Several of us who went to King Arthur last month have started to experiment with baking breads. I think that class really gave us the courage to tackle yeast breads in our own homes. Meghan, Kristen and Michelle both made a few different breads, and I have been working with yeast a little more as well.
I have always been really interested in sourdough, or any kind of bread that is made with a starter. It is so interesting how simply mixing together flour and water, and tending to it for a few days, can result in a quick and easy loaf. Although it is very simple & quick, some of the most prized sourdoughs come from starters that are ages old.
Basically, for a sourdough, all you have to do is mix one cup flour with one-half cup water. For 5 days, you do the exact same thing. You throw away half your starter, and replace it with another cup of flour and half cup of water. This is called 'feeding' the starter, or levain.
There are naturally occurring yeasts all around us: in the air, the water, and the flour. By treating the flour in this way, yeast is being cultivated from the environment. Since the yeast is so tied to geography, my sourdough likely won't taste much like your sourdough. Levain from San Francisco is particularly iconic, due to the moist humid air in that region.
The first day of levain, I mixed my flour and water in a pickle jar. It barely reached 1/8th full. The second day I followed the instructions, then went out to run errands. I came back to this:
It had grown and exploded all over my counter. It was ALIVE!!!! It had tons of bubbles and was all spongy looking.
After the 5th day, the levain was ready to use. I decided on this rustic sourdough loaf. Mostly because it seemed simple and required ingredients that I already owned. Flour, yeast, sugar, salt, and water....and of course, my levain. So simple!
I mixed the dry and wet ingredients together.....
Then kneaded the dough as instructed to form a smooth ball, and left it to rest in an oiled bowl for about 90 minutes.
After it had its first rise, I shaped it into a loaf and place it on a baking sheet covered with parchment.
After its 2nd hour of rising, it was ready to bake. Using a serrated knife, I cut two hash marks into the top of the dough....and I freaked a bit. My dough kind of deflated from the slice. I got nervous that I had done something wrong, but I decided to just throw it in the oven anyway and hope for the best....
Well, turns out that I had nothing to worry about....It came out beautifully. The crust was brown and crispy, and the inside was soft and chewy.
Of course I cut it as soon as it had cooled. I needed to see the inside of my bread!!
And, make sure it was fit for human consumption!
I have made this bread 2 more times since this initial effort, and have been happy with it every time. It makes the most delicious toast. And everytime i make a new loaf, it gets a little bit more of that delicious sourdough flavor.