Baking homemade sourdough bread sounds like an endeavour as byzantine and arduous as compiling the Oxford English Dictionary. But it doesn’t have to be! Nothing could be more basic and straightforward than this nourishing, folksy, crusty-chewy-tangy fare, right? Following exacting and impenetrable instructions using ingredients that no one ever heard of is anathema to making low-maintenance, good ol’ fashioned sourdough bread with your own starter. Comprised of nothing more than flour, water and just a dash of salt, what could be easier? Only your sourdough starter knows for sure! Whether you’re a bright-eyed beginner or a cynical, timeworn wine mom, follow these steps and you’ll be breaking bread, and probably other things, in who-knows-how-much time!
To make the starter
Using only freshly milled, whole grain, organic, gluten-free wheat flour or a regular, bleached, evil flour/organic flour blend, stir together appropriate amount of flour and water until the consistency is at just the right degree between whipping cream and bacon. Your particular recipe will tell you which flour not to use. You will not have the one they call for.
Wait 2 to 44 hours, emptying half the starter no more than every 1.117 days and no less than every 2.012 days, and feed with more flour or water depending on which your broken intuition tells you is needed.
My mommy is a heartless harpy: The deep thoughts of a demon babyStarter will begin to ferment anytime between 2 and 131 days. Once at least 3 bubbles per square centimetre begin to percolate, you can declare it alive and prepare yourself for the disappointment it is plotting to wage against you. Live sourdough starter is a sentient being and not unlike a petulant child in its capriciousness and capacity to make alcohol appear. If a layer of amber-coloured “hooch” should form, the starter is complaining of hunger and neglect and must be fed more frequently—expect to be punished for this oversight. It is now the boss of you and your job is to know its every whim before it does.
*Optional: If you have come to your senses at this point and aren’t prepared to bake an entire loaf of bread, you can put the starter in the fridge and go on holiday. It will probably still outlive you anyway.
To make the bread
If you’ve resolved to see this through, add more flour and water and just the right amount of salt to make dough. Add until dough reaches somewhere between the consistency of unicorn dung to the tactile resistance of a squid brain roasted to medium-rare. Recipes vary and will not align with your current level of skill or knowledge.
Let the dough rest for 30 min to several hours—we can’t tell you how long because it depends. You’ll just know when it’s had enough rest by gauging the notion that if it had arms, it would stretch contentedly.
When it’s relaxed and well-rested, knead and form into a ball to rise in a warm, well-ventilated area covered with a loose well-fitting lid, cheesecloth or dishcloth, or tightly encased in plastic wrap. Dough is ready when, if you touch it, it springs back fully in precisely 7 nanoseconds—please use a kitchen timer with the nano-setting. Any less and the dough will collapse and you must re-rise. More than that and you will be baking a beach stone.
Punch it the hell down, form again and let rise again anywhere from an hour to three days-ish. Remember the bread is in charge and you’ll have to react quickly and do its bidding, so have a doctor’s note prepared in case you have to call in sick.
Heat an Italian (not French—good god, are you an animal?) ceramic, non-reactive, Red Seal approved, uncoated, cold-pressed extra-virgin EVO-seasoned, 3-quart bread cloche at an unspecified temperature for 10 minutes. Place dough in cloche and bake until bread is almost touching the lid. Note that the cloche is not transparent but if you lift the lid too soon, the bread will deflate instantly and dramatically. However, if it touches the lid, it’s over kid.
Take lid off and bake until crust achieves a consistently variegated, sun-dappled, holy-grail caramel #3 brown. If you don’t reach this shade, the bread will be raw in the centre. Do not let it reach caramel #4 or it will have Rockwell Hardness Scale equivalent to Tungsten and be unpalatable.
If loaf isn’t permanently bonded to the pan, remove and tap the bottom to ensure the resonance frequency is at an equivalent to that of a 12-inch Chinese opera gong, or 25 Hz, preferably both. Any deviation will render the taste decidedly “off.”
Step 10 (optional)
If it is stuck, use a hand saw to separate the lid from the pan, scoop out centre of loaf, fill with stew and insist that it’s a “bread bowl.” The liquid in the stew will serve to make the bread sodden enough to scrape into the compost easily.