I’m just going to say it…
Best. Bread. Ever.
Okay, so that might be stretching it a teensy bit, but it is hands down the best bread I’ve ever made. And, I’ve been making bread ever since Crazy Karl taught me how almost 20 years ago now. Since he inducted me into the wonderful world of bread-making (which just went up a notch thanks to the loaf you see above), I think he has earned some airtime on this blog. I met Crazy Karl in Alaska, doing field work for a long term ecological research project. Turns out Crazy Karl and I were to be on the same research team simulating the effects of timber harvest on forest regrowth. In layman’s terms, it essentially meant we were posing as loggers. Every day we carried chainsaws and fuel cans, cut down trees, bucked logs, hauled slash. Those were long days of utterly physically exhausting work. After dinner, which typically happened at 9 or 10, all I wanted to do was collapse on my bunk and try to recover for the next day. But Karl? Nope. If Karl was out of bread for lunch the next day, he would stay up into the wee hours of the morning baking a fresh batch. I mean, he would start a batch a 9pm, wait for it to rise, etc. Thus, the ‘crazy’. He would simply refuse to eat store-bought bread and sleep be damned, he was going to make all of his bread from scratch. Crazy. Karl.
I don’t know where Karl is nowadays, we were always a little too different to be bffs, but I like to think he’d be proud of me for producing the wonderful luscious goodness of of loaf you see above.
This was actually my first attempt at making sourdough bread. I’ve always loved it, but for some reason it seemed an intimidating endeavor, what with precious starters that have been around for 100s of years and seemingly finicky recipes. But, a friend offered her healthy, bubbly starter a couple weeks ago and I found this recipe online, so I finally got to it. I highly recommend going over to the Clever Carrot to read about her experience with sourdough making and her techniques if you really want to get into the nitty gritty of the sourdough making process. She’s really figured it out. She also has her recipe with weights/ounces instead of the typical cups or teaspoons. I’ve altered that a bit here for my own use since I (a) don’t have a scale, (b) am too cheap to buy one, and (c) don’t get fancy like that. But if you want to do it ‘right’, you head over there. If not, stay right here with me and wing it.
So, be warned, this bread takes a little pre-planning since it requires you to take some of your sourdough starter out of the fridge, feed it, and let it do its thing for a good 12 hours before you start the actual bread-making process. Believe me, it’s well worth it. The following schedule worked for me: Day 1 — take some of the starter out of the fridge in the morning and feed it. Let it sit out all day. That night, make the dough and leave it to rise overnight. Day 2 — Shape the dough for the second rise in the morning and bake when ready. This gave me incredibly tasty bread with the wonderfully blistered crispy crust I formerly thought could only come from a real bakery. Enjoy!
- 1/2 cup sourdough starter
- 1 cup water
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 2.25 - 2.5 cups flour (I use all purpose, but you're 'supposed' to use bread flour)
- 1.5 tsp fine sea salt
- fine ground cornmeal, for dusting
- 1. About 10-12 hours before you're ready to make the dough, take ~1/2 cup of sourdough starter out of the fridge and give it a feed. Let it sit for 10-12 hours or until it has about doubled in size and looks bubbly. You can tell its ready when you plop a bit in some water and it floats.
- 2. After your starter is ready, in a large bowl (I use a huge one so I can knead in the bowl), combine about 3/4 cup of the starter, the water, olive oil and 2.25 cups of the flour. Knead a little with your hands until all of the flour is absorbed. Add more flour if the dough is too sticky. Rest for 30 minutes.
- 3. In a small bowl, add the salt to 1/2 tsp of water to help it dissolve. Add this to the dough and knead until you don't feel the salt any longer and the dough feels ready. Shape into a ball.
- 4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and leave it to rise. The dough is ready when it has increased in volume to about 1½- 2 times its original size. This can take anywhere from 3-12 hours depending on the temperature of the ingredients, your kitchen, and the potency of the starter. I make my dough in the evening, and let it rise overnight.
- 5. After your dough has risen, lightly flour a space on your counter. Coat the bottom of a Dutch oven with cornmeal. Remove the dough from the bowl, and place onto the flour and flip a couple times to coat. Then move the dough to a non-floured section of your workspace. Gather the dough, one side at a time, and fold it over itself into the center. Flip the dough over and place it seam side down. Using your hands, gently cup the sides of the dough and rotate it, using quarter turns in a circular motion. Repeat these quarter turns until you have a nicely-shaped sphere of dough. (go to Clever Carrot to see pics)
- 6. Place the dough in the Dutch oven and cover with the lid for a second shorter rise -- about 2-3 hours. It is ready when the dough is slightly puffy.
- 7. Preheat your oven to 450 F. Right before your bread goes into the oven, make a shallow slash about 2 inches long in the center of the dough. Place the lid on your pot and put the bread in the oven. Reduce the temperature to 400 F. Bake for 20 minutes.
- 8. Remove the lid, and continue to bake (uncovered) for an additional 35-40 minutes or until deep, golden brown. ** During the last 10 minutes of baking, crack open the oven door. This allows the moisture to escape, leaving your bread with a crisp crust.
- 9. Allow the bread to cool on a wire rack before digging in. Clever Carrot says, "Don't cut too soon or else the inside will have a gummy texture!"