...I've ever made!
I finally made a loaf of bread with a nice easy crust and a fluffy, soft crumb. It rose nice, and it was really big. I did it based on the instructions in "The Baking Book" by LLoyd Mexon, just like I'd done last time. But this time, I did make a few changes. I'm not sure which one was the key, or if they all were key together, but it all worked out.
The first change from the original sourdough bread recipe was just to add an egg. That's all, just an egg. Pretty cool, huh?
Another change was that I kneaded the bread more, and did what's called the "windowpane test". I read about it in “The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread”. I'll talk about that in a minute.
The last difference was to preheat the lid of the dutch oven. As I read in various bread books, they all seem to say different things. One says to preheat the oven, another says not to... bla bla bla. It's difficult to preheat a dutch oven, because the way I like to bake bread (kinda hearth-style), the oven is the bread pan. But I'd heard of pre-heating the lid, so I decided to try it.
Anyway, here's the recipe:
Dutch Oven Sourdough Bread (the good one)
12" Dutch Oven
18 coals above
9-10 coals below
The Sponge (step one)
1 cup sourdough starter
2 1/2 cups hot water
4 cups flour
The Dough (step two)
1 Cup flour (with as much as two to three more cups during kneading)
2 Tbsp Sugar
3 Tbsp Oil
1 Tbsp Salt
The night before, I made the start. I took a few globs of goo from the start I had in the fridge and mixed it with equal amounts of flour and water. I needed enough new goo to make a cup full of start. By morning it was good and frothy with lots of good yeast bugs.
So, before I headed off to work, I mixed all the ingredients in the sponge step and stirred it up with a wooden spoon. The book says that metal utensils react with the yeast. I put that aside and covered it with plastic. Then I went to work.
I came home feeling kinda bleah. My head was hurtin' and all. Oh, well. I always like some cooking to raise my spirits when I'm sick and down.
So, after I got home and talked with the kids and all, I mixed in the other ingredients. Then I turned it out onto a floured tabletop, and started kneading, adding flour as I went. As long as the bread was too sticky, I kept adding flour and kneading it into the ball.
Every once in a while, I did the windowpane test. I grabbed a piece of the dough, flattened it, and stretched it out into a translucent "windowpane". The first few times, it shredded and tore quickly. That meant that the gluten hadn't developed enough yet, and it needed more kneading. Finally, it pulled without tearing, and I knew that it was ready. That was the first time I really knew how long to knead bread. It was cool to have a solid guide, instead of just a clock.
Then I sprayed oil in the bowl, and put in the dough ball. I sprayed that over with oil and set it aside to rise.
Then I rested. At least, as much as my kids would allow...
After a couple of hours, I could see that it had raised. I was actually quite surprised just how much, 'cause usually it takes sourdough much longer to raise. I wonder if having better developed gluten made it more flexible and able to expand... Hmmm...
Then, I punched it down. The book calls that step "degassing", because it lets all the carbon dioxide out. I've always been nervous to do that, because I've always been afraid it wouldn't rise any more in the proofing. Anyway, I reshaped it into a ball. Then I sprayed oil in the dutch oven, and put the dough ball inside. I cut three slashes in the top of the dough, and I set it aside to proof.
Anyway, then I lit up a buncha coals.
Once those were white, I brought out the lid and put about 18-20 of them on the lid. About ten minutes later, I could tell the lid was really hot, and the dough in the pot part of the dutch oven had risen just a little more. I put the dutch oven out on some coals and put the lid on top. Then it was just a matter of keeping it hot and rotating the dutch oven every fifteen minutes or so.
I cooked it for about an hour. At that point it looked good. I brought it in and put a thermometer in and it was at about 190. So, not bad, eh?
Oh, another thing I did different was to let the sourdough bread cool before cutting it. I'd read that this step is important to finish the cooking and set the bread inside. So, once it was finally cooled (but was still a bit warm), I cut it and was amazed. Like I said before, the crumb was light and flaky, and the crust was not too hard. It was a great sourdough bread sandwich loaf.