Monday, September 7, 2009

I make dough but don't call me dough boy: Dough Girl Bakes Bread with 14 Year Old Starter

While my friends are taking one month long vacations to Greece, impromptu weekend trips to Maui, and Tahitian honeymoons, I'm here in ashy Los Angeles in my 90 degree apartment with the oven cranked up to 400 degrees.

New hobby Summer of 2009: teaching myself how to make bread.

Bread is one of my most favorite things (wine is second).
Maybe because I'm Greek and learned to use bread as a utensil at a very young age.
Maybe because growing up my dad would go bizerk if there wasn't at least two full loafs of bread on stock at all times.
Bread is important.
If you gave me bread and wine for my birthday and I would love you more than if you gave me a Victoria's Secret perfume sampler basket.
Anna's preferable sampler basket: fresh baked bread, wine and chocolate.
The magic began when my SIL responded correctly to a contest in the Santa Cruz Sentinel and scored 14 year old bread starter. I'd like to think this 14 year old start came from some of the neighborhood hippie cronies of Santa Cruz, but who knows. This is part of the mystique of aged starter. My SIL gifted me some of this starter and when I asked her for a recipe she said, "Just google it, that's what I did." So the following is a conglomeration of my home girl inter webs research.
Starter is like a low maintenance pet that you have to check on at least once of a month if you don't want to be thought of as a negligent pet owner. Keep it in a glass jar loosely covered in your fridge. Don't ever put it in contact with anything metallic. Ever.
The first step is called "Proofing the Sponge." Dump out all your starter into a larger bowl and add one cup warm water and one cup of flour. I have used whole wheat flour once and it didn't mess up the magic of the starter for later uses. While you're at it, use this opportunity to give your starter jar a good scrubbing.
Stir the mixture well, cover with a towel and leave it to fester in a warm place in your abode. The longer you leave it, the more sour your bread will be. If you love your sour dough bread, let your mixture go overnight.
While this is happening gather the following ingredients:
2 cups of sponge (which is being made, by you)

3 cups flour

4 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil (optional, but I always use it)
Any extra goodies you want to add (olives, seed mixture, herbs)
If you notice lots of tiny little bubbles and a beer smell, this means it's working! If not, your starter is blows. Game Over. If you want some of my starter, just holler at a Greek woman and I am more than happy to share.
Next, measure out 2 cups of sponge into a big bowl adding the salt, sugar and olive oil. Pour the remaining sponge back into your sparkling clean starter jar. Feed your starter with some more warm water and flour, stir and put back in the fridge.
Add the 3 cups of flour 1/2 cup at a time. A note about the flour, I've been mixing it up with my flour: whole wheat flour with white flour, adding oat bran, wheat germ, etc. I really like the nutty flavor, plus it's healthier. Embrace experimentation, if you so dare to. Your dough may not need all three cups. Just keep working the flour in until you can form a fairly stiff ball, like the odd ball shape I formed below. Cover with a towel, place in a warm area and let it rest until it doubles in size. This can take as little as an hour or up to six hours. I don't mean to toot my own horn, but my starter dough doubles in an hour no problem. Patience grasshopper.

Now, punch a hole in your dough, knead it a bit with some more flour or corn meal and form into a loaf. You can put it into a metal loaf pan (the kind you bake banana bread in) or free form your own loaf. You can create those groovy rifts by making snips with scissors. This is also when I make my additions such as halved olives, sunflower seeds, or roasted garlic cloves. The loaf below that looks purple has a poppy seed / hemp seed / flax seed swirl.
Cover your loaf with a towel, place in a warm area and let it rise until it doubles in size. This can take an hour or more. Mine takes one to two hours. Next, place in a 400 degree oven for 20 to 35 minutes depending on loaf side. The bread should have a hollow sound when you tap it.
Half white half whole wheat topped with olives from Paso Robles.In all this baking of bread, my bible has been Sourdough Baking, The Basic by S. John Ross. Happy Bakings!


fam. Constantinides said...

Dear Anna, thanks for your lovely Breadjournal. It looks very good. I also eat a lot of bread since 24 years (yesterday we had our anniversary)married with a Greek. And I must say it is not a bad custom.
We buy nice bread in the shopping center but Efthymios bakes also many times bread in the bread (bake) machine. We can program it so when we wake up in the morning the house smells nice as a backery and the bread is fresh made. But your bread is looking so nice that we must try to make it. Next weekend!!! we let you know.
Hug and kisses Marion

Lauren said...

This post made me hungry and made me smile. As a dietitian, I'm always defending poor bread to patients and assuring them that bread isn't evil. It seems Atkins was like bread's bitter ex-boyfriend. Oh well.
So where do you find a starter if you don't have a Greek nearby?

DrThunder said...

Props to the bread-tensil! The man does not need a fork nor spoon, only a good spongy bread to soak up the goodness and crust for scraping.

You forgot to mention the aromatic properties of LA water in making those yeast happy. Well, it's not LA water ... but it was flavorized during its 300+ mile journey on one of the worlds longest waterslides.

Diana said...

I have a confession. I haven't eaten your bread yet. I was too full from Pazzo Gelato to eat a real dinner on Monday night! But it is in the freezer to be enjoyed with soup in the near future.

I also enjoy the bread and wine. But I think you knew that already. :)

Banana Wonder said...

Marion, efxaristw poli! To psmomi einai to agapimeno mou alla kalitera stin Ellada veiveia=)

Schnogg: Hmmmm you may need to whip up a batch of your very own Florida starter unless we can figure out a way to smuggle it on the plane.

John, Oh yes, the East LA air really helps. I can't wait for you and Crystal to try my bread when you come visit!

Diana, You'll have to try the fresh stuff... I'll catch you on a hungry note.

Marni said...

Learning to make sourdough bread was my new year's resolution for 2010. I still haven't gotten around to it. But your post is inspiring me to get on it! What a fun blog you have!

Banana Wonder said...

Marni - Hi! And thanks for visiting! You have 6 months left to complete your mission. Sadly my bread starter died a few months back when I moved out of my apartment so I'm learning new methods as well :)