Baking sourdough bread is easy if you can master two very basic steps; making your own sourdough starter and baking in a Dutch oven. With a little practice-the smell of freshly baked bread will waft through every room in your house.
Sourdough starter basics
Ingredients: 1 package of active-dry yeast, 2 cups warm water (105-115), 2 cups all-purpose flour, pinch of sugar or honey, pinch of salt.
In a medium bowl, combine the warm water and yeast, pinch of sugar and pinch of salt. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes. If your yeast bubbles up, then you know its working. If after 10 minutes, the yeast does not bubble, toss this out and start this step over. Once the yeast is bubbling, add the flour and stir. Place the bowl in a warm place covered with a clean tea towel or flour sack towel if you have one, let it set over night. The next day, sterilize two pint jars and lids. Fill each of the sterilized jars with ½ cup of starter. Set the lids on top of the jars without tightening it (to allow for expansion) and store these two jars in the refrigerator to use in the future. Use the remaining starter in the bowl to bake your sourdough bread today.
Baking one loaf of sourdough bread in a Dutch oven
In a large wooden mixing bowl or stand up mixer, combine 1 ½ cups warm water and 1 package of yeast, pinch of sugar and pinch of salt. Wait 10 minutes for the yeast to activate (as in the step above), once it bubbles, combine 1 cup sourdough starter, 1 Tbsp sugar or honey, 1 ½ tsp. salt and 4 cups of flour. Mix well, if the dough is wet, add more flour ¼ cup increments until a ball starts to form.
On a well floured surface, knead the dough with your hands for 5 to 10 minutes. If your mixer has a dough attachment, you can use that also. You want to knead the dough until it is well combined and smooth. With your hands bring the dough from the front to the underside of the ball and tuck it to form a nice ball. Set the dough aside for a minute.
Prepare your Dutch oven. Lightly oil all four sides including the lid. Sprinkle (dust with tiny amount) of corn meal in the bottom of the Dutch oven. This prevents the bread from sticking and adds to the appearance and crust of the bread later. Place the ball of dough into the Dutch oven and cover with a damp cloth. Place in a warm area to rise for about 2 hours. It should double in size before you bake it. The next step is preference-If you like dense bread skip it. Punch down the loaf, remove the dough from the Dutch oven and reform it into a ball again. Repeat the process above by covering with a towel and wait for the dough to rise again, about 1 hour this time.
Preheat the oven to 400, with a sharp serrated knife, make three cuts in the top of the loaf, you can dust with a little corn meal if you like, place the lid onto the Dutch oven and bake for 30 minutes. To check to see if your bread is ready, remove the lid and tap the top of the loaf. It should sound hollow (you can check with a thermometer as well for internal temp of 180-200). Once baked, remove the Dutch oven from your oven carefully it will be hot, remove the loaf of bread and allow to cool before cutting.
This recipe makes one large round bread loaf, if you are using smaller Dutch ovens, cut the recipe in half to make smaller loaves.