Bread making is intimidating, but… not really
With all the fancy equipment, kneading, packaged yeasts and precise measurements… yikes! Much too complicated and time-consuming for a busy working mom, right? Wrong!
Introducing: traditionally fermented sourdough bread.
Making traditional sourdough is an entirely separate, simpler, less precise (and perhaps gentler on the guts) option. No packaged commercial yeast, no precise measurements, no intense kneading and no special kitchen gadgets required! (I actually made a loaf on the BBQ during our recent kitchen renos)
I got into sourdough bread-making completely by accident. When I took a fermentation workshop through Radical Homestead, I had been happily avoiding wheat for years due to gut issues, so my main focus was on learning the art of making tangy good-for-my-guts sauerkraut. Little did I know I would be introduced to a bread making technique that would use naturally-occurring wild yeast and bacteria to predigest the gluten found in most breads.
Rewind a few years back and I was attempting to make all sorts of breads with commercial yeast, various flours (both glutenous and non-glutenous) and a Black & Decker bread machine. My loaves were heavy, inconsistent and typically the bread machine paddle would tear a large hole in the bottom of my loaves, making it crumbly and difficult to slice. Boo! My mom is clearly some kind of magical bread machine wizard as she doesn’t seem to have these problems, but I have officially given up on the machine and yeast packages… in favour of this simple 2-ingredient recipe that can be made in any regular pot — even on the BBQ! And easily adapted to make crepes, pizza, tortillas, cookies, naan, you name it!
I yammered on about my fermentation obsession in my earlier sauerkraut post, so I won’t repeat it all here. For a good intro to fermentation, check out the Netflix series, Cooked, by Michael Pollen (specifically the ‘Air’ episode). If you want to dig deeper into fermentation, check out books or posts by fermentation guru, Sandor Katz, or if you are more of a hands-on learner, look for workshops in your area. There are a few in the Ottawa area, including Radical Homestead, Nature Prenatal, among others.
A quick note about ‘starter’
First, you will need a good ‘starter’ culture (a culture of active bacteria and wild yeast, which naturally occurs when water and flour are exposed to air… and time). You can make your own by doing just that (mix together flour + water, and wait – here is a good starter recipe from Nourished Kitchen), or if you sign up for a workshop, you’ll likely leave with a sample as I did, or you can reach out to a sourdough-making friend (like me!) who will surely be happy to spread the sourdough love. You can literally make a lifetime of loaves beginning with just a tablespoon of quality starter, so you truly don’t need much to get going! Some recipes call for just a tablespoon of starter, while others call for a cup or more. If all you’ve got is a tablespoon, top it up with flour and water till you have a cup. It’s that simple. Don’t forget to reserve a little bit (e.g. another tablespoon) to continue feeding for future use.
Feeding your starter – I typically feed my starter in a 1:1:1 ratio of starter:water*:flour** — fed daily if at room temperature and weekly if in the fridge. However, sometimes I feed it more frequently (e.g. 2-3 times per day) and in greater amounts than the above-mentioned ratio (for example, if I need to increase the amount of starter for use in a particular recipe). On the other hand, I have occasionally fed it less frequently and in less quantity and my starter is still going strong since I received it from the Radical Homestead workshop in 2015. Success!!
*Water – should be filtered and non-chlorinated (as chlorine will kill your culture)
**Flour – I use organic unbleached flour to feed my starter, though other grain-based types can be used
Storing your starter – Depending how often you bake/consume sourdough, you can store your starter at room temperature or in the fridge. If you use your starter a lot (e.g. for weekly bread making or frequent crepe breakfasts, etc.), you can keep your starter in a jar on the counter, out of direct sunlight. Simply cover it with a loose cloth and feed daily. If you bake less often (or go away on vacation, etc.), you may want to store your starter in the fridge with a loose-fitting lid and feed weekly.
I like to think of my ferments (sauerkraut, kombucha, starter, etc.) as pets — the best pets ever!! They require minimal care (typically just a bit of food)… no walking, no shedding, no picking up poop and they provide you with an unlimited (cheap and 100% waste-free) food source! Plus, when you go on holidays, you just store them in the fridge 🙂 Starter is pretty resilient. I have accidentally left mine in the fridge for over two weeks (or one week at room temperature) without food, but it’s still active and bubbly once fed.
On to the recipe…
True fermented sourdough loaves can come in so many forms — from a round decorative rustic loaf with a dense outer crust and large sporadic air holes to a softer sandwich-style loaf with a squeezable crust and tiny uniform air holes. Even crepes, fritters and burger buns!
