When I first read Martha Rose Shulman’s book Supper Club chez Martha Rose, published in 1988, my life changed. Why? Because of what she did with bread. I’m not referring to the crazily intense scientific approach to bread baking, I’m talking about her creativity. She added stuff to bread doughs. And I mean just about everything.
On this blog I’ve shared an olive bread, above, that was inspired by a recipe in her cookbook, but the book taught me to add just about anything to bread. This kind of creativity came in handy during my years as a private cook and caterer. Olive bread isn’t that unique these days, but it was in 1988.
Because of Ms. Schulman, I’ve made breads with pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, chili powder, nuts, seeds, grated zucchini, nuts and dried fruits, cooked or raw grains, paprika creme, onions, and cheese… you name it.
But the recipe I want to share from this cookbook today is a rustic sourdough country bread. It’s crusty, chewy, and has the flavor that’s undeniably sourdough.
If you want to get on the scientific sourdough bandwagon with an expert, hop over to Elaine’s blog, called Foodbod Sourdough. I love Elaine because she began innocently enough, with a starter and curiosity and passion, but quickly evolved. Her recipes and techniques are specific, and she now has a book!
But this Martha Schulman recipe shows how sourdough can be created in a matter of days, without a starter. And it’s magnificent! (And no feeding.)
Sourdough Country Bread
for the starter
The First Day
1/3 cup water
1 cup flour, whole-wheat or unbleached white
Mix together the water and flour and knead into a smooth ball on a floured work surface. The dough should be soft and sticky. Flour your hands so you can work with it. Return it to the bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let sit at room temperature for 72 hours. The dough will form a crust on the top and turn a grayish color, which is normal. If you keep wetting the towel it will reduce the drying. The dough will rise slightly and take on an acidic aroma.
After 72 hours
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 1/2 cups flour, whole-wheat or unbleached white
Add the water to the starter and blend together. If the crust on the top is like cardboard, you will have to peel it off and discard it. Try blending it before you resort to this. Add the flour and stir to blend. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and knead into a smooth ball.
Return it to the bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let sit in a warm place for 24 to 48 hours. Again, a crust may form on the top. If it is like cardboard, peel it off and discard before proceeding with the recipe.
for the bread
All of the sourdough starter
2 cups lukewarm water plus 1 cup coffee
Scant tablespoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
1 scant tablespoon salt
4 1/2 to 5 cups whole-wheat flour
Cornmeal for the baking sheet
Combine the sourdough starter, the water and coffee, and the yeast. Whisk together until the starter and yeast are thoroughly dissolved. Whisk in the molasses and the salt.
Fold in the flour, 1 cup at a time. By the time you have added 4 cups, you should be able to knead. I usually do this right in the bowl, as the dough is sticky and unwieldy. Using a pastry scraper instead of your hands to fold the dough for kneading will help. Knead for 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary.
Cover the dough and let rise in a warm spot for 1 1/2 hours. Flour your hands and wrists and punch down the dough. Knead for 2 or 3 minutes on a lightly floured surface, using a pastry scraper to make it easier. Remove a cup of the dough and place in a bowl, to use as a started for your next loaf of bread. Cover the starter and refrigerate after a few hours if not using again in a day’s time.
Dust a clean, dry towel with flour and line a bowl or basket. Form the dough into a ball, dust the surface with flour, and place, rounded side down, in the towel-lined bowl or basket (banneton). Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm spot for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until almost doubled in bulk. You can also let the dough rise in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. (I made two smaller breads.)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place an empty pan on the bottom shelf of the oven. When the oven is heated, pour 2 cups of water into the pan; the steam will help give the bread a thick, hard crust. Turn the dough out onto an un-oiled baking sheet or baking stone dusted with cornmeal, peel off the towel, and slash the dough with a sharp knife or razor. Place it in the oven and bake 45 minutes, until brown and it responds to tapping with a hollow thumping sound. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.
I don’t do the slashing cause I’m not good at it. But the first thing I do is slather butter on the hot bread. I’m good at that.
And then, you have the starter in your kitchen or fridge, depending how often you bake bread. A bonus!
The lesson here, is that you can make a slurry/dough with just water and flour, let it sit for a few days, then use it to create a bread. Then you magically have a sour dough!
I usually make the first bread, then use all of the starter for a second bread. I just don’t want that much bread around! But the “souring” process of starting with just flour and water still excites me.