A really nice loaf of bread -- you know the kind of sourdough that's soft and bubbly in the middle and crunchy on the outside -- can be expensive. If, like me, you're the kind of person who would love to live off butter, olive oil, and the perfect bread, then buying bread probably winds up costing you a fortune. Say your lovely artisanal loaf costs $6, and you buy 2-3 of those a week. That means your luxury carb bracket is setting you back around $75 a month. But what if I told you that you could have the same crusty bread for a fraction of that price, and you could have it warm? Here's how to bake your own bread without a bread machine for about $$ per loaf. And it's so simple your local bakery is probably going to put me on their list.
Proof your yeast
You can buy sachets of active dry yeast for around 50 cents each at the supermarket, which you will have to proof. Proofing yeast both brings it to life and tests its yeastiness. Pour one cup of lukewarm water into a bowl, and then sprinkle two sachets of yeast on the surface, with a teaspoon of sugar. After about 5-10 minutes the yeast will start sinking, then bubbling back up to the surface, forming a frothy layer.
Prep your flour
You need to buy bread flour for this (not all purpose), which, for about $4 a bag, will yield 6 loaves of bread. Scoop 6 cups of the bread flour into a bowl, and mix in one tablespoon of salt.
Put everything together
Now you can stir your yeast mixture, and add that to the bread flour and salt. Stir gently, and add more water until the flour becomes a thick, doughy, but still sticky consistency. The trick is to keep the dough a little on the wet side, so it's slightly sloppy when you pick up clumps of it.
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Let it rise
Let your dough sit covered in a warm-ish area (on top of a radiator works well) for a few hours, or until it doubles in size. Don't poke the dough! There's a whole bunch of science going on in that bowl. After it doubles, punch it down.
Bake your bread
Set the oven for 425 degrees fahrenheit, and rest a bowl with half the mix near the heat and let it rise again for around thirty minutes. When the oven is hot, put the bread in and bake for 35 minutes, or until the top is hard and golden brown. Turn the bread out onto a cooling rack, and eat it warm with butter!
Store the second loaf
Remember when you divided the flour mix in two? Keep the second half in the fridge. You can keep it for up to a week, and you'll get a stronger sourdough flavor if you do. Once your week is up, take it out of the fridge, leave it out until it reaches room temperature, and repeat step number 5.