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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Skills Saturday; Bread Baking: Yeast and Sourdough

Each time I bake bread, I'm reminded of the simplicity of mixing unrelated ingredients that are then transformed into the most wonderful delight. 

Brother Rick Curry, S.J.
The Secrets of Jesuit Bread making 

Last Saturday, I shared with you a recipe from Royal Baking Powder for making bread without yeast.  If you missed it, you can see it here.  Today, I'll share my ways of making bread with both yeast and sourdough.  I hope you spend some time this week making some Dough! 

I did not learn to bake bread from my mother or grandmothers.  It was a 1963 copy of the Good Housekeeping cookbook that encouraged me to try my hand at it back in 1981.  I am happy to say that I still enjoy bread making of all kinds and I am also happy to say that practice makes it Better (not perfect).  The imperfections of the home-baked loaf of bread is part of what makes it such a joy to share. 

 It may not look perfectly like every other loaf on the shelf in the grocery but it tastes so much better. I love that every baker's bread is a unique presentation of that moment in time the bread was created.  Sometimes it rises higher, sometimes it is more dense, or sometimes it cracks in the most beautiful way across the top - each loaf is a complete gift of the water and wheat that was used to create it.   

The keys to making bread from yeast are these: 
  • The liquid in the recipe cannot be too hot or it will kill the yeast.  A little warmer than body temperature is perfect.  
  • Have a warm, draft-free place for your bread to rise.  On my kitchen counter is a perfect place in my home. 
  • Knead the dough for longer than you might think necessary.  The dough need to pass the "Windowpane Test" (click here to see what that looks like).  
You can make yeast bread with baker's yeast (active dry yeast) which is available at the grocery in either jars or packets (jars are more economical) or with a sourdough starter you keep at home.  I do often use a combination of sourdough and baker's yeast.  

There are many resources for learning about bread baking.  King Arthur Flour has so much information and I hope you visit them and look around.  I have an adaptation of the original recipe I used to make my first loaf and it is still the recipe I use frequently.  Here it is:  

Basic White Bread 
Adapted from 1963 Good Housekeeping Cookbook
1 cup whole milk 
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
4 Tablespoons butter
1 cup warm water
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
About 6 cups all purpose flour:  this is an estimate not an absolute measurement because you will add flour as you knead the dough to keep it from becoming sticky. 

  • Heat milk with sugar, salt and butter until butter melts.  Do not let it get too hot. Let it cool until it is a little warmer than body temperature. 
  • Put warm water into bowl and sprinkle in yeast.  Stir until dissolved.  
  • Add warm milk mixture and 3 cups of the flour.  Mix until smooth.  Continue to add flour until it starts to come together to be a soft dough. 
  • Flour your kneading surface and turn dough out of bowl onto the floured surface.  Knead by pushing dough with the heel of your hand, folding over, turn a quarter turn and push dough again. Add flour as needed to keep the dough from being sticky.  Continue kneading until the dough passes the windowpane test (see above).  It will take about 8 to 10 minutes. Form dough into a ball.  
  • Place the dough ball in a greased bowl.  Turn the dough in the bowl to also grease the top of the dough.  Cover with a dish towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until it is about double in size.  Usually takes about an hour. 
  • Punch the dough down to deflate it and let it rest for about 15 minutes.  Divide in half and shape into a loaf shape.  Grease two bread pans and place each half of the dough in the pan.  Cover again and let rise until about double in size again - usually another hour. 
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Bake loaves for about 30 minutes.  Remove the bread from the pans and run a pat of butter all over them while they cool.  
  • Enjoy and share! 

When you have mastered the basics of bread making, I hope you consider adding sourdough to your bread skills. Sourdough is a wonderful base for not only bread but for other baked goods too.  We love sourdough pancakes and in fact, they will be on our breakfast table tomorrow!  There are many recipes on the internet for growing your own sourdough starter but the sourdough I use was started from one that was carried on the 1847 Oregon Trail.  

The family of Dr. John Savage carried the starter with them on their long journey from Missouri to Oregon.  The family kept the starter fed and it has been passed down from generation to generation.  You can receive a packet of the powdered starter by sending a SASE to Oregon Trail Sourdough:  see the website here.  Carl Griffith's family and friends continue to make this wonderful gift available to us all. 

I have kept this starter going now for several years and it is healthy and active, even though a couple of times it has been left in the refrigerator for a few weeks without being fed.  I hope you will request it.  You will love it!  Here is the recipe I use to make sourdough bread: 

Sourdough Bread 

The night before baking: 
Combine 1 cup sourdough starter, 2 cups water and 2 cups of flour and let sit in a warm place overnight. 

The day of baking: 
The sourdough mixture from the night before
4 Tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
about 6 cups of flour
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons active dry yeast

  • Combine all ingredients to make a smooth dough.  Knead until it meets the windowpane test.  Place in greased bowl and let rise in a warm place until doubled. 
  • Punch down, shape into loaves, place in greased loaf pans, let rise until doubled again.  
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Bake for about 1 hour.  Turn out of pans, rub with pat of butter and let cool.  
  • Enjoy and share! 

Bread baking is a wonderful, meditative experience that makes a meal much more than just a plate of food - it makes it an act of love.  Bake one loaf this week - your family will love it and you will feel accomplished!  

I'm happy to answer any questions on bread baking, please feel free to ask in the comments or to email me at   Thank you, so much, for joining today.  

Tomorrow is Sunday Cooking and I'll tell you about a great way to re-do some leftovers the MaryJanesFarm way:  It's called a BakeOver!  I hope to see you then.  

Peace be with you, 

Star Schipp 

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1 comment:

  1. I am impressed that you have a 168 year old starter. I have not tackled sourdough yet. I think I may practice first before I order a piece of history.