I cannot imagine what the women on the plains felt like in a little cabin 100 years ago, but I promise it is a really different experience for me. Last week the high was 30 below and I stayed close to the cabin. It was cozy and fun and I had lots of time to play around with one of my favorite ingredients – sourdough. I had days to work out the kinks in my sourdough and perfect it. I found that it works best when it has lots of time to sit out on the counter and the more often I used it, the more vibrant it became. I am sure the plains women knew everything there was to know about their starter because it was a really precious commodity. There was no way to get more from a neighbor when a blizzard was raging and the miles between farmsteads probably made running over the neighbors to get a “bit” of starter an all-day process. What those pioneer women did have was plenty of time to allow the sourdough to ferment and proof. Here is a simple recipe that yields spectacular results on most days and, when your sourdough has been neglected and is sick, adequate loaves that shortened the hungering time that invariably was a part of the pioneer experience.
Combine the following and let stand covered for 8 to 12 hours or overnight:
2/3 cup starter
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups white flour
Add these ingredients to the starter mixture to make final dough:
1 1/2 cups water
5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon lemon or orange juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
Combine the starter, water and flour until a wet dough is formed. Let stand overnight. Add remaining ingredients and knead by hand or mixer for 5 to 10 minutes or in the food processor for 90 seconds or until dough is smooth and elastic. Place in a covered bowl and allow to rise for for 4 to 6 hours at about 80 degrees. Deflate dough by gently pushing down center and pulling sides of dough in. Turn over and cover. Let it sit in a warm place (80 degrees) for 1/2 hour. Turn out on a floured area and fold over 2 to 3 times. Shape and place in bread pans. Cover. Let rise in a warm place (80 degrees) for 1 1/2 hours. If area is a little cooler, let rise up to twice as long. Preheat oven to 450 degree with a cast iron dutch oven and lid in oven for about 1 hour. Place dough in hot cast iron pan and cover with lid. Reduce heat to 400 degrees and bake for 15 minutes. Remove lid from bread and bake for 20 minutes longer or until thermometer inserted in the loaf center reads 195 degrees. Let cool on a rack before slicing.
Makes l large loaf or two small loaves
Tip: Add up to 1 cup of other grains in place of 1 cup of flour. Oats, rye, flax, spelt, kamut and buckwheat all make really nice multi-grain loaves. For a lighter loaf, substitute all or part of whole wheat flour with white flour.