Although this recipe is really for my bread buddy and new friend, Amanda, I have to recommend it to the rest of you as well. I realize, of course, that the idea of making bread at all–much less making bread without the use of commercial yeast–may sound a little far-fetched, but let me present you with an argument in its favor, before you dismiss it entirely. These are the reasons I think you ought to give sourdough baking generally, and this recipe in particular, a try…
1. LOOK AT IT!
2. It’s really cool. In fact, my older son (who is, admittedly, a little weirdo–and I say that with great pride!) calls the sourdough cultures our pets. He and I came home from a birthday party one afternoon, and the house was empty–the other kids were off on a field trip with their daddy. We came in, and he shouted, “Hello? Hello?” Then: “Nobody’s here, Mommy. Just you, me, and the sourdough cultures.” A few weeks later, when creating a poster for school depicting the importance of numbers in his world, he immediately settled upon the sourdough culture as the “oldest thing in our house.” The King Arthur company, from whom I purchased my culture, says that the culture has been around for 300 years. His poster showed a stick-figure drawing of himself, labeled “7 years old,” and a rough sketch of a bubbling mass in a bowl, which he labeled “300 years old.” How cool is that?
3. Old is good. If you and gluten don’t get along, there is a good chance that sourdough cultures can broker a truce between the two of you: http://www.breadtopia.com/2013/10/10/gluten-intolerance-and-bread/ (Read the part called “How Bread is Baked.”) Lest you suspect this woman is an unreliable, hippy-dippy bread enthusiast, I should tell you that she is in good company. Michael Pollan writes so beautifully about the experience of baking with sourdough cultures that, if you read the section devoted to bread in his book Cooked, you will be instantly moved to sourdough action…and also overwhelmed by the complexity of the process as he describes it. Which brings me to my next point: I never thought I would say that Michael Pollan is wrong, but…Michael Pollan is wrong. (At the very least, he misrepresents the difficulty involved in this particular task.) Baking a really, really good loaf of sourdough bread is easy.
4. This bread recipe requires very little measuring, very little mixing, no kneading, almost no shaping, and just a day’s time. You can mix it up in the morning while you’re waiting for your coffee to brew, bake it while you’re fixing dinner, and serve your family a beautiful, crackly loaf of bread with salted butter by dinnertime. Seriously.
5. Sourdough cultures are easy to come by. No need to conjure yours out of the wild yeasts in the air, as Michael Pollan instructs us to do. I’ll be happy to give you some of mine! Otherwise, you can inexpensively order some from King Arthur Flour, which is what both Amanda and I did: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/items/classic-fresh-sourdough-starter-1-oz..
6. This loaf of bread costs less than 50 cents. When was the last time you saw any loaf of bread–even a loaf of past-its-prime sandwich bread–for 50 cents?
Are you persuaded yet? Come by sometime and let me feed you some bread, and then you will be.
I spent the first month or so with my starter following the fairly complicated instructions provided by the King Arthur baking folks. Then I came to my senses and remembered that I virtually never follow instructions–especially when they seem overly fussy or illogical. I’m a skeptic and a critic by nature, which makes me a real treat to live with, I’m sure, but also makes me a more effective and efficient cook than I would be otherwise. And the King Arthur instructions differentiated between a “fed starter” and an “unfed starter,” directing me to throw away one cup of my starter and then feed it (with more flour and water) and let it stand undisturbed for a couple of hours before using it to leaven my bread. As you may have noticed, I’m not especially thrifty in the kitchen, but I hated throwing away that sourdough starter…and I hated waiting on it. It just seemed silly. So I decided to try making my usual loaf of bread with “unfed starter”–which the KA folks would have told me to throw away–in place of the commercial yeast and some of the flour and water. To say that it worked fine would be a massive understatement. That dough puffed right up over the course of a day’s time. (In the cold of my winter house, it might take a little longer, but it tastes better the longer you let it rise anyway.) The hungry little microbes didn’t need fed before I mixed them into a dough: They were fed by the dough!
Sourdough No-Knead Bread
1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup water
2-2 1/2 cups of flour (I’ve been using 1 cup of stone-ground whole wheat and 1 cup of white OR both cups white)
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1. In a large bowl, whisk together your sourdough starter and your water.
2. Switch to a wooden spoon, and stir in the flour and the salt. Start with 2 cups of flour and then add more until the dough seems like dough instead of batter. It should be firm enough to form a sort of ball. It may be a little sticky, which is fine, but it should hold together. It may be shaggy. That’s also fine. You don’t need to create a glossy, smooth dough. Time and the sourdough cultures will do that work for you.
3. Let it rise, covered, at room temperature, until it’s at least doubled–several hours.
4. An hour or two before baking, put some oil or butter on your hands and form it into a ball by stretching it outward and tucking it under and into itself until it looks…well, like a ball. Then plunk it into a lightly oiled oven-proof dish with a lid. (This is the only specialized piece of equipment you need. I use my enamel-coated cast iron dutch oven. But any oven-proof pot of proper size would also work. If it doesn’t have an oven-proof lid, you could just cover it with foil. Just be sure that it is plenty big to allow your bread to rise. Because it is going to rise, my friend.)
5. Preheat your oven to 425. Use a super-sharp knife to slash the top of your risen dough ball, put the lid (or foil) on your pan and then put your bread into the hot oven. After 25 minutes, remove the lid (or foil). Bake until it is golden brown and beautiful.
6. Let it cool slightly, and then serve it with room-temperature salted butter…or olive oil…or Nutella…or just about anything.
Go ahead and take a picture, too. That’s one pretty loaf of bread!