***I realized this after I posted the recipe, but today is National Sourdough Bread Day. What a great coincidence!***
I've been making sourdough bread off and on for a couple years. I recently started back up again and have a nice fresh batch of starter in my fridge. I love the tangy flavor of the sourdough. Plus it's super inexpensive - one of the cheapest breads you can make. After you have the starter (a simple mixture of yeast, flour, and water), all you need to make the bread is water, salt, and flour.
Sourdough does take a long time from start to finish. A little bit of planning ahead is necessary if you want the bread done on a certain day. But there isn't any more hands-on time for this bread than there is for any homemade bread. I'm trying to make bread once or twice a week so we always have some on hand.
Last night I went to a girls' night. We had a recipe exchange - everyone brought a favorite dish and copies of the recipe to share. I brought a fresh loaf of sourdough and a delicious creamy cheese dip. I don't have a printer and didn't want to hand write all those copies of this recipe, so this gave me a great excuse to go ahead and post it here. I've been meaning to for a while, so I'm glad I finally had a reason to get around to it!
The recipe I use comes from The Tightwad Gazette. I mostly quote the book directly.
The first step is to make a starter. The simplest way is to mix 1 tablespoon of yeast with 2 cups of chlorine-free water (allow your tap water to "air out" in a jug for a couple of days) and two cups of white flour. Combine these in a glass, plastic, or earthware container - not a metal one. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow this mixture to sit at room temperature for at least 48 hours, until it foams and develops a pleasantly sour smell. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. You can also get starter from a friend who makes sourdough. (The sourdough books warn that if the starter turns orange, pink, or any other strange color, you should throw it out.)
Notes on using the starter:
~Each time you remove some starter, you must "feed" it. Just add back 1 1/2 cups water and 1 1/2 cups flour, stir, cover loosely, and return starter to the refrigerator.
~You can use your starter, fresh from the fridge, for weeks at a time. Eventually the loaves may start to rise a bit more slowly. Whenever this happens, just leave the jar of starter out at room temperature overnight to speed its fermentation.
~If you are an infrequent baker, you'll need to drain off some starter and feed it at least once every two weeks to keep it alive.
~The starter separates in the refrigerator. This is normal. Always stir it well before using, and stir it well again when feeding.
Sourdough Bread (To make two loaves of bread)
5 1/2 cups flour (you can substitute whole wheat flour for 1 or 2 cups)
2 cups starter
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup water
Dissolve the salt in the water in a mixing bowl. (Some sourdough books say you should not use a metal bowl.) Add the starter, and then the flour (I have found that in a dry climate, 5 1/2 cups is sometimes too much. I start with 4 cups and just add more as necessary until it's the right consistency). Stir, then knead into a ball. Cover with a damp towel and let rise overnight at room temperature.
The next morning, punch down risen dough and divide in half. Shape each half into a round loaf, make an X-shaped slash on each top, and place the two loaves on a greased baking sheet. Cover with a damp towel and allow to rise at room temperature for about four more hours. Place a pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Bake for 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
The dip I made to go with the bread was absolutely fantastic. I adapted a different recipe, but can't remember where I found it. This version is changed enough it's not really the same recipe anyway. It turned out so flavorful and delicious - I couldn't get enough!
Creamy Cheese Dip for sourdough
1 8-oz. package cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup Italian salad dressing
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
2 oz. black olives, sliced
Garlic powder and onion powder to taste (I added about a dash each)
Combine all ingredients with an electric mixer; beat until smooth. Refrigerate until serving.
To serve, cut top off a loaf of sourdough. Cut out the inside of the loaf and tear up inside and top to use for dipping. Spoon dip inside the emptied loaf of sourdough.
I didn't take a picture immediately after arranging all this on the plate, which I do regret. I forgot to take the picture until this morning, after the bread had been thoroughly mutilated. But it still looks delicious to me!