December 15, 2017 Leave your thoughts
Hey, I’m Abby’s dad, aka “Furbo,” and one of Abby’s early cooking co-conspirators. While we’ve made many tasty dishes together, there certainly have been a few fails over the years. The ginormous misshapen Whoopie Pies were not our shining moment. I feel privileged that she has allowed me to guest post here (I think I am the first).
Furbo is a name Abby stuck me with when she was obsessed with Furbies. At this point, Furbies were long out of favor (my daughter is trend setter, not a follower). I eventually found a Furby baby on eBay to satisfy her obession. Many years later, I’m still proudly Furbo.
In my free time, I dabble in bread baking. I am not an uber serious baker (e.g. I don’t weigh my ingredients nor am I very precise) and I make no claims about my technique other than I can reliably make a crusty loaf with a good crumb. The internet is filled with bread enthusiasts and purists who I respect, but I am not one of them. I loved reading 52 Loaves (William Adams 52-day journey to making the perfect loaf), but while I have smuggled sourdough through airport security more than once (like Adams), I am not fanatical.
My sourdough starter is the descendant of my father-in-law John’s, which was created at his summer home in Amagansett, NY in 1965. Carissa’s Breads in East Hampton, uses a version of the same starter. If you like what you see here and are interested in starter, comment and I would be happy to hook you up.
John still bakes regularly. When Abby was little, he used to send her loaves of bread in the mail (slices with butter were a regular breakfast item). Seven years ago he encouraged me to get into the game and sent me home with a container of sourdough, which I’ve been feeding ever since. Abby and I named him “Louie.” Today, he now has an offspring at our second home in Florida, which we probably need to name Houghie or Dewey.
A few years ago, John sent me a beautiful clay breadpot from ceramic artist Judith Moskin. This was the big difference maker for me. Commercial bakers inject steam into their ovens, and while it is possible to use ice or other techniques to do the same, the home bread baker is always at a disadvantage. Enter the breadpot. With a few spritzes of water and a hot oven, it produces an exquisite crust and a good crumb. Judy’s pots are amazing, but expensive, and I’ve broken parts of them over the years. I’ve found a much less expensive alternative from Superstone, their Bread Dome Baker.
John encouraged me to experiment, and has remarked many times to me about how incredibly forgiving bread baking can be. His tutelage, as well as his willingness to share his baking wisdom, is what brings me to this post.
This year, we were delighted to have several of Abby’s friends for Thanksgiving dinner. Over our meal, Abby’s dear friend Natalie conveyed a request from her Mom (DeeDee), my Facebook friend, who has seen the bread porn I occasionally post. She wondered if I could tell her how to use sourdough starter.
Being a bit of an Zymology evangelist, I decided to instead send her a “child” of my starter in the mail. I also turned her onto my secret, the breadpot (pictured at the top of this post). I assured her that with the right ingredients and a breadpot she too could make a good crusty loaf. So this is for DeeDee (as well as Madison and Natalie).
Here are some visual highlights to help guide you. First off, “Louie,” who I feed once a week, but otherwise keep in the refrigerator. He is incredibly tolerant and has lived through power outages and occasional periods where I neglect him.
The aforementioned “breadpot.” This one has a glazed interior, and is said to be good for cooking other stuff like chicken or tagine. Other than wiping it out occasionally, I don’t clean it.
My rubbermaid container that I use for proofing. This is totally optional.
The banneton basket gives the finished bread a nice professional ridged look. Definitely optional, but a good touch.
John only keeps his “dome” on for the first 10 minutes of baking. To make my bread crustier, I leave the top on for 30 minutes.
10 min to make dough
60-90 min rise
5 min fold/stretch
60-90 min rise
2 min to shape loaf
60 min final proof
30 min with top on
15 min with top off
Total Time 3 - 4 hours (most inactive)
Yield 1 medium sized loaf
3 cups Unbleached All Purpose Flour †
3 teaspoons of Instant Yeast ‡
2 teaspoons salt
1 dollop sourdough starter (about 1/2 – 1 cup) ‡‡
1 1/4 cup warm water
Extra flour for kneading (and the proofing basket)
Cornmeal for the breadpot
Bring your sourdough starter to room temperature, either early the day of baking, or the day before.
In a 5 quart mixing bowl combine the flour, salt, and yeast. Stir to combine. Purist will do this without yeast, but I’m not a pure 🙂
Dollop the sourdough into the bowl and combine with the dry ingredients and stir. The consistency will be dry and flakey.
Slowly begin pouring the warm water into the bowl and using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon work the water into the dry ingredients. Depending on temperature and humidity, you may not need all of the water, so go slowly until the dough becomes tacky, but not too pasty. This will require some experimentation, and don’t be afraid to add more flour if it gets too pasty. Use your hands to finish kneading the dough into a ball, making sure to scrape bits of flour off the sides of the bowl until it is nearly all incorporated into the dough.
Lightly spray a lidded rectangular proofing container with neutral cooking spray and transfer the dough to it. I use a 24 cup Rubbermaid container, but you can skip this step and proof in a bowl, or on your flour dusted countertop with a towel on top of the dough. Make sure the container is out of direct light (and at room temperature) and put it aside to proof for 60-90 minutes.
After the first rise (the dough will typically double), lightly dust it with flour and fold it into itself from both sides. Then stretch it out. Put the top back on and put it aside for another 60-90 minutes.
Dust your counter with flour and turn the dough out onto it. Now form a round shaped loaf with your hands. If you don’t have a banneton proofing basket, cover the loaf with a tea towel and let sit for the final step before baking. If you have a banneton proofing basket, lightly dust it with flour. Transfer the loaf to it and cover with a tea towel. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees and while the oven comes up to temperature let the dough finish its shaping.
Dust the bottom of your bread pot with corn meal, or cut a circular round out of parchment for the bottom of the pot. Turn the loaf into the breadpot and make sure its centered at the bottom. With the bread in the pot, use a sharp knife to make 3 or more slashes in the top of the loaf. Using a spray bottle on mist setting, spritz the top a few times. Turn the oven down to 450 degrees and transfer the bread pot to the oven. Set the timer for 30 minutes. Remove the lid of the breadpot and return it to the oven. The bread is ready when the internal temperature is ~206 degrees.
Remove the bread from the breadpot and turn it out onto a wire rack and let it cool for 15-30 minutes (longer is better, but I will admit to ignoring this). Once the bread is cool store it in a paper bag.
† I like King Arthur. Also, I sometimes I substitute 1 cup of Whole Wheat