This time of year is the most inspirational for me in the kitchen. The abundance of the harvest, fall colours, being cold outside, warm inside, shorter days, family cooking – all of these speak to me, and my belly. I crave warm foods that keep me fueled, like soup, curry, grilled sandwiches, stew. All things that go so well with bread. And not just any bread – homemade sourdough.
Making bread at home is really simple but one of those things that you have to practice and practice. I know bakers that have made over 10,000+ loaves of bread and they’re still trying to perfect it.
We teach bread making in our kitchens, and we also have a resident bread expert, Lena (lucky us!). She came into our Howe kitchen to try out some of our newest ceramic bread bakers from Emile Henry. There are 5 new molds and we started with the large loaf, as pictured.
There are 2 ways to make a loaf of bread like we’ve shown.
First, you need to get a starter, either by making your own or getting some from a friend. Making your own is not difficult – just takes time and attention. Here’s a simple blog about it from Bread Affair, on Granville Island.
The second way is to use a high quality dry yeast. This is a polarizing option as many people think that there’s something bad, or impure about dry yeast. In reality it’s just yeast, dehydrated. Give it some water and you’re in business. Some dry yeast has better flavour than others so it’s about the brand you choose. Most people use Flesichmann’s because it’s so available. Flesichmann’s has a fascinating long history in North America and works very well but there are others that may have a more ‘sour’ taste. If you can find it, SAF Red Star Yeast has been a favourite of mine for years. Oh, and the sugar to feed the yeast thing – some do it and some don’t. The answer, is don’t, or you don’t need to. It makes no difference for how well your dry yeast will activate.
The difference between sourdough and dry yeast is the starter. The time to rise is the same, and the end result will look similar but the flavour will be noticeable. Some claim that sourdough is healthier due to the ongoing fermentation of the starter however this is a just a very good theory, which I buy into. Although, like many health claims in food, there hasn’t been enough qualified study on the specific benefit of sourdough starter compared to dry yeast, with all other ingredients being equal. The single best ingredient to focus on for your health in bread is the flour, and second the other 3 ingredients that you need – by that I mean you only need 4 ingredients (flour, water, salt, yeast) in your bread to have healthy bread. The conversation about carbs, and gluten sensitivities is valid, and a long and deep journey for each individual to travel to find out what works for them.
This is a basic Sourdough recipe:
300g whole-wheat flour (30%)
700g bread flour (70%)
250g starter (25%)
700g water (70%)
25g salt (2.5%)
This is a basic dry yeast version
300g whole-wheat flour (30%)
700g bread flour (70%)
900g water (50%)
50g salt (5%)
25g yeast (2.5%)
It’s so important to weigh a bread recipe. Moisture in the air can make a mess of your recipe if you go by volume as all flour is not created equal.
Buying a fresh, organic, heirloom (non-GMO) variety is the sure way to make sure you are not going backwards by eating bread. By this I mean that most, if not all, commercial flour is GMO and laden with chemicals from the fields from where they’re grown. It costs a bit more but organic flour, no matter what flour it is, is my first choice of ingredients for my baking. We recommend Anita’s Organic Flour from Chilliwack as the best overall flour for best results that you can get everywhere but we also use the freshly-milled flour from GRAIN and True Grain as well.
There are loads of sites that will go into detail about making sourdough, and bread for that matter, so that’s not what we’re covering – but here’s one that we like.
This is a version which is promoted by the ladies at GRAIN – Basic Sourdough Made Easy by Sophie McKenzie of wholeheartedeats.com
What I’m trying to convey is how useful a dense vessel is for cooking bread. This is a secret to making home bread look and taste like bread from an Artisan bakery.
Lena used a standard sourdough recipe like the one above, which she took from her Tartine Cookbook. She keeps an active Mother which has a distinct flavor that I love. Mothers have quite peculiar flavours, and sometimes they have a taste that doesn’t work for some people. I’ve had many I love, some that are great and some good. There are many factors that go into making amazing sourdough but the starter is a huge taste factor. It’s basically where 90% of the flavor comes from but using a very high quality fresh organic wheat makes a big difference, and of course, salt. All elements add up to get it just so.
The big difference between the two versions – starter or dry yeast, is the flavour, and maybe the feeling that you’ve crafted the bread from the earth if you’re one of those types that looks at yeast from the package as cheating. I ‘cheat’, and I do it all the time. I spent the time keeping a starter and I lost interest when we went to Disneyland for the first time and I didn’t ask anyone to tend to my hungry-bubbly-goop. That was that.
Lena’s success is due to her practice, and using a covered baking pot, which is a huge advantage when cooking in a home oven. Using the Emile Henry Large Bread Loaf Baker, the heat is condensed and the moisture is mostly contained. This will bring heat to the bread and mimics a wood oven, which is a much more moist heat than an electric oven like most of us have at home. You can also use a cast iron pot like Staub, Combekk or Lodge Cast Iron.
This method of baking is to rise the loaf twice outside of the pot and preheat the pot for about 40 minutes. Add the shaped dough to the hot pot and cover. It bakes for about 60% of the time with the lid on and the remainder with the lid off. This keeps the moisture in and then browns the outside to visual perfection.
I was first taught how to make bread by my mom, she taught me the feel of the dough and how to work the elasticity of the gluten. I was then fortunate enough to have a master baker teach with us in Victoria where he taught me the trick to knowing when your bread is done….it looks and smells done. Simple, yet important. The process of making bread is part science but mostly art. I believe the reason that so many people really, really love making bread is that it connects with them emotionally, in the same way you’d paint a picture or take a beautiful photograph. It’s about self expression. There is something strangely self satisfying about making a loaf of bread.
After about an hour of resting, the bread is strong enough to cut. I like to use up my bread as soon as possible as bread without preservatives is best eaten within the first day out of the oven.
Making bread like this at home is easy, and using a pot to cook it in is important. I’m a big fan of the new line up from Emile Henry, and take to the shapes and how well they work. They will definitely give you an edge on shape and final result. To date, I’ve not been able to make the same quality without the use of a ceramic or metal form because I, like most people, don’t have a bread oven at home! If you want crusty on the outside and soft in the middle, I promote using any of the items from the new Emile Henry Bread Collection
I’ve never baked Baguette and am excited to give it a try next – keep an eye out for Making Bread at Home Part II
Pan fried fresh Sourdough with butter and a lightly fried egg
Fresh Sourdough with whipped butter and sea salt