It all started innocently enough on a summer's evening in July. My neighbor Hazel knocked on our back door just as I was taking a short break from our Sunday night family movie ritual. She thrust a plastic container on me, and said "Here's some sourdough starter. It's from the 17th century. Don't use bleached flour. You just add three cups of flour to it at night, then in the morning put one cup back in the fridge, add 2 cups of water, and__"
"Wait!," I said, "Let me get a pen!"
I hastily scrawled her recipe somewhere, the proverbial back of the envelope, and made the bread the next day. It was delicious. It is great for sandwiches and makes wonderful toast. And no crumbs! I've made it many times since, although more on the weekends now than on school days, when the bread machine is more convenient.
Hazel did not encumber her recipe with any extra verbiage, so I've added some basic instructions. I also added a little more salt. Here you go. If you live near me and want some starter, give me a holler. I can make some for ya.
Good Neighbor Sourdough Bread
The night before:
1 cup sourdough starter
3 cups nonbleached flour (I get 10-lb. bags of King Arthur's from our local warehouse store)
Before you go to bed, mix starter and flour in a large bowl. Put a damp dish towel, wax paper, or plastic wrap over the top. Set out on your counter.
In the morning, take out one cup of this bubbly sponge and save in the refrigerator; it will last three weeks, according to Hazel.
To the sponge, add:
3 more cups of flour (I've used up to 100% whole wheat)
2 cups water
2 tablespoons sugar (honey also works)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Mix it together with a large wooden spoon. When it's a big blob of dough, turn onto lightly floured surface. Knead for ten minutes.
Turn dough into lightly oiled large bowl, covered. Let rise for a while (1 1/2 hrs. or 2 hrs., depending on your time frame) until it has doubled in size or until you're tired of waiting for it. Punch down.
Punch down again after it's risen again, and put in one large loaf pan or two small ones. Let it rise enough that it crests a little over the top of the pan, and bake in a 375 degree oven for 40 minutes. (I use convection at 350.)
The more whole wheat flour you use, the more dense the bread will be
To share starter, just add the flour the night before, just like you're going to make bread, and then just split up the sponge the next morning in one-cup portions to plastic containers or bags. Be sure to also distribute the recipe! And do save a cup for yourself.
Welcome to the sourdough lifestyle. May the Sponge be with you.