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I was determined to get in a third Baking For Neighbors day, despite the cold, the rain, the busy holiday and especially my pain.
So I set my will and did it before anything could stop me.
I took Sourdough Grain Bread, a beautiful crackly-topped loaf, hot from my oven to the third neighbor.

Sourdough Grain Bread

Sourdough Grain Bread

The process is simple but time consuming. It takes 1 hour 50 minutes to make the dough in the bread machine, another 45 to raise and another 50 minutes to bake, plus other minutes for prep. So to make this bread, I have to start the loaf 4 hours before giving or serving. It’s an amazing bread and well worth the effort.

I made up this recipe. It took trial and error to get the texture just right. The crust is awesome, crisp and crackly. The interior is the perfect combination of hearty and soft and makes great slices for sandwiches or french toast. It keeps very well too and is good even two days after baking, although the crust will be more chewy than crisp at that point.

There are two specialty items needed to make the bread – a good sourdough starter and a baking cloche. These are explained further down this post.

The recipe:
1 cup water
1/4 cup good aged sourdough starter
2 tsp yeast
1/2 Tablespoon honey
2 1/2 cup bread flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oatmeal
1 1/4 tsp salt
2 Tablespoons olive oil

The process:
Place all ingredients in the order listed in a bread machine.
I use a sourdough starter from King Arthur Flour. I can’t remember when we got it, perhaps 4 years ago? 5? It stays in a stoneware crock in the refrigerator door all the time. It’s an excellent starter. I’ve forgotten to feed it for over 10 months but it stays great, even with neglect.

Sourdough starter

Sourdough starter

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Use the standard dough setting to make dough. We use a Zojirushi Bread Machine that takes 1 hour 50 minutes to make the dough on a standard setting. We’ve had this machine for over six years and use it three or four times a week. Best bread machine we’ve ever had!
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When the machine beeps at the end of the cycle, the dough is ready. It fills the bread machine pan.
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The dough is smooth on top but rough on the bottom when it is turned out of the pan.
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I fold it over a couple times on a floured surface.
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Cornmeal is sprinkled in the bottom of the cloche and then the smooth, floured ball of dough is placed in the center of the cloche. There are a variety of cloches available for bread baking. I picked this one for the size and good reviews. You’re not supposed to soak it before using or it may crack in the oven. It is to be used dry. After baking the bread, all I have to do is wipe out any remaining dry corn meal with a paper towel and the cloche is ready for another loaf.
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The cloche lid is placed on top.
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The cloche is placed in a cold oven and the oven door shut.
I turn on the oven light to provide a small amount of warmth in the oven and set the timer for 45 minutes for the dough to raise.
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And then… without opening the cloche or removing it from the oven, I turn the oven to 400 degrees.
That is right, the cloche goes from raising the dough in the oven, straight to baking in the oven and the cloche is never moved! As the dough is baked, it makes steam inside the cloche, emulating a professional steam-injected oven. That’s what makes the crust so amazing!

I watch the oven temp and as soon as it reaches 400 degrees, set the timer to bake the bread for 40 minutes.
When the timer goes off at 40 minutes, the cloche lid is removed from the oven and the bread continues to bake for 10 more minutes to crisp the crust.
Here is a finished loaf.
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My favorite way to enjoy the bread is hot, with butter and honey and cinnamon powder straight from the spice jar.
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I’ve made mistakes with this dough, forgetting it was in the bread machine, raising it too long, forgetting to set the timer when the oven reached temperature, and still the bread turns out. Here is a loaf where I did everything wrong. I love the cragginess of the crust.
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Here is the loaf torn open, steam arising.
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I don’t have a photo of the loaf I took to Neighbor 3. My back hurt so bad that night that I didn’t want to carry a camera. As soon as the loaf came out of the oven, I wrapped it in paper towels and then foil and walked down the street. Neighbor 3 came to the door in a wheel chair and I handed him the still-hot loaf. He held the warm bundle as he thanked me. I was so very glad I went to the effort to take the loaf to my third neighbor. May he and his household be blessed!