but the flavor so far has been superb without it.]

Wow, just wow. This bread is deeply flavorful with a fine-grained crumb, perfect for sandwiches and - my guilty pleasure - slathering with ridiculous amounts of butter and eating it warm. We've also made some really wonderful grilled cheese sandwiches with it, and together with a homemade creamy tomato soup, it's a simple, satisfying meal. Now I'm perusing the recipes on the King Arthur website and I'm thinking about adding sourdough to all the breads I love... popovers, crumpets, English muffins, ciabatta... chocolate cake?! It makes pretty good waffles, too. [No, this blog isn't supposed to be an advertisement for King Arthur, even though it seems like it right now. I just like the recipes - and the fact that they're freely available online. The stuff pictured below I got as Christmas gifts.]

So last night, I took out the crock of starter from the fridge and fed it with flour and water.
The sourdough crock. It looks nicer than whatever Tupperware I had and is functional.

This morning, it was nice and bubbly.
The starter culture eats carbs and produces carbon dioxide and alcohol. Bubbly!

Then I added a cup of starter to flour and water to make the sponge. This will ferment most of the afternoon on the counter, and all night in the fridge.
Mmm, gloppy. That whisk thing looks crazy but does a great job mixing dough!

Tomorrow I will take it out, add bread flour, salt, and sugar, and let it continue to ferment; then I'll shape it into loaves, let them rise, slash them, spritz them, and bake them. Tomorrow's dinner will have delicious bread as an accompaniment.

Notice how I don't have any photos of finished sourdough loaves? Apparently I've been so excited to eat them that I can't be bothered to take a picture first. I'll have to remedy that tomorrow.

What's cooking in your kitchen these days?


Tim said...

Those loaves in the oven look like they're rising pretty high. How'd you do that? Mine always make short loaves even in a loaf pan.

Sarah said...

Good timing, because I just got some sourdough starter yesterday! I think I'm going to try a no-knead sourdough first and see how that turns out. I am intrigued by the sourdough pizza dough as well.