Crusty Sourdough Bread
Making the sourdough starter is a 3-day or longer process. The results are worth it, however: warm homemade sourdough bread, fresh from the oven.
For the sourdough starter:
- 1 cup organic grapes
- 2 cups plus heaping 1/4 cup unbleached bread flour, plus more as needed
- Warm water (105°F), as needed
- 1 cup bubbly sourdough starter
- 1 cup warm water (105°F)
- 4 cups unbleached bread flour, or as needed
- 2 tsp. kosher salt
- Olive oil for bowl
- Cornmeal or semolina flour for pan
- 3 cups hot water
To make the sourdough starter, on day 1, place the grapes in a bowl and crush lightly with your hands. Put 1 cup of the flour in another bowl and whisk in 1 cup warm water to make a smooth paste. Add the grapes and stir. Put the bowl, uncovered, in a warm place (about 80°F).
On day 2, you should see bubbles in the starter and it should have a pleasant smell. If your kitchen is cold, put the bowl in a warm-water bath, or fire up your oven and leave the starter close by. Feed the starter with 1/4 cup warm water and the heaping 1/4 cup flour. Stir until you have a smooth paste with grape bumps.
On day 3, you should see a foamy sponge under an air-dried crust. (If not, your kitchen might be too cold, so try warming the starter and let it sit 2 to 3 more days.) Peel off and discard the crust. Whisk 1 cup warm water into the starter, then strain through a sieve into a bowl and whisk in the remaining 1 cup flour to form a thick paste. Divide the starter between two 1-quart canning jars, cover the jars with cheesecloth and secure each with metal-ring bands. Put them back in the warm spot. If the starter triples in size within 4 to 6 hours, it is strong enough to make your bread rise. If it doesn’t, feed it each day for the next few days with 1/4 cup each warm water and flour. If the jars get too full from feeding, discard some of the starter. When the starter is strong enough, remove 1 cup to make bread.
To store the remaining starter, cover the jars, secure each lid in place with the metal band, use a hammer and clean nail to make a hole in each lid, and store in the refrigerator. Feed each starter jar once a week with 1/4 cup each warm water and flour. If the jars get too full, give some starter to a friend or discard.
To make the sourdough bread, in a large bowl, whisk together the 1 cup sourdough starter and the 1 cup warm water. Stir in 2 cups of the flour until a smooth paste forms. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, place in a warm corner, and let rise until tripled in size and very bubbly. This will take 4 to 8 hours.
Add the salt and 1 cup of the flour to the sponge and stir with a wooden spoon. When it becomes too difficult to stir, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until the dough is uniform, about 2 minutes. Gradually knead in more flour until the dough is smooth, 5 to 10 minutes; you may not need all of the flour. Shape the dough into a ball, place in a lightly oiled bowl, turn the ball to coat with the oil, cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in a warm corner to rise until doubled, 4 to 6 hours.
Punch down the dough, roll it into a ball and flatten it slightly into a round loaf. Pinch the seams on the bottom together tightly. Line a bowl with a dish towel, sprinkle the towel with flour (to prevent sticking) and place the loaf, seam side up, in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 2 hours.
Position 1 rack in the center and 1 rack in the lower third of an oven. Place a shallow baking pan with a 3-cup capacity on the lower rack and preheat the oven to 425°F. Dust a rimmed baking sheet with cornmeal.
Quickly and gently, flip the loaf upside down onto the prepared baking sheet. Carefully pour the 3 cups hot water into the pan in the oven and quickly shut the door. Using a very sharp knife, make 3 slashes, each 1/4 inch deep, across the top of the loaf, and without delay, place the baking sheet on the center rack in the oven.
Bake for 15 minutes, using a mister to quickly spray the side walls of the oven with water every 5 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F, rotate the baking sheet front to back and continue to bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf registers 210°F. Let cool 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack and let cool slightly before slicing. Makes 1 large loaf.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Family Meals, by Maria Helm Sinskey (Oxmoor House, 2008).