Breaking the Sea

the ministry and online journal of christa parrish

Wild White Sandwich Bread - an Adventure

Bread. One of the simplest ways to move toward self sufficiency. What homesteader doesn't bake his or her own bread? (Other than the grain-free kind!) Our family adores warm bread straight from the oven. It's comfort food, wheated love, an invitation to stand around the counter, take, and eat.

I most often make boules, and sometimes baguettes for my husband. But this past week Claire has been hankering for peanut butter sandwiches. So, out comes my copy of Stones for Bread, (yes, it's an odd sensation to be baking from your own book) and I find the recipe for Wild White Sandwich Bread. 

I'm no Liesl McNamara, and I admit my attention to detail while baking bread can be a bit...well, lacking. This recipe, as I found out, is quite forgiving. Here is my less-than-perfect adaptation:

Wild White Sandwich Bread, from page 250 in Stones for Bread. Makes two loaves.

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sourdough starter
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon finely ground sea salt
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons honey, pure maple syrup, or sugar
  • 1/3 cup instant dry, non-fat milk

The night before baking, I divided my sourdough starter - one bowl for the bread, one jar to nestle back in the refrigerator in the morning - and fed it. I admit to simply dumping in flour and water without measuring; after two years of working with this starter, I can "eye" the consistency I want. (For those who don't like approximations, use 1/3 cup starter, and feed with 2/3 cup water, and 1 1/8 cups flour.)

The next morning, around ten, Claire and I add the ingredients to the KitchenAid and knead with the dough hook for ten minutes. I'll tell you a secret: I don't always get a nice gluten window when making this bread, and it's never made a difference in how it turns out. After kneading, Claire pours too much olive oil in a glass bowl. I wipe it out and plop in the dough, covering with a damp flannel baby blanket I'd cut in half to use in the kitchen once Noah outgrew it. Of course, I give Claire a lump of dough to play with; she rolls it in her hands, carries it around the house for awhile, and then returns with her toy rolling pin and stands on a chair, out the counter, patting and squishing and flattening.

After about an hour, I stretch and fold the dough. The recipe in Stones for Bread instruct bakers to turn the dough gently onto a lightly floured surface for this step; I do it in the bowl. The texture is luxuriously silky beneath my fingers. I remember how much I love baking bread.

I've promised Jacob I'd take him and a friend out for a while. It's a bit past noon and I stretch and fold the dough again, yes, in the bowl again. The dough is supposed to rest for another hour before the next step. I know we'll be out lounger than that, shrug, and leave the contents to rise in the summer heat until we return, four hours later. The dough has exploded, oozing over the side of the bowl, the stove, down into the electric burner. Oops! I clean up the mess, divide the dough and shape into loaves - skipping the part where I'm supposed to let it rest again, on the counter for a half hour - and tuck each loaf into a glass bread pan generously smeared with butter. Again, I cover with a damp blanket and allow to proof while I make dinner and take Jacob to Taekwondo.

We get home and I preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and take the two little ones upstairs for a bath. They are pj'ed and clean-smelling and cranky. I lower the heat to 400, slide the pans into the oven, and throw a half glass of water onto the bottom to generate steam, since I forgot to add the broiler pan while preheating. I think, Why am I always sticking bread into the oven at bedtime? Chris is at the church tonight, facilitating DivorceCare, so I'm on my own. I run between the upstairs bedroom and the downstairs kitchen, tenting my loaves with foil while trying to brush teeth, read stories, say prayers, nurse the baby, snuggle the preschooler, and keep my precious bread from burning. Claire and Noah fall asleep, and I check the internal temperature of the bread - 195 degrees Fahrenheit.

Done.

The bread cools for an hour; they slide easily from the pans. Like with every loaf I bake, I can't resist slicing through it to inspect the crumb. It is airy and light and perfect, despite myself. And the next morning, when Claire asks for a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast, I happily oblige.