As regular readers know, a few months ago I was the fortunate recipient of some sourdough starter that’s older than most college students. Historically, sourdough starters were a precious family legacy, a means of making yeast-risen bread without relying on little store-bought packages. You can make starter yourself, but getting it from a friend makes it much easier! My friend sent my starter with three pages of instructions (including feeding it every single day), which I read thoroughly and then filed for safe keeping. (No, really, I know exactly where they are.) Then I started messing around with it, seeing how long I could go without feeding the starter (when the storms hit and work got too busy, I went close to 4 weeks without feeding it) and how many recipes I could modify to use it. The following recipe is our favorite whole-wheat bread recipe, first as adapted for sourdough and then the original recipe. I’m also including dairy-free substitutions, for those who prefer a vegan alternative. As always, use organic ingredients if you can. They really are better for you and the environment.
Whole-Grain Sourdough Bread Recipe
3 1/4 cups whole-wheat flour (I like mostly pastry flour and then just a cup of regular flour)
1/2 cup wheat gluten (protein: it’s good for developing structure in the bread and for you unless you’re allergic to gluten, and most of us aren’t!)
2 Tablespoons potato flour (helps keep the whole grain bread light, but you can substitute more flour if you prefer)
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup milk, scalded and then allowed to cool (just adding the water should cool it down nicely)
2-3 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons butter or flax meal
1 1/2 -2 cups sourdough starter (Use less when it’s warm and humid; use more when it’s cool and dry)
Mix together all of the dry ingredients in a very large, non-metallic bowl. (I use a vintage pink gooseberry 4-quart Pyrex bowl.) Then stir in the liquid ingredients, honey, and butter or flax meal. Does the dough temperature feel fine on your hand, no hotter than a warm bath? Then you’re ready for the starter. Add the sourdough starter and knead to combine for a few minutes. The dough will be sticky. I turn the dough into a large glass measure, wash and oil my Pyrex bowl, and then return the dough to it to rise. Cover and let rise until doubled.
Doubling could take twenty-four hours if your house is cool and you haven’t fed your starter recently. In a warmer house (around 80 degrees F) with starter fed about 8 hours earlier, you’ll need a much shorter rise, as little as two hours.
Now give the dough several good kneads and turn it into a large bread pan (10×5) for baking. Cover and let rise until doubled again, and then bake at 375 degrees F for 45-50 minutes for wetter dough, a little less for drier dough. If you don’t have a large bread pan, you can scoop out some of the dough and make muffin rolls. I also sometimes pull out some dough for flatbread. The bread loaf is done with it sounds hollow when you rap on the bottom of it.
Serves: 20 1/2-inch slices.
Whole Wheat Bread with Yeast
4 cups whole-wheat flour (about 3 cups pastry flour and 1 cup regular for a softer texture)
1/2 cup wheat gluten (see note on gluten above)
2 Tablespoons potato flour
3/4 cup warm water
packet active dry yeast
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk, warm (okay to substitute water for vegan option)
2 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons butter or ground flax meal
1/2 cup more warm water
Mix together all of the dry ingredients in a very large, non-metallic bowl. (I use a vintage pink gooseberry 4-quart Pyrex bowl.) Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the remaining ingredients except last 1/2 cup water. Knead the ingredients together to combine. Add the last 1/2 cup of water and knead for a few minutes. The dough may be sticky. I turn the dough into a large glass measure, wash and oil my Pyrex bowl, and then return the dough to it to rise. Cover and let rise until doubled. Rising could take a couple of hours if your house is at optimal yeast temperature (about 75-80 degrees F) but could take longer at cooler temperatures.
Now give the dough several good kneads and turn it into a large bread pan (10×5) for baking. Cover and let rise until doubled again, and then bake at 375 degrees F for 45-50 minutes for wetter dough, a little less for drier dough. If you don’t have a large bread pan, you can scoop out some of the dough and make muffin rolls. I also sometimes pull out some dough for flatbread. The bread loaf is ready when you knock on the bottom and it sounds hollow.
Serves: 20 1/2-inch slices.
We love this bread, either sourdough or regular, for sandwiches, toast, and garlic bread or crostini. I cut it really thick and make croutons with it. I scoop up the crumbs and save them for dressing. In short, when I’ve got the ten or fifteen minutes prep time and the 45 minutes baking time, this bread is a staple in our house.
Next up: pumpkin-chocolate chip bread with and without sourdough.
Do you bake with sourdough? What’s your favorite use for it? Do you have questions about baking with sourdough or yeast? Feel free to ask! I’ll bet if I can’t answer it, one of my great readers can.