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What I miss about pastry school (and Sourdough Bread recipe)


What comes to mind for you when I say "bread"? Visions of fluffy, flavorless wonderbread spread with peanut butter and jelly? Or, perhaps, does bread and all of its carbohydrates conjure up something forbidden, even evil for you - has the deceased Dr. Atkins truly brainwashed you? Everything in moderation, my friend and, for me at least, when I think of bread and, certainly, when I choose to indulge in bread, it is something dense, flavorful and wonderful - something to be savored and not fluff to be inhaled.

Sure not all breads are meant to be the same. Take brioche, for instance - it is buttery, light and wonderul served warm with butter and jam. But for me this is not "bread" - this is brioche! The same can be said for American-style breads. My own secret guilty diet-breaker? Potato bread, warmed but not toasted, smothered with butter and gobs of Nutella. But enough of that...I speak of real bread.

When I attended the French Culinary Institute, one of the best parts of the day was that everyday leftovers from the artisinal bread kitchen would be sent to us as our late afternoon snack before class began that evening. A little olive oil with a pinch of sea salt and we were in heaven. I miss that more than I can express. Good bread is just so hard to come by - even in some of the fanciest, quality-obsessed grocery stores I am faced with the same fluffy, tasteless dry breads. I miss the crisp crusted sourdough boules that, when broken into, actually smell like sourdough and have a dense, chewy crumb. So, for those of us in areas that lack good bakeries, we have two choices: 1) accept our plight and eat the bread before us or 2) Make our own bread. I opt for #2 and, for those of you who are up for the challenge, I give you a wonderful recipe for sourdough. Yes, it takes a little planning and waiting but you can always save extra bread by freezing it - hey, you can even parbake a couple of the loves by taking them out of the oven 20-25 minutes early and then freezing them. Then, once you need the extra loves, pop them in the oven, finish baking them and you have fresh bread hot out of the oven whenever you need it!:

Sourdough Starter: Dissolve 1 tablespoon dry yeast and 2 tablespoons honey in 2 cups warm water in a glass, plastic, or crockery bowl. Stir in 2 cups unbleached white flour; cover with a towel and let sit in a warm place for several days, or until foamy and soured. Store in a covered jar in the refrigerator. Warning: Use a bowl big enough to contain what may be a startling degree of expansion. Sourdough French Bread Yields 4 small loaves or 14 rolls
  • 6 cups unbleached organic whole grain white flour, divided
  • 1/2 to 1 cup coarse whole-wheat flour
  • 3 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 2 3/4 cups warm water, divided (at about 100 degrees F)
  • 1 cup Sourdough Starter
  • 1 teaspoon baker's yeast (if you have trouble finding this, ask your local bakery to sell you some - it generally comes in 1 pound blocks - way too much for the home-baker)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 cup cornmeal

Mix a sponge the night before you plan to bake, by combining 3 cups white flour and the whole-wheat flour with 2 teaspoons salt, 2 cups water, and the sourdough starter. Mix. Cover with a towel and let sit for 10 to 18 hours. The next morning, prepare the final dough by adding another 3 cups of white flour, 3/4 cup warm water, 1 teaspoon salt, and the yeast.

Using a mixer with a dough hook or food processor with a metal blade, mix at low speed for 2 minutes and then at medium speed for 6 minutes. Turn out onto a floured board and knead by hand until the desired consistency is obtained. Add flour as necessary during the mixing. Place the dough into a large bowl that has been coated with olive oil, making sure that the top of the dough is also coated so that it does not become dry. Cover the bowl with a towel, and allow to rise to two or three times the original volume. The speed of the rise can be altered or halted by changing the ambient temperature; the cooler the temperature in the rising area, the slower the rise. The dough can also be placed in the refrigerator to finish rising at a later date.

Punch the dough down briefly. Dump it again onto a floured board. Cut into loaf-sized pieces. You'll learn to form the loaves or rolls that suit you best. You can bake two small round loaves and about eight rolls, or whatever you like. I place the loaves on an oven sheet sprinkled with cornmeal, cover with a towel, and allow to rise a second time, at least 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Slash the top of the loaves with a razor or scalpel blade. Place into the preheated oven. Spray every 2 minutes with water until the bread has baked for 10 minutes. Then lower the temperature to 350 degrees F and bake another 15 minutes. Remove the bread from the sheet, and allow to cool on a rack.

By: Elizabeth Goel -- Aug 12, 2007
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