Friday, April 16, 2010

White Bread - Sponge Starter

I've graduated from the straight dough method of making bread to the sponge method. And what a difference it made. This was the best loaf I've made so far.

In the straight dough method, all the ingredients are mixed together to form a dough that is ready to knead. In the sponge, or indirect method, small quantities of the main ingredients are combined and allowed to ferment before the rest of the ingredients are added. The best European-style breads are made using the sponge method, and the process results in more texture and flavour in the loaves made from it.

Essentially, the night before I actually baked the bread, I made a sponge, or a starter. It's a mixture of a small amount of flour, water, and yeast, and I put it in the fridge overnight to ferment. It was really easy to do and really only took a few extra minutes over the straight dough method.

I've heard stories of bread bakers who have had their starters for years (this is especially true of sourdough starters). Once you make one, you can keep it on hand and keep "feeding" it with flour and water indefinitely. Using the starter really does make a huge difference in the crust and the texture of the bread. I'll have to experiment with keeping my starter alive for longer than one day and see how that works.

White Bread - Sponge Starter
Adapted from Joy of Cooking
Yield: 1 loaf
Print recipe

Sponge Starter
Yield: 1/2 cup
(Make the night before you want to eat the bread.)

1/4 cup warm water (100F)
1/4 tsp active dry yeast
3/8 cup bread flour
  1. Pour the water into a large mixing bowl.

  2. Sprinkle the yeast into the water. Let stand until the yeast is dissolved, about 5 minutes.

  3. Add the flour.

  4. Stir rapidly with a clean wooden spoon until you notice elastic strands pulling away from the sides of the bowl, about 2 minutes.

  5. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (14 hours) until bubbly and tripled in volume.

  6. Once it has tripled in volume, it must be used immediately to make bread or be fed with 3/8 cup of bread flour and 1/4 cup of water to keep yeast from starving.

White Bread - Sponge Starter
1/2 cup sponge starter
1 cup warm water (105F - 115F if starter is coming straight from refrigerator, 75F otherwise)
2 1/2 cup bread flour
1/2 tbsp salt
  1. Combine the sponge starter, water, and flour in a large bowl.

  2. Mix until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl.

  3. Sprinkle in salt.

  4. Adjust consistency of dough by adding flour or water. The dough should feel sticky to the touch, but should not actually stick to your hands.

  5. Knead for 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.

  6. Transfer dough to an oiled bowl and turn it over once to coat with oil.

  7. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in volume (6 hours at room temperature, 3 hours if warmer).

  8. Shape into a thick baguette.

  9. Transfer the dough, seam side down, to a parchment-lined baking sheet.

  10. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2 to 4 hours.

  11. Preheat the oven to 450F.

  12. Score the loaf using a sharp knife, one diagonal slash along the length of the loaf. The slash should be about 1/2 inch deep.

  13. Using a spray bottle, spritz the walls of the preheated oven. Wait 1 minute. Then quickly slide the loaves into the oven.

  14. Wait 2 minutes and spritz the oven walls again.

  15. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.

  16. Let cool slightly, then move loaf to a rack to cool completely.

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