Outlander Inspired: Sourdough Bread Recipe c. 1790

I had a few problems with King Arthur’s original sourdough bread recipe. The first is their definition of “warm” and “cool.” Their recipe calls for setting the sponge to rise in a “cool” room of 68-70F. My kitchen is 58.. 68 to me is a “warm” room. To set my bread to rise at 70F I have to put it within 5′ of the woodstove. Which means, I think, that my revised recipe and rise times might be a bit tricky for someone in a modern house, but certainly is more period than their recipe.

And I had a problem with “flour.”  I wanted to create a bread which was as close as possible to what you’d have found in Vermont, c. 1790, not Boston.  The reference I worked with was a fascinating piece by a Quebec scholar, and is available on The Canadian Museum of History’s site <The Bread Ovens of Quebec>.  Hence my recipe calls for whole wheat flour and a bit of cornmeal to give it crunch.

And without further ado:

As We Were Sourdough Bread c. 1790

OutlanderBreadWhen you’re working with sourdough starter you make a “fed” sponge with 1 C of your original starter (in my case King Arthur Flour’s c. 1790 starter) by adding ½ C warm water and 1 C flour.  The recipe will call for 1 C fed starter.  As anyone knows, 1 + 1 = 2, or in this case, darn close to it.   Thus, at the beginning of your recipe you will have roughly 2 cups of fed starter, and a recipe which calls for 1.  You can either give your extra cup of starter away, or make two batches of bread.  Throwing the starter away is simply not an option.

If you decide to make 2 batches, make them, one after the other, separately… unless you have very large bowls, and very strong hands.  Your cost on making sourdough bread is roughly $1.25, give or take, so you can afford to give your second loaf away.

Because my house is colder than the norm I am able to make my fed starter the night before by leaving it out overnight to work.  The starter crock goes back into the fridge in the morning, the fed starter is ready to work after breakfast.

Breakfast time:

Blend 1 C fed starter with

1 ½ C warm water until creamy

stir in 3 C white flour, one after another, until smooth

Cover with a damp cloth, and let set in a “cool” (or “warm”) 70F space until lunch time.

After lunch

Drizzle 2 Tablespoons honey over the sponge (truthfully, I just glop some on) or 2 Tablespoons maple syrup.  The honey adds a preservative effect.  The maple syrup is easier to work with (my honey doesn’t flow well when its cold)

Sprinkle a heavy 2 teaspoons  salt over the sponge

Lift, stir, mix.. it is heavy and sticky, to blend somewhat.

Mix in 1 C whole wheat flour (pure white likely would not have been available to my farm until well into the late 19th century.. the mill over Smuggler’s Notch where Oliver Luce obtained his supplies stone ground flour, but didn’t have sifting facilities)

Add 1/2 C stone ground corn meal or 1/2 C rye flour or 1/2 C buckwheat flour

Measure out another 1/2 C white flour

Likely you’ll need to start kneading by hand.  Knead your dough in the bowl, turning the dough to pick up any stray bits of dough and flour and adding white flour as necessary.  Why are you kneading in the bowl?  Because it makes clean up easier and minimizes waste.  If you dump the contents of the bowl out before the dough turns elastic and has picked up all the flour from the inside of the bowl likely you’ll end up with flour on the floor and dough stuck to your table.. wasteful, that.  So knead in the bowl until you can tip a nicely formed ball of dough out onto your floured table surface.  Then continue to knead until you’ve got a nice elastic ball of dough, incorporating the remaining white flour as necessary.

During the colonial period women used chunky oblong wooden bowls carved out of a good sized chunk of log as a bread bowl.  No doubt you’ve seen them in museums.  The logic behind kneading in one of these bowls as opposed to on the wooden table has much to do with waste and clean up.  If you’ve ever tried to get stubborn bread dough off a modern surface you can sympathize with someone trying to get it off a rough table.  Keeping the dough contained in its wooden bowl made clean up easier and minimized wasted flour.

Grease a generously sized bowl, drop your dough in and turn it to coat all sides of the dough, cover with a damp cloth, and leave to rise in that warm (or cool) environment.

Using the same dirty bowl, dump your remaining fed starter in.. and repeat the above for a second loaf.

After your dinner dishes are done (around 7 pm)…

To make a round, authentic, loaf, you’ll need cast iron pots.

A 10 ½ x 4 ½ inch pot with lid will make the loaf shown, and, should you be plunking your bread to bake amid the coals in the hearth, is the more appropriately sized pot.

A 9 x 3 or so inch pot will make a more useful loaf, in that the sides of the pot will force the bread to rise vertically, and make a loaf well suited for sandwiches.

Since I make two loaves, I use both.

Grease your pot(s) and sprinkle a generous portion of oatmeal on the bottom to prevent sticking.

Punch your dough down and shape it into a round ball.  Place your ball in the center of the pot.

Cover your pot with the lid, leaving a tiny air gap, and set your pots out to rise overnight.

In the morning..

Pre-heat your oven to 425F (or rake your coals…).

Carefully remove the lid of your pot. The smaller pot may well rise right up to the lid and stick to it, so peel the lid back carefully and gently coax the dough a little lower into the pot.

Using a sharp knife, slash the dough several times, and sprinkle with water (or mist with a sprayer if you insist on being all modern about it).

Bake at 425 for 30 minutes.

Remove the lids and bake for an additional 10 minutes, until dark golden brown on top.

Most people do not bake in cast iron pots. The pots will be burning hot and very heavy. Put a rack over the bottom, hold onto the rack and handles, and invert. Set the pot away to cool (not in the sink). Repeat with second pot. If the pots are too heavy for you to handle safely put a dish towel down and tip the bread out onto the towel.

When the bread has cooled to the point where it doesn’t scald your fingertips cut off a slice, slather with butter…

Welcome to the 18th Century, hope you enjoyed the trip!

Need Jam to go with your bread?  Try the Red Currant Jam recipe…

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