Sourdough Bread

MAKES: 3 or 4 baguettes, 1 boule, or 12 to 16 rolls

TIME: At least 48 hours the first time, roughly 24 hours thereafter, largely unattended

Some bakers make ultra-sour sourdough bread without any yeast, but I prefer this method, which uses a bit of yeast each time; it’s faster, I think it’s got more complex flavor, it’s easier, and it’s not too sour for me. I’m including rye flour in the recipe because that’s my favorite way to go, but you can use all white flour or mix in whole wheat instead of or in addition to rye. (As usual, you can do pretty much whatever you want with this dough)

Note that the first time you make this will take longer, because you have to create a sourdough starter (unless someone gives you one). After that it’s a pretty straightforward, simple process. The starter must, however, be used every couple of weeks or so or it will die (I’ve left mine for a month and it ended up okay, but I felt this was risky). You can simply feed the starter some flour and water, but every time you make bread you’re replenishing it, so as long as you make bread every now and then it will be fine.

41/2 cups bread or all-purpose flour, plus more as needed

5/8 teaspoon instant yeast

2 teaspoons salt

1 cup rye flour

At least 2 days before you plan to bake the bread (3 days is better), mix together 11/2 cups of the bread flour, 1/8 teaspoon of the yeast, and 1 cup warm water. Stir with a wooden spoon, cover loosely, and place on top of your refrigerator or in some other out-of-the-way place. Stir every 8 to 12 hours; the mixture will become bubbly and eventually develop a slightly sour smell. If your kitchen is very warm, this may happen in 24 hours; usually it takes a couple of days. When it’s done, you’ve made sourdough starter!

This is how you’ll make the bread; begin at this step every time from now on: The night before you’re ready to bake, combine the starter with 2 cups of the remaining bread flour and about 11/2 cups of warm water. You can do this in a food processor or a bowl; process or mix until smooth. Cover and let rest overnight; the mixture will bubble and foam a bit. (You can cut this process to 6 hours or so if you like.)

Transfer half the starter to a covered container and refrigerate until the next time you’re going to make bread. What’s left is the basis for your bread; put it in the food processor with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon yeast, the salt, the rye flour, and the remaining cup of bread flour and turn the machine on. Add water (you may not need much, because the starter should be quite wet) a little at a time until a moist but well-defined ball forms. If the dough begins sticking to the side of the bowl, you’ve added too much water; add 1/4 cup or so of flour and keep going. If the dough is too dry, add water 1 tablespoon at a time and process for 5 or 10 seconds after each addition. If too wet, add another tablespoon or two of flour and process briefly.

From this point on, you’re making bread as you would normally: Dump the lump of dough into a large bowl or simply remove the blade from the processor bowl and leave the dough in there. Either way, cover with a plastic bag or plastic wrap and let sit for at least an hour at room temperature.

Use a small strainer or your fingers to dust a little flour onto a counter or tabletop. Shape the dough as you like, into small loaves, one big one, baguettes, or rolls (see the illustrations on Shaping Boules), sprinkling with flour as necessary but keeping the flour to a minimum. Preheat the oven (see Shaping Baguettes) to 400В°F while you let the breads or rolls rest, covered with a towel.

When you’re ready to bake, slash the top of each loaf once or twice with a razor blade or sharp knife (see Shaping Boules). If the dough has risen on a cloth, slide or turn it onto floured baking sheets or gently move it onto a lightly floured peel, plank of wood, or flexible cutting board, then slide the bread directly onto a baking stone. Or you can bake on lightly oiled baking sheets. Turn the heat down to 375В°F.

Bake until the crust is golden brown and the internal temperature of the bread is at least 210В°F (it can be lower if you plan to reheat the bread later). Remove, spray with a bit of water if you would like a shinier crust, and cool on a wire rack.