No-Knead Sourdough Bread
Nothing is better than the smell of fresh bread baking on a cool fall day.
Except, perhaps, the taste once you slice into a warm loaf. Spread a little butter (which instantly melts into all of the cracks) and drizzle a little honey... Is your mouth watering yet?
Bread is another beautiful science experiment that blends chemistry and biology, transforming mere water and ground wheat into an entirely new food. In bread, yeast is the star.
Commercial yeast -- the kind you can buy in a packet in a store -- didn't exist until the 1860s, although baking bread has long been ingrained (excuse the pun) in much of the world's ancestral history. Without commercial yeast, you have two options: flatbreads (such as naan, tortillas, or pita), which are made without yeast or sourdough, which is leavened with natural yeast from the air. Today I get to introduce you to the latter.
Sourdough starts with my friend Merv. He's my only pet right now. I feed him every week and he leavens my bread. Merv is my sourdough starter.
Merv came from Dr. Robbins, whom I used to work for in Kansas City. Dr. Robbins is not only a brilliant endocrinologist, but also made some of the most fantastic bread you've ever had. Merv was very healthy when he came to me, and I'm pleased to say that he's still doing very well.
Merv the Sourdough Starter is simply a mixture of equal parts water and flour (by weight) which natural yeast in the air has infiltrated to create a living organism. I created my first starter (which I unfortunately ignored for too long and which finally died) from scratch, but you can also buy a starter, or - better yet - get one from a friend. Let me know if you're interested, and I'm happy to give you a piece of Merv.
Making sourdough bread is a little like dipping your toe in a pool of history, even making its way into the famous Bible story in which Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt.
What's the big deal about leavening bread in ancient times? If you only have sourdough (remember, no commercial yeast), it takes forever - about 24 hours from start to finish - to allow the yeast time grow, multiply, and create carbon dioxide. It's the CO2 produced by the yeast that stretches the pockets of gluten (the protein part of flour) and makes your bread rise.
In the Bible story, the Hebrews, leaving in such a hurry to escape from Pharaoh, did not have time to leaven their bread. Thus, every year the Jews celebrate a week of Passover, in which they avoid eating anything with yeast.
Fast forward to the mid-1800s, when Louis Pasteur discovered bacteria. He's the one that figured out that it's yeast that produces the CO2. Not long after, commercial yeasts became available. However, it wasn't until the 1940s that the active dry yeast that you can buy in a tidy little package in the grocery store came on the market.
Commercial yeast is much more potent than a sourdough starter, meaning that it can make your bread rise faster (i.e., in one to three hours) than natural yeast from the air. However, the slow fermentation process (16-20 hours) of sourdough produces acetic acid, creating that distinctive sour flavor we know and love.
The typical sourdough bread recipe has many steps, takes much time, and requires a whole lot of hands-on work. For that reason, I've had trouble keeping previous sourdough starters alive. Then, I found this recipe. No kneading and super easy.
However, I don't have the necessary dutch oven that the recipe requires. And - I know this goes against all that is holy in terms of sourdough - I'm actually not a huge fan of super crusty bread. So I made a few changes and turned this into lovely sandwich bread.
If you've never tried making sourdough (or any type of bread, really), this isn't as hard as it looks. Follow these simple steps and you'll have a delicious loaf in... Well, in a day. Although this is a very simple recipe, making sourdough is still an overnight process. I usually start this around 9:00 or 10:00pm the night before I plan to bake, and the bread comes out of the oven around dinnertime the next day.
In a large bowl, mix together one cup of starter, three cups water, and one teaspoon salt until well-combined. If you prefer a more sour flavor, add two teaspoons of salt instead of one.
Stir in three cups of bread flour and three cups of whole wheat flour until well mixed. No need to knead, just stir well with a spoon. While it rises, the slow development of the yeast will take care of the gluten development, so you don't have to do it by hand.
Cover and let sit overnight, for 12-15 hours. A cooler kitchen will need more time. Let the sourdough rise until it has more than doubled; if it begins to fall, it's risen too long. Hurry on to the next step!
Pour dough onto floured surface. It's a very wet dough, so make sure your hands and the surface are both well-coated with flour.
Depending on how healthy your starter is (and thus how much your dough rises) and how big your loaf pans are, this will make either one large or two small loaves. If making two loaves, divide in two and place into two greased and floured loaf pans.
Cover and allow to rise another four to five hours.
Cover with foil and bake at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 15 minutes. You'll know the bread is done when it sounds hollow when you tap it. It should be slightly crusty on top and golden brown.
Look at that. Fresh, homemade, mouth-watering sourdough.
No-Knead Sourdough Bread
1 c. sourdough starter
3 c. water
1 tsp. salt
3 c. bread flour
3 c. whole wheat flour
In a large bowl, mix together starter, water, and salt until well-combined.
Stir in both types of flour until all flour is mixed in.
Cover and let sit for 12-15 hours. A cooler kitchen will need more time.
Pour dough onto floured surface, then divide in two and place into two greased and floured loaf pans. Allow to rise another 4-5 hours.
Cover with foil and bake at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 15 minutes.
Serves 18 - Serving Size: 1 slice - Nutrients per serving: 154 calories -- 0g total fat -- 0g saturated fat -- 0mg cholesterol -- 133mg sodium -- 32g total carbohydrates -- 3g fiber -- 6g protein