Over the years, my dear friends have given me their sourdough starter again and again. The reason? I forget to feed mine and it dies. (Come to think of it, maybe it's a good thing I never had kids....)
So - when I found a recipe for a sourdough starter in the Cobb-Marietta Junior League "Southern On Occasion" cookbook, I was so excited!
I made the starter, which is a simple mix of water, instant potato flakes, sugar, and yeast. The mixture was left on the counter for 4 days to "sour;" then it was ready to use. I took 1 cup to use in the bread and put the rest in the refrigerator. (I sure hope I remember to feed it this time.)
In my mixer bowl, I added 6 cups of bread flour, 1 tsp. salt, 1 cup of starter, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup canola oil, and 1 1/2 cups hot water.
With the dough hook attached, I ran the mixer until the dough came together into a ball and cleaned the sides of the bowl.
I lightly oiled a huge bowl and dumped in the dough, turning it around to coat the whole ball. (When we received the giant bowl as a wedding gift, I thought it was pretty, but I had no idea how I would ever use it. Now I love it for my bread bowl.)
Then I covered the bowl with a damp cloth and put it in a sunny spot on the kitchen table. (Since it was only a sunny spot for an hour at most, it was probably pointless, but it seemed like the thing to do.)
I let it sit until the dough doubled in size. It took about 12 hours.
This recipe makes 3 medium-sized loaves, so I sprayed 3 bread pans with nonstick spray. Then I dusted the counter with flour.
Then came the best part: punching down the dough. It's not nearly as violent as it sounds. All you do is put your fist down in the middle of the dough to deflate it, but it's surprisingly fun!
Then I dumped the dough onto the floured counter. It's pretty sticky, so I sprinkled a little more flour on top. I kneaded the dough for a couple of minutes, incorporating most of the flour on the counter in the process.
Don't know how to knead? Just pick up one side, pull it over the rest, and press down on the dough ball with the heel of your hand.
Repeat over and over for a couple of minutes.
(Incidentally, it's a lot easier to do this with two hands. I don't recommend trying to knead dough and take pictures at the same time.)
When I was finished kneading, I took my handy-dandy bench scrape and cut the dough into 3 equal(ish) pieces. I love this tool. I usually use it to gather up chopped veggies to add into a pot, so it was pretty cool to use it for it's actual purpose this time!
I took each piece and formed it into a rough log. You can see what I mean by "rough." I don't worry about trying to make it too smooth since it's homemade bread. Who wants people to wonder if you really made it yourself?
I brushed each loaf very lightly with canola oil, and covered each one loosely with plastic wrap. I left them out 12 hours to rise.
I love it when time goes by and the result is beautifully risen bread! It's somehow very satisfying.
I baked the loaves in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes, then cooled them on a rack. I like a tender crust, so I wrapped them in plastic wrap when they were still a tiny bit warm. Otherwise, I would wait until they were completely cooled.
Lessons I've learned:
1). Use only fresh ingredients. My canola oil was a little stale and you could taste that in the end product.
2). Check the instructions to your mixer to be sure it's OK to mix a heavy dough. I burned out the motor of my first KitchenAid mixer by mixing heavy dough on the wrong speed. An expensive mistake I don't intend to make again!
3). Rotate your loaves halfway through baking if your oven has a "hot spot." I have no excuse. I knew the back left corner of my oven is hottest but didn't bother rotating. Hence the dark brown spot!
The bread is great toasted with jelly and it makes the absolute best grilled cheese sandwich anywhere. The dough also makes great cinnamon rolls. I plan to try substituting some of the flour for whole wheat flour and see how it works.
Try making your own bread if you never have. It makes me feel so accomplished! You don't have to tell anyone how simple it is.