I really enjoy baking bread. I've generally had great success with the breads I've attempted, but recently, my streak ended. I set out to recreate Iggy's Cranberry-Pecan Rolls, which I am currently addicted to. I couldn't find a recipe, but was able to track down the ingredients and pretty much infer the recipe. A basic sourdough with some cinnamon and sugar, cranberries, and pecans. What could go wrong?
I grew my own sourdough starter a few months ago, and have managed to keep it alive this whole time. So I began to make the dough just like a normal sourdough, but something went terribly wrong.
The dough never rose. It just sat there, doing nothing. For 2 days. I was crushed.
I immediately worried that my starter was dead, so I set out to make a standard sourdough loaf to check the status of my starter. Much to my surprise, I pretty much made my best sourdough yet.
For my dough, I followed the steps in one of my favorite baking book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart.
The first step is to use the starter to make a firm starter. This just involves mixing a bit of the starter with some bread flour and water to make a small amount of dough and grow a bit more yeast. Once the firm starter doubles, it sits overnight in the fridge.
|The firm starter.|
|In an hour or two, the firm starter doubles.|
After kneading for a few minutes, I shaped the dough into a ball, and let it rise.
Here's a trick: On cold days, turn your oven on for about 2 minutes then turn it off. Put the dough in your oven and it will rise more consistently.
I had a enough for two loaves. I wanted to make one to eat that night, but I find that retarding the dough in the fridge for a day or two results in a more sour flavor. Just be sure to let it sit at room temperature for 4 hours or so before baking. So, half of the dough was shaped into a boule, which I prepped to bake immediately. The other half of the dough became a loaf, which I put in the fridge for two days.
I let the boulle rise again for a few hours, and then scored the top. While it was rising, I preheated my oven, with a dutch oven inside, to 500F. I let the dutch oven heat up for about an hour.
When the dough was ready to bake, I misted the top with some water, dropped it into the dutch oven, put on the cover and put it in the oven. I dropped the oven temp to 450F. The bread baked for 20 minutes with the lid on the dutch oven, then 15 minutes without the lid.
Keeping the lid on the dutch oven traps the steam, which approximates a steam injected oven. This is how to achieve a really nice crust.
The bread was amazing. I love the sound fresh baked bread makes when it comes out of the oven, the bread song. It crackles so loudly, it's fantastic. The bread had just a hint of the sour flavor, but the texture was fantastic. I mean... check out that crumb structure!
For the loaf, I still bake it inside of a dutch oven, and still mist the top with water. The loaf turned out beautiful. Probably the best looking loaf of bread I've ever baked. The extra time in the fridge results in a great sour flavor. I was really excited to turn this into toast the next morning.
The Bottom Line:
Difficulty: 6/10 There's a lot to think about with a sourdough. And this recipe requires kneading.
Best left to professionals? There is nothing like baking bread. I actually hate buying bread now.
Cost: Pennies? Flour, water, salt.
Special Equipment? A dutch oven which can range from hundreds of dollars to under $30.