Thursday, July 30, 2009

Lammas Loaves: Sourdough Bread & Starter

In some English-speaking countries in the Northern Hemisphere, August 1 is Lammas Day (loaf-mass day), the festival of the first wheat harvest of the year. It is marks the middle of Summer and the beginning of the harvest season. Canning goes into full swing and cabinets are stocked with herbs before the onset of fall. It is the first of three harvest festivals and is usually associated with ripening grain. So, what better way to celebrate that than by baking your own bread?

For once, I have a jump on the day... just long enough to get that bread starter ready.

Though at first glance it seems difficult, one of my favorite breads, sourdough, is actually one of the easiest to make. All you need is a medium potato and a few basic ingredients. Here's how:

Grated Raw Potato Starter

1 cup warm water
1 1/4 cups white flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 grated raw potato, medium size

Mix the 1 cut warm water, 1 1/2 cups white flour and 1 teaspoon each salt and sugar in a 2-cup measure. Add enough grated potato to make 2 cups.

Place in a wide-mouth glass jar or small mixing bowl (do not use metal or plastic) which will hold about 1 quart. Cover with a single thickness of cheesecloth for 24 hours. (An old thread-bare t-shirt makes a good substitute for cheesecloth.) This will prevent wild yeast from the air to settle into your starter.

After day 1, stir well, cover tightly with a clinging transparent wrap which will cause the moisture to drip back and keep top of mixture from drying.

Stir several times a day. In two or three days it will become foamy and very light. The length of time depends on the temperature, 80-85F is ideal. It can go a little below 80F without harm, only slowing the procedure a little, but if it goes much higher than 85F it will be spoiled.

Then stir well, pour into glass jar with screw-top lit and store in refrigerator at about 38 degrees. As soon as 1/2 inch of clear liquid has risen to the top it has ripened enough to start using.

Do not be concerned if the mixture turns dark because of the raw potato during the fermentation period. It does not affect the bread made from it in any way and, as soon as the starter is mature, it will become a snowy white.

To renew starter

Add 1 1/2 cups of white flour and 1 1/2 cups water each time it is used so that there are always 2 cups to bake with and 2 full cups to return to refrigerator. If for some reason it cannot be used regularly about twice a week, add 1 teaspoon sugar and stir well every three or four days.

West Coast French Sourdough Bread

1 cup starter
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup water

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 package dry yeast
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon soda
2 cups flour

About 9:00 in the evening, measure out 1 cup starter from the refrigerator storage jar into mixing bowl (do not use metal or plastic). Add 3/4 cup water and 3/4 cup flour and beat thoroughly. Cover bowl tightly with clinging transparent wrap and set in warm place (80 to 85F) overnight.

In the morning about 7:00 beat the starter thoroughly. Measure out 1 cup and return remaining starter to storage jar. In another bowl, pour 1 1/2 cups of just warm water, stir in 2 teaspoons sugar and sprinkle 1 package dry yeast on top. Let stand until yeast is dissolved. Add the 1 cup of reserved starter and 3 cups flour. Beat thoroughly, cover tightly and let stand in warm place until very light and foamy. This will take from 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Sift 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon soda with 1 cup flour and spread the remaining 1 cup on the pastry board. Stir the sifted flour mix into the sponge. Turn out on board and knead for several minutes using a little more flour if necessary to make a very stiff dough. Knead until completely smooth and non-sticky so that it can be worked on an unfloured portion of the board without sticking. Divide in halves and shape into either round or long narrow loaves. Place on flat baking sheet, preferably Teflon-coated but, if one is not available, lightly grease it or sprinkle corn meal over the surface. Slip into large plastic bag, supported so that it will not touch dough (drinking glasses placed at each end of the sheet are fine). Set in warm place for 1 1/2 hours to rise.

If the dough becomes too light the loaves will spread in baking but, this only makes a more delicious crust. When ready for the open, brush top of loaves with cold water. Make diagonal slashes across top of long loaves and five or six radiating from center of round ones with a sharp single-edge razor blade or scissors. Bake in oven preheated to 400 degrees with pan of hot water on the floor from 50 to 60 minutes and the crust is as dark as desired. About 10 minutes before the end of the baking period, brush tops with water again. Remove from pans and stand on edge to cool, propping them against a heavy glass jar or similar object.

For the most attractive slices, especially if the loves have spread a little too much in baking, cut with a very sharp knife diagonally across the long loaf and at the same time have the blade slanted from top to bottom away from the end. This makes the slices about twice as wide as when cut straight up and down. Cut slices from the round loaves on the slant also. When ready to serve, to preserve the utterly delicious taste and crisp, hard crust, re-heat quickly with wrapping open at one end so that the bread will not become steamy, or spread slices with butter and place under the broiler at high heat for a very short period, until the edges are beginning to brown nicely.

This recipe makes 2 long or 2 large round loaves which will just fit on a 12 x 15 inch baking sheet.

Bon App├ętit!

Recipe from Breads and Coffee Cakes with Homemade Starters

Related: Bread, Quickly

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That Lammas, traditionally, is a merry time, a time of Fairs, Handfastings, and Feasts is expressed in the following poem by Robert Burns.

It was on a Lammas night,
When corn rigs are bonie,
Beneath the moon's unclouded light,
I held away to Annie:
The time flew by, wi tentless heed,
Till 'tween the late and early;
Wi' sma' persuasion she agreed
To see me thro' the barley.

The sky was blue, the wind was still,
The moon was shining clearly;
I set her down, wi' right good will,
Amang the rigs o'barley
I ken't her heart was a' my ain;
I lov'd her most sincerely;
I kissed her owre and owre again,
Among the rig o' barley.

I locked her in my fond embrace;
Her heart was beating rarely:
My blessings on that happy place,
Amang the rigs o'barley.
But by the moon and stars so bright,
That shone that hour so clearly!
She ay shall bless that happy night,
Amang the rigs o'barley.

I hae been blythe wi' Comrades dear;
I hae been merry drinking;
I hae been joyfu' gath'rin gear;
I hae been happy thinking:
But a' the pleasures e'er I saw,
Tho three times doubl'd fairley
That happy night was worth then a'.
Among the rig's o' barley.


Corn rigs, an' barley rigs,
An' corn rigs are bonie:
I'll ne'er forget that happy night,
Among the rigs wi' Annie.

Lammas - Original artwork by lilcatty.