Basic Sourdough Bread

Don’t push us ’cause we’re close to the edge

There will come a point in my career as a housewife/stay-at-home mom when someone will ask “So, what do you do all day?”.  Lucky for that person, that time has not yet come.  Anyone who has met me and Miss Maybe Baby seems to understands that our days are not spent in docile domesticity.  She is a flibbertigibbet.  A will-o’-the wisp.  A clown.  By the way, don’t take that bag of sliced turkey meat from her.  Don’t mess.

I definitely understand why I’d be questioned about my daytime activities as a stay-at-home mom.  There is a framing issue.  The phrase “stay-at-home mom” is implicitly different from the job titles of “daycare worker” and “nanny”, yet our job descriptions are nearly identical.  That bag of baby poop that I’ve wiped off her butt is mine to keep though.

My Mess

We’re tryin’ not to lose our heads

Perhaps a more interesting question is how my new life compares to my former pre-baby life.  One point of comparison is my average level of stress experienced throughout the day.  Below is a chart describing the levels of difficulty experienced throughout my typical day as a mother compared to my former life as a data analyst.

Daily difficulty chart

At first glance, my average day as a mother seems less difficult as it lacks the sharp spike in afternoon stress that I used to experience as a data analyst.  Upon closer examination, there is a heightened level of activity/consciousness experienced throughout my day as a mother that results in a higher average level of difficulty.  Even the late hours at the consulting firm would eventually diminish into that much sought-after, yet now elusive, chunk of time known as a full night’s rest.

Can’t nobody hold me down, oh no, I got to keep on movin’

In my new career, my sanity pivots on my ability to practice and build my knowledge of things outside the realms of diapering, meal-planning, and infant sleep analysis.  When balance occurs, harmony means I’m working a job that is infinitely more gratifying than that of a 9-to-whenever whatever.

Instead of work/life balance, it’s now about work/self balance.  As opposed to getting in  nights out between days of work, I now attempt to get in some quality “me time” between my daily tasks.  Most of the time it’s baking bread, other times it’s cake, and now and again, a pie!  Sometimes I even venture outside the realm of household management, and create a pretty Excel chart.

The most important questions I have to answer are the ones I ask myself.  I love what I have the privilege of doing, and it is the best job I have ever had.


Basic Sourdough Bread

Basic Sourdough

Baking sourdough bread is a process that is usually spread out over a course of two days.  It sounds like it requires as much attention as my child, but the slow fermentation process actually means there’s more flexibility for someone who predictably expects the unexpected all day long.  I now use a KitchenAid mixer as opposed to kneading the dough with my hands.  Less fun, but much more convenient when I have to quickly prevent my child from emptying all the drawers and cabinets in the kitchen.  She’s a tactile learner.

recipe adapted from Northwest Sourdough

Yield: 1 large two pound loaf of bread

Active time: 30 minutes; Rising times: 5 hours for bulk fermentation, 2.5 hours for final rise; Baking time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:
1 cup (9 oz) liquid sourdough starter1
1 cup (8.3 oz) warm water (100°-110° F)
4 cups (18 oz) of bread flour2
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp salt

Instructions:

  1. The night before you plan on baking, refresh your starter so that you have 1 cup of vigorous starter.
  2. The next morning, in a large mixing bowl, whisk 1 cup of warm water into the starter.
  3. Stir in 4 cups of bread flour and 2 tsp of olive oil.  Mix until ingredients are combined.  In a KitchenAid Mixer, this takes about a minute on Speed 2.  Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 20 minutes.
  4. Add 1 tsp of salt, and knead for 10 minutes until smooth.  In a mixer, mix on Speed two for about 3 minutes.  Cover and let rise until doubled, which should be around 5 hours at room temperature.
  5. After the dough has risen, prepare a floured banneton, or floured linen towel inside of a colander.
  6. On a floured or lightly oiled surface, shape the risen dough into a boule by gently pulling the outer edges of the dough under and pinching the seams together.  Repeat until the dough has a nice surface tension, and place the dough into the banneton, seam side up.  Sprinkle with flour and cover with a kitchen towel, allowing it to rise until almost doubled in size, which takes about 2-2.5 hours at room temperature.
  7. Pre-heat oven to 450°F with a baking stone large enough to accommodate the size of the boule.
  8. Carefully invert the banneton onto a floured board, slash the top with an x and slide the dough onto the baking stone, covering the dough with an aluminum foil dome.  Bake for 20 minutes.
  9. Uncover the loaf, and turn the heat down to 425°.  Bake for another 10-15 minutes.
  10. The loaf should be done when the internal temperature is at least 190° F.3  Cool on a wire rack for at least three hours (or until completely cool) before slicing.


