This is a fairly new to me method of making bread but it’s so delicious and relatively simple that I thought I’d share. This sponge method recipe makes 6 loaves of mostly whole wheat bread. There are so many ways you can vary this bread recipe or you can keep it basic and still be happy with the results.
This recipe is a variation of the one offered in the Tassajara Bread Book.
- Measure 6 cups of lukewarm water into your largest bowl.
- Sprinkle 2 tbsp of yeast over the water and stir lightly to dissolve.
- Add .5-.75 cup of honey (or molasses or demerara sugar…).
- Add whole wheat flour one cup at a time. (I used a couple of cups of unbleached all purpose but it was mostly whole wheat) As the mixture thickens, begin beating with a spoon, stirring up and down in small strokes and in small circles at the surface of the mixture. Scrape the sides of the bowl occasionally. After 6-8 cups the mixture will be quite thick but still beatable. A thick mud.
- Beat about 100 strokes until the batter is smooth. This seems like a lot of work but don’t get scared off, it will be done quick enough. Do this by putting your wooden spoon down the side of the bowl and pulling the batter up and over into the center. Then give the bowl a slight turn and do it again. You want to keep the dough intact as much as possible. You do not want to break or tear it and it will get stretchier the more you beat it.
- Place bowl in a warmish place to rise for 45-70 minutes. Have a look at it from time to time. I thought I had a big bread bowl but this sponge grows right out! I put a pizza pan underneath to catch the extra that grows out of it.
- After the dough has risen for the prescribed time, fold in 2.5 tbsp salt, .5 cup oil (or butter) by putting around the outside edges of the dough and fold into the center until incorporated.
- Add 6-8 cups more flour to the dough, one cup at a time. I fold this in with a spoon as much as I can and then I use my hands.
- Turn out onto floured board to knead. Fold dough in half toward you and push down and forward. Turn the dough a bit and repeat. (Turn, fold, push) You’ll get into a rocking motion with kneading. You may need to add sprinklings of more flour to the dough or scrape and flour the board. The dough will become less sticky, more elastic and stretch rather than tear. (this video shows the realities of making bread in my house. Everyone wants to participate. Lily’s commentary was her own idea…)
- Place dough back in bread bowl which has been well oiled (you don’t have to clean it first) and slightly oil the top of the dough as well. Cover and put back in warm place to rise 50-60 min, until double it’s size.
- Oil 6 loaf pans and set aside.
- Carefully scrape the dough out onto the board. You want it to stay in one piece. It shouldn’t stick, but if it does, use a bit of flour on the board.
- Shape into a ball by folding the dough edges into the center. Then turn the ball around with the smooth side up. Cut into six portions.
- To shape into loaves, you’ll want to make a rectangle with the dough. Then you hold on to one end and smack it down on the board to stretch it. Repeat with the other side. When you’re happy with the rectangle you’ve made, make a fold on the side closest to you. Next stretch and roll the side furthest from you back towards you. Tuck the edges in well. I add sesame seeds to my loaves by sprinkling the sesame seeds on the counter and pushing the top of the loaf into the seeds. (wish I captured this better but it was difficult with Leif sleeping in the other room)
- Place loaves in oiled pans and put covered in warm spot to rise again until the right size. Preheat oven to 325′-350′. Electric ovens should probably be at 325′
See that one in the middle and the front. That’s a loaf I didn’t tuck the edges on enough. Even still the loaf turned out just fine.
- Cut slits into the top of the bread. If you’re going to do an egg wash (I didn’t this time) this is the time to do it. Simple scramble one egg and spread over the top of all the loaves.
- Bake for 50-60 min. You’ll know when it’s done because the tops and sides will be golden and if you knock the loaves they will sound hollow.
- Let cool before you cut into them.
- You can freeze the loaves you aren’t going to eat right away and they be just as good when you pull it out to thaw as you need them.