Question: I have never seen a recipe or source to buy salt-rising bread. It is so good and different. Would you have any information about it?
Answer: In "The Fannie Farmer Baking Book" (Alfred A. Knopf: 1984), author Marion Cunningham explains: "Before commercial yeasts were perfected, bakers had to rely on 'starters' to get their breads to rise. To make a starter one has to capture rogue or wild yeasts by letting a grain and liquid (and sometimes potatoes) ferment together."
Both sourdough and salt-rising breads work on this principle of capturing wild yeasts. The fundamental difference is in the elements used to make the salt-rising starter, which yields a bread that is cheesy rather than sour, says Cunningham.
She adds: "You must use a non-degerminated cornmeal, such as a true stone-ground cornmeal found in health food stores--which keeps the germ in the milling process." The germ is the vital nutrient needed to capture the yeast.
"The name 'salt-rising bread' stems from the original method of keeping the dough warm: The bowl of dough was set in a large container of warmed rock salt, which held the heat for a long time," Cunningham says. "It's no longer necessary to keep the dough warm with salt, although it does need to be kept warmer than conventional yeast doughs--about 100 degrees."
2 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced thin
1 quart boiling water
1/4 cup non-degerminated cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
3 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
10 cups flour, about
6 tablespoons shortening
Place potatoes in large bowl. Pour boiling water over potatoes, then stir in cornmeal, sugar and 1 teaspoon salt. Place bowl in larger bowl of hot water and set in warm place where temperature remains fairly steady--gas oven with just pilot light on, electric oven with interior light on, on top of water heater. Replace hot water 2 or 3 times over next 24 hours.
Remove potato slices from bowl. Heat milk until comfortably warm to touch. Add to starter along with baking soda and 3 1/2 cups flour. Beat briskly until smooth--rotary beater helps smooth out lumps. Cover sponge with plastic wrap. Set back in warm place until doubled--usually 2 to 3 hours, but check after 1 1/2 hours. Mixture should look creamy and light.
Place 4 cups flour in large bowl. Add remaining 2 1/2 teaspoons salt and mix lightly with fork. Drop in shortening and blend until mixture looks like fine meal. Add flour mixture to sponge and beat until well mixed.
Add enough flour--1 to 2 cups--to make soft, manageable dough. Turn out onto floured surface and knead 1 to 2 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes.
Resume kneading until dough is smooth, about 10 minutes. (Dough is heavy and putty-like.) Divide into thirds and shape each piece into loaf. Place in greased 8 1/2x4 1/2-inch loaf pans. Cover with plastic wrap, set pans in larger pan of hot water and return to warm place to rise about 3 hours or until loaves increase by about third.
Bake at 350 degrees 45 to 55 minutes, until golden brown. Turn out of pans and cool on rack. Makes 3 loaves.