Many of us, after being forced to stay home for weeks upon weeks, have learned that home is not a bad place to be stuck. Many have gained a renewed affection for being at home.
We've learned that taking life a little slower is not necessarily a bad thing. Life can sometimes be so busy with activities that we actually forget to enjoy it!
Many will emerge from 2020 with a greater sense of self-sufficiency. We've planted gardens and grown our own food - some for the first time ever. We've used the time to learn to knit or crochet or sew or cook or bake. We've learned what our ancestors already knew - that the work of self-sufficiency is honest work, tiring work, but satisfying work.
Nothing illustrates this better than the rise in popularity of bread-baking, and specifically sourdough bread baking - the old fashioned way. This is evidenced by the fact that flour and yeast has, at times, been difficult to find on the grocery shelves.
Personally, I was late to the bread-baking party. But, like most hesitant guests, I ended up having a blast. I may have even over-stayed my welcome.
I will be honest with you. I actually have baked a lot of bread in my day... good yeasty breads that I could make in an afternoon... or breads that were ready at suppertime after dumping the ingredients into a bread machine that morning. This kind of bread-baking was like dating.... no commitment necessary.
I even dipped my toe in the sourdough craze a couple of times. However, those times I was unable to make a commitment and my sourdough relationship withered away. No, literally... the sourdough withered away in my refrigerator.
It wasn't until the end of this summer that I finally said "I do!" , and bread-baking became an integral part of weekly life. I am now happily committed to a deeply satisfying relationship with my sourdough starter.
Today I would like to extend an invitation to you... especially if you have been on the fence with regards to baking bread at home. They say, "try it - you'll like it!" I am here to tell you - it is easier than you think. Although bread-baking requires a good deal of time, it is not time that you must spend working on the bread. The dough does the work - over time. So, yes, there is a time component, but it can easily be fit around all of your other daily activities.
What is the difference between store-bought breads and home-baked sourdough breads?
1. The technique is different. Sourdough bread utilizes slow fermentation that is accomplished by wild yeast and lactobacillus... thus giving it that (at least) slightly sour taste or fragrance.
2. Sourdough bread has the benefit of containing pre-biotics as a result of fermentation which is beneficial to gut bacteria (the bacteria in your digestive tract... one of the newest areas of medical research is that of our microbiome, or the bacteria that inhabit our bodies. We are learning more and more each day about how important these bacteria are for our general health.)
3. Sourdough bread is more easily digestible and less likely to cause bloating. Bread that has been slow-fermented, as sourdough is, contains a greater amount of soluble fiber.
4. Sourdough bread has a lower glycemic index than store-bought bread, so it will have less of a tendency to cause spikes in blood sugar.
5. Each loaf baked is one less plastic bread bag and plastic bread bag closure that ends up in the trash or in the ocean. Of course, you know this is a major selling point for me!
What is the typical timing of my bread baking?
Although it takes me two days to bake a loaf or two of bread, there is really very little work involved. Here is an example of my timeline:
Day one, morning: I feed my sourdough... mixing equal parts of sourdough, flour and water. I allow it to sit on the counter, covered, until I am ready for the next step.
Day one, evening: I mix the sourdough starter, flours, water, salt and whatever "add-ins" my recipe calls for and allow it to stand for a half hour. I then set my timer for 30 minutes and fold the dough by simply slipping my hand along the side of the bowl and grabbing the dough and folding it over onto the center of the dough...working my way around the bowl. I repeat this every 30 minutes two more times. Then I cover the dough and let it sit on the counter til the next morning.... to rise.
Day two: I dump the dough onto my floured counter
and fold it once again, then shape it into a ball.
The dough is then put into a bowl lined with a cotton kitchen towel (I use a wicker banetton that has been floured.) The dough is allowed to proof for 45 minutes to an hour.
At this point the dough is scored ( a little vent cut into the top) and placed in a pre-heated Dutch oven to bake in the oven.
It's that simple.
My favorite recipe is THIS ONE. It makes the best seeded multi-grain loaf. I have begun adding pumpkin seeds and raisins to the recipe as well and we love it. It makes a three pound loaf of bread!
If you need reference books, these are excellent!
I am planning on doing a bread-baking video in the near future.
I have learned that although having a relationship with your sourdough starter is a commitment, there are lots of wonderful things that you can make with it, other than bread. You can make pizza dough, pancakes, English muffins... the possibilities are endless. This week, I made crumpets.
Crumpets are incredibly easy and a good way to use up a good portion of your sourdough starter if you are not going to bake bread right away. Just remember to retain a portion of your starter to feed and place back in the refrigerator so that you have some when you need it!
1 cup sourdough starter (unfed)
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ to ½ tsp. salt
⅜ tsp. baking soda
Mix your ingredients. They will become frothy. Pour into greased egg rings, or muffin rings, or pancake forms that you have lying on buttered griddle (on medium-low). Allow your batter to cook until the top becomes set. Large bubbles will occur and cause lots of nooks and crannies.
When the top is set, you can remove the ring and flip the crumpet to the other side to finish baking ... about 3 more minutes... or until the griddle side is golden brown.
Serve with butter and jam.
They can be stored and reheated in your toaster.
Baking bread has become a satisfying part of every week. I normally bake two loaves... one for us and one to give away to family.
Storing your bread in the refrigerator can help it last, however, after doing so, it is best that you toast it. Refrigeration causes the starches in the bread to recrystallize... which actually ends up causing the bread to stale more quickly. This can be undone by heating it. We have found that we consume a loaf of home-baked bread before it has a chance to mold. And happily, all of this sourdough bread has not made a difference in our waistlines!