My first, My last, My all the times in between
This is the first recipe I made with my (primary) sourdough starter. It’s the recipe I lean on when I don’t have any other bread ambitions, like bagels or naan or challah. It’s the recipe for the loaf in the banner, and the only recipe featured on the #1 google hit for “sourdough starter recipe” (a page originally written in 1997 by S. John Ross that has apparently attracted so many questions over the years that he eventually declared it a “closed topic” and ends every sourdough question in the FAQ with “A friendly reminder: Sourdough is a closed email topic.”)
It’s the recipe I think of as the most “basic” bread in my repertoire, even though I rarely make it “as is.” Most of the time, I use a cup or two of whole wheat flour, melted butter for the fat, 2 T. honey for the sugar, and depending on what I have on hand, 1/2 cup rolled oats, about 1/4 cup flax meal, and/or 1/4 cup sunflower seeds for extra flavor and texture. That makes a mildly sweet and nutty honey-oat bread that’s perfect for sopping up runny egg yolks or classic PB&Js (my favorite is sunflower butter + apricot preserves) or basically anything else you ever use wheat bread for.
The recipe is also a great base for all kinds of other additions—for sundried tomato bread, use about 1/4 cup finely minced sundried tomatoes; if using oil-packed tomatoes, reserve the oil when you drain them and substitute that for the oil or butter in the dough or soak the tomatoes in boiling water for 15 minutes or more and then use the soaking liquid for some of the water. You could also add some chopped fresh herbs, a few tablespoons of pesto or tomato paste, diced up pepperoni or salami, and/or 1/2 cup finely shredded cheddar or gruyere. You can also add any combination of dried fruits and nuts. I especially like finely diced figs and toasted almond slices (about 1/2 cup of each per loaf) with just a little extra sugar than normal (about 1/3 cup per loaf). For cinnamon-swirl bread, shape the dough by rolling it into an 8” x 18” rectangle and then sprinkle it with 1/3 cup brown sugar mixed with 3 t. ground cinnamon and 1/4 cup raisins (if desired), leaving a 1/2” border all around. Roll the rectangle up jelly-roll style starting with one of the short ends, pinch the edges to seal, and bake it seam-side-down in a loaf pan. You can also do that with any other sweet or savory filling, like spiced pumpkin puree, which is great with chopped walnuts, spinach-artichoke dip, or a paste of softened butter mixed with garlic and herbs and a little Dijon mustard.
The variations tend to turn the bread into more of a star, but sometimes bread is just meant to be a supporting player. This loaf was designed to be a platform for the last BLTs of the 2010 tomato season. Frost has been threatening, so even though it hit 80F this weekend, I decided it was time to pull all the tomatoes out of the jungle, ripe or no. The green ones will eventually get dipped in egg and seasoned cornmeal and pan-fried, or chopped and baked in a tomato mincemeat pie, but they’ll last for a while yet on the counter. This week, we feast on the last of the ripe ones.
I leaned again on my old stand-by, using 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour, butter, and honey. I didn’t have any oats on hand, though I would have used them if I did. I did add 1/4 cup flax meal, and 1/4 cup sunflower seeds. The result is soft enough that it won’t cut up your mouth but stable enough that it won’t fall apart. The whole wheat flour and sunflower seeds give it lots of flavor and texture, but there’s still enough white flour and gluten to get a good rise and prevent it from being a dense brick. The honey adds just a little sweetness and I let it rise long enough to have just a little sourdough tang.
No elaborate history or etymology or personal story today, just a simple recipe for sandwich bread, which anyone with a sourdough starter ought to have. There’s a note about how to substitute active dry yeast if you don’t have a starter, and I’ve included the ratios for both one and two-loaf versions using 2 cups of starter. If you only have 1 cup of starter to use, halve the 2-loaf version.
- 2 cups refreshed sourdough starter (100% hydration)*
- 3 cups flour (all-purpose or bread flour or a combination of flours)**
- 2 t. kosher salt (1.5 t. regular)
- 2 T. liquid fat (oil or melted butter or lard)
- 2t-2T sugar or honey (2 t. for savory breads, up to 2 T. for sweeter breads)
Recipe: Two loaves of sourdough-risen sandwich bread
- 2 cups refreshed sourdough starter (100% hydration)*
- 2 cups water
- 6 cups flour (all-purpose or bread flour or a combination of flours)**
- 4 T. liquid fat (oil or melted butter or lard)
- 2 t. kosher salt (or 1.5 t. regular)
- 1-4 T sugar or honey (1 T. for savory breads, up to 4 T. for sweeter breads)
*or substitute 1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 t.) per loaf and 1 1/3 cups flour and 1 1/3 cups water; if you want to mimic the sourdough flavor, add 1-2 t. apple cider vinegar per loaf; if you have time, make a “sponge” by combining the yeast with 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup warm water (110-120F) and letting it sit for 5-10 minutes before adding the rest of the ingredients
**if using a low-gluten flour like rye, you may wish to add ~1 T. vital wheat gluten per 1/2 cup of flour, whisked into the dry ingredients before mixing them with the wet ingredients or it may not rise well or turn out a little crumbly
Optional additions, amount recommended per loaf:
1/2 cup rolled oats, shredded or crumbled cheese, chopped nuts, or dried fruit
1/4 cup flax meal, wheat germ or bran, oat bran, sunflower or sesame seeds, minced sundried tomatoes, bits of cured meat (especially pepperoni), fried onion or shallot, minced roasted garlic, finely chopped crystallized ginger, or chopped olives
2 T. pesto, tomato paste, tapenade, chopped fresh herbs, or caraway or fennel seed
cinnamon-swirl bread filling: 1/3 cup brown sugar + 3 t. cinnamon with 1/4 cup raisins (optional)
1. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir until most of the flour is moistened and it begins to form a dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
2. Scrape the dough onto a rolling mat or lightly-floured surface and knead, adding more flour if necessary to prevent it from sticking to you too much. If it’s very sticky, let it rest for 10-15 minutes, which allows the flour to absorb more moisture, and then continue kneading. Knead for 10-15 minutes total, or until the dough forms a smooth ball with a taut surface and a small piece of dough stretched between your fingers forms a membrane that you can see light through(i.e. a “baker’s windowpane”).
3. Place in lightly-oiled bowl, turn to coat, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 3+ hours, or until doubled in volume. Rising time will vary based on your sourdough starter. I often just let it rise overnight, although if you don’t want any sourdough flavor, you might want to limit it to 5-6 hrs. One way to test if it’s risen enough: if you make an indentation in the risen dough with your finger, it should take more than a minute to “heal.”
4. Punch the dough down to deflate it, turn it onto a clean surface and knead a few times. Then, shape in free-form loaves or place in loaf pans greased or lined with parchment paper. Let rise another 2-3 hours, or until doubled again. If using loaf pans, it should be rising above the rim of the pan.
5. Preheat the oven at 350F for 15-20 min before baking. Slash the risen loaf down the middle with a sharp knife, if desired. Bake 35 min or until crust is golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when knocked on the bottom.
6. Cool on wire racks. The bread will be easier to slice once it’s completely cooled, but then you don’t get to eat it warm from the oven. Your call.