Self Soothing With Bread

When Times Are Tough, The Wise Start Baking

I’ve always loved the smell of bread; bread rising, bread baking, bread freshly sliced, bread toasting… Few things are as soothing to me as making bread, so it makes perfect sense that as I’m packing up my house for the second move in six months (!?!) I’m also making bread. I recently heard a friend comment that there is no such thing as good rye bread and remembered the sourdough rye I used to make when Bud and my mom were still on the planet. I especially love sourdough because it’s amazingly forgiving, which makes total sense when you think about those old ‘49ers with their favorite sourdough starters. I’ve even read about pioneers sleeping with their starters to keep them alive in freezing weather.

I don’t sleep with my starter (not that that’s anybody’s business) but I’ve had one for many years, sometimes active on the counter, sometimes slumbering in the fridge. I’ve often thought that if I could only eat a few things, bread would top the list of first choices, along with the cole family, the onion family, and apples…

Get Your Starter On

As a single person, I tend to share and freeze much of what I make since I can cook faster than I can (or should) eat. Sourdough breads are especially welcome since they’re not only tangy, chewy, and toothsome, but they also remain fresh far longer than most yeast breads. If an aging loaf starts to get a tad tough, a few moments in the toaster restores its texture. Even truly stale sourdough makes fabulous French toast and bread pudding. Sourdough is also the simplest and most forgiving form of artisan baking. If those goldrush miners kept sourdough productive in primitive wilderness camps, you can easily do it in a modern kitchen.

Many sourdough starters are passed along between neighbors but can be made anytime at home. There are lots of myths about starters out there, but no matter what starter you use, if you keep it for any length of time, it will be yours and yours alone, capturing the essence of your kitchen. If you don’t know any bakers who might share with you, here are my favorite recipes for wheat and rye starters as well as some excellent sourdough breads.

Simple Sourdough Starter

1 cup water
1 cup flour (any)
1-1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) active dry yeast

In a bowl, vigorously combine all ingredients, cover with cheesecloth or a fine sieve and let stand for 8-12 hours until bubbly and tangy-smelling.

Kitchen (Wild) Sourdough Starter

1 cup water
1 cup whole wheat flour

In a bowl, vigorously combine flour and water, cover with cheesecloth or a fine sieve and let stand for 3-4 days until bubbly and tangy-smelling.

Old Fashioned Rye Starter

1 cup rye flour
1 cup water
1 small (2-3 inch) organic onion, outer skin intact

In a small, deep bowl, vigorously combine flour and water, add onion and cover completely with flour mixture. Cover bowl with cheesecloth or a fine sieve and let stand for 3-4 days. When bubbly and tangy-smelling, discard onion (!).

Starter Care And Feeding:

Once your starter is ready (bubbly and tangy-smelling), you can use it right away and/or refrigerate it in a glass jar for later use. To keep your starter going, feed it weekly and always replace what you use.

Feeding schedule: Each week, pour starter into a bowl *, add 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup flour, and stir vigorously. Repeat 8-12 hours later and leave on the counter overnight. The next day, feed again and wait 30-60 minutes before using. If you aren’t planning to use the starter, add smaller amounts of flour and water (1/4 cup each time). Always feed and let stand an hour or so before replacing starter in the refrigerator.

Usually there will be some liquid on top of the starter after being refrigerated. You can pour this off or stir it in; both ways work fine.

Back To Basics

This recipe has the integrity to shape into a Rustic Round or it can be baked in a loaf pan if you prefer.

Basic Rustic Round

1-1/2 cups recently fed sourdough starter
2 cups flour (unbleached and/or whole wheat)
1 teaspoon sea salt

If you have an electric mixer with a dough hook, combine all ingredients and process until dough forms a ball (add water or flour by the tablespoon if mixture seems dry or too soft). Otherwise, knead by hand until smooth and elastic (5-8 minutes). Place dough in an oiled bowl and cover with a plate. Place in a warm (70 degrees F) place until doubled in bulk. (1-1/2 hours). Form into a round and let rise again on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal, covered with a damp towel, until doubled (about 1 hour). Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Bake loaf at 400 for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and cook until done (internal temperature of 180 degrees F, 20-25 minutes more). Let cool before slicing. Makes 1 loaf.

Best Ever Rye Bread

Ann’s All Rye produces a light, tender wheat-free loaf that’s fabulous for sandwiches or toast. Substitute half unbleached white flour for an even lighter loaf.

Ann’s All Rye Sourdough Bread

4-5 cups rye flour
1-1/2 cups recently fed rye sourdough starter
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon sea salt

In a large bowl, combine 3 cups rye flour and 1 cup water and let stand overnight or at least an hour (this autolyses or tenderizes the rye gluten). Add refreshed rye starter, ginger (helps rye rise) and salt, blend well, then add 1+ cups rye flour to make a sticky dough. Put in an oiled bowl and let rise, covered with a cloth, in a warm spot for 1-1/2 hours (will not quite double in size). Gently knead for 1-2 minutes (rye is delicate) and put in an oiled loaf pan and let rise until nearly doubled (60-75 minutes). Preheat oven to 400 and bake for 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350 and bake until done (internal temperature of 180 degrees, about 20-25 minutes more). Cool before slicing. Makes 1 loaf.


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