There is nothing, I repeat, nothing that can make your home feel cozier or more inviting than the aroma of freshly baked bread wafting through the air. And then of course, there is no better snack on this planet than a thick slice of bread just pulled from the oven with butter melting over it.
Many of my childhood memories are a blur… Disneyland? My first day of school? Learning to ride a bike? All foggy. But I have total clarity on my mom’s long history of bread baking. When she followed her heart and married my dad at age 19, my Grandma Salazar gave her one cooking lesson: how to make bread. As my dad can attest, that was only thing my mom knew how to cook when they married. Lots of things have changed since then. Mama Rita’s cooking is the measure of delicious for me.
So, I am happy and grateful to report that mine was a childhood full of running through alfalfa fields and fruit orchards in my Little House on the Prairie bonnet with my sister Emily, and coming in for Mommy’s homemade sour dough bread. I remember watching her knead the dough and stealing little bits of the sweet yet sour dough to eat raw…it was so good. She always made us our own little loaves in these tiny loaf pans, and we felt quite special to call a loaf our own.
This particular sour dough starter is at least 80 years old, and it came from her friend’s grandmother’s starter. Even though I adore all baked goods that come from this starter, I never took that leap of bringing some of it home until just a few months ago. I thought for sure I would kill it because I have been the cause of death for way too many “friendship” bread starters which always end in a watery, separated, stinky mess on my countertop. But, as it turns out, this sour dough starter wants to live in the fridge in an airtight container, and if you forget to feed it (guilty), it just lies low until I remember it again. Low maintenance, that’s the starter for me.
So, now I am fortunate to be able to recreate some happy childhood moments for myself…and pass them on to my little girls who like nothing better than fresh bread and butter. And anytime they are at Mama Rita’s while she’s baking, they find themselves bringing home their own small loaves to call their own.
Mama Rita’s Sour Dough Bread
Makes 2 regular sized loaves
- 3/4 c milk, scalded then cooled slightly
- 1 1/2 sour dough starter
- 1/2 c warm water
- 1 1/2 tsp. yeast (2 tsp. yeast if you are not at high altitude)
- 2 Tbsp. sugar
- 2 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- about 4 1/2 c. flour
- 1/2 wheat germ
- Preheat oven to 175 F, and then turn off after about 5 minutes.
- Pour milk into a heavy pan, and bring to a boil over medium heat and quickly shut off flame. This should leave a skin on the milk, and a scalded flavor but should not burn or boil for more than a few seconds.
- Pour warm water into a large bowl or standing mixer bowl and whisk in the yeast. Let it stand for a few minutes (or longer) until it bubbles a bit and acts alive!
- To the yeast mixture, add the cooled scalded milk, the sour dough starter, and remaining ingredients. Using a dough hook or your hands, mix and and combine until the dough forms a ball. Knead on countertop until the dough is smooth and elastic. It should not be sticky, but it should not be dry.
- Swirl olive oil in a bowl, rubbing it around with the dough, and let the dough rise, covered, for an hour or so in the warm oven, or until it has doubled.
- Punch the dough down and form into loaves (either free form on baking sheets or stone, or in well-oiled loaf pans). Make diagonal cuts with a sharp, serrated knife, and let rise again in the oven for about another half hour. Remove loaves from oven and preheat to 400 F.
- Bake at 400 F for 20-25 minutes until golden. Be sure to enjoy a slice of warm bread with butter to truly experience bread as it should be.