What I love most about James Beard’s bread recipes is their ineluctable simplicity. Some of the sour cream bread recipes I found on-line wanted an egg. Some wanted an egg and butter too. Not that I didn’t have an egg on hand, but I know for a fact only a very few breads need an egg to get where they’re going. And I wasn’t looking for crypto-challah.
This dough is not only quick, easy and satisfying to make, it bakes up wonderfully light. I say that even given I used nearly half whole wheat flour to bring that wheaty, earthy taste right up. This bread also makes just wonderful rolls. Easy to make ahead, and easy to reheat in a damp paper bag in medium oven. The fat from the sour cream keeps this bread fresh for longer than it will be around to get eaten.
If you have yogurt, but not sour cream, substitute two tablespoons of melted, slightly cooled butter or other fat for an equal amount of the yogurt. The bread’s tang will be a little stronger, but the texture and keeping qualities of the bread will stay true.
Beard’s Sour Cream Bread
2 1/2 Tablespoons of sugar
1 package dry yeast, about 2 1/2 teaspoons
1/4 cup, 2 oz, fairly warm water (it should feel hot when you splash a drop on your wrist)
2 cups sour cream, at room temperature
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
4 1/2 to 5 cups, 22.5 to 25 oz, unbleached white flour, you can easily replace 2 cups of the flour with whole wheat
Pour the sugar and yeast into the warm water and allow them to sit together for about five minutes, you’re looking for a creamy, foamy mass to start. Stir well in the sour cream, salt and soda. Now add half the flour and stir hard with a wooden spoon, or the paddle attachment of your stand mixer set to medium low, for 2-4 minutes (use the longer time if you’re working by hand). Add the rest of the flour and knead it into the shaggy mass–or use the dough hook for your stand mixer. Knead for five to eight minutes. You want the dough to be smooth and springy when you’re done kneading.
Oil the dough and set it in a clean covered bowl to rise somewhere draft-free. Let the dough double, about one to one and a half hours. If you used whole wheat flour, you’ll want to punch down the dough and let it have a second rise, which won’t take longer than an hour.
Split the dough into two even balls. Tuck the dough under on itself, until it is firm and place the formed loaves seam side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment, or lightly oiled. If you want rolls, pinch off a piece of dough the size of a golf ball and as above, tuck the dough under on itself and set each roll on a prepared pan with an inch of space all around it. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cover your loaves/rolls lightly with a clean tea towel and allow the bread to rise for 45 minutes.
If you chose to make loaves, lightly slash a cross into the top of your risen dough no more than a quarter inch deep with a very sharp knife. You may also use a single slash for the rolls if you like, though this is not strictly necessary (they do look nice when baked this way). Let the loaves bake for 30-35 minutes. Rolls will only take about 20-25 minutes. The bread should be deep golden (if you used all white flour) or a rich brown if you cut the dough with whole wheat. The loaves will sound hollow if tapped on the bottom in the middle.
Let your bread cool for two hours on a wire rack, then dig in!