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Artisan Sourdough Bread

(2 large loaves)
True artisan bread is made with a wild yeast starter, flour, water and salt. For “true artisan” bread omit the commercial yeast and the sugar.

The sponge is made by combining the following in a large bowl. Mix until smooth and cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot (85 F) for 6-24 hours. The longer it proofs, the more sour it will taste. The sponge will be very thick and full of bubbles.
1 ½ cups of warm water (100-110 F.)
1 cup starter
3 ½ cups flour (whole wheat or white)
¾ tsp. yeast (optional, but not necessary if you have a fresh active starter)
The dough—Add the following ingredients to the sponge:
2 tsp. salt, 2 tsp. sugar (optional),
about 2 1/2 cups of flour (whole wheat or white)
Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead it until it is smooth and elastic (10-15 minutes). Add flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking. Place the dough in a large clean bowl and let it rise in a warm place at least 2 hours or longer. The rising times will be less if you use commercial yeast.
Gently deflate the dough and divide it in half. Shape it into loaves, either round or long. Sprinkle the bread board with corn meal and set the loaf on the meal to cover the bottom of the loaf. Place the loaves on a baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise a second time (2 hours—more or less, depending on the activity of your yeast and the temperature). Using a very sharp knife or razor blade, make 1/2 inch deep slashes at a slant for long loaves or crisscross slashes for round loaves. For a pretty loaf, cut your slashes with your knife at an angle instead of straight down.
Bake in a preheated oven (400 F). If using the cornstarch mixture, brush it on again after 10 minutes baking. Bake 20-25 minutes more or for a total of 30-35 minutes until golden brown. Cool on wire racks.
The dough may also be baked in regular loaf pans. Or for an authentic artisan crust you may try using an Artisan French Bread Baking Pan by Steam Baking Master (buy on eBay) or use the casserole dish technique described (right).

 

Casserole dish steam baking: Use a deep 2 ½ quart round covered Pyrex casserole. Spray it with cooking spray. Place 16-20 oz. dough in the dish and let it rise. Slash the dough. Cover the loaf with 3 Tbsp. of warm water. It will look like it is swimming. Don’t worry; the water will be absorbed into the crust. Cover the dish and place in a preheated 400 F oven for 20 minutes. Remove the lid. Turn heat down to 350 F. Bake10-15 minutes longer until done. Remove the loaf from the dish and cool on wire racks.  I learned this baking method from The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book--A Guide to Whole-Grain Breadmaking by Laurel Robertson, 1984.
Optional for a shiny crisp crust: Bring 1 tsp. cornstarch and ½ cup water to a boil. Cool slightly and brush the top and sides of the loaves with this. OR glaze with a mixture of slightly beaten egg and 1 Tbsp. water.

 

Artisan Sourdough Rolls or Buns (about 3 lbs of dough)

For rolls, I suggest you start with a white bread recipe for sourdough. For example you may use the standard Artisan Bread Recipe. I’ve adapted it here for rolls. Keep the dough moist, give it a really long final rising, and get the oven as steamy as you can.

The sponge is made by combining the following in a large bowl.
1 1/2 cups of warm water (100-110 F)
1 cup starter
3 ½ cups flour (white)
¾ tsp. yeast (optional)
Mix until smooth and cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot for 6-24 hours. The longer it proofs, the more sour it will taste. The sponge will be very thick and full of bubbles.
The dough—Add the following ingredients to the sponge:
2 tsp. salt, 2 tsp. sugar, about 2 ½ cups white flour

Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead it until it is smooth and elastic (10 minutes). Add flour very sparingly to prevent the dough from sticking. Or better yet, lightly wet your hands as needed to keep it workable. Place the dough in a large clean bowl (olive oil on surface if desired) and let it rise in a warm place about 2 hours.

Gently deflate the dough and divide it in half. Shape it into rolls (2 oz. for rolls, 4 oz. for buns), either round or long. Sprinkle the bread board with corn meal and set the rolls on the meal to cover the bottom. Place the rolls on baking sheets. Cover with plastic wrap and let them rise a second time (2 hours more or less--depending on the activity of your yeast and temperature). You may use a very sharp knife or razor blade to make 1/2 inch deep slashes at a slant if your choose.
Optional for a shiny crisp crust: Bring 1 tsp. cornstarch and ½ cup water to a boil. Cool slightly and gently brush the top and sides of the rolls with this.
Bake in a preheated oven (400 F). If using the cornstarch mixture, brush it on again after 10 minutes baking. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes (or 30 minutes for buns) Cool on wire racks.

To get a blistery crust, mist the buns with water just before you put them in the oven and then spray the walls of the oven to get it good and steamy. Some like to pour a cup of boiling water into a pan on the bottom rack just before putting the rolls in to bake.

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