I usually cut open one of those bags that vegetables come from the store in. It's free, and besides, plastic wrap isn't usually wide enough. Much of the time whatever you use will get gooey from the dough rising to touch it, so why not reuse a bag rather than using plastic wrap? Either are easier to deal with than washing a sourgoo-covered towel. If you do use a towel, be sure to soak it right away when you're finished with having it on the bowl.
Put the container someplace where it is warm overnight, and you can count on your sourdough buddies to do the rest. Whenever you want to get down to breadmaking, up to 24 hours later, they will be ready. Keep in mind that the longer you leave them to multiply, the more 'sour' flavor you will get in your bread. And, of course, the more new friends you will have waiting for you.
If you have the time, you will get lighter bread by mixing the dough down a couple hours before you knead it. This gives it a chance to rise an additional time.
Here's a basic recipe you can use as a starting point. To the mixture you have in your bowl, add:
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons butter (melted) or oil, and
Enough flour to make dough too stiff to stir with a spoon.
Rub your pans with shortening or oil, then coat with flour. Do this now while your hands aren't coated with goo. Then wash your hands again, since in a moment you will be handling the doughboys in a close and intimate fashion.
Turn your many friends out onto a floured board into one big 'pal,' as they say in the South, and begin kneading.
Knead until you are tired of it, or until your doughbuddies just can't stand it anymore. Keep in mind, however, that although your sourdough pals may well act ticklish when you knead them, just like your other pets they truly love being 'needed' (they really can't spell very well, so they get confused between the two meanings, anyway...). Also like your other acquaintances, your sourdough buddies will change for the better if you knead them for long enough.
You'll find that the dough guys will become elastic and smooth after about 10 minutes of pounding them around. Who wouldn't?! If you can't do it for that long, though, they will understand and the bread will still be okay. Maybe not quite as smooth, but believe me: it will still get eaten.
Toward the end of kneading, I typically add whatever extra ingredients are planned for this bread. Some of my favorites are listed a little further down. Although basic bread is all right, I personally go more for the 'everything but the kitchen sink' varieties. If you want to make each loaf different, split the dough in half prior to adding the extra ingredients. For an extra light loaf, let it rise twice instead of once. There is usually a surprisingly small difference, however.
Form the dough into the correct shape(s) for your pans. Pinch the dough together on the bottom if it ends up not smooth there, as is usually the case. Each loaf will about double when you leave it to rise, so only fill pans about half full. Let it rise for, typically, 2 hours. If you are in a real rush, you can turn your oven onto 200 degrees, let it get to temperature, turn it off and put the pans full of dough in on a rack. It's easy to have an accidental crusting over or poor rise with this method, though.
While they are rising, you should cover your pals with a wet towel so they won't get hardened on the outside. You might also brush the outside with egg whites or oil.
You'll be baking this bread the same as any other, with the exception of having the temperature slightly higher. I like 425 degrees to start, because the hot oven very much reduces the possibility that the dough may fall. Turn the temp down to 325 after 10 minutes, and then keep checking until the loaves are done. It should be about 30 to 45 minutes total. If the outside gets brown before the loaves seem done, cover the top with aluminum foil for the remainder of the time in the oven.
You will find that your new friends are very forgiving; you can experiment with adding all sorts of ingredients and they will work with them.
Following are some additional recipe variations. Except where noted, add them to the mixture in the morning, after it has set out overnight:
Rye Bread: Add 1/2 cup each of sour cream and molasses. Substitute 1/2 rye flour in original mixture.
Honey Gold Bread: Add 1/4 cup each of honey and wheat germ to batter.
Oatmeal Bread: Add 1/4 cup of honey and substitute 2 cups of quick-cooking oats for 2 cups of your flour in original mixture.
Sweetbreads: An amount of sourdough pets can be added to just about any recipe for breakfast bread, rolls, etc. Add from 1/2 to 1 cup of basic sourdough starter. Since the sourdough starter is about the same consistency as most final doughs, usually no added liquid or flour needs to be added to the original recipe.
Experiment around: It's not like you're overhauling your car engine or something.
Have a favorite? Let me know.
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© 1999 Ranger Kidwell-Ross
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