Out of the many vintage projects I’ve tried, this one continues to blow my mind everytime.
We’re going to bake bread using only the yeast from our kitchen air!
Seriously, this is amazing. If you haven’t already, go make yourself some sourdough starter. If you already have your starter bubbling away on the countertop, get ready for some science-fair kitchen fun.
As I was making my first loaf from this new starter, I was reflecting on who discovered this for the first time. Someone probably left out some flour & water, saw it bubbling, and decided to bake it anyway – and just imagine their surprise when the bread rose up and became bready deliciousness, instead of flatbreads or whatever they were eating before. Anyway, I digress. For this project, you want to make sure that your sourdough is nice and bubbly. So make sure you’ve been feeding it regularly for the past couple of days – or if it’s been in the fridge, take it out the day before and give it a feeding, so it’s ready to go.
Admittedly, this isn’t the fastest way to bake bread. In fact, it works best if you let it sit overnight. And the speed of the bread rising depends a lot on the activity of your starter and the temperature in the room (it’ll rise a lot faster in a warm room than in a cool one). There are also some ways to cheat – like adding store-bought yeast to the bread as well to speed up the process, but keep the sourdough flavor. But for this first sourdough bread, we’re going to be purists and try it the old fashioned way.
In this recipe you’ll use one cup of your sourdough starter (that pesky one-cup that we were throwing away in the early stages of the starter!). After you’ve removed the cup of starter just add another 1/2c. flour + 1/2c. water to the starter to keep it going. Remember, if your starter gets too demanding, just keep it in the fridge to slow it down.
Wild Sourdough Bread
makes one large loaf
4 cups flour (strong white, wheat or a combo)
1 c. other grains or flour (I used buckwheat. you could probably use malted grain flour, spelt, even rice or oatmeal!)
1 c. bubbly homemade sourdough starter
1 c. lukewarm water
1 tsp. salt
The night before – make the ‘sponge’
In this step we’re going to ‘sour’ all of our grains and also get the yeast working. The night before you want to make bread, combine 2 c. flour, 1 c. grains, 1 c. starter and 1 c. lukewarm water in a bowl. Stir well. Cover with a towel and sit it in a warm’ish place overnight. Don’t stress about exact timings, the sponge can sit like this for up to 24 hours. I leave mine for a minimum of 8 hours, usually more like 12.
When you’re ready to make bread (the next day)
Now add the additional 2 c. flour and 1 tsp of salt. Stir until incorporated. At this point, the dough will be so thick you’ll want to start kneading it. Pour the dough onto a clean, floured countertop and knead for about 10 minutes. If you’re not a kneading expert, don’t worry – just push and pull the dough around until the texture becomes elastic. You’ll notice at first you can ‘break’ chunks of dough off quite easily. Once you’ve kneaded it for awhile, the dough will become more elastic, smooth and stretchy – this is good!
Form the dough into a ball and place into an oiled bowl. Cover with a towel and set in a warm place. We need to wait until it doubles in size. This takes around 2 hours but can take much longer if your starter wasn’t very active or if the room is cold. Just be patient. But when you finally return to the bowl and see that the dough has grown – prepare to be amazed at your little colony of wild kitchen yeasties and their powers!
Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down (just give it a good punch to deflate it, this is fun.). Remove it from the bowl and shape into a round loaf. Place the loaf onto a baking sheet or pizza stone. Cover with a light towel, and let it rise again until almost doubled, about 1 hour (again, it might take longer!).
Put an empty pan in the bottom of your oven. Preheat oven to 450F degrees. Heat water to a boil in the kettle. Once the oven is hot, fill the pan in the oven with boiling water, put the bread into the oven,and close the door. Give in 10 minutes in this hot, steamy oven. The steam helps to develop a good crust.
After 10 minutes, look at how the bread is doing – if it’s burning on the top, turn the temperature way down to 325F. If it’s just looking slightly golden, turn the temp to 350F. Continue baking for another 30-45 minutes, until the bread sounds ‘hollow’ when you knock on the top of it.
Remove the bread to a cooling rack and let cool before slicing… and enjoy the absolutely unique taste of your very own sourdough bread.