Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Basic Sourdough Sandwich Loaf

I was laying in bed, drifting off to sleep, when my wife rolled over and said to me "Did you remember to bake the bread?" I hadn't. My bread was happily rising in the (cold) oven, and if left overnight would probably overflow and make a mess. So I'm downstairs, out of my nice warm bed, writing down this recipe and waiting for the bread to bake.

A few months back, I tried making my own sourdough starter by catching wild yeast in pineapple juice. It worked amazingly well. I've made bread several times, but honestly it's seemed somewhat hit-or-miss. Several loaves were beautiful, but several others were bricks. I've mostly used the sourdough starter to make quickbreads: pizza crusts, tortillas, pretzels, and the like. It's awesome for that, and ridiculously easy.

Homemade bread may sound scary, but the finished product is worth it.
After much experimentation, though, I think I've finally got a bulletproof sourdough sandwich loaf I like. Judi makes an incredible honey oat bread that we use for sandwiches, and it is really excellent. The kids love it because it's ridiculously soft; practically a WonderBread. Sometimes I want something different, though. Something a little more firm, something with a little more tang, or something a little cheaper. Between the oats, honey, and yeast, the honey oat bread isn't necessarily less expensive than cheap grocery-store bread. It tastes better, but it costs about the same. This loaf, though, is crazy cheap. Basically flour and water, and you can get 25 pounds of flour for under $8.

25 pounds of flour fits perfectly in these trash cans. That's bread
flour on the left and all-purpose flour on the right.
Sourdough starter has different "strengths" based on how recently it's been "fed." If you read hard-core sourdough bakers, it can get pretty technical. This recipe avoids that by using two phases to reach the appropriate level of leavening. It really is dead simple. If you have sourdough starter, you can make this bread. And if you don't have sourdough starter, I'd be happy to give you a cup or two of mine, or just make your own by following the link above.


Phase 1 (Sponge)

  • 2 cups starter (fed last night)
  • 2 cups bread flour (can substitute 1 cup whole wheat flour)
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1 T white sugar

Phase 2 (Dough)

  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1 T kosher salt
  • 1/8 C canola oil
  1. Combine starter, flour, water, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Place somewhere warm. In winter, our house is cold enough that I can't get the yeast to do its thing without placing it in a barely-warm oven. Preheat the oven for 45-60 seconds, then turn off the oven and put in the mixing bowl. This will need to sit for several hours, depending on the strength of your starter, the warmth of your oven, and so on. Once you can see bubbles on every square centimeter or so, you're ready for phase 2.
  2. Add flour, kosher salt, and oil to mixing bowl. Mix well. Turn out bowl onto flat surface and knead until dough comes together. Depending on the moisture level in the air, you may need to add a few teaspoons of water or a small handful of flour. Once dough is smooth, return to mixing bowl and let rise for 3-4 hours.
  3. Divide dough in half and add each half to a lightly-greased sandwich loaf pan. You may want to shape the dough before panning; something like this will work well (although my method is much less fussy).
  4. Let the dough rise until it's about the size you expect to see in a loaf of bread. I might expect to see the top of the loaf about an inch over the lip of the bread pan, but that's up to you. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, then remove and let cool (slightly) before cutting in and enjoying with butter and honey.

Once it's cooled a little and you've eaten your fill, move whatever is left to an airtight container. We went through several solutions before landing on a 2-gallon ziplock bag. The bread will continue to release steam, but if it's in an airtight container the steam will be reabsorbed into the crust, making it softer. Other than that, there's not really a secret; or at least not one that I know. Enjoy!

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