Sourdough honey bread

I’ve been making sourdough bread for a few weeks, experimenting with various techniques, and using a starter that I created myself. I’ve been using my coworkers and friends as a convenient and green way to dispose of the results, with glowingly positive results. People have begun to ask me for the recipe, and even some of my starter.

For the sake of convenience, I’m going to post the basic Danny O’Bigbelly Sourdough Honey Bread recipe here.

If you don’t have your own sourdough starter, let me know and I’ll try to set you up.

Just to fend off the inevitable question: this recipe is not gluten-free. In fact, it’s almost entirely gluten. I don’t think more gluten could be added. Now, I’ve heard rumors that it’s possible to make bread without using gluten, and I do acknowledge that it is amazing what science can accomplish these days, but I’ve never tried my hand at that kind of alchemy.

Note that you’ll need a scale in order to follow this recipe. If you don’t have a scale, you can probably wing it, but I don’t recommend it. I recommend that you get a kitchen scale. Once you own one, you’ll find yourself using it all the time. It can even be handy for cooking.

In a large glass bowl, combine 100g of sourdough starter, 100g of warmish (not hot, and not cold) water, 30g of honey, and 3-5g of salt. Mix gently until the ingredients are completely blended. The general appearance will be somewhat disgusting, but get over it.

Add 200g of bread flour. You can use ordinary all-purpose flour if that’s all you have on hand. I’m not sure whether the difference between bread flour and all-purpose flour can be determined without the assistance of Walter White, but there’s no question that the bread smells and tastes better when made from ingredients that require a special trip to the store.

Gently mix in the flour. Any sudden movements at this point will dust the surrounding area with flour, which can be detected by all ants and cockroaches within a three-block radius. A word to the wise.

I like to use a steel dessert fork for mixing the dough, since it’s short and stubby, and soon the dough will become a sticky, awful mess of goo. Note that it is normal and expected that the dough be somewhat stickier and tackier than the dough or ordinary bread made with baker’s yeast: sourdough has a different consistency. Don’t add more flour to try to make it less tacky. You will ruin everything. Trust the scale.

Because the dough is tackier than ordinary bread dough, I don’t recommend kneading it by hand. Whenever I do this, half the dough ends up stuck to my hands and the working surface. Working the dough with a dessert fork works well for me.

There are various rules of thumb about when the dough is ready: for example, when it stretches out a certain distance without breaking, or the strands separate a certain way. My rule of thumb is that when I get bored and my hand starts to ache from trying to drag the fork through the goo, it’s probably good enough. It always comes out the same anyway.

Dribble a little olive oil (a tablespoon or so) into the bowl and roll the dough around in it until it is coated on all sides.

Grease a bread pan, sprinkle it with corn meal, and then plop the dough into it and cover it. Place in an oven with the light on (to warm things up a little) and go do something else for 6-10 hours.

The technique of covering it is one that I still have not perfected. The easiest thing is to drape some plastic wrap over the top of the pan, but if the dough rises enough to touch the plastic, it will stick to it like glue and detaching the dough from the wrap will cause trauma to the delicately puffy dough, spoiling the otherwise pillow-like shape. What I’ve done recently instead is to put the bread pan into a larger dutch oven. I’ll explain later why this might have an additional benefit.

I don’t recommend punching down the dough in the middle of this process. This dough is going to be relatively slow-rising to begin with, and punching it down in the middle just makes it even slower. Still, it’s a free country, and if you like punching dough, that’s none of my business.

When the dough appears to have stopped making any forward progress on rising, pop it in the oven at 350F for 45 minutes or until it looks done, whichever is more correct.

There are legends that say that the secret to a nice brown sourdough crust is in exposing the crust to steam when baking. If you’re using the dutch open technique, this is simple to do: pour half a cup or so of water into the bottom of the dutch oven, and put the lid back on before putting the whole thing in the oven to bake. The water will boil, and you’ll have a few minutes of steam, which should help.

Personally, I like my sourdough on the pale and soft side, so I usually don’t bother.

After removing the bread from the oven, let it cool for at least 30 minutes (depending on the properties of your bread pan, it may be shorter or longer) and then shake the bread out of the pan.

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