Lela’s Basic Loaf   4 comments

Bring your starter out of the fridge at least a couple of hours before you intend to use it. Let it warm to room temperature. You’ll usually see some activity, as well as a purple “hooch” on the surface. If you don’t like really sour sourdough, you can spoon the hooch off. As I want my starter to be very active, I stir the hooch into the starter.

What? I keep suggesting that sour sourdough is not all that nice to me, but I just stirred the hooch in. Aren’t I working against myself? No, and I’ll explain why as we go along.

When my starter is warmed up, I stir in the hooch and scoop out some part of my starter — typically 1 to 1 1/2 cups, more if I’m making a whole wheat bread, less if I’m making a sweet bread with AP flour. I never take more than half — that’s important. Whatever I took out, I match for feeding. So 1 cup out, 1 cup of AP flour and one cup of hot milk go into the starter. Ignore the conventional wisdom of bakers for 110 degree water. You want water/milk that’s 115-120 degrees. It should hurt your fingers a bit.

I also add one cup of hot milk and one cup of AP flour to the “sponge” — the starter that is destined to become a loaf — and a tablespoon of sugar or honey. This is one of the secrets to sweeter bread.

I leave both the starter and the sponge to feed. I come back in an hour and put the starter somewhere where it will not be disturbed. It needs to feed for another couple of hours before it is refrigerated.

I then add whatever remaining milk (make it hot) for the loaf and aother tablespoon of sugar to the sponge and go do something else. Why sugar? I find it balances the sour and unless I am making actual sour-dough, I want to balance the sour. I come back in an hour (or so, this is not a precision hobby) and start to make my loaf.

I usually put the starter away in the fridge at this point. It’s fed enough and could use a nap.

For two average sized wheat loaves

  • 1 1/2 cups of sourdough
  • 3 total cups of hot milk
  • 2 Tablespoons of sugar to set the sponge with an additional 2 tablespoons
  • 2 Tablespoons of salad oil or melted butter. Your choice. My daughter uses olive oil, I use corn, vegetable, safflower, or (once and it turned out fine) melted shortening. Your choice. I only use olive oil if I’m making small Italian loaves.
  • 1 Tablespoon of corn syrup. This is optional. I like the moisture it provides.
  • 2 teaspoon of salt. I use kosher salt, but whatever you prefer is fine.
  • 3 to 3 1/2 cups of flour. That includes the 1 cup of AP you fed the sponge in the beginning. Experiment with the proportion of whole wheat to white flour. I prefer the entire loaf, except for the sponge to be made with wheat flour, but that can be a challenge to get to rise. So experiment.

Add 1/2 cup at a time, stirring to completely incorporate the flour — this is where a Kitchen Aid stand mixer is a lovely thing — before you add the next half-cup. At about 2 1/2 cups, stop and let the dough rest for a half-hour. It may still feel sticky, but sourdough will slowly infuse the loaf and when you come back, it may be ready to shape. If it’s still sticky, but can be turned out of the work bowl without having to scrape the sides a lot, sprinkle a little bit of the next half-cup of flour on a board or table and turn out the dough. Sprinkle more on top and dust your hands and give it a few turns of kneeding.

Now walk away. Let it rest. Come back and see if it’s ready to go into the pans. If it isn’t, dust it with a quarter cup of flour and kneed it again.

NOTE: You are not going to the window pane test here. You are aiming for a soft dough that doesn’t stick to your fingers during brief contact.

Set your oven to the lowest setting it will warm at — mine is 230 degrees.

Split the dough in half and form into two loaves. Place in well-greased pans. I’m mostly making sandwich loaves. I’ll talk later about other baking methods.

Notice that the dough has not risen yet. The starter has been slowly fermenting the bread while I’ve been working it, but I don’t like sour sourdough all that much, so I only proof it once, in the baking pans. If I’m going for sour-dough, then I let it rise once before putting it in the pans to rise a second time. It reduces the amount of mechanically produced gluten, but the bread still ends up with good loft and wonderful chewiness.

I’ll say that again — this method produces less mechanically-produced gluten, but it still creates a wonderfully chewy bread.

Turn off the oven and check the temperature. I’m using an electric oven, so cannot speak for what would happen with a gas or propane stove. Experiment. It should feel like a sauna, but your hand shouldn’t feel like it’s burning.  Place the pans on the middle shelf. Close the door. Set a timer for 1 hour. This is so you don’t give your loaves a chill checking on them. Come back and see if your loaves have risen to loaf heights. If not, warm the oven briefly (to about 100 degrees) and set the timer for another hour.

To be perfectly honest, this method took a while to perfect. I’ve had to let loaves rise overnight a few times. Experiment. Increase the starter, add some baking soda (1/4 teaspoon at a time) to the loafs, use more AP flour and less wheat flour, work with a wetter dough — I’ll discuss pan loaves later. I can usually get loaves to top the pans in 1 to 2 hours, but it took me a long time to figure out how to do that, even though I was following friends’ recommendations.

Bake the two loaves at 375* for 35 minutes. When the timer goes off, have the cooling racks ready to go and de-pan the loaves immediately. Let them cool completely before putting them in bags. I save bags from the store-bought loaves we buy once a month or so.

You can store sourdough-started bread on the counter with good results if you live in a dry climate, but I’m told by friends who live in more humid places that it will mold there, so again — experiment.

And there you have it – a basic reduced-gluten loaf without having to buy commercial yeast.

Posted December 27, 2014 by aurorawatcherak in Common sense

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4 responses to “Lela’s Basic Loaf

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  1. What does this bread taste like? Is the crust crunchy?


    • The crust is chewy, but not crunchy. The interior is like an artisan bread. If I don’t add sugar to the sponge before I leave it to set, the bread is slightly sour, but if I add that little bit of extra sugar (or honey), it isn’t at all sour. This is my breakfast toast bread and I can state from extensive experimentation that two slices of Lela’s loaf will hold me to lunch while two slices of Country Oven whole wheat has me starving by mid-morning.

      I play with this basic loaf recipe a lot. I sometimes substitute some of the wheat flour with corn meal to make anadama bread. I add other grains — field-picked Alaskan wheat berry, for example — to change it up occasionally.I make rolls with the same recipe, but may reduce the flour to make nice fluffy pan rolls or keep it the same to make crunchier, more solid rolls.

      Because starter can be finicky at times, not all of my experiments turn out the first time, thus becoming the base for stuffing or homemade bread crumbs … or dog biscuits. Our dogs love when my experiments fail.


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