February 20, 2014
Kyle Burnham was recently crowned Mr. Hamilton on Feb. 10, 2014. Competing as Mr. Co-Op, Burnham showed us just how hot the act of cleaning a table can be. Burnham is also known on campus for his bread baking. Give this delicious recipe a try, and maybe afterwards, you can call Burnham to help you clean up.
Making bread—especially sourdough—is not a one-to-one recipe-to-result process. The temperature, humidity, air pressure—in short, the weather—and a variety of other factors, such as the qualities of flour, yeast and water you use, can affect the way you make your bread. I don’t follow any hard-and-fast recipe, though I do have a formula for the typical sourdough that I make several times a week. What’s important isn’t so much following the recipe, as getting a dough that feels right at the end.
Part 1: making starter
In order to get the taste of sourdough, you need to make a starter. It is this starter that makes your bread rise, and gives it a distinctive flavor. Making a starter tends to be a four day process.
A container with a lid
2 cups flour (preferably whole wheat bread flour)
2 cups water
A few teaspoons yeast (optional)
Mix ½ cup flour and ½ cup water in a container. (I use my hands to mix.) You’ll get a thick, sticky gloop. If you want to give your starter a boost (since you live in a dorm in cold New York, instead of a French kitchen) you can add a little bit of yeast, about two or three teaspoons, before you mix the water and flour together. Cover and let the starter sit for about 24 hours, ideally somewhere about 72 degrees F.
Add another ½ cup flour and ½ cup water, mixing thoroughly to combine oxygen into your starter. Smell it—even taste it—it should be a little tangy. Cover and let sit for another 24 hours.
You should see a lot of bubbles by now! Bubbles mean the yeast is happy. It’s alive! Feel free to talk to it. It should be smelling and tasting sour—even a little like alchohol—by now.
Add another ½ cup flour and ½ cup water, stirring vigorously again. Cover and let sit for another 24 hours.
The starter should be bubbling adorably. It’s so cute. And pungent. Add ½ cup flour and ½ cup water and mix vigorously; cover and let sit for 24 hours.
You now have your own starter!
Part 2: maintaining the starter
Now that you have your new pet, you need to take care of it. To feed it, simply add ½ cup flour and ½ cup water, and stir. You can either put it in the fridge, where the colder temperature slows down the yeast, and feed it once a week, or, if you make bread often, leave it out of the fridge and feed it every day. It’s best to make bread several hours after feeding.
Part 3: making bread
There are many things you can do with a sourdough starter, such as rustic French bread or pizza. This is the basic formula that I follow for my daily bread. Again, it’s not a stable recipe, so feel free to deviate depending on temperature, moisture, style of mixing and what you want from the dough.
1 cup starter
1 ¾ - 2 cups water, warm
3 ½ - 4 ½ cups flour (all purpose or bread flour)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt (optional)
Seasonings or herbs (optional)
By hand, mix the starter, water, sugar and salt. Depending on the temperature and your starter, you may need to add more yeast (i.e., if your first batch doesn’t rise well, add some yeast at this step for your second batch).
Mix in the flour, adding it in small amounts (say, ½ cup). Your goal is to get a dough that is tacky, but doesn’t actually stick to your skin. If you use whole wheat flour, your bread will be more dense, and you might need more water. You can also add dry seasonings at this point—I usually go with Italian seasonings, like oregano and basil, or seeds such as caraway or fennel.
Put the dough in a bowl to rise. To keep your bread moist, add a little olive oil to the bowl, and roll the dough in it. Cover the bowl with cling wrap or a clean towel. I use a towel, which makes the bread crustier. Let rest for about 8 to 10 hours.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. You can do 400 degrees F if you’re feeling nervous. If you have a baking stone or pizza stone, place it in the oven to heat up—this will help your bread rise more.
Lightly flour a baking sheet (you can use cornmeal, which is more absorbent) and shape the bread. I recommend either a circular loaf (dump the bread from the bowl onto the baking sheet and voila!), or a baguette shape. To make a baguette, form the dough into a rectangle and roll away from you, gently applying pressure, with your hands starting together in the center and moving outwards towards the ends. Pull the dough back towards you, and repeat until the loaf is the desired length and thickness.
This step is optional: coat the top of your loaf in oil, and sprinkle with seasonings of your choice, such as salt, hot pepper flakes, garlic powder, thyme, rosemary, flax seeds, etc.
Bake your bread in the oven for approximately 30 minutes. It’ll turn golden-brown. To check if it’s done, carefully knock the bottom of your loaf; it’ll sound hollow if the bread is done.
Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes on the tray (the inside is still cooking). Slice up and enjoy!