If being pregnant is half as satisfying as baking this loaf of bread was, then I think I may have to change my stance on babies.
This bread has been about a week in the making and tons of anticipation. Honestly, it is better than I could have ever imagined. For Christmas my sister bought me a cookbook that I have alluded to in a previous post – DIY Delicious by Vanessa Barrington. I’ve been enjoying making a lot of various foods out of the cookbook — yogurt, cheese, creme fraiche, etc. Today, I conquered this. I could not be happier.
First of all, I have to say that baking your own bread is time consuming. It is, however, 1. cheaper than buying organic bread, 2. much, much tastier than buying your organic bread, and 3. damn cool. The most expensive part is buying the equipment you’ll need. In the book, Barrington suggests you buy a few different things but in the end the only supply I bought was a 1 lb bread pan. I consider that to be an investment, though, since I will undoubtedly get a ton of use out of it.
For a sourdough bread, you initally need a starter. The starter is a fermented flour/water mixture that gives sourdough that familiar tangy, yeasty flavor. The downside to the starter is that it takes about a week to prepare. The plus side is that once you have it made, you can keep it going indefinitely. It’s also ridiculously easy to make, and, despite my best efforts, hard to ruin. Here’s what you do:
In a glass or hard plastic bowl (I used a pampered chef microwave bowl with a vented lid), mix 4 ounces (1/2 cup) warm water and 4 ounces wheat flour. Cover with something breathable- a vented lid, a towel, etc., and let sit unrefrigerated over night. 24 hours later remove half of the starter and again add 4 ounces warm water and 4 ounces wheat flour. Continue to do this for 1 week (called “feeding”).
Like I said, I had a couple mishaps with mine and it still turned out fine. The first day I added cold water instead of warm, and the second day I only added 4 ounces of flour and no water. oops. I made up for it on the third and added twice the amount of warm water. After a few days your dough will begin to ferment and look like this:
It should smell a little bit yeasty, slightly beer-y. Apparently if the starter goes bad it will smell atrocious. That made me feel better about my miscues…I would be the person to bake a rancid loaf of bread.
The unfortunate thing is that you have to throw away half the starter. You can, of course, compost it. Another strategy is to give it to your roommate so she can bake a loaf of bread, too.
Once your starter has been made, store it in the refrigerator.
Bread baking time!
To begin, if you plan to bake your bread at 7 PM on a Sunday (like I did), you need to take your starter out of the refrigerator on Saturday morning. You need to feed your starter twice before you bake with it. I fed mine at 8 PM on Saturday (I had forgotten to take it out of the refrigerator beforehand, though, and it was fine) and 12 AM Saturday night/Sunday morning. At noon on Sunday, I began mixing.
In the large orange bowl, I combined 1-1/3 cup warm water with 2/3 cup of the starter. The yellow bowl to the left is for water to dip your hands into, as they get messy. True to form I added my starter to this bowl and had to starter over. Once your starter is in the correct bowl, mix it with your hands until it dissolves. In another bowl, I combined 1-3/4 cups wheat flour, 1-2/3 cups whole wheat bread flour, and 1-1/2 teaspoons sea salt. After mixing I added this to the water/starter mixture.
While rotating the bowl counter clockwise with my left hand, I used my right hand to fold the dough from the sides of the bowl into the middle. I did this for five minutes. After kneading, I let the dough sit for 5 minutes. I repeated this process two more times for a total of 15 minutes kneading and 10 minutes resting. Make sure to cover your dough with a towel while it is resting.
After the final knead, let your dough sit for 3 hours, again covered with a towel. An hour and a half into the resting period, I did a quick knead of the dough, again folding over the sides as I rotated the bowl. This only needs to be done for one complete bowl rotation (about 4, 90 degree turns)
Let your bread sit for another hour and a half.
This time, remove your dough from the bowl and place it on a floured surface. Add a little bit of flour to the top of your dough. Stretch the dough into a rectangle and then fold the stretched ends over on top of the bread, pressing down in the middle. Turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat. Flip the dough over and rotate the dough with one hand while folding the ends under with the other hand. Form a mound with the dough as you do this.
Let the dough sit for 5 minutes.
As the dough is resting, brush your bread pan with vegetable oil.
Once your five minutes are up, take the dough, turn it over, and stretch it again into a rectangle. Fold the narrow ends into the middle, and, grasping an end with each hand, fold inward towards the middle, creating an envelope. Grasp the top point of your bread and pull it towars you to form a cylinder shaped loaf. Manipulate the bread so that the seam is on the underside of the loaf. Push it lightly to remove the air bubbles. Roll the dough so that you can barely see the seam. Push the dough with the heel of your hand to seal the dough, but don’t smash it. Place the dough in the loaf, seam side down.
Let the dough rest, covered, for another 3 hours.
Honestly, if all of this sounds confusing you should either 1. buy the book, or 2. make up your own way to knead. My roommate didn’t follow this completely and her loaf ended up just fine.
When ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 475 degrees C. Take a serrated knife and slash diagonal marks into the top of the dough to allow for expansion upon baking. The author suggests pre-heating a cast iron skillet (I used a roasting pan) under the rack you will be baking on and adding cold water to the pan as you place the loaf in the oven. The goal is to create steam. I did this and didn’t get much steam, but my bread turned out great, so I don’t know how necessary it is.
Bake for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 425 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes. Remove the bread from the pan and let it finish baking on the rack for another 5 minutes. Remove it from the oven and let it cool on a cooling rack.
Total Cost: $2.59
whole wheat bread flour: $0.77 (used 7 ounces, paid $1.79/lb)
wheat flour: $0.72 (7/68 of a $6.99 bag of flour)
starter: $1.10 (used half my starter)
starter: $3.29 (32/68 of a bag of flour, including the 2 feedings before baking)
I feel like this cost is a little bit deceiving because of the starter. I’m not sure if I should include that or not, since now that the starter is made I won’t have to make it again. I suppose take the cost as you will. Regardless of whether you include the starter, it is still cheaper and much more delicious than buying a loaf of organic bread.