Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Sourpuss Part II

Teresa popped by my office yesterday bearing a foil-wrapped gift: a gorgeous round loaf of Irish Soda Bread she'd whipped up, complete with golden raisins, caraway seeds, and a Luck of the Irish sticker. I spent the rest of the day secretly ripping off chewy, sweet hunks of the bread, taking home a sort of misshapen disk that was now about 2/3 its original size. I don't believe I've ever had soda bread before -- I was mixing it up in my head with Irish brown bread -- and it was unbelievable. (For Amy's Grandma's recipe for soda bread -- or is it? -- check out the comments here.)
This coincided nicely with my adventures in sourdough, in which I'm now in a pattern of making bread on Saturday night/Sunday morning, and have decided that our family is through with storebought bread. I had it in my head that making bread at home is very complicated and time-consuming and requires gobs of flour stuck to the sweat oozing down my face. Not so. Granted, I do use a stand mixer, so it's not exactly a Laura Ingalls experience in our house. But even so, it feels a bit rustic and back-to-the-Earth and natural. And it requires about 15 minutes of time, tops, to bake for the week. What is it about breadmaking that feels so intimidating?
The pattern goes like this: Saturday evening I mix up a batch of bread and let it rise overnight. Sunday morning I punch it down, divide it into two pieces, shape it into loaves, stick those loaves in loaf pans, and let the bread rise for another four or so hours. Then the loaves go into the oven, and we have fresh bread for dinner and homemade bread for the week. And it's just so simple and gratifying. Why is breadmaking a dying art? It makes me think maybe things like cheesemaking or sausage-preparing aren't really so hard.
If you're feeling like trying sourdough bread, after you get the starter going, here's a really basic recipe to try:

Sourdough Bread -- Enough for two loaves
1 Tbsp. salt
1 cup water
2 cups sourdough starter
2 cups whole-wheat flour
3 to 3-1/2 cups white flour
Dissolve the salt in the water. Now mix in the sourdough starter. Beat in the two kinds of flour until it all makes a lovely, unsticky wad; you might need all the flour, a little less, a little more. Just add it until the dough feels like Playdough. Even with using a stand mixer with a dough hook, I end up kneading the bread for a minute or so to get the dough to come together nicely.
In a clean bowl, add a tiny bit of oil and rub it around the bowl (I use olive oil), stick the wad of dough in, flip it over so that the oil gets on both sides, and cover the bowl with a damp towel. Let this rise overnight; it'll double -- or triple -- in size.
In the morning after you've had a little coffee and maybe after the Sunday morning talking heads have gotten up your ire, punch down the dough. Divide the dough into two, and flatten each piece slightly, then roll those pieces jelly-roll style, tuck the ends under, and put each loaf into a loaf pan. Let the dough rise for four more hours, covered in another damp towel.
Bake the loaves at 400 degrees for about 40-45 minutes: Until they're nicely browned on top and they sound hollow when you rap on them. To keep them sort of moist and to brown the tops evenly, you can put a pan (like a pie plate) of water in the oven with the bread. This will keep everything nice and hydrated.
(To "feed" the starter after using 2 cups, add back 1-1/2 cups white flour and 1-1/2 cups water. If you cut the recipe in half, just cut the starter food in half. But you probably knew that.)
I think part of the magic of making this bread is that it incorporates whole-wheat flour my sister-in-law has ground. There's something extra-rustic about making bread from flour that's been hand-ground. Who knows? Maybe this summer I'll try growing my own wheat. On our homestead.

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Blogger amyzeats said...

You've convinced me; I'm doing this. I've baked bread before but it seems like my issue is just making the time and not forgetting about it once I've started. I like your Saturday/Sunday schedule -- I can do that! Dopey question: what kind of pans do you use? Just regular loaf pans like you'd use for tea bread? Are they big enough?

1:11 AM  
Blogger Cindy K said...

I just use regular loaf pans; I think they're 9 X 5. Actually one is a vintage bread-shaped casserole that slightly smaller -- maybe 8 X 4. But basically just regular-sized bread pans. You can also make it into a sort of free-form shape like traditional sourdough, but that's not so good for making sandwiches.

And you'll probably want to do another night than Saturday, since you and Dan actually do things on the weekends. Our routine is to watch "Power Rangers" with the boys, get them to bed, and fall asleep reading. Your lives are a little more exciting. :)

6:30 AM  
Blogger amyzeats said...

With any luck, it'll get less exciting soon. :)

I won't be able to do it this weekend and report back cuz we're heading out of town, but I will for sure the weekend after and I'll let you know how it turns out. I'm stoked! It's funny, tho, I was having that similar thought about a week or so ago -- "Why don't I ever bake bread? Why do I buy this store stuff???" At the very least it'll make the house smell great. :)

7:36 AM  
Anonymous Laura Kitchel said...

I'm not doing this until I get a stand mixer. Which probably isn't going to happen until I get a bigger kitchen. And since Dennis and I have no plans to do a serious remodel to our house, that will have to wait until we move, which won't happen until I get a job closer to home. And now I'm back to my @#$% New Year's resolutions. Evidently, I can't have homemade bread until I get a new job. How wrong is that??

11:05 AM  
Blogger Teresa said...

I am glad that you liked the bread. My recipe is like Amy's, only hers is already doubled. My grandmother gave that recipe to me and it was from a lady named Mary Doyle--a damn fine Irish name if I ever heard one.

8:32 AM  
Anonymous Leneta said...

Tried to write a reply a few nights ago and it wouldn't take. Let's see if I can remember what I wanted to say. Oh, I found a sourdough start which I bought in Alaska in 1993. Suppose it's any good? I'll try it and if it doesn't rise, I'll have to start another from the internet or from yours. I also found many hits when I put in "Herman sourdough" which is the sweet version I've been using for years.

4:59 PM  
Blogger David said...

mmmm Irish Soda Bread, I used to make that quite a bit when I was in high school. It goes great with a thick stewy Irish coddle. I'll have to dig around for that old recipe. I remember it being super easy.

5:19 PM  
Blogger Chad said...

I was ready to go make bread at the "it takes 15 minutes" part, but then the "4 hours" part came along and I realized I would've already moved onto another project. We have a breadmaking machine now, so I'm hoping to convince Laurie to walk me thru the process.

5:50 PM  

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