Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sourdough Bread

I have a little confession to make:  as much as I like to bake and cook, when it comes to grilled cheese, Nathan is the master.  I know, I know, what's so hard about a simple grilled cheese sandwich?  Nothing, really.  It's just that ever since we met four years ago, Nathan has always made our grilled cheese sandwiches.  He butters them just right, cooks them to the perfect crispness, and gets all the cheesy goodness in the middle to melt into the bread. 

But...this post is not a Grilled Cheese 411.  No siree.  I like it to be a little more complicated that.  This post is for the bread that holds the cheese. 

And this bread is good by the way.  I have always adored sourdough and felt it was time to make my own loaf at home.  I was not disappointed.  It was soft and fluffy and actually rather easy to make!  You do need to plan in advance though, as it requires a sourdough starter that has to sit at room temp for a few days (this gives it its classic "sour" taste), and then there is a 12 hour rise time, but the majority of the "time" is inactive. 

Once the loaf was baked and cooled, we filled our slices with sliced buffalo chicken deli meat and cheddar cheese and my Grilled Cheese Master cooked up one heck of a delicious sandwich.

Sourdough Starter

2 cups warm water
1 tbsp. sugar or honey
1 tbsp. active dry yeast
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Pour the water into a 2-quart glass or ceramic jar or bowl.  Stir in the sugar or honey to dissolve.  Stir in the yeast.  Gradually whisk in the flour.  Cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel or dishcloth (not plastic wrap) and place it in a warm area.  Let it develop 2-5 days, stirring once a day due to the separation that will occur.  When bubbling has subsided and a sour aroma has developed, stir once more and refrigerate until ready to use.

**The starter needs to be replenished every two weeks or so.  Feed the starter each time you remove a portion for use in baking, but if it has been two weeks and you don't intend to use it, remove one cup and discard.  For every one cup removed, replace with one cup flour and 1/2 cup water.  Stir to blend and let sit at room temp for at least 12 hours before returning to fridge. 

**Can be frozen for one month or longer.  When ready to use, give it a day to revive, feed it, give it another day to sit at room temp out of the fridge, then it is ready for use.

Sourdough Bread

Makes 1 large round loaf

3/4 cup lukewarm water (100˚ F)
2 tsp. active dry or instant yeast
1/2 tbsp. honey
1/2 cup sourdough starter
2 3/4 - 3 cups bread flour, plus more as needed
1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tbsp. bread flour mixed with 1/2 tbsp. yellow cornmeal

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted, whisk together the water, yeast, honey, and sourdough starter just until smooth.  Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until slightly increased in bulk and bubbly, about 1 hour.

With the flat beater attached to the mixer and the mixer on low speed, mix in 1 1/2 cups of the flour, the butter, egg and salt.  Increase the speed to medium-low and mix until smooth, about 1 minute.  Add in 1 more cup of the flour and beat for 2 minutes.

Switch to the dough hook.  With the mixer on low speed, add the remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until a very soft dough forms that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.  Knead on low speed, adding a tablespoon of flour if the dough begins to stick, until the dough is smooth and elastic, tacky but not sticky, about 6 minutes.  

Form the dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, turning once to coat.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1½-2 hours.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  Sprinkle generously with the flour-cornmeal mixture.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and form into a tight, oval loaf.  Place the loaf on the prepared baking sheet, several inches apart.  Sprinkle the top with flour and gently rub in.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in the refrigerator, 8-12 hours.

Place a baking stone on the lowest oven rack and preheat the oven to 450˚ F.  (If you don't have a baking stone, use an overturned baking sheet.)  Using a thin sharp knife, make three slash marks over the top of the loaf.  Place the baking sheet on the heated baking stone and bake for 10 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 400˚ F and continue to bake until the loaf is golden brown, 20-30 minutes more.  Let cool completely on a wire rack before slicing and serving.

Adapted from Annie's Eats.

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