What this meant was, my sourdough starter had to be revived on numerous occasions. This was after keeping it in the fridge too. Instead of giving our kids the yucky store bought bread though, I decided to start baking with bought yeast instead.
Light and fluffy bread - made today
I've never been a fan of the yeasty smell, and taste of bread, made with yeast. But I stumbled on a way of making it less so. Like the sourdough bread I used to make, a "sponge" is made an hour before I want to make-up the bread.
Which is basically adding 1 cup of baker's flour, to one cup of slightly warm water (plus a smidge extra) to which 1 teaspoon of yeast and 1 tablespoon of honey is mixed all together, in a bowl. Then its covered with a plate, and set aside for an hour (during average temps) and it bubbles up.
Sponge is ready
The benefit of this process is twofold. Not only does it make the bread lighter and fluffier, but it also puts half the yeast to work an hour earlier. Which takes that powerful yeast smell out, which I so dislike when making bread with yeast.
I have to knead the stuff so I've got to like the smell!
Add ingredients to sponge
Then to the bowl of sponge, I add another teaspoon of yeast, 1 tablespoon of oil, 1 tablespoon of powered milk, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 cup of baker's flour.
Mix together with a spatula, to form a thick cake batter. Then turn onto the bench, which has been floured with another cup of baker's flour.
Turn on to the bench
Start to incorporate the extra flour, as you start kneading. Now it depends how moist the dough is, in your location, but you may not need any more flour. Or you could need another cup. Use your own judgement for how much flour, but you basically have to be able to knead the dough, without it getting stuck to the bench and your hands. Add little bits at a time, if you do need more.
Once you've incorporated all the necessary flour to stop it sticking to the bench, knead for 10 minutes, until a tight ball is formed.
As you can see, the ball is about as wide as my hand. It's also round and smooth. Now place the dough into a bowl, which has been oiled and cover. Set aside for roughly an hour, or for the dough to double in size.
I find because I kick-start the first teaspoon of yeast in the sponge, this doubling process is much quicker than if I don't kick-start the yeast. So check on it before the hour is up (45 minutes) to make sure it isn't over active. You don't want to use up its gumption, before you reach the second prove.
Once its doubled, punch the dough down in the bowl. Turn it onto a clean bench and knead for about a minute. Roll into a fat cigar shape, and turn into an oiled bread tin, seam side, facing down. Then let rise in a slightly warm oven (not over 50 degree Celcius) with a bowl of warm water at the bottom of it. I like to set my oven to just under 50 degree C, run for 4 to 5 minutes, then switch it off before putting in the bread, for the second prove.
When its reached the top of the tin (about 45 minutes) remove it from the oven, then preheat to 200 degrees Celcius. Bake for 25 minutes. Even though I have a fan forced oven, I still like to turn my bread around, half way into baking. Once cooked, turn immediately from the tin, onto a rack, so its laying on its SIDE.
This is what professional bakeries do. They never leave it in the tin to cool, and they never place it on its base to cool on the rack either. Bread is always left to cool on its side. This is to avoid a soft bottom, which leads to slices slumping sideways, losing their form after slicing.
Slicing ~ note how they keep their form,
instead of being misshapen
Wait for the bread to completely cool before slicing, or you'll end up with misshapen bread too. If you simply must have warm bread though (my daughter does love this) wait at least 15 minutes after its come out of the oven before slicing.
I actually slice my bread by hand and have gotten pretty good at it, over the years. I read about people using bread slicers and bread machines to make their bread with, and I simply cannot justify the cost at our house. We're not huge bread eaters any more, and I actually enjoy the hand-eye coordination of slicing.
If you happen to use any mechanical devices making your bread at home, don't feel bad about it. I'm not judging what's appropriate for your home. If it means the difference between making bread and buying it, get the machines that will help you do that.
I've weighed-up whether these machines are suitable for our house though, and while they will save me some time making bread and slicing it, there's no other reason for purchasing them. Thankfully, I don't have injuries to my hands (yet) and I only have one toddler to wrangle at home. So everything is manageable without having to buy machines. Though I would change my mind, if circumstances required it.
This is how I store our bread afterwards. Half goes into a container, and stays on the bench - the other goes into a freezer bag, and goes into the freezer. It comes out after a few days. In our hot weather, it doesn't last on the bench, longer than a few days and we don't go through a whole loaf, in that time any more.
So as a family, we've gone from lovely fresh sourdough bread, that wouldn't see the inside of a freezer, to this new arrangement. It's definitely a step down from where we were, but its also better than store bought bread too.
Have you had to change how you make bread over the years? Perhaps this involved purchasing machines too. Do you feel it was worth the investment for your circumstances?