Friday, November 14, 2008

Sourdough, continued

Sourdough Starter, Part 2

To finish your sourdough bread from the previous recipe, scoop out one cup of the sponge (which you left overnight with the cup of your starter) and put it back into your now-refrigerated starter mixture. Stir to combine both old and new starter mixtures, then let sit out overnight on the counter. In the AM, put the whole thing back into the refrigerator. This is your sourdough starter. The next time you want to start bread — every week or two to keep things fresh — let the starter sit overnight on the countertop before you begin. You take a cup out, put a cup back in, and the starter gets better and better with time, leading to more flavorful bread.

Sourdough Bread, Part 2

For this loaf, make a dough out of what's left in your bowl by adding another cup of cool water, 1 tablespoon of salt and 6 cups of flour. Knead on a floured countertop for 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and soft. Put the dough back into the bowl and let it rise 6-8 hours, until doubled in size. It's easiest to do this first thing in the AM and then leave for work, or last thing at night, depending on your schedule the next day.

Heat the oven to 450º and position rack in the lower third of the oven.

Dust your countertop thoroughly with flour and turn out the dough on top of it. The dough will be pretty slack and loose. Line an 11" basket or stand-alone colander with a kitchen towel — use the white flour sack variety if you have it. Rub 1/2 cup of flour into the towel.

Shape the dough into a large ball so that one surface is completely smooth, gathering the seamed side into your hand. Place the ball into the basket smooth side down, seam side up. Pinch the seam closed and cover the dough loosely with a damp kitchen towel. Let rise at room temperature 2-4 hours, until the dough reaches the top of your basket/colander.

Sprinkle the top of the dough with a big handful of flour. Turn a large baking sheet over on top of the basket and invert the dough onto it, seam side will be down this time. Pull the floured towel off the top of the loaf, and, with a sharp knife, cut two crisscross slashes across it, each about 5" long. Mist the loaf with water and immediately put it into the oven. Bake the bread for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 400º. Bake 10-30 minutes more, until the crust is dark and the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the top. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before you cut it.

As an added note, try not to bake this during rainy season. After three days of constant rain, my dough was slack and almost slippery, and it baked up into semi-flat loaves. Usually it's sky high. I also will generally make either 2 or 4 smaller loaves, rather than one huge guy. There are only two of us, after all, and sourdough tastes best when you can still crunch through the crust.

Recipe adapted from Williams-Sonoma's Essentials of Baking, which I highly recommend for this recipe, pizza dough, danish pastry, croissants and olive bread.

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