1. I use a 100% hydration liquid starter, meaning a 1:1 water to flour ratio. A vigorous starter should be able to double in size by the next morning. I usually feed my starter around 10pm, and start the next step around 7am. I live in a relatively cool house, and if you are lucky enough to live in a warm environment, you might need to feed the starter earlier, then refrigerate the starter after a few hours of fermentation at room temperature.


2. I’ve almost always added a bit of whole wheat flour to this recipe, for nutrition’s sake. Of the 18oz of bread flour, I’ve been happiest with adding no more than about 9oz of whole wheat.


3. To be honest, I just tap the bottom of the loaf.  If it sounds pretty hollow, I consider it done.

Posted in bread, charts, motherhood, sourdough, yeast | 1 Comment

Take off/Takeoff

It has taken me about three years to blog about bread again.  That sounds like a long time, but as this old girl ages, three years really doesn’t sound like that long of a time anymore.  Sob.

Where has the time gone?  I present a visual timeline of the major milestones of my blogging procrastination.

Catching upAbove from left: Robin makes an honest woman of me under the earthly authority of his father, the Rev. Dr. Harding (June 2011; Suffolk, England); Everyone needs to go pixie and then regret it once in her life, although I don’t recommend doing it while simultaneously gaining a few stone in pregnancy weight (October 2012; Munich, Germany); Baby Harding is born in the year of the Dragon and lives up to the spirit of her zodiac animal (January 2013; Oxford, England); Big Booty Harding turns one and receives a huge pink teddy from her ever-doting Ah-Ma (January 2014; Rochester, NY, USA)

Right, this is a post about bread, not my life.  See how my life gets in the way of posting about bread?

If we go back to my drafts from 2010, you’d see a few about sourdough bread.  More specifically, you would see half-written posts about my failure at creating a sourdough starter.  Sourdough starters are basically wild yeast cultures that leaven dough, eliminating the need to keep a jar of commercial yeast in the pantry or refrigerator.  Our ancient ancestors figured out how to create it and maintain it, so why couldn’t I figure it out, or why couldn’t I just Google it into existence?  Other than the aforementioned life events, this setback with sourdough was probably why my blog lay dormant for so long.

Cutting through the wildly exciting tales of my many sourdough starter attempts, I’ll get straight to the quick and dirty on how I made my very own sourdough starter — I stirred together some flour and water.  In more detail…

  1. I mixed equal parts organic whole wheat flour and filtered tap water in a glass bowl with a stainless steel spoon
  2. I left everything there for a day or several days
  3. I stirred it until I eventually saw bubbles at the top of the mixture
  4. I added another portion of flour and water and stirred
  5. I repeated Step 4 everyday for about two weeks, then stored it in the fridge for another two weeks, feeding it once a week

Why did I fail so many other times?  Who cares!  Yes, that’s the answer, who cares.  My breakthrough moment came as I watched this deadpan Dane on YouTube tell me that the starter doesn’t care about where I put it.  Wait, I didn’t need to store it in a sterilized glass bowl?  I didn’t need to only use a clean wooden spoon when I stirred it?  I didn’t need to take it into my bedroom with me at night to keep it company?  No, no, and what was wrong with me?

Coming up next, a post on baking a loaf of bread using a sourdough starter.  Promise.

Preview

Posted in bread, yeast | 1 Comment

Pringles & Chardonnay

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Three years ago, on a Friday night after work, my 26 year old self was sitting inside a recording booth in Midtown, New York City. I was recording an audio book, and essentially just listening to myself read for two hours, by myself. Singledom affords many opportunities for “alone time”, and I was making the most of it.

Tonight, or at least, for the next 10 minutes, I prefer mindless solitude, supported by wine and reformed dehydrated potatoes. My husband is on the phone with a fellow academic, my baby girl is asleep, and my time is only punctuated with the occasional snuffle from the baby monitor.

Time is up! Perhaps this blog will experience a real revival now that I’ve broken the silence. Or not. Oh, the suspense that marriage and motherhood brings! Signing off for now, from the insides of my in-law’s 15th century English thatched roof country cottage.

Posted in non-bread | 1 Comment