Hi, my name is Heidi and I'm addicted to carbs. Thank God for the metabolism He blessed me with because, honestly, my diet is probably 50% carbs, 30% sweets, 10% wine/soda/coffee, and 10% fruits/vegetables. Don't hate me.
Having an intense love affair with carbs I have a certain weakness for fresh baked bread. I adore my bread machine, but sometimes I just wanna get my hands dirty and do it all myself. However, since I'm also a busy mom, I would like to do it with minimal time and effort which brings me to this fabulous recipe from King Arthur for quick and easy sourdough.
My Number One Tip is always proof your yeast before starting. More than once I have baked bread that turned out like a brick and figured out later it was because my yeast had gone bad. How disappointing. The loafs were totally unsuitable for eating, but I may have accidentally tapped an unused talent for brick making. To avoid making a similar discovery, just add a pinch of yeast and dissolve in 1/3 cup warm water and add a pinch of sugar. Let sit for about 10 minutes. The mixture should be bubbly. Once the yeast is proofed, move on to prepping your starter. Since I planned to bake this bread early the next morning I whipped up my starter just before heading to bed for the night, and the timing was perfect. (I do have my own "aged" sourdough that I keep in the fridge and "feed" about once a month, which is a great route if you're planning to bake a lot of sourdough. Sourdough starter can be used in breads, muffins, waffles, pancakes, etc.)
When you're ready to start the bread, combine all of the starter and 1/3 cup cool water in a bowl. When making bread, be sure to scoop the flour loosely into a measuring cup, then level off the extra with the straight edge of a knife. The closer to exact, the better. Add the flour and mix to combine, then loosely cover and let it rest for about a half hour while it absorbs the water. This is when the gluten begins to develop. After 30 minutes add the salt and yeast and knead by hand until smooth, working the dough for about 5-7 minutes. Lightly grease another bowl and place the dough in it, loosely covering, and allow to rise at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours. Turn the dough every half hour by gently folding the sides into the middle and flipping it over.
When the dough has completed its first rise comes the fun part of getting your hands dirty. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a boule (ball). Transfer the boule, smooth side down, to a lightly flour dusted bowl or proofing basket (if you have one). Loosely cover again and let rise at room temperature for about two hours. At this point it should be puffy, but should not double in size. About thirty minutes before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 425*F and place a baking stone in the oven to heat up.
When ready, very gently turn the boule smooth side up onto the preheated baking stone. Gently score the top of the loaf to create a vent. The absolute best results come from baking bread in a Dutch Oven or Cloche, and I've been eyeing one on Amazon for a while now. However, the steam bath works great for now. Create a steam bath for your bread by placing a pan with about 1/2 cup of boiling water on the rack beneath your bread. This will help make sure your bread remains moist, particularly the crust, as well as making sure that the loaf opens properly (i.e. those big beautiful "holes" you see in a sourdough. You ca probably tell from my picture that I forgot this step). Bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown and crusty. Remove from oven and let loaf cool on wire rack. Amazing with a big bowl of homemade soup, but if left to go a bit stale it also makes an amazing French Toast.
So don't be intimidated by bread baking. Sometimes its fun to do things the old-fashioned way!