May 24, 2012

White Sourdough Bread

My experience with sourdough is admittedly limited, but my family likes this particular sourdough bread so much, that I wanted to share it with you.  It is from the cookbook Jason brought me from Ireland, The Ballymaloe Bread Book by Tim Allen.

Do you like Amazon?  I do.  As much as I believe in supporting the local guy, I really appreciate Amazon's "Look Inside" Feature.  I can spend hours flipping through all sorts of books to see if I like the author's writing style.  And if I'm considering buying a cookbook, I certainly try a recipe from the Look Inside portion that's available on Amazon before I actually buy the book.  A few months ago, I'd heard about a particular "make staples from scratch" cookbook.  I fell in love when I read the author's introduction to the book.  I really enjoyed her writing style and I was disappointed when I got to the end of the preview available online.  I considered ordering it, or calling our local bookstore to see if they had it in stock (or were able to order it for me).  But then I tried the recipe the author wrote for an Everyday Bread.  And it was a flop.  I wholeheartedly acknowledge that I may have made a mistake, but I do bake yeast breads quite a bit, so to foul up a recipe for a basic white bread didn't seem very likely.  I decided not to get the book.  Am I "cutting my nose off to spite my face?"  Is it possible that there are dozens of wonderful recipes in that book that I am missing out on?  Absolutely, but that's my personal policy about buying cookbooks.  I'll keep an eye out for the book at the library.

I was so pleased when I found a book with a similar theme this week on Amazon, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods you Can Stop Buying and Start Making by Alana Chernilla.  Look Inside here or check out Alana's blog here. I was so sucked in by the excerpt I read--and so in need of a trusty lunch box treat--that I made her Car Snack #2 (granola bars) as soon as I read the recipe.  I've made granola bars before.  I've made a good version and a version so dull that it ended up getting really frost-bitten in the back of the freezer.  But these were so simple and quick to throw together (Seriously--five minutes of work plus half an hour in the oven), and they taste to me like what the color golden would taste like if it had a flavor.  And how could it not? Butter and honey (I substituted honey for the Lyle's syrup) with oats and slivered almonds?  This cookbook is on my wish list!

Sadly, an excerpt of The Ballymaloe Bread Book is not available on Amazon.  But another way I like to whittle away time on Amazon is by reading the reviews of books I already own.  I am intrigued by what other people eat and how they cook (and what grows in their vegetable garden).  I like to read what other people say about the book, recipes they wholeheartedly recommend, recipes that didn't work out, features they feel are so important that they want to encourage total strangers to buy the book, things that people didn't like about the book.  I feel a bit defensive when someone writes a negative review about a book that I thoroughly enjoy.

One reviewer complained that the ingredients in Tim's recipes are measured by weight, and that she had to convert them to volume to be able to bake from the book.  I scoffed at that a bit.  C'mon, lady.  This book was written for a European audience.  *Most* bakers know that in other parts of the world, bakers measure with weights, not volumes.  Most serious bakers in the States are switching to weights too.  Honestly I was still using measuring cups for most recipes, until I started baking with this book.  I pulled out my cheap little scale (it's plastic, not-digital, and only weighs up to a pound at a time) and I am a convert. You see, when you measure flour using a weight, you know you've measured the same amount that the recipe-writer measured.  Sure, you may need to add a dash more here or there, but experience will tell you when to add flour or liquid, and you don't have the awkward variable that a measurement of  "6-7 cups of flour" can be.  That said, I agree with the reviewer, if you have no interest in baking using weights, then I wouldn't recommend this cookbook.

I've baked four or five recipes from this cookbook.  The one oddity I've noticed is that the ingredients aren't always listed in the order in which they are used. This can a bit confusing.  Normally (maybe this is an American thing?) recipes list the ingredients in the order in which they are used.  Another thing that's a bit frustrating-slash-confusing are instructions such as these, "Preheat the oven to..." followed by, "Combine water, flour and sourdough starter... Let rest 12-24 hours."  Again, not something a cook can't work around, but the kind of thing that causes me to reread the recipe a more times than I normally would during the procedure.

So, though I haven't altered any of the ingredients, I've rewritten Tim's wonderful sourdough bread recipe here.

White Sour Dough
This is not a crusty, chewy, ultra-sour bread akin to what one would find served alongside a bowl of fish chowder.  No, this is what I call an Everyday Bread, a crisp crust with a soft interior, and a mild, but pleasing sour flavor.  It is suitable for a variety of uses: sandwiches, french toast, toasted and served with butter or jam, dried and made into croutons. 
Makes 2 loaves.

(5 minutes, 12-24 hour rest)

250grams / 9 oz sourdough starter
6 fl oz warm water
250 grams / 9 oz all purpose or bread flour
1 teaspoon sugar

Stir together the warm water and starter in a large mixing bowl or other vessel.  Stir in flour and sugar.  The mixture doesn't have to be smooth; the fermentation will work out the lumps.  Cover with a tea towel and let rest 12-24 hours.  (All three times that I have made this I have let the sponge sit close to 24 hours, making the sponge one evening, and continuing with the recipe the following evening.)

(10-15 minutes mixing and shaping, 3-8 hours rising, 35-40  minutes baking)

all of the sponge
5 fl oz warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
500 grams /1 lb 2 oz all purpose or bread flour
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
50g / 2 oz / 4 tablespoons butter at room temperature

Transfer the dough into the bowl of an electric mixer (if it isn't there already).  Add warm water and olive oil and blend on low speed one minute.  Add flour, sugar, salt and butter.  Beat on low, then medium speed to until a shaggy dough is formed.

Switch to a dough hook (or turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and work by hand) and knead for a few minutes until light and pliable.  This is a moist dough and it comes together fairly quickly.  Don't succumb to the temptation to add more flour.  The oil and butter should keep it from being too sticky to work with.

Split the ball of dough into two portions.  Shape each portion into a free-form loaf.  I use my hands to flatten the ball on the counter top, then roll it up, tucking the seam underneath.  Place both loaves on a large oiled baking sheet, cover with a clean tea towel and let rise.  The original recipe calls for a rising time of 5-6 hours in a warm location or overnight in a cool spot.  When it is 90 degrees outside, my kitchen is very warm, resulting in a shorter rise time, closer to three hours.  The dough will puff up, but not necessarily double in size.  If your loaf seems a little squat, don't be nervous, this loaf tends to have a good "oven spring," much more pronounced than any of the other sourdough recipes I've tried.

Toward the end of the rising time, preheat your over to 450F (230C).  Slash the tops of the loaves in three places with a sharp knife and bake 35-40 minutes, until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.  (I throw a handful of ice cubes into the bottom of the oven when I put the bread in.  The steam created by the melting ice is said to help with oven spring and browning.)

Cool loaves on a wire rack.  I generally slice and freeze my breads after they have cooled completely, but this bread should keep just fine at room temperature for 3-5 days.

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