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Sourdough Bread

1/4 teaspoon Lalvain du Jour-4 French sourdough starter (see note)
2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 cup warm water

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix the starter and flour together. Mix in the water. Stir for several minutes to activate the gluten. Cover and set aside in a warm (70 to 90 degrees) place for 18 to 20 hours. The sponge should have expanded by about one-third (or more) and developed bubbles and a pleasing aroma. You may do this step up to 7 days ahead, then refrigerate until ready to use the sponge.

Note: Source for sourdough starter and flour -- King Arthur's baker's catalog, 800-827-6836, or www.kingarthurflour.com.

All of the sponge (from above)
3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
3/4 cup warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

Add the water to the sponge along with the salt and yeast. Mix well. Add enough of the flour to make a shaggy mass, but be careful not to add too much. The dough should feel slightly tacky and firm, but soft enough to relax. Let the mixture sit, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface. When the dough is kneaded enough, about 8 to 10 minutes, it will feel firm, slightly sticky and elastic. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover, and set in a warm place (though not above 90 degrees). Don't try to rush the dough by raising it at a temperature above 90 degrees. The best bread rises slowly, so give the dough time. In 2 to 3 hours, the dough should have almost doubled.

the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface. Gently deflate it, and fold it over a few times to redistribute the yeast and oxygen. Divide the dough in half, and form each half into a round. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes or so, covered. Then form the pieces into whatever shapes you prefer -- round, oval or baguette. Raising your loaves in a couche, banneton or linen cloth will help them achieve a thick, chewy crust. If you don't have any of these -- and I didn't -- use a linen (or other smooth -- not terry -- cloth) dish towel to line a round bowl. Heavily flour the forms you're using, place the shaped loaves in them, seam side up, and cover. Let the loaves rise for 2 or more hours; the dough should have almost doubled.

oven to 475 degrees for 30 minutes. Turn the loaves out onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Slash the loaves about 1/4 inch deep several times using a sharp knife. Just before placing the loaves in the oven, spritz them several times with cold water. Put the loaves into the oven, spritz with water after 30 seconds, and again at 1 minute and 2 minutes. Turn the oven temperature down to 450 degrees and bake for 18 to 25 minutes. Be sure the bread is baked through and the crust is well-browned. The bread should feel firm and sound hollow when tapped. Much of the flavor is concentrated in a deep brown crust, so don't be afraid to bake it until it's good and dark.

Remove the bread from the oven. Now tilt your head close and listen: As the bread cools, you should hear it crackle. This is the sound of a good loaf. It's hard not to tear off a piece right away, but the bread is still baking and developing flavor as it cools. It really will taste better after a few hours of cooling.

Makes 2 loaves.

King Arthur Flour

Sunday, January 14, 2001

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