There is nothing quite as satisfying as making your own bread. Most people who love to cook have a creative side to them. It’s that creative process that takes cooking to a whole new level. Baking your own bread helps feed that creative process. It takes you back to a time when making things from scratch was common place. Taking fresh baked bread out of the oven and slicing the crusty loaf and spreading it with butter is as simple a comfort food as you can get.
I started making my own bread after I got my KitchenAid Artisan 5-Quart Stand Mixers. I don’t know how I ever lived without this mixer. The recipe that came with the mixer was simple enough and made some pretty good bread. But after a while I took it to the next level. I wanted to get to the heart of bread making and started reading about sour dough breads. Bread making is thousands of years old and at its beginnings, somewhere along the line, some stored flour became wet, and began to ferment, and the discovery of yeast took bread making in a whole different direction.
I became fascinated by this naturally occurring process and investigated further. If you take a mixture of flour and water and leave it in a container, the yeast micro organism will begin to grow. That’s right, yeast is probably one of the earliest domesticated organism there is. People have used yeast for fermentation and baking for over 4,000 years. And here I am in my kitchen in Pearl River reproducing a process that our early ancestors discovered so long ago. Yeast organisms are all around us. They occur in the flour and the air around us. When cultivated properly they help produced such wonderful things as bread.
The yeast today we buy in packets has been engineered to produce a quick rising result. What has been a very successful result for commercial bakeries, producing bread in a quicker and more profitable fashion, has resulted in a less tasty product. Naturally occurring yeast takes longer to rise. But it’s this additional time that adds the wonderful flavor to the bread. And the longer it ferments the more “sour” the bread will taste, giving you that great tasting sour dough you get from Artisan bakers.
I won’t lie to you, making bread from sour dough starter takes longer than using the packet yeast. But the results are worth it in my opinion. And once you have an active yeast culture you can use it forever. I’m not kidding, those little beasties will live longer than we will. I guess there is something of a mad scientist inside me that takes pleasure in knowing there are living organisms that I helped cultivate at home in my refrigerator.
I’ve been making my own sour dough bread for a number of years now and have three different cultures stored in my refrigerator. The first one I captured and grew myself, starting with a mixture of flour and water and going through the process of “feeding” it every day with fresh flour and water. You use equal parts flour to water and discard that amount from the container before adding more. So, for example, you start your culture with 2 cups of flour and two cups of spring water. After 24 hours you discard 1 cup of the batter and add a cup of flour and cup of spring water. You repeat this process daily. After about 5 days a bubbling activity takes place and you get a distinct aroma of beer, signaling that the yeast is growing and thriving in the environment I provided. The other yeast cultures, Italian (Ischia Island and Camaldoli) Sourdough Cultures I purchased online. These cultures are hundreds of years old and sourced from a bakery in Italy that has been producing bread from the same strain of yeast for over 200 years. As I said, this stuff will last forever. Each culture has a distinctive flavor and activity level. Once fully activated, you should see bubbles within a couple of hours of feeding. You can use the culture for a recipe, replace what you took out with more flour and water, and after an hour place in the refridgerator until your ready to use the culture again. To reactivate, leave the culture on your counter until you see the bubbles forming and growing. And the process repeats.
There are many books available that can take you through the process of making your own sour dough starter. Here are some I found useful: Alaska Sourdough and Classic Sourdoughs, Revised: A Home Baker’s Handbook . If you have a passion for cooking and enjoy the process as well as the outcome then I recommend you look this up and have fun with it.
For this recipe I’m going to share with you a bread that has been developed to enable you to make fresh baked bread at a moments notice. A “5 minute” process that can put a fresh loaf of bread on your table in just about the amount of time it takes you to bake it. In this recipe you use a packet yeast, I add some of my sour dough culture so the natural yeast will eventually take over. If you use packet yeast only, you will eventually develop a sour dough flavor because the concept here utilizes the dough from the last batch added to the fresh dough so eventually you are going to get a more flavorful loaf of bread over time. The fermentation of the older dough will add to the flavor of your new batch.
What you will be doing is making a “no knead dough” and storing it in your refrigerator for up to two weeks and using what you need when you want a loaf of fresh baked bread.
You should have a pizza stone to bake the bread on. What I use, and highly recommend, is a ceramic stone baking dish such as a SuperStone / 11″ La Cloche Dome Baker which simulates a hearth oven in your kitchen. The moist dough within the cloche creates the steam needed to produce a delicious bread with a crackly, golden crust and light crumb. If you are using a pizza stone you can help this along by placing a pan of hot water next to the stone while baking your bread.
3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 packets yeast (1 1/2 tablespoon)
1 1/2 tablespoon sea salt
6 1/2 cups flour, all purpose or bread flour
Add yeast and salt to water in a 5 quart bowl. Mix in the flour. Mix with a wooden spoon until the mixture is uniformly moist. Don’t knead, the stirring action is enough to develop the gluten. Cover the bowl loosely with a towel and allow to rise 2 hours in a warm place. Once the dough has doubled in size you should refrigerate it for 3 hours before beginning to shape a loaf.
Prepare pizza peel with corn meal and flour. Have enough flour on the peel so the dough will not stick and will slide off easily onto your stone. Sprinkle the surface of dough lightly with flour then cut off a 1 pound piece, about the size of a large grapefruit. Flour your hands well and stretch the dough in your hands pulling the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all sides.
Place the ball of dough on the pizza peel. Allow to rest uncovered for 40 minutes.
Preheat oven and pizza stone or cloche to 450 degrees. Dust loaf lightly with flour and slash the surface of the dough with a serrated knife to allow the loaf to expand while baking. You can cut a single slash along the top or make a tic-tack-toe grid.
Slide the loaf onto the pre-heated pizza stone or into the cloche and cover it with the dome. Bake the loaf for 30 minutes or until golden. Cool the loaf on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing.
Refrigerate remaining dough covered, not air tight, and use over the next 2 weeks cutting the amount you need for your next loaf of bread.
When you get down to about a half pound piece of dough in the bowl add that to your new batch and stir it into the water before adding your flour. At this stage, if you really want to make the natural yeast take over, do not add any packet yeast. There will be enough yeast in the left over dough to product the rise you need. It will just take a little longer to rise. Leave it till it doubles in size, about 8 hours at 80 degrees, and then refrigerate. If you continue this process you will never have to buy yeast again and your bread will become more flavorful with time.