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Salt Rising Bread

Salt Rising Bread
By Dale Murphy on Sunday, November 10, 2013 at 6:36am
***Starter***
2 medium-size potatoes peeled and sliced thin
1 quart boiling water
1/4 cup nondegerminated cornmeal, such as stone-ground
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
***Sponge***
1 1/2 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
4 cups all-purpose flour
***Dough***
6 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons vegetable shortening
To make the starter: Put the potatoes in a large bowl, pour the boiling water over, then stir in the cornmeal, sugar, and salt. Place the bowl in a larger bowl of hot water, and set in a warm place where the temperature remains fairly steady-a gas oven with just the pilot light on, or an electric oven with the interior light on, or on top of the water heater. Replace the hot water two or three times-or whenever you think of it and it’s convenient-over the next 24 hours. Then remove the potato slices from the bowl, and continue on with the sponge.

To make the sponge: Heat the milk until it is comfortably warm to your finger, then add it to the starter, along with the baking soda and 3 1/2 cups flour. Beat briskly until smooth-a hand rotary beater helps to smooth out the lumps. Cover with plastic wrap and again place in a larger bowl of hot water. Set in a warm place (see preceding suggestions), and let the sponge double in bulk-this usually takes 2 to 3 hours, but check it after 1 1/2 hours. When doubled, it will look creamy and light. Don’t let it sit longer after it is creamy and light or it will lose its “cheesy” flavor and become sour.

To make the bread dough: Put 4 cups of the flour in a large bowl. Add the salt and mix lightly with a fork. Drop in the shortening and blend it in with your fingers- as though you were making pie dough-until the mixture looks like fine meal. Add the flour mixture to the sponge and beat until well mixed. Add enough more flour-1 or 2 cups- to make a soft, manageable dough you can knead. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for a minute or two. Let rest for 10 minutes.

Resume kneading until the dough is smooth (this dough is heavy and rather puttylike)-about 10 minutes. Divide in thirds and shape each piece into a loaf. Place in greased loaf pans. Cover with plastic wrap, set the pans in a larger pan of hot water, and again set in a warm place to rise. This final rise will take about 3 hours, and the loaves should increase in volume by about one third-this is less than the usual doubling in bulk. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees F oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until golden brown. If in doubt, better to bake a few minutes longer than underbake. Turn out of the pans and cool on a rack.

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