With the arrival of fall comes the joy of having the house filled with the addictive aromas of meaty stews, roasted vegetables, and every variety of freshly baked breads and desserts. A few days before we dismantled the kitchen for our remodel, I pulled this favorite sourdough recipe out of my arsenal and baked it to accompany the roasted butternut squash lasagna that I shared last month.
The recipe I share today is a mashup of several bread recipes I have tried from an amazing blog called “The Fresh Loaf.” The site is a virtual community and message board for sourdough lovers—from novice to expert—and over the years, I have gained invaluable wisdom by eavesdropping on the conversations of those I consider to be far advanced of my own skills. I was barely beginning my own sourdough journey when I discovered TFL, but the pictures and formulas I found there inspired me to attempt new techniques, and I now proudly consider myself to be an “intermediate” bread maker.
One of the methods I learned is baking with steam, a simple technique that results in a perfectly crusty yet chewy exterior and lovely crumb texture that the aficionados would call “gelatinized.” Breads made with this steam-baked method make fantastic toast and sandwiches (especially grilled cheese).
The generous amounts of onion and sage I’ve added to this loaf also make it perfect for Thanksgiving stuffing or dressing, or you can follow my lead with any stale leftovers and turn it into savory croutons for hearty salads and all the soups you’ll be simmering during the autumn and winter months ahead.
Besides the intoxicating fall-scented flavors, this loaf also uses a pre-ferment, which is a fancy way of describing a pumped-up sourdough starter, and a soaker, which is nothing more than grains (in this instance, corn) that have been soaked overnight in water—a technique that coaxes the deepest flavors out of the grain and into the bread.
The kneading method used for this bread is also a bit different. It’s called “stretch and fold,” and it is an easy way to build strength in dough with a high volume of water, without so much messy, sticky kneading. Try this a few times, and you will be astonished at the elastic texture and volume achieved in the bread dough.
If this all seems confusing, trust me, it isn’t. I have found sourdough baking to be joyfully simple once you get the hang of it. As I mentioned last fall when I made the sourdough pumpkin challah, this kind of baking—naturally leavened and slow-fermented—is like a good relationship; the more you open yourself up to it, the more it comes back to you until you finally reach a point of familiarity that you can’t imagine ever buying a loaf of bread at the grocery store.
One more note: I strongly recommend measuring ingredients by weight when baking any kind of bread, but especially sourdough. Weight measuring takes the guesswork out of your ingredient ratios, and you can find an inexpensive, easy-to-use kitchen scale just about anywhere, including Walmart (where I bought mine).
That’s my story, and this is my favorite sourdough for autumn. I hope the pictures entice my fellow sourdough bakers to give it a go, and if you scroll to the bottom of the post, you’ll find a downloadable PDF for your recipe files. My ingredients are listed in grams (sorry, no volume measurements), so go on and get your kitchen scale and get baking.
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