It's time. Thanksgiving is in two weeks. I know. I'm surprised, too. I am surprised every year. It's like "how did November get here so fast?" Are you thinking the same thing?
For years and years—since before I was married—I've taken homemade bread to the family Thanksgiving dinner. After nearly 40 years of providing the bread, my cousins would all be in shock if I didn't bring it. I have used a few different recipes over the years, but mostly it's this sourdough bread that people look for. I even take a few extra loaves for the cousins who love it most. They get to take some home.
It takes a few days to get the starter going, so this morning I mixed it up and set it on the counter to do its thing. While I was mixing, I snapped a few photos of things I've found helpful over the years.
For this recipe that I've done so many times, I had my copy laminated about 20 years ago. I can wipe it off when I spill something on it. You'd think I would know the recipe by heart. And by Christmas, I will. But then when the bread baking slacks off, and then stops after the holidays, I have forgotten it by the next year.
You need to keep your starter in a glass or plastic bowl. I use a large Cool Whip bowl and cut slits in the lid to let it breath. The Cool Whip containers have a flexible plastic lid that is easy to cut. You can see that I used a Sharpie and wrote the "feed the starter" ingredients on the lid to make that easy.
This starter is fed with instant potato flakes. To make measuring easy, I pour the flakes into a container that makes it easy to scoop and measure. Measuring out of that opening in the top of the box is hard. I even keep a measuring spoon (a measuring tablespoon left over from an old set) in the canister.
A couple of years ago, I figured out that I could bag up the feeder mix in snack size bags. Then I can just dump in the starter, add water and stir. Yes, around Christmas things can get so crazy that I don't have time to measure two things. Jessica usually takes a bowl of starter back to the city and she will bake bread between Thanksgiving and Christmas. For her, having the bags of the feeding mix is quick and easy.
If you don't have measuring cups with a 2/3 and a 3/4 cup in the set, you might add that to your Christmas wish list. I love having those extra cups. These are from Tupperware. They still sell them but they look a little different now. There are other ones out there, too. I came of age during the era of Tupperware parties. Just discovered that you can order these cups from Amazon, too.
Last thing I did this morning was to add a note to the lid—a reminder to add the yeast on Monday. I am leaving nothing to memory.
I should be able to bake bread by the middle of next week. This bread freezes beautifully. I like to take it freshly baked on Thanksgiving, but I'll put some in the freezer before that. Insurance.
One year, my starter was bad and I had to throw it out and start over. This year I have barely allowed enough time to make a second batch. In over 30 years of doing this, that only happened that one time. At one point in our lives, I kept the starter going for five years. Now, I tend to make bread during the holidays and during the winter. Then I stop and start over the next fall. With just two of us here, we don't need that much bread!
If you start now, you have time to do this for Thanksgiving. The directions for making the starter are at the bottom of the recipe.
1 cup starter
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup oil
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups warm water
6 or more cups bread flour (use the extra to flour the surface for kneading)
Mix the bread ingredients. (I use a wire whisk to mix in the first 3 cups, then use a sturdy spoon for the rest.) Place in a large bowl, sprayed with PAM. Lightly spray the dough with PAM. Cover with plastic wrap. Let stand and rise at least 8 hours.
Punch down dough. Knead on floured board about 10 times. Divide into 3 parts. Spray three 8-inch loaf pans with PAM. Shape dough and place in pans. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let stand and rise until pans are full, about 5 to 6 hours.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or until brown and bottom of loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.
Whole wheat bread: Use 2 cups whole wheat flour and 4 cups bread flour.
To feed starter: Remove 1 cup for baking (or discard) and feed with 1/3 cup sugar, 3 tbsp. instant potato flakes and 1 cup warm water. Mix well and let stand 8-12 hours. Then refrigerate. Store in plastic container with slits cut in lid. Feed every 3-7 days.
To make starter: Double the feeding recipe. Put in a glass or plastic container, loosely covered. Let set out on counter for 4 days. Then add 1 envelope dry yeast. Let stand another 24 hours. Use 1 cup for first batch of bread or store in refrigerator for up to 7 days.
This bread freezes beautifully. It makes a great gift.
Just so you know–the photo at the top was bread I baked last year.