For years I've been trying to bake the perfect loaf of bread: a golden crunchy crust with a soft, light inside and smooth but complex flavors. I finally found the closest thing to perfection yet after a few experiments last week.
Jon is finishing up his last semester of law school right now in Missouri before he starts his job at a firm in Providence and the time apart has been brutal for us. This past weekend he came home for a visit and we tested out a few batches of this amazing recipe and it was by far the best bread either of us have ever had.
We baked the first loaf on Saturday morning when my parents came down to help around the farm, as they do most weekend. The entire house was filled with the scent of this bubbly, delicious sourdough, making all of us hungry.
If you have ever baked a sourdough, then you will know that you use barm as a replacement for yeast in order to make the dough rise. Barm is made over the course of many days, taking on naturally occurring bacteria from the air and ultimately fermenting the dough. The best part is, you can keep it in your refrigerator for a lifetime, and just keep refreshing it as you use it.
I am not going to post a recipe for making the barm because there are so many variations. I suggest you do some research on google and find a great way to make your own. We keep ours in a mason jar in the refrigerator, and have had barms last for years in the past.
Our recipe comes from a book by Peter Reinhart called The Bread Baker's Apprentice which I highly recommend if you want to delve into the wonderful science and art of baking your own bread. Throughout the course of experimenting, we found that, like so many things, the quality of ingredients really matters. That is why it's imperative that you use a high quality flour. Anything less will result in a mediocre bread that won't melt in your mouth.
Also, like many other things, patience really pays off here. The bread takes two days to make, but it's well worth it. If you aren't ready to experiment with barm and making sourdough, you can use a teaspoon of active yeast instead and just bake a regular white bread. Baking this dough in a dutch oven gives it the perfect crust and the texture of the final product is like nothing we have ever tasted. Good luck with this, and don't give up if it fails the first few times, anything worth having is worth waiting for!
Recipe: Dutch Oven Homestead Sourdough
- 1/2 cup barm
- 1 cup bread flour
- 1/4 to 1/2 warm tap water
- 4 1/2 cups bread flour
- 3 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups warm tap water
- 1 tsp. cornmeal for dusting
- For the starter, allow the barm to come to room temperature in your mixing bowl before adding other ingredients.
- Add 1 cup flour and 1/4 to 1/2 cup water, mixing with the dough hook on medium speed for 5 minutes until combined. Adjust flour and water so that dough is not too dry, and sticks slightly to the side of the mixer.
- Oil a ceramic or glass bowl and transfer the starter to the bowl. Cover with plastic and allow to ferment on a warm counter, or in an oven with the light on, for 5 - 10 hours. After it has fermented place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight.
- By morning the starter should have doubled in size. Allow it to come to room temperature before mixing the final dough.
- Add the starter back to mixing bowl. On medium speed, with a dough hook, mix remaining flour, and water. Add the salt and mix for 5 minutes. Allow dough to rest for 10 minutes, and mix for another 5.
- Generously oil a large ceramic or glass mixing bowl and transfer the dough, cover with plastic, and allow it to continue into the final rise. This may take all day in a warm spot or oven. The higher it rises, the better.
- Using a napkin, add a liberal amount of oil, and grease the inside of a dutch oven, including the underside of the lid.
- Preheat oven to 475 degrees, and place the dutch oven into the oven while it preheats.
- When oven is done preheating, remove dutch oven and carefully remove the lid. You may need to spread around the oil a bit more to coat the lid and sides. Sprinkle cornmeal for dusting onto the bottom, sides and top of lid.
- Very carefully, taking care not to deflate the dough, pour the dough from the bowl into the hot dutch oven. It should slide right out if you used enough oil. You may need to use a spatula, but this will deflate some of the rising in the dough.
- Place the lid back on the dutch oven and bake for 30 minutes. After 5 minutes of baking, throw a cup of water into the bottom of the oven to fill with steam.
- After 30 minutes, remove the lid from the dutch oven and cook further for another 15 to 20 minutes. Cool for 20 minutes, serve with butter and enjoy.
Number of servings (yield): 8