There are a bazillion sourdough recipes online, some that require weighing ingredients or dozens of steps over a few days. This basic 2-ingredient recipe can be adapted slightly to make any of the forms or varieties noted above with easy-to-follow steps.
- 1 cup starter (bubbly, recently fed — mine is typically the consistency of pancake batter)
- 3/4 cup water (filtered, non-chlorinated, luke warm is best) — you can even use herbal tea!
- 2 3/4 cups flour (unbleached flour, or whole wheat, spelt, or combination of others)
- 1 tsp sea salt (fine, non-iodized)
- 1 Tbsp honey or molasses
- 1 Tbsp choice of fat (e.g. coconut oil or pastured butter)
- Add-ins: olives, sun-dried tomatoes, cinnamon and raisins, pureed beets, nuts and seeds, herbs, apples…
The biggest difference in your loaf will come from the preparation and baking technique. I’ve done a side-by-side photo series to show the similarities and differences [left is the sandwich bread, and right is the rustic bread].
For the rustic loaf, I use the proportions above and usually add salt (plus any desired add-ins).
For the softer sandwich loaf, I use the proportions above plus I like to add a little salt, plus some sweet and fat (usually coconut oil and molasses).
For either option, mix everything together in a glass or porcelain bowl (mixing with your hands is messy but more effective… and quite therapeutic). Cover loosely with a reusable plastic bag and let rise 8 hours or over night. The dough will be about twice the size. Scrape dough away from edges of the bowl and fold the dough over itself a few times (seriously, no intense kneading required). Depending on the consistency of your starter and the humidity, etc, you may want to fold in some extra flour (an extra 1/4 cup or so) before the second rise. [Just enough till it feels like bread dough — it’s very forgiving so don’t stress too much about your dough consistency].
For the rustic loaf:
- Set dough back in your bowl or in a proofing basket, covered with a plastic bag, and allow to rise again (about 2-3 hours at room temperature, or if you’re off to work for the day or you’re not sure when you’ll get around to baking it, set the dough in the fridge, loosely covered for up to a few days).
- When you’re ready to bake it, preheat your oven to 500 degrees or higher with your empty (lidded) dish inside. You can use a pyrex casserole dish or even a stainless steel pot with lid.
- When the dish is good and hot (about 15 minutes or so), remove it from the oven. Carefully (it’s HOT!) spray with oil or dust with a granular flour like chickpea flour, then turn your dough ball into the hot dish or pot. It may get squished and a bit wonky looking, but fear not… the heat will fix things!
- Slice the top of your dough with a sharp knife to allow moisture to escape.
- Place lid on top and bake for about 25-30 minutes.
- Remove lid and reduce heat to 400 degrees. Bake for about 15-20 minutes.
- When you remove the loaf from the oven, turn it out onto a cooling rack immediately. It will feel crispy and brown at first, but after a few minutes, it will become less rock-like 😉 Once cooled, you can slice as you go and store any remains in a paper or cloth bag, or under a tea towel for up to a few days. Storing sourdough in plastic doesn’t allow air to circulate so crust will not stay as crisp.
For the sandwich loaf:
- Set the dough in a greased pyrex loaf pan, covered with a plastic bag, and allow to rise again (about 2-3 hours at room temperature, or if you’re off to work for the day or you’re not sure when you’ll get around to baking it, set the dough in the fridge, loosely covered for up to a few days).
- When you’re ready to bake it, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Lightly pat the top of your loaf with warm water and slice the top of your loaf with a sharp knife to allow moisture to escape.
- Bake 30 minutes.
- When you remove the loaf from the oven, turn it out onto a cooling rack immediately. It will feel crispy and golden at first, but after a few minutes, it will start to soften. Once cooled, you can slice as you go and store any remains in a paper or cloth bag, or under a tea towel for up to a few days. A loose plastic bag is okay for storing a softer loaf as the crust is already more pliable.
Fresh breads should be eaten while fresh (right away is best, or within 2 days). If you find you don’t get through a full loaf fast enough, you can freeze a portion for later or use end pieces for french toast or egg strata or make breadcrumbs 🙂
Now that I’ve shared some of these sourdough basics, I’m excited to start sharing all the amazing variations and B-sides, like crepes, fritters, pizza crust…….. even easier and much quicker than these loaves! Stay tuned!