I’m just going to warn you, sourdough bread is not for the impatient. It takes longer for wild yeast to raise dough than commercial yeast, so there’s quite a lot of rising time here. It’s worth it, though. This bread is delicious–perfect toasted, as a sandwich, or just on its own. Try not to dig into it right away (if you can!); the flavor develops as the bread cools, so it’s actually more delicious later on.
5oz/150g sourdough starter
1.1 lb/500g strong white flour
1/2 T fine table salt
Cornmeal or semolina for dusting
In a large bowl, mix the flour, starter, and 10 fluid oz/300 ml water, stirring just enough to make a sticky dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 20 min.
Mix the salt with 3T water and add to the dough. Cover again and leave for an hour.
Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Shape it into a square, then stretch out one side (being careful not to tear the dough) and fold it over into the middle. Repeat the stretching and folding with the other three sides. At this point, the dough will be pretty sticky. Resist the urge to use too much flour–just use enough to keep it from totally sticking to your work surface and hands. Return the dough to the bowl, cover, and leave for an hour.
Repeat the stretching and folding and return to the bowl for another hour.
Stretch and fold once more. You should notice bubbles forming in the dough. Form it into a round loaf by cupping it between your hands and rotating it, tucking the edges underneath until it forms a smooth ball.
Line a colander or basket with a clean dishcloth and dust it with flour. Gently place the loaf in the basket, top side down. Sprinkle the bottom of the loaf with cornmeal or semolina, cover, and let rise for about 2 hours, until a little less than doubled in size. At this point, you can stash your loaf in the fridge if you want to bake the following day.
When you’re ready to bake, bring the dough to room temperature (if you’ve had it in the fridge) while you preheat the oven to 230 degrees C/445 F. Let the oven preheat for at least half an hour, or 20 minutes after the “ready” light goes off, to ensure the inside of the oven is good and hot. For a really good, crisp crust, put a baking sheet or cake tin at the bottom of the oven or on the lowest rack while the oven’s warming up.
Gently tip the loaf onto a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal. Slash a # or other decoration in the top of the loaf so the steam has somewhere to escape through (otherwise you may have steam blowing out the sides of your loaf, which doesn’t look pretty). Place the loaf in the oven, and toss a few ice cubes onto the baking sheet on the bottom of the oven to create steam. Close the oven door and resist the temptation to open it and check your bread. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the bread is golden and sounds hollow when it’s tapped on the bottom. Cool on a wire rack and enjoy!