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This is my go-to recipe for making our weekly bread. It provides consistent, crusty results, uses only three (ish) ingredients, and takes about 40 minutes of active time. It’s also 100 percent whole-wheat/whole grain, which is the rule for bread in our house. Don’t be put off by the 7 hours of time required — most of that is passive time while you wait for your bread to rise.
• 5-8 oz of sourdough starter (see note below if you don’t have a starter culture yet)
• 1.5 teaspoons sea salt
• 11 oz filtered water (plus more water for kneading)
• 3-3.5 cups of whole-wheat flour
• Oil for greasing bread pan
Time required: About 40 minutes active, 6 hours passive
Yield: One loaf of delicious, crusty whole-wheat bread
Note: If you think you need to order a starter from the Internet, boil a potato, or use commercial yeast to get a solid sourdough starter, think again! It’s possible to capture the wild yeast from the very air inside your home and coach it into a dependable starter culture. All you need is filtered water, whole-wheat flour, and some time. Of course, if you have a starter already, you’re all set.
1. In a large bowl, measure out the sourdough starter and mix with the 11 ounces of filtered water. Fiv ounces can work if that’s what you’ve got, but I usually use around 8 ounces of starter. With a clean hand, mix until blended.
2. Add 1.5 teaspoons of salt and 3 cups of the whole-wheat flour, mixing with your hand. If the dough seems really soft (usually if it is a hot, humid day) add the extra half-cup of flour. The dough should look pretty dry and seem like its barely holding together.
3. Pour some extra filtered water in a small bowl and roll up your sleeves. Rather than using flour to knead, you’re going to use water. This crucial step will hydrate the whole-wheat flour and develop gluten strands, both keys to delicious whole-wheat bread. A dough-hook might be too rough on this dough, so I really recommend getting your hands dirty!
4. Dipping a hand in the water, start kneading the dough in the bowl. Re-dip your hand as often as seems necessary to pick up all the dry flour in the bowl. After 5 minutes, the dough should be combined and make a rather firm, grainy-looking ball. Cover with a towel and let sit for 5 minutes.
5. Wet your hands again and knead the dough for another 5 minutes. The dough should start smoothing out. Cover with the towel and let sit for another 5 minutes.
6. Wet your hands again and knead the dough for 5 more minutes (last time, I promise!). The dough should now be more pliable and smooth. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for 3 hours. Go do something fun in the meantime.
7. After 3 hours, turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Flatten it into a rectangular shape, and then fold each end of the rectangle toward the middle, like an informational pamphlet. At the narrow end of the rectangle that results, slowly and carefully roll up the dough, pressing it together as you go. Place this roll into a greased bread pan, seam side down. Cover with a lightweight towel, then allow to rise in a warm place for 3 more hours.
8. After this second rise, use a serrated knife to cut some slashes in the top of the risen loaf. This will allow the bread to expand evenly while baking. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Fill an oven-proof container with water (at least 2 cups) and put in the bottom of the oven to create steam (this is what will create your nice crispy crust). NOTE: Keep a careful eye on this water container. If it runs out of water during the baking process, it can shatter or warp.
9. Bake your loaf for 15 minutes at 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, reduce the heat to 425 degrees and bake another 20 minutes. Finally, take the loaf out of the pan and bake directly on the rack for 5 last minutes to ensure evenly-baked crust.
10. Now, at this point, I’m supposed to tell you to remove the loaf, allow it to cool completely, and then slice. I’m supposed to tell you something about it finishing its internal steaming process. This is what a responsible breadsmith does. But by this point, I’ve been smelling bread for more than 6 hours and I’m not feeling like a responsible breadsmith. No one will judge you if you gingerly slice the searing hot loaf, spread butter and preserves on it immediately and enjoy the fruits of your labor! It will only be hot and crusty like this once, so don’t waste the opportunity.
11. Once it is cool, you can wrap or bag the bread and keep it in a cool, dark place. It will keep for about 3-4 days (if it lasts that long), but because there are no preservatives, it will mold faster than store-bought bread.
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