VERY MUCH out of necessity, 2020 has been a year of hobbies. All across social media, our feeds were filled with knitting and crochet projects, cross stitching and needlepoint, freshly baked banana bread and other such homely things that have kept people who are endlessly housebound from going mad. Amber, our former NYC editor, has recently decided to use this time to learn how to sew and has been spending time in beautiful fabric shops in the garment district, and I took up candle making for a bit. Among all the new projects and hobbies that we’ve come across recently, however, none was more intriguing than seeing people make bread using a Dutch oven. How have I never known about this until now? After happening across these images of a perfect crusty loaf of bread in a chic white enamel coated Le Creuset, obsessively wanted to know more about this method of baking bread.
Of course, I’ve never baked any kind of bread using any kind of method before, and thought that perhaps sourdough in a Dutch oven might be a good place to start? Well, as it turns out, it appears rather complicated and involves buying a lot of accessories and supplies that I do not currently have (digital scale, proofing basket/banneton, etc.) and I’ve already done that with the whole candle-making fiasco. Still, the images are sopretty and the bread looks so delicious that I thought I might still look into it in case I have a crazy amount of extra time to spare one week…
WHAT IS SOURDOUGH?
Sourdough is a type of bread that is made entirely with wild yeast. The basis of sourdough is a starter―a mixture of flour and water that contains naturally occurring or “wild” yeast and lactic acid bacteria: lactobacillus and acetobacillus, which grow with the wild yeast in the sourdough culture and help ferment the sugars in the dough. Having a strong, active sourdough culture of wild yeast means that you won’t need to use any commercial yeast at all. Since wild yeast needs a little more coaxing and works more slowly than commercial yeast, sourdough bread can take several days to make. And because wild yeast needs time to work, this long, slow development time helps bring out more complex, nuanced flavours in the finished bread. (kitchn)
Before you can make sourdough bread, you need to make a sourdough starter―that is, a culture of flour and water for growing wild yeast and developing the bacteria we mentioned earlier. A ripe (fully developed) starter ensures a good rise and good flavour development in your bread. It takes about five days to make a starter. On the first day, flour and water is mixed into a batter and left at room temperature overnight. Wild yeast, which can be found on the flour, in the air, and on your hands, will quickly start to develop in this culture. Over the next few days, the yeast and bacteria can be fed by pouring off some of the developing culture and adding fresh flour and water. When the culture becomes very bubbly within just a few hours of feeding and smells sour, yet fresh, it’s ready.
The quality of your starter is the secret to good sourdough, and you need to keep it alive by regularly feeding it with flour and water. Once you have a starter, you never have to make one again. Isn’t that mind-blowing? It can be kept in the fridge and fed about once a week. When you want to make a loaf of bread, take the starter out a few days ahead and feed it once a day to strengthen it again. One bread-maker I read about kept the same starter since 2010 (!) and there are claims that some starters have been passed down generations for decades.
WHAT IS A DUTCH OVEN?
A Dutch oven is a heavy, thick-walled cooking pot with a tight-fitting lid, usually made of pre-seasoned cast iron, but some Dutch ovens can be made of cast aluminium, or ceramic. Some metal varieties are enamel-coated (such as Le Creuset) rather than seasoned, and are sometimes called French ovens.
Since sourdough bread uses natural wildly caught yeasts to give it rise, and these yeasts are not nearly as strong as commercial yeast, sourdough bread needs all the help it can get to give rise. Baking sourdough bread in a Dutch oven will give your sourdough the best oven spring (rise in the oven),the best crust (thin and crispy), the best crumb (open holes and airy texture) that it can possibly achieve in a home oven. Baking sourdough bread inside a good quality Dutch oven will give you similar results to one that has been baked in a professional baker’s oven. It provides the ideal baking environment. (True Sourdough)
Now that you have the basics, we’ve scoured the internets for a few recipes to try, especially since now, here in the England, we’re back in the highest tier of lockdown restrictions. From easy no-knead recipes to a few that are a little more advanced, click the links below to find one that suits your baking ability or sense of adventure…
Sourdough Bread Recipes
Below are a few good sourdough bread recipes we’ve gathered from our travels around the internets: