This is a great tasting bread made with “wild” yeast. There is no commercial yeast added. It is not hard to keep the sourdough starter alive, and you only need to store a small amount of starter in between baking sessions. There are several steps, and lots of resting and rising time, but the times are flexible and most of it is unattended. It is not difficult to get into a routine of making sourdough. Adapted by Alex Chambers and Kayte Young, from various sources. Makes 2 loaves, or one large one.
Step one: Make the Starter
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon of sourdough starter (see below*)
Mix these three together and let it sit out for 3-6 hours**.
Step two: Make the Leaven
1 cup flour
½ cup water
The Starter that you mixed and let sit for 3-6 hours
Mix these together and let it sit for another 3-6 hours*.
Step three: Save Starter for next time.
Take out 1 tablespoon of this mixture and put it in the fridge as a Starter for next time.
Step four: Make the Dough
6 cups flour (I use mostly whole wheat, ideally a finer grind than stoneground. I recommend experimenting with various proportions of whole wheat, white, rye, and anything else you think of.)
2½ teaspoons salt
2-3 cups water
The Leaven that you mixed and let sit out for 4-8 hours.
Mix the dry flour and salt. Add some of the water to the leaven and mix it, adding more of the water, until it becomes soupy. (Sometimes this requires squeezing it through your fingers, since the developed gluten has trouble absorbing water.) Mix the soupy leaven and the rest of the water into the dry ingredients. Add enough water to mix it all into a “shaggy mass” – a pretty wet dough.
Let it sit for 4-8 hours, until it has visibly grown and become airy and tender to the touch.*
Step five: Shaping and Proofing
Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 30-45 minutes. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
Step six: Bake using one of the two methods below:
Covered Pot (if you have a pot that will work, this method gives the bread great oven spring and a wonderfully crunchy crust)
At least a half-hour before dough is finished proofing, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Steamy Oven (if you don’t have a pot to use, or want to bake more than one loaf at a time, use this method)
Preheat the oven to 525 (or as hot as your oven goes), and pour 1 cup hot water onto a tray underneath the baking tray right after putting the loaves in the oven. After about 3 minutes I turn the temperature down to 450 and bake about 30-40 minutes, until the loaves are golden-brown and give a good hollow thump when I tap the bottom.
If you don’t trust your thumb and ears to determine when the thump is good and hollow, you can check the loaf’s doneness with a kitchen probe thermometer/meat thermometer. For a lean loaf like this one, the temperature in the center should be about 195-205°.
*Getting Wild Yeast Growing: You can often find someone with a starter already established, to share some with you. If not, it is simple to start your own, it just takes a bit of time. Here are instructions from Michael Pollan: making a starter: In a small glass or plastic container (a clear container allows you to watch microbial activity), mix 50 grams each of the whole grain and all-purpose flours until combined (if you aren’t using a scale, use ½ cup). . Add the water an stir until the consistency of a smooth batter. Leave the mixture open to the air, stirring vigorously for about 30 seconds at least once a day or whenever you think of it. If the mixture dries out, add a bit of warm water to bring it back to the consistency of a batter. The wild yeast and bacteria in teh air, on the flour and on your hands will eventually start to eat the sugars, in the flour and ferment.
As soon as you observe signs of microbial activity (lumps on the top, bubbles within the batter, or the smell of beer or yeast of ripe fruit)—which can take as long as a week—feed the starter daily: Discard approximately 80 percent of it and replace with fresh flour and water in equal amounts (about 50 grams of whole wheat flour, 50 grams (about ½ cup) of white flour and 100 grams (about 1 cup) warm water). Stir until smooth. Once it has become active again (bubbling), keep the starter covered at a warm room temperature. If you won’t be baking for a while, you can refrigerate or freeze your starter (see below).
Care and feeding of your starter: If you want to keep a starter longer than a couple weeks without feeding it, mix in some flour to make a stiffer dough, and freeze it; after you thaw it, add water and flour, to feed it and make it wetter. Better yet, find a friend who’d like to share it, and get some of their starter when you run out (or accidentally bake it all!).
**depending on the temperature of the room. Note that any of these steps can be slowed down further by refrigerating