Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bread Baking Day Part 1


So the starter is happily bubbling away, just waiting to dig into that flour you're going to use to bake bread. We're going to build a sponge, a poolish, basically a wet batter of water (and in this recipe milk), part of the flour and the starter. The starter will then happily munch on this feast and soften the bran of the whole wheat flour (making a more tender bread) as well as building/aligning the bread's gluten structure. Basically by being lazy you're letting the starter do most of the work so that the kneading is easy. Some people also claim that by allowing the starter to sort of "predigest" the whole wheat flour that it's easier for your body to digest the whole grain bread. Aside from those benefits, sourdough starter has slight preservative effects and your homemade bread will have a bit of a longer (just by a few days) shelf life than traditional yeast only raised breads.

Now, these posts are pretty long and detailed but the process itself is quite simple and easy to do. I have three children 5 years old and under. I don't have an abundance of time so if you can read a recipe, you can make this bread. A while back before I'd even begun a sourdough starter I was looking for my holy grail of bread recipes. The one recipe that would make a tender enough bread that Mr. Maricucu would love better than storebought but would also involve whole grains, no high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils. I found this recipe on the King Arthur website and gave it a try in straight white flour. It was very good, tender crumb and not flavorless. Then I tried it with all white whole wheat flour. White whole wheat flour IS whole wheat but since it's ground from a lighter wheat berry, the flavor is a bit more mild and the texture a bit more refined than traditional whole wheat flour.

My experimental loaf was okay but really it just wasn't fluffy enough. I kept making it but wondered if it was possible to make it less dense. After I had a lively starter I found Mike's Sourdough Converter Spreadsheet. Go ahead, you can laugh now. Yes a spreadsheet for calculating recipes and ratios depending on how many loaves you'd like to make and how you multiply your starter.

I won't bore you with my process but I converted the King Arthur recipe to grams, plugged in into the spreadsheet, fiddled around a little (I don't remember exactly how) and came up with the following recipe. It's in grams and makes one loaf. Usually I make 5 loaves worth of bread dough. That leaves me with 3 loaves of sliced sandwich bread, 15 hamburger buns and about 10 cinnamon rolls (oh yeah, this alone is a good enough reason to bake bread every week).

Yes you'll need a scale. As a baker and one who deals with sourdough there's just no getting around this fact. You can buy an inexpensive 5-10lb kitchen scale that weighs in ounces and grams for $30 and it will last you for years. If you don't have a kitchen scale and/or sourdough starter you can make the basic King Arthur loaf and then continue with the recipe for the rising, shaping and baking.

Basic Dough (makes one loaf)
Adapted from King Arthur Classic Sandwich Loaf

300 grams of starter - I'll show you how to make this from your measly 1/2 cup of fridge starter
70 grams whole milk
230 grams unbleached all purpose flour - my all purpose flour is naturally high in protein so it's more along the lines of a bread flour. If you're buying a flour at the grocery store buy bread flour.
1 1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons of honey/sugar/brown sugar/maple syrup - I use honey but you can use whatever you'd like
4 tablespoons butter/oil - I usually use canola oil but sometimes do butter.
2 teaspoons instant dry yeast - I use SAF brand that I get in bulk at BJs

Note: You'll notice that my bread recipe uses both sourdough starter AND yeast. Most sourdough purists would revoke my membership and whip me with a wet noodle for muddying the recipe with yeast. Truth is I could make the recipe without yeast but it would involve a much longer rise time (about 4-5 hours for each rising period) and time alas is short around here. Fortunately by letting a sponge ferment overnight I still get the benefit of a cool rise that builds flavor and just use the yeast the next day to speed up the last two phases.

The night before I bake bread I stir the starter down and weigh it all out except for about 2 tablespoons. Pour that in the bowl (I use a dough bucket). Then feed the 2 tablespoons of starter that's left in the jar 75g of water and 65g flour. Stir and put back in the fridge. It's ready to hibernate until next week.



Back to the starter in the bowl/bucket. Since I make 5 loaves at a time I need more starter than I have after I've fed it that morning. The great thing about The Borg, aka the starter is that it's insidious. A little bit of starter will colonize a whole bowl of flour/water mix in just a few hours producing a bowlful of starter. So I subtract the starter's weight from what I need. Do a little math, subtract the starter's weight from the 300g. Since starter is equal parts flour and water, add half water and half flour of the remaining weight needed. Sounds complicated but it's not. You'll likely have 130 grams of starter but you need 300 grams total. You'll need an additional 170 grams. Just add another 85 grams of water and 85 grams of white whole wheat flour then stir. See? Simple.


Now for this recipe I also add the milk to make the batter a bit more fluid and easier to stir the next day. You could add the milk the following day but really why not let the milk soften too? It wants to join the party, don't be snooty. Stir again and cover loosely. Air is necessary for the yeast to multiply. Leave it on the counter and remind your family that the bubbling mix on the counter IS NOT trash and if they want to eat they need to keep their hands and toys off.


Go to sleep, tomorrow, we make the dough (not the dougnuts).

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