For the past year we have been baking much of our own bread, and always searching for a way to make a better loaf. Slow fermentation, no sugar or oil, letting the dough rest before kneading, starting with a levain the night before, and using a very wet dough have led to great results. Here is my favorite recipe to date, adapted from “Amy’s Bread.”
The night before you want to bake bread, make “Firm Levain” using your sourdough starter:
1/4 cup sourdough starter
1/4 cup cool water
1 cup flour
Knead ingredients for 2 minutes to form a very stiff heavy dough. Let rise at warm room temperature for 8 hours or so. Don’t forget to refresh your starter!
In the morning, make your bread dough:
1/4 cup very warm water
3/4 tsp yeast
1 batch Firm Levain
2 1/2 cups cool water
5 3/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon salt
Mix yeast and warm water, let stand for 3 minutes. Add the Firm Levain and cool water, mix with your fingers for 2-3 minutes. Add the flour and salt and knead for 5 minutes. Let the dough rest (autolyse) for 20 minutes, then finish kneading. Dough will be somewhat wet and difficult to work. A stand mixer might make it easier.
Let it rise for 1 hour at room temperature, then gently deflate by folding inwards. Alternately, after the first rise and before deflating, you can refrigerate the covered dough for up to two days. After deflating, form loaves and let rise for another hour.
Bake loaves at 450deg for 20 minutes, then reduce to 400deg for 10-20 minutes. Should be ready in time for dinner!
*Also makes a great pizza dough. Enough for two large crusts. Bake at 400deg for 18 minutes.
** I also really like to chop up fresh rosemary and mix into the loaves before baking. Delicious!