Fermented Sourdough Starter Hooch Juice
My father has one sister, Aunt Sissy. She is a prolific bread baker, reader, nurse, teacher, mother of four, dog-lover, and overall amazing woman. When I was going to college in Indiana, she was a 5 hour drive away in St. Louis. Their house was my home away from home when I was burnt out on being a college student (for what felt like a decade), overcoming college-angsty heartbreak or just homesick. The years I got to spend with them there (and my uncle and four cousins) are some of my most treasured memories. Whether it was taking my younger cousins to the movies, having "nights of beauty" where I'd dye my cousin Cara's hair and we'd experiment with makeup, or just reading on the couch and talking to my aunt and uncle. When she visited me in March to meet Henry, she brought a sourdough starter for me and taught us how to make her go-to no-knead sourdough recipe. The mad-scientist type process of having to feed the sourdough starter appealed to me, and the low effort for a delicious baked bread. I've made no-knead and kneading required breads before, but never with a starter. This one is delicious, and takes 5 minutes of preparation. You just need to find a starter or make one yourself!
My aunt uses a chopstick to stir the bread, and I'm a convert. Less shagginess to cling on to the utensil, and it does the job. Just plan ahead 14 - 20 hours ahead of time to allow for the rising, second rising and baking. Other than that, it is totally simple.
I follow the recipe linked above from Heather at A Real Food Lover. I just take one chopstick and mix 3-1/2 cups of bread flour, 1-1/2 cups of non-chlorinated water (I leave my Philly tap water out for 12 hours prior), 1/2 cup sourdough starter and 1-1/2 teaspoons of sea salt in a bowl. My preferred method is to stir everything vigorously and try to get all of the dough wet until it's in some semblance of a ball. However, it doesn't seem to matter. If there are dried bits of flour on the bottom though, it will mix in once your dough rises.
Cover it with plastic and let sit (room temperature) for 12 - 18 hours. Here is my dough after about 18 hours. Also note my really cute BKR water bottle that I love, but I accidentally dropped and broke (so need to purchase the glass bottle part again soon).
Take your dutch oven (oval shaped if you're lucky like me and have a pretty purple one from...you guessed it...Aunt Sissy) and spread butter all over the bottom and sides. Round would be fine too, it will just give you a different shaped bread. Sprinkle some cornmeal on the bottom and shake it so it hits the sides.
I have dumped the ball of dough into the dutch oven, or floured a surface and kneaded / folded it gently into a football shaped loaf. I had the same results both times. Either way, shape it into a loaf looking thing and center it in your dutch oven. Cover with the lid and let rise for 1-2 hours.
Heat oven to 500 degrees, and bake for 30 minutes with the lid on. After 30 minutes, take the lid off, and (very important here, folks) reduce heat to 450 degrees to get this nice crust. Do not forget this very important step and turn your loaf of homemade goodness into a burnt football. However, if you do as I did, you can scrape it off and still eat it. Might I suggest additional toasting and lots of butter?
If you do it correctly, the top will look like this. Mine doesn't spread out to fill the whole oven, but it still creates a beautiful shape. Let it cool uncovered or even taken out of the dutch oven, slice and enjoy! It is delicious warm from the oven, and also toasted with butter. But honestly, is there anything better than toasted bread with butter? It's the perfect accompaniment to a bowl of soup or a hearty salad.
It goes fast, so plan ahead to make more! I keep mine (after it's cooled) in the same dutch oven I baked it in with the lid on. This is also the perfect excuse to keep my beautiful Le Creuset oval oven out on the countertop.
I've said it before, but there is really something magical about making bread. There's an invisible thread that connects you to the millions before who created, passed on and taught this small act of providing sustenance to your family. It's the childlike glee I get to see the chemical process that creates something delicious out of a few ingredients, patience and time. And the smell in your home before, during and after the baking process.
Thank you, Aunt Sissy, for years passed and years to come of love and support. And thank for bringing me a jar of fermented sourdough hooch juice into my life and connecting me to something big, small and outside of the intensity of new motherhood. I love you always.
P.S. Hooch is the alcohol substance that can build up over your starter. It makes me laugh for no particular reason other than it sounds funny.