This sourdough sandwich bread is a classic wild yeast sourdough bread, meaning it is made without the addition of commercial yeast. While I love the gorgeous crusty round loaves of sourdough artisan bread baked free-form, for mornings we need a loaf that will make tidy slices that are a perfect fit for the toaster.
And this bread makes the best grilled sandwiches ever!
It takes longer to read about it than it takes to make it! Less than a minute for first starter feed, less than a minute for second starter feed, a couple minutes to stir up the dough, a couple minutes to shape the loaves. The rest of the time, it's doing *its* thing while you're doing *your* thing!
You could use 9x5x3-inch loaf pans, 23x13x7cm, but I use this equivalent 9x4x4-inch pullman loaf pan (without its lid). Until this month I had just one of them. But it was getting to be a bit much baking a single loaf every three days, so I got a second pan. Just freeze one loaf until the first is gone.
If you don't already have a sourdough starter, here's How to Make Your Own Sourdough Starter. No need to buy a sourdough starter! It's really simple. All it takes is unbleached all-purpose flour (preferably organic), filtered or bottled water (not distilled or chlorinated tap) and lots of patience. But your patience will pay off.
You wind up with something that will last forever, yes, forever. And you'll never have to buy yeast again. (Actually, I still use yeast for other things, though you can use sourdough starter for everything.)
If you don't have a digital kitchen scale, do get one. It will greatly simplify your baking life, especially for bread, especially if you are new to bread baking and so don't yet have a "feel" for how much flour the dough needs. You are less likely to add too much flour to the dough when you weigh rather than measure.
The Fed Starter
1 tablespoon salt
6 dip-and-sweep cups (30 ounces/850 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
Note: These directions have you giving the starter the first of two feedings the night before the day you plan to bake the loaves.
1 Feed up your starter to 3 cups: Take 4 tablespoons starter out of refrigerated storage container. Put it in a 4-cup glass measure. Stir in 1 cup flour and 7/8 cup water. Stir vigorously, put 2 tablespoons of it in your jar of stored starter, cover loosely and let stand at room temperature overnight, about 8 hours. Leave storage jar at room temperature as well.
Note: My starter storage jar is just a half-pint canning jar, and it's not even full. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no need to keep huge quantities of starter.
2 In the morning (about 5:00 a.m. for me), stir down the starter and add 1 cup flour and 7/8 cup (7 fluid ounces) water. Stir vigorously, put 2 tablespoons of it in your jar of stored starter, cover loosely and let stand at room temperature until the starter is ready to use (in this case, 3 hours). This varies due to many factors, including the maturity of your starter; so give it the float test about every hour to see if it is ready to use. Leave storage jar at room temperature as well.
Float Test: Drop a teaspoon of starter into a glass of water. If it floats, the starter is ready to go. If it sinks, check again every hour. After a few times, you will see a pattern emerge and be able to plan your day accordingly.
3 Weigh your flour in a 2-quart bowl. Stir down fed starter and put all but about 2 tablespoons of it into a 4.5-quart mixing bowl. Add the 2 tablespoons of starter to your storage jar, stir vigorously and refrigerate. With a dough whisk or large spoon, stir in water, salt and flour (holding back 1/2 cup of flour until the end, as it may not be needed if your measured flour wasn't precisely 30 ounces or the humidity level is different, etc). Stir until it just comes together into a shaggy dough (fairly stiff, but still sticky). With one hand, knead dough right in the bowl, just enough to incorporate all the flour and smooth it out.
4 Divide the dough into two equal portions (again, the digital kitchen scale comes in handy here), and place them in two lightly oiled bowls. I like one of them to be my Pyrex 2-quart glass measure so I can easily see when the dough has doubled. Cover both loosely with lids or oiled plastic wrap or lid and let stand at room temperature until dough has doubled (in this case, 7 hours). The time will vary; after a couple times you'll know about how long this might take and be able to schedule your day accordingly.
Note: Or you could let all the dough do its first rise in one bowl, then divide the dough when it's ready for shaping and second rise.
5 Grease (I use just a little olive oil, about 1/2 teaspoon each) the bread pans, either 9x4x4-inch pullman pans without their lids or 9x5x3-inch loaf pans.
6 Using no more than a tablespoon or two altogether for both, sprinkle countertop with some flour. Gently scrape the first batch of dough onto the floured countertop. Sprinkle with flour. Press each portion gently into a roughly 12-by-8-inch rectangle. Using a bench scraper, if needed, roll the dough into a loaf. With the bench scraper, place dough in the pan, pressing it into the corners. Brush on a little water. Cover it loosely with an oiled or cooking-sprayed piece of plastic wrap.
7 Let rise until doubled. If using 9x5x3 loaf pans, it should rise an inch or two above the rim of the pans. If using 9x4x4 pullman pans, the dough should rise to just a little above the top of pans. This can take anywhere from 3 to 5 hours. The dough needs to rise until the dough doesn't quickly spring back when poked with a floured finger or knuckle.
Today I felt like helping it along a bit after that long first rise in my cold kitchen, so I turned the oven to 200F/93C and left it on for 2 minutes, counting from the time the oven lit, then turned it off and placed the pans in the oven.
Tip: Check on the dough's progress regularly. After making it a few times, you'll have a better idea of how long it will take. And that will change as the weather changes. I keep my house rather cool in winter, so sourdough bread takes much longer to rise now than it does in summer.
8 Toward the end of the rising time, preheat oven to 450F/230C/Gas8. Just before baking, brush the loaf with a little water.
9 Bake at 450F/230C/Gas8 for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 400F/205C/Gas6 and continue baking for about 30 minutes or until crust is beautifully golden and middle of a loaf registers 210F/99C on instant-read thermometer.
Tip: For reasons I won't go into (something about lactobacilli and yeast and ...), sourdough bread sometimes doesn't brown as well as other breads until your starter matures.
10 Remove from pans and let cool on wire racks for 1 1/2 to 2 hours before slicing.