Make bread on Sundays

Published 6:52 pm Tuesday, July 5, 2016

By Gabriella Crail

Elements Cafe

I make bread on Sundays. Yes, I indulge in the delicious fats of butters on occasion and crusted loaves it layers into. I pull apart my slice piece by piece, marveling at its crumbling beauty and how the fluffy center cradles a pat of butter or honey. I lather the loaf with pesto sometimes or even sprinkle it with cheese. Sometimes it’s so delicious it needs nothing at all. I kneed, pull, pat, toss, wait, repeat and wait until it’s ready to bake. Hours of progress will be worth it. Todays’ modern mothers (and fathers of course) are much farther from the homestead than in past days, and we simply don’t get to domesticate often. Some of us log every single calorie, carb and fat. Some of us simply try to eat right throughout the week while still managing to keep organized as the kids run around. Soccer here, baseball there, gymnastics, events; it’s a miracle sometimes we manage to even enjoy a meal together. Gather around the table and eat bread.

You can certainly get the kids to help with this one too. Make a calendar, post it to the refrigerator and remind kids when it is time to feed it. They may even pick up on it and remind you. Here is a simple guide using a sponge starter which includes a little help from a packet of commercial yeast. You do not have to use it, thus would continue to a simple sourdough starter. It should simply call for flour and water. This can be the most exciting thing next to pets! Feed daily, watch it grow and share it with the family! (minus the vet bills).

This recipe is a mashup of what I’ve learned from Julia Child in The Way To Cook (1989, Alfred A. Knopf) and Joy of Cooking by Irma & Marion Rombauer, Ethan Becker (1997, Scribner), and from personal experience.

Sponge Starter: A thinner consistency, quicker to make & are started with commercial yeast. You will use this base to build off of, but eventually end up with “wild” yeast. Fermentation takes 6 hours at room temperature. Refrigerated fermentation takes 14 hours. The slower the rise, the better the flavor, this type of bread yields rustic, hearty crumb & good crust. If you start with 2 cups starter, you’ll feed it to 4 cups, then 8, so on. It is encouraged to share & make often. In a medium mixing bowl, combine and let stand until the yeast is dissolved ½ tsp active dry yeast & ½ cup lukewarm water (100 degrees), then incorporate ¾ cup bread flour. Rapidly stir with wooden spoon until sticky & elastic pulls from sides of bowl. (apprx 2 mins). Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap & let rise in refrigerator overnight. Feeding the starter: After first batch is made let sit for 6 hours room temp or 14 refrigerated. Once the dough has tripled in volume, it begins to sag or collapse. This is feeding time. Add ¾ cup bread flour & ½ cup water. This feeds the bacteria’s (yeast) & keeps the starter from weakening.  If using the refrigerated method, always use warm water when adding to the dough.

Bread recipe using Sponge starter: 1 cup of your sponge starter, 2 cups room temp water (72-75), 4 ½ cups bread flour

Mix together in large bowl until sticky & cleans the sides of the bowl. Sprinkle in 1 tbsp sea salt. Dough should be sticky but not stick to your hands. Knead by hand or dough hook for 10 minutes until smooth & elastic. Transfer to clean bowl, wrap with plastic wrap & let rise until doubled in volume. (give or take 3-6 hours). Shape into baguettes (divided into 2 or 4 parts), place on pan intended to use to bake it in, let rise until doubled in volume (2-4 hrs). Preheat oven 450. Score the loaves, spritz oven with water, insert pan with loaves, spritz the sides of the oven & bake 30 mins if you divided into 2 parts, 35 minutes of you divided dough into 4 parts & 40 minutes for one round loaf. Bread will be browned & hollow sounding when bottom tapped with finger. Set the crust by turning off the oven & leave bread for 5 minutes.

If you have received a starter: Depending on how long after the last feeding, it may take 24 hrs or more to reactivate the starter. It will bubble to show its fermenting. Once to this point you can begin at the feeding point & start your own process indefinitely. When making your bread, always leave enough starter behind to make your next batch. If you forgot to feed your starter in the refrigerator- it goes dormant, acids dissolve the gluten & grayish liquids form (liquor) separates from the flour & floats on top. Reactivate by pouring off the liquid, throw out some of the dormant starter & return to regular feedings. It will percolate within a couple days & be ready again.

Too much starter– you are feeding regularly & gaining too much starter too quickly. Take a step back & use the refrigerated method, slow the rise, give a little away or simply toss a little. You can freeze your starter if necessary to take a break. Just reactivate it by letting it sit 24 hrs at room temperature & continue back to feeding. If your starter weakens or the rising seems to take longer & longer over time. Simply reintroduce some fresh yeast to reactivate. Add 1/8 tsp fresh yeast to 1 tsp warm water to your starter.