It’s just bread, man

It’s just bread, man

It was a little over a year ago when I got my little baggie of dormant crumbs after some weeks of researching which crumbs to buy. The crumbs were cheap enough, less than $8 all the way from the west coast.

They were crumbly and off-white and came with a small sheet of cheerfully written directions: Add water and some flour and leave it in a fairly warm spot for a day, then repeat. After a week or so of this daily ritual of pouring off some of the liquid and replacing it with more water and flour, I had turned my crumbles into sourdough starter and was off to the bread-baking races.

During my research I got plenty of advice from other bakers, including some admonishments from someone who was at the time enrolled in a school to learn to be a professional baker.

She was constantly quizzing me from her home halfway across the country about hydration levels and protein levels and oven spring and steam, all of which I tuned right out. She also insisted on using nothing but unsalted butter, which may be a real thing, but even the Hubble telescope could not locate my level of interest in fussing over such things.

A recipe that needs a full semester of science homework before striking off gathering ingredients sucks the fun out of the process and, truth be told, of life. One lecture she delivered casually got me thinking for a few seconds though: “You should get a starter from someone near you. If you get something from anywhere else, the water in your area will alter it, and it won’t be the same.”

Sourdough starter is traded and shipped across the globe every day, as it has been since their was mail service, and I doubt anyone has given a second thought to water changing it except my now estranged friend. It’s just bread, man.

This is the same person who kept talking me out of buying a Danish dough whisk, and when I finally did, it was a game changer, the most useful tool in my kitchen. You need a Danish dough whisk; you do not need to worry about using the wrong water in your starter unless it’s coming raw out of the Ganges River, which would give your bread an amazing rise before the cholera killed you.

A year later I’m back where I was about eight years ago when I first went down the sourdough bread road. Because I never put it into the fridge like a smart guy, I’m stuck feeding it at least a couple of times a week, pouring what seems like hundreds of dollars down the drain in wasted flour every time. That jar owns me.

After reading through several books on baking this kind of bread, I never really found a recipe my family liked until recently when I ran across one from King Arthur flour, which actually specifies using a rather tired and hungry starter, or the saved pour off from the last feeding. It also uses no rye flour, only white bread flour and a little whole wheat. This bread is quite tangy, and it rose beautifully in the oven.


Makes 2 round loaves

7 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

3 1/2 cups tepid water

1 tablespoon salt

4 tablespoons sourdough starter

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix until a shaggy mass forms and the flour is hydrated. Let rest for 15 minutes at room temperature.

Fold the dough by lifting one side and folding it over and pressing it into the center, repeating this for all 4 sides, and let the dough rest 15 minutes. Repeat this twice more, folding and resting. You’ll feel it get smoother and tighten up. Cover the dough tightly — I use a plastic storage box with lid from the Dollar store — and leave out on the counter for 12 hours. It will slowly double in bulk.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide in 2. Flour 2 dough-rising baskets, then form the dough into 2 tight rounds. Place each seam side up into the baskets, cover with plastic wrap or a shower cap, and put them into the fridge for another 8-10 hours.

At baking time, place 2 cast iron Dutch ovens with lids in the oven and preheat all to 500 F. Let the oven get uniformly hot, at least a half hour. Pull out the Dutch ovens and turn the loaves out onto a square of parchment paper. Score the tops and lower them carefully into the ovens. Cover with lids and put them into the oven, lowering the temperature to 450 F. Bake 20 minutes, then remove the lids and bake 20 minutes more. Remove and cool on a rack.

Loading next article...

End of content

No more pages to load