Steve's standard loaf
- 4c flour (these days I use 2.5c whole wheat and 1.5c white bread flour, but any combo of flours will do. Whole wheat = more fibre, less rise. White flour = more protein, more rise. Notes on rye flour below.)
- 2t salt
- 2C water
Combine the flours and salt. Stir in the water. Then add about 2/3 - 3/4 of the starter and stir.
How much starter (and water, really) you add depends mostly on texture. You want the consistency to be "shaggy" — not super wet like a batter, but significantly wetter and stickier than traditional bread dough. Folks in more humid places than the prairies might want to use a bit less than 2C of water.
Fermentation: Cover the bowl and let sit. How long depends on the temperature. In the summer, all afternoon can be enough. In the winter if your house is cool, at least overnight but as long as 2 days. You can also put it in the fridge and leave it for 24-48 hours. (If you do the fridge thing, take it out 2-3 hours before the next step.)
Rise: Dump the fermented dough onto a floured counter. A bowl scraper or spatula helps. It should have doubled or more in size, and will be strangely stringy looking as you turn it out. Fold it over itself a few times and shape into a ball. You aren't kneading it, but you also don't have to be gentle. Suddenly it should look a lot more like regular bread dough. Cover the ball (in a bowl covered with cling film / lid, or on a baking sheet covered with the bowl or something — I use a silicone baking sheet and cover with the mixing bowl) and let sit for an hour or so (shorter when warm, longer when cold).
Bake: Put a heavy, covered dutch oven / large oven-friendly pot in the oven and set it to 450 degrees. When the oven is ready, dump the loaf into the pot, cover, and bake at 450 for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for another 20 minutes. (I usually give it a good shake when the lid comes off to make sure the loaf isn't sticking to the pan.) It should be dark brown on top when done, and sound hollow when thumped. Let cool. (Also please be careful: a 450-degree iron pot can be super dangerous.)
No dutch oven? You can bake on a regular baking sheet. Form the dough into a loaf-like shape and cut some slashes across it with a very sharp knife. And put a second baking sheet or something ovenproof in the oven with it. Pour 1C water into that second container when you put the bread in to bake (I used to use two baking sheets on higher and lower shelves — the lower sheet was the water container). The water vapour lets the dough stay moist while rising. (Baking in a closed pot traps the steam released by the dough, which has the same effect).
One classic sourdough recipe that I used to follow uses 1C all-purpose white, 1C bread white, 1C whole wheat, 1C rye. Some folks do 100% rye bread. When you start adding any rye at all, the dough becomes a LOT stickier, and tends to take on more water. It also needs to sit longer to develop texture and get past the sticky stage. If you bake a rye loaf too soon, it will stick to the pot and burn. So you have to be super extra patient when using rye, and more patient the more you use. I'd add a few hours of fermentation time per cup of rye you use, but once it’s ready the rising and baking go like usual.