Are You Failing at Sourdough Bread? Make This Easy, Small Loaf
Sourdough, despite all the hoopla and pages and pages of recipes and tips, isn't all that hard. People have been using the sourdough process for thousands of years to make breads. Okay, I haven't had thousands of years of practice, but I have had many years. And after those many years of making sourdough bread, I've learned to put aside the manuals and thick cookbooks that "teach" you how to make 10 artisanal loaves. Those manuals and books are a pain in the butt, not to mention requiring ingredients, tools, and ovens that I don't have. Instead, I've adopted practices akin to what our grandmothers used. In short, I just make the bread by relying on touch, taste, and what seems to work for me. You should do the same. You won't "fail" at making sourdough bread. You may have a few flops. Just put a lot of butter, jelly, peanut butter, etc., on the less than optimum bread and pretend it's good. Then try again. If you want an artisanal loaf, go for it. I've decided to make "non-artisan" loaves that people will actually eat. That means loaves with a slightly crunchy crust and a soft interior--not Wonderbread but wonderful bread--tasty, reasonably nutritious, and not tooth shattering. I also have opted for bread that doesn't go stale the day after you make it. We need to keep bread around for longer than one day, as we aren't big carb eaters (plus, for me at least, the gym is still closed!). So, how to make that wonderful, easy bread? Try the basic bread recipe I'm posting below. You'll, hopefully, end up with a loaf that is a cross between a French and Italian-style bread. The crust is crunchy, the interior soft, with a close crumb--no giant holes, through which your jelly falls. The bread is good, if basic, with a lovely sourdough tang and nutty whole-wheat flavor. Try it. It may be one of the easiest, tastiest breads you've made (never mind that tube of biscuits!).
Basic Sourdough Whole-Wheat Bread -- Makes 1 Loaf
1 cup of starter/discard (my starter is whole-wheat-based)
2 tablespoons of canola oil
2 tablespoons of non-fat, plain yogurt (regular, not Greek)
1/2 cup of whole-wheat flour
Combine the ingredients listed above in a large bowl and beat them together until everything is well mixed. Let the dough sit for at least a couple of hours. I sometimes let it sit for 4-6 hours, depending on the coolness of my kitchen (if cooler, then longer) and what work I have in progress. When you're ready, add:
1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon of salt
Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, as you do so kneading in up to 1/4 cup of flour, aiming for a dough that is only a little tacky. Flatten the dough out into a rectangle with your hands, and then roll it up into a cylinder (about 10 inches long is fine), tucking the open ends under. Place the dough cylinder, seam side down, on a piece of parchment on a baking sheet, spritz the dough with a little oil, and cover it loosely with a piece of plastic wrap. Let the dough rise a couple of hours. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, cut a few 1/4-inch deep slights across the top of the dough, and bake the bread for about 30 minutes (it should reach an internal temperature of about 190 degrees, if you have a cooking thermometer). Let the dough cool to room temperature before cutting it. You can eat it warm (we do), but the slices won't be as neat, and you'll risk the bread being slightly gummy on the inside (just slather on some butter, and be happy your bread is warm). Enjoy easy, tasty, low-fail sourdough bread!