What were YOU doing at 1:00 this morning?
I was in my bathrobe, sitting on the kitchen floor and having big ideas. I couldn’t sleep. It was Sooin’s bachelorette party last night, and as I’ve been a tad under the weather and it was a forty-five-minute drive away, I decided to only go the dinner part, and to not drink. I drank about fifteen Diet Cokes, and then got home and tried to go to sleep. No luck – I was abuzz. Then I decided that I would make a bread sponge in anticipation of a luscious loaf of sourdough in the morning. But it doesn’t work that way. A sourdough starter takes three days, and if I was thinking clearly, I would have realized that sooner. So I made a regular bread sponge, because I made butter and don’t care to wait three days to eat it, and resolved to start a sponge for sourdough at 1:00 some other morning.
It’s a good idea to save a knob of your last batch of dough to add to your bread sponge. I keep a little ball of it wrapped in plastic in my freezer, so that it can be pulled out and dropped into a frothy batch of sponge and allowed to ferment and grow yeasty, yielding a richer, crustier, OMG-so-much-better loaf of bread. You don’t need much – a bit of dough about the size of a golf ball is plenty.
What is a bread sponge, you ask? Well. It’s very simple. It’s a portion of the ingredients you’re going to use to make your bread, just thrown into a bowl a few hours or a day or two in advance. Science happens in the bowl, and you end up with a loaf that’s soft and chewy on the inside, with a crusty exterior that just begs to be torn into with teeth. Also, because the yeast gets its little selves in there a bit earlier, the mix ferments a bit and develops a much better flavour. You can really just whisk everything together in a bowl and then go to bed. Eight to twelve hours later, you just put the rest of your ingredients together and proceed as usual.
- 2 cups warmed milk
- 1 teaspoon yeast
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 little dough ball
Whisk together the milk, yeast, and flour in a large bowl. If you have a ball of dough, defrost it quickly and drop it in as well. Cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours.
When I woke up this morning it was sunny for the first time in a week, so I was super-impatient, so the sponge only got about eight hours to get good, but it still smelled yeasty and sour, like the perfect start to a homemade loaf. I started in immediately, because I wanted to go out to play.
Here’s the bread recipe. For the butter, go here. Follow her steps exactly. These two in combination will give you an earth-shattering foodgasm, and you’ll be all, “Thanks, Emily. I’ve always liked you.” No really. Make the butter. It won’t save you any money, but the taste (and gloating about how you made your own butter) will be totally worth it. I’ve got big plans to use it on a barbecued ear of corn tonight. BIG PLANS.
Another recipe for white bread, but this one’s different, okay?
- bread sponge (see above)
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 3 tsp. yeast
- 2 tbsp. sugar
- 2 tbsp. melted butter (plus extra for greasing your bowl and your loaf pans)
- 1 tbsp. salt
- 4 cups flour, plus extra for kneading
Combine the yeast and the water. When yeast gets foamy, add it to your sponge. Add the sugar, butter, and salt as well, and stir to combine. Add your flour and stir until mixed, and then dump the lot onto a floured surface to begin kneading. As always, please knead for eight to ten minutes. If you have athletic, powerful arms, it may take less time – you want the dough to become elastic – but I have flabby “looks good in sweaters” arms, so I knead for the full amount of time. Muscles are for chumps, right?
Transfer your dough to a large bowl that has been buttered lightly on all sides. Do round things have sides? I guess if you don’t know, they might as well. Cover with plastic and a kitchen towel, and allow to rise in a warm room until doubled in bulk. About an hour, hour-and-a-half. You know the drill.
Once your dough is big and smells good, dump it out onto that floured surface again (add new flour), and cut it in half. Form the dough into two loaf-pan-sized rectangles. Place your dough into your pre-buttered loaf pans, cover again with plastic and a kitchen towel, and allow to rise again, about an hour/hour-and-a-half, until the dough has risen an inch or so above the tops of the pans.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. I brushed the tops of my loaves with some melted butter and sprinkled them both with Kosher salt, but this is optional. Put your loaves into your oven once it’s raring to go, and bake the loaves for 35 to 40 minutes.
Cool these on wire racks. I find that bread tastes better once it’s cooled and then reheated (toasted), because there’s a complexity of flavour that develops once the bread does it’s sciencey thing on the racks.
I sure hope you made the butter.
Butter your homemade bread with the homemade butter. Revel.
I realize now that I promised Heather the key to easy spaghetti carbonara, and am now about a week late in following through. I don’t have any bacon at the moment, and I just made butter, so the next pasta I make will probably involve this butter and the beautiful leaves of sage that are flourishing on my deck, but that’s not to say it isn’t coming. Give me a week. Then I’ll tell you everything. I promise.