It’s hard to find decent bread these days. Especially the kind I remember from my trips to Germany as a child. Thick-crusted, dense crumb, sourdough rye. The kind of bread that crunches when you bite through the edge. With a dense, moist crumb that tastes amazing with just a schmear of butter. Or soft cheese. Or pate. Or…well, you get the idea.
For a long time I have coveted my own batch of sourdough starter. You know. The kind with provenance. The kind that has been passed on religiously from one baker to another. Well, recently, I was gifted some sourdough rye starter. And then the weight of responsibility descended. Apparently this was another thing I’d need to keep alive. As if my kids, husband, and plants didn’t already occupy enough of my “keeping-things-alive” time. But my friend gifting me the starter assured me that it was no big deal. “Just keep it in the fridge. Pull it out about 12 -24 hours before you want to start making your bread and leave it on the counter. As soon as you take it out of the fridge, mix in about a 1/4 cup of flour (rye or white or wheat) and the same measure of tepid water. Stir and let sit on the counter.” And that was that.
So I started experimenting and came up with a recipe I’m really happy with and that is pretty darn easy. WARNING: It can take 12-24 hours for your dough to rise. So you have to plan ahead. Sort of. I’m not a big planner. Pretty much when I see my current loaf of bread diminished to the point that I know I am going to run out within a day or so, I pull the starter out of the fridge and start the process. It’s not really a big deal.
I also happened upon an amazing trick that will result in wonderful, crunchy crust and a moist crumb, which I will share with you.
1/2 cup sourdough starter (ask around or look online for ways of getting your own)
4 cups white flour
2 1/2 cups rye flour
3 1/4 cups tepid water
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar or honey
1 Tablespoon of cornmeal
In a mixing bowl combine white and rye flours and salt. Next add sugar, water and sourdough starter.
I use a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. Something similar to this:
Turn on to lowest speed and let mix for about 2 minutes. Keep an eye on your dough, if it looks a bit dry, add a tablespoon of water and keep mixer kneading. Once the water you’ve added is absorbed, if it still looks too dry, you can add another tablespoon. You want to keep doing this until the dough is moist but not sticky. If you have the opposite problem and the dough is too wet, add a tablespoon of flour (doesn’t matter which one) and mix it in. Keep repeating until desired consistency is reached. (Don’t worry. This is an art, not a science, and the dough is pretty forgiving so you can;t really screw this up.) Once you have the desired consistency, continue kneading with the dough hook for 8 minutes.
When kneading is complete, your dough should be in a smooth, slightly sticky, ball, but not be attached to the sides of your mixing bowl. If it is, just scrape it off with your fingers and add to the dough ball in the mixer. Now form a rough ball of dough and leave in the bottom of your mixing bowl. Cover your bowl with plastic wrap or a plastic bag and leave in a slightly warm place in your kitchen.
Depending on how warm your room is and how active your starter is, it could take 12 to 24 hours for your dough to rise. Once it has approximately doubled in size you are ready to go.
Now for the trick!
This recipe will make a round boule of bread that is about 8-10″ in diameter
You will need a 6 or 7 quart Cast-iron Dutch oven (this is what I use)
In the meantime, take the plastic cover off your mixing bowl and sprinkle some flour over the top of your dough. Have your cornmeal handy. Now that your oven is nice and hot, carefully take out your pot. Remove the lid, sprinkle the cornmeal on the bottom and place the dough in the center. (Keep the top of the dough which you just sprinkled with flour on top.) Put the lid back on and place in the oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the lid and continue to bake for 15 more minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting.
You should have a beautiful crumb like this: