Continental Bread was one of my family's staple breads. There are numerous variations on the theme of a traditional yeasted sourdough recipe. I call them all 'Semi Leaven' breads, because they contain some sourdough starter and a tiny amount of yeast, which creates a light yet flavoursome bread, with the kind of crust that's typically Italian.
This 'Continental Bread' recipe comes from my old bakery, Quinton's Artisan Bakery, in Leura NSW, which satisfied Leura folk for a decade, as it was always a best seller there in the chilly mountain regions. Also a popular bread at many Grower's Markets around NSW too. This dough recipe makes great crusty bread, and will go really well in a 'batard' (vienna shape) or a tin.
Italians culture a biga, which is a lightly yeasted starter. The French use a levain in many yeasted recipes, and the Germans use various starters as standard practice in many white and rye bread recipes. Even in Australia, I know a lot of old time bakers who used their old yeasted dough in up to 15% of a new dough, to make the dough mature more quickly. This technique has been used by bakers for a very long time, and has numerous nom de plumes by which it operates.
While the effect is similar, for this recipe we will use some sourdough starter (this can be very young and inactive - it will still do the job), but it is possible to just use a bit of dough which is left over (refrigerated) from a previous bake.
Notice the time frame in this recipe - it's much faster than the typical sourdough recipes we have in the sourdough recipe section. You can start (and bake) this recipe inside of six hours, with only ten or fifteen minutes of actual handling time.
The Continental Bread from this recipe is very suitable for daily use, for everything to do with kids' lunches, to the Sunday afternoon alfresco. The flavour is milder than a sourdough, but still you get that sensational aftertaste, making you just want to eat more.
This bread can use any form of starter you have - wet sourdough starter, old dough sourdough starter, over ripe or unripe sourdough starter, even unused dough from your last batch. Even if you have some deeply smelly sourdough you'd like to use up, the continental bread recipe will work very well with this.
1.2 kg of organic white flour (regular plain flour will do if you are unable to access organic flour, or are a cheapskate, like me, at times...)
700 - 750 ml of warm water. Warm water is important for yeasted doughs, which strongly rely on the cerviseae activating best at a temperature of 25 to 28 degrees in the dough. Warm water will affect the dough temperature. There is actually a formula which bakers use to waork out what temperature the water needs to be, in order to achieve this magical dough temperature of 28 celsius. This formula takes into account environmental variables such as flour temperature, room temperature and the effect that different forms of mixing have on the final temperature of the dough. The formula is quite hard to get working in a home kitchen, so for now, warm water will have to be as accurate as we can get.
You'll also need:
Two flat baking trays. This recipe makes Vienna shaped Batards. You can use tins if you need training wheels.
Mix almost all the fairly warm water (warmer than luke warm) with the Starter, stirring them together to combine with a heavy whisk or a fork, till it's softened all the starter. You can leave this to stand for ten minutes if you like.
Sprinkle about 200 grams of the flour over the mixture and add the yeast. Whisk it all together to form a loose paste with a heavy whisk. Allow to stand, covered, in a warm place for an hour or more to form a sponge.
Add in the rest of the flour and combine the wet and dry ingredients. You may need a splash more water to do this, but be sparing - at this stage the dough looks dry, but it will soften soon.
Knead with both hands roughly till they form a big chunk of dough, no matter how rough. Rough is good. Cover, and leave in a warm place.
Allow to rest for an hour or so.
Add salt by wetting the dough with either a spray gun or wet hands, sprinkling the salt over the top of the wet dough. You will notice a dramatic transformation from the rough chunk you left an hour ago to this smooth thing in your hands now.
Knead it in until combined, which will be when the salt can't be felt as you knead. Round the dough, and leave with the seam on the bottom.
Let the finished dough rest and rise for about an hour or two, depending on the season. It's ready when you poke it and there is little, if any, resistance. It feels like it has given up. Your finger marks will stay there for a while. If it resists, it isn't ready.
Now cut the dough into two chunks of roughly one kilogram each. Round them, with the seam at the bottom. Rest for an hour or so - or longer if the dough is cold. Again, if you poke the dough and it resists, it isn't ready yet. If it feels like it is giving in, it's ready. You'll notice that when it comes time to mould these, they collapse a lot. This is a good thing with yeast breads!
Form into two cylinders, just by squeezing the bottom in with the outside of both hands, as if you are holding an open book. Spray or wipe with water, and dust with semolina flour. Place on pre oiled flat bread trays.
Slash with 3 diagonal cuts, or whatever suits your style. Allow to rise, covered, for an hour - this bread rises quite a bit. If you're time poor, just bake when it's risen enough. But if you have the time, let it grow till it's very soft. Just handle it carefully till you get the oven door shut.
Bake at 220 degrees in a prepared oven (see 'how to use an oven properly') for 15 minutes.
Bake at 180 degrees until golden brown (about 30 more minutes, give or take).
This recipe tends to be a winner every time - keep it in mind when you're a bit time pressed, or want to use some starter which might not be ideally ripenened. Because of the small amount of yeast, the state of your sourdough starter is largely irrelevant to the result.
Happy Sourdough Baking!