How They Made it: Bread Baking at Lallybroch
Outlander Cast is kicking off a new series, “How They Made It,” in which we dive into the food and drink of Outlander. First up, Baking at Lallybroch—how to make sourdough bread just like Jenny and her crew or Mrs. Fitz would.
I’ll admit it, my love of cooking and baking predates my discovery of Outlander on STARZ. But it is entirely truthful to say that Outlander has led me to so many new and interesting paths, including my current obsession with Scottish food and cooking. Add to that my well-established love of history, and we arrive at this new series “How They Made It,” a look at the food and drink of the Outlander world. Let’s get started, shall we?
The ingredients to make bread are quite basic—just flour, yeast and water. Coincidentally (or maybe not), those are the basic ingredients to make beer and whisky, but I digress (we’ll get into that another time). Today when I get a hankering to make bread, I go to the market and buy yeast, flour, and away I go.
I’m sure Mrs. Fitz and her helpers, or Jenny and the bairns, were adept in making this staple product on a daily basis, but how did they do it? Mrs. Fitz didn’t have a local Whole Foods to pop down to and grab her ingredients. As for Jenny, the flour would have been available as Lallybroch and the surrounding crofts grew wheat and barley, but what about the yeast? Where did that come from? I’m glad you asked!
Yeast actually occurs naturally in the environment, and while the commercial yeast you buy in the store (i.e., baker’s yeast) has been “domesticated,” yeast in the wild varies by location. Long ago people learned to capture the yeast and nurture it, feeding it flour and water to create a bubbly living starter, and then used bits of that starter in their bread. That’s how the cooks at Lallybroch (or Leoch) would have been able to bake bread that rose, soft and fluffy. Otherwise, it’s just a cracker.
Who here loves sourdough bread? Raise your hands…sixty-two…sixty-three…okay, a lot of you. That tangy character of sourdough comes from the yeast that had been captured from the local environment at a point in time; some sourdough starters available today are descended from a starter more than a century old. And as that starter is fed and used, it adapts itself to the local region and climate, creating a bread that is unique. That’s the reason San Francisco sourdough bread is so distinctive. So while I can’t recreate the exact same bread they would have eaten in Scotland in the 1740s, the method is the same.
My sourdough starter is from King Arthur Flour, and I’ve been maintaining it for more than one-and-a-half years. The recipe for Extra-Tangy Sourdough Bread is also from King Arthur Flour. When I first started making sourdough bread, I had several unsuccessful attempts (they were more like sourdough doorstops than bread), but I finally got the hang of it and now make it on a semi-regular basis. Here is my well-annotated printed recipe, and I’ll add some of my findings (in italics) to the recipe below.
Side Note #1: I have a kitchen scale and use it constantly. It’s much more accurate than using volume measurements because the weight of one person’s lightly sifted cup of flour can differ significantly from another’s packed cup of flour. Weighing your ingredients gives much more consistent results, which is why I include the weight measurements in the recipe below. Get a scale…use it, live it, love it.
Side Note #2: The Lallybroch kitchens would have been feeding and using their starter daily, so it would constantly be ready for use. However, in my kitchen I bake bread every couple of weeks, so I feed my starter weekly and refrigerate it between uses. The act of feeding sourdough starter is a topic unto itself, as is what to do with the “discard,” i.e., the starter that you take out before feeding the rest (if you don’t discard some of the starter, it’ll grow to the point it will take over a small city). I don’t like to waste anything, and have come up with lots of uses for the unfed starter. We can talk about that another time.
- 1 cup (8 oz, 240 g) “fed” sourdough starter (starter that is bubbling and ready to use)
- 1 1/2 cups (12 oz, 340ml) lukewarm water
- 5 cups (22 oz, 603 g) All-Purpose Flour, divided
- 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- Combine the starter, water, and 3 cups (12 3/4 ounces, 362g) of the flour. Beat vigorously for 1 minute. (I’ve found that 15 oz of flour works best for me.)
- Cover, and let rest at room temperature for 4 hours. Refrigerate overnight, for about 12 hours. (The longer the mixture sits, the tangier it becomes. You can refrigerate the started dough up to 3 days, although 2 days gives a good amount of flavor.)
- Add the remaining 2 cups (8 1/2 ounces, 241g) flour, sugar, and salt. Knead to form a smooth dough. (Here I add 10 oz of flour.)
- Allow the dough to rise in a (lightly oiled) covered bowl until it’s light and airy, with visible gas bubbles. Depending on the vigor of your starter, this may take up to 5 hours (or even longer), depending on how active your starter is. For best results, gently deflate the dough once an hour by turning it out onto a lightly floured work surface, stretching and folding the edges into the center, and turning it over before returning it to the bowl. Adding these folds will give you a better sense of how the dough is progressing, as well as strengthen it. (I don’t manipulate my dough, but I do let it rise in an oven with the light on…the bulb produces enough heat to create a warm environment, and the dough is usually ready in 4 hours.)
- Gently divide the dough in half. (I divide my dough into quarters to make mini loaves…that size is enough for my husband and I to eat over a couple of days.)
- Gently shape the dough into two (or four) rounds or oval loaves, and place them on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet (or baking stone). Cover with lightly greased plastic wrap and let rise until very puffy, about 2 to 4 hours (or longer; give them sufficient time to become noticeably puffy). Don’t worry if the loaves spread more than they rise; they’ll pick up once they hit the oven’s heat. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F. (I bake at 375°F instead…I find the loaves bake more evenly without the danger of darkening too fast)
- Spray the loaves with lukewarm water.
- Slash the loaves. If you’ve made round loaves, try one slash across the center, and a curved slash on each side of it; or slash in the pattern of your choice. For oval loaves, two diagonal slashes are fine. Make the slashes fairly deep; a serrated bread knife, wielded firmly, works well here.
- Bake the bread for 25 to 30 minutes, until it’s a very deep golden brown. Remove it from the oven, and cool on a rack. (I bake my loaves for 15 minutes, then rotate the pans from one rack to another, then bake for another 15 minutes. With the lower oven temperature, they usually bake for 30-35 minutes total. The loaves never truly get deep golden brown because the yeast eats the sugar in the dough. A pale brown is still tasty!)
- Store bread, loosely wrapped in plastic, for several days at room temperature; freeze for longer storage.
Here are a few more thoughts:
- The amount of flour and water you need to make a smooth, slightly sticky dough will vary based on your local weather conditions that day. Boston (where I’m based) is generally humid, so I need more flour to make my dough feel right. You’ll need to experiment to find what works best for you.
- If you’re counting the timeline, you’ll notice that it takes about 1 ½ days to make the bread from start to finish. Just make sure you give yourself ample time to let the dough rest and rise.
- This bread takes some practice to get right. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t rise at first…that door needed to be propped open somehow.
Like with most cooking, the amount of work that goes into a dish is so much more involved than eating it. Can you imagine having to bake bread every day for all those Highlanders? No wonder Mrs. Fitz had so many helpers, just to keep up!
Please feel free to contact me below with any questions or comments.
Do you have any specific dishes you’ve seen on the show (or read in the books) that you’d like me to research? I’m open to suggestions. I’d also welcome any Outlander-related recipes you’d like to share that I can make.
This can be a team effort…Go Clan!