Now that the shelter-in-place has lasted way too long, I have refined my lazy bread protocol.
My initial thesis was that sourdough recipes had transformed an ancient and simple art into a fussy hipster ritual that most self-respecting folks would not and should not perform. So I pared the recipe down and re-defined the requirements to make a good, easy (or at least easier) recipe.
My original lazy recipe was fine, but I had two problems and one challenge. The first problem was that the loaf was too big, so it did not get eaten before it got stale. That is easily corrected by halving the recipe.
The second problem was that the loaf was too hockey puck shaped. This was due to my heretical refusal to engage in the additional 20 steps necessary to get an “open crumb.” Halving the recipe would make this worse–half the volume in a vessel of the same diameter–resulting in an even more disc-shaped loaf. So I thought, work smarter, not harder. I decided that the shape of the cooking pot was the key to solving this one, so after quite a bit of online research, I found a pot with a taller shape and smaller volume.
This is actually a sauce pot for barbeque cooking. It’s cast iron, and not fancy seasoned cast iron, so it can rust. But for this recipe, you never need to wash it. As an extra bonus, it costs one tenth of what a good dutch oven costs.
The challenge was to make the recipe easier and reduce cleanup. So I eliminated several steps–the rising basket and the precarious transfer of the loaf to the cooking pot–by simply doing the bulk rise in the cooking pot. This method means you will get some crinkles on the side from the parchment paper. But as I said in my original lazy recipe, success is about discarding unnecessary goals. I actually think the crinkly look is nice.
Here is the revised recipe.
The right equipment.
The even lazier recipe has an even shorter and cheaper equipment list!
- A dough whisk. Why: Not strictly necessary, but saves a lot of mess. One of the most frustrating things about sourdough bread is the sheer amount of glop it produces. The stuff is like cement — hard to clean and guaranteed to clog your pipes. The dough whisk works better, and is easier to clean, than a spoon, or your hands. I bought this one on Amazon. $15-20.
- A chopstick. Why: Useful for stirring your starter when you feed it, easy to clean. Also can be used as a chopstick!
- A mixing bowl. No particular requirements here. I have this OXO bowl with a handle and I love it.
- A cast iron pot with a lid. Why: There is almost no recipe that does not recommend a cast-iron Dutch oven as the preferred choice for baking this kind of bread. It’s the best way to trap steam and keep the temperature of baking even and high. It took some work to find a small cast iron pot with the right shape. I found one at a barbeque supply seller. $30.
- A food scale. Why: measuring flour by volume is unreliable and will cause unexpected results. Baking bread successfully is all about the ratio of flour to water. Make sure you get one with a tare function — they pretty much all have that. While you’re at it, even if you are in the US, get one that measures in grams so you can join the rest of the world in enjoying the lovely rationality of the metric system. These range a lot in price. $25 and up.
- Parchment paper. Why: using this keeps the dough from sticking to the pot when you bake it. You can get this at any grocery, but I highly recommend getting this at Costco if you can, as it is a much better deal.
- Pastry brush. Why: you need to brush the loaf with water before baking. Not strictly necessary as you can do this by hand if you like, but the pastry brush is gentle. I like a silicon brush. $10. Alternative: spray bottle.
Here is the recipe:
- 100 grams starter.
- 250 grams bread flour. (Not all purpose (AP) flour. You can make AP flour into bread flour by substituting about 3% (8 grams) of wheat gluten. But it’s easier to just buy bread flour.)
- 130 grams water. It should be pretty sticky, not like a normal bread flour. Add a little (maybe 10g) if you want a more open crumb.
- 5 grams salt. This is for taste. It does not affect fermentation.
- 8 am: make the starter: First, make the starter by taking about 2T of your starter stash and mixing it up well with 50 grams flour and 50 grams water. It will be gooey. Put it in your oven with the light on , but no heat. The oven light is a good way to keep it warm but not hot. I did this in my handy Pyrex pint measuring cup, which is one of my staple cooking tools.
- 1pm: mix the dough: test your starter by taking a very small clump (1/4 tsp) and putting it in a cup of water. It should float, and it should smell nice and yeasty. Combine all the ingredients in your mixing bowl. Cover it and put it aside for an hour. This is called the autolysis step.
- 2pm: don’t knead (or do): Feel free to knead it a little in the mixing bowl. I don’t think it matters much whether you do. The dough should tighten up a bit and become a little less sticky. Line the pot with parchment paper. Put the dough ball in the pot. Cover and put in the oven with the light on (not the heat). Rise for 4-5 hours. This is called the bulk rise or proof. Let it rise until it comes within an inch of the top of the pot.
- 7pm: bake: Score the loaf with your sharpest knife — make a 1/2 inch deep cut across the top. Brush it with water.
- Set the oven to 450F. The pot should be remain in the oven as it warms up. Once the oven reaches its baking temperature, bake for 25 minutes, then remove the lid and back for 20 more minutes. The bread is done when it has a dark crust (like a caramel) or reaches 200-210F.