Made from a starter that dates back to the days of the Yukon Gold Rush, author Andrea Chesman’s sourdough bread’s got roots.
I can’t help it; I brag about my sourdough’s DNA all the time. I got my sourdough culture from Jane Eddy, an artist friend in Middlebury, Vermont. She got hers from Cushman Anthony in 1977 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Anthony was a law student. Anthony got his culture from the fellow who lived across the hall, another student. This guy grew up in Alaska, and he got his culture from his dad, who was a fish and game warden, who got it from his secretary, who got it from her grandfather, who was one of the original Yukon Gold Rush “sourdoughs” of 1896.
The sourdough was actually a bit sluggish when I received it from Jane. After several feedings at 12- hour intervals, I gave it a boost with a half teaspoon of Fleischmann’s yeast to get it nice and bubbly. Sourdough cultures need to be fed regularly with equal amounts of flour and water to be kept going. Neglect can be harmful, but not necessarily fatal.
How regularly to feed a sourdough? Generally, at least once every two weeks is the limit for a refrigerated culture, but really, as long as there is no sign of mold, it is fine. Some bakers will say mold can be removed and the culture transferred to a clean jar. As long as the culture hasn’t turned black, it can be revived. I haven’t pushed a culture that far to know whether it is true or not.
Now that’s really something to brag about. I used to be one of those people who claimed I didn’t care for sourdough bread. Then I started making the artisan-type no-knead loaves that baker Jim Lahey developed and food writer Mark Bittman, among others, popularized. I found these breads a little lacking in character until I started making the bread with the sourdough culture for leavening. Now my breads, which take no more than five minutes of mixing and two minutes of shaping, have plenty of flavor and texture.
Basic No-Knead Sourdough Bread
Makes 1 loaf
- 2 cups sourdough starter
- 2 cups white bread flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
- About ⅓ cup water
- Mix the dough. Pour the sourdough starter into a large bowl. Add the flour and salt. Stir until all the flour is moistened and incorporated into the dough, adding up to 1/3 cup water, as needed. The amount of water you will use won’t be the same each time because the sourdough starter will be thinner or thicker depending on ambient temperatures, whether or not you stir in the hooch (I always do), the moisture content of the flour, and other variables. The mixing should take only a minute or so. The dough is finished when all the flour has been incorporated and the dough is a loose, shaggy ball. Cover with plastic wrap; the long rise will result in a dry skin on the dough if you use a towel instead of the plastic wrap.
- Let rise. Set aside to rise for 12 to 18 hours. The dough should increase in size and may develop bubbles on its surface. You can leave it at this stage to let it develop more flavor, or you can bake it.
- Shape the loaf. Place a bowl and a sheet of parchment paper on the counter. Spread a few tablespoons of flour on a work surface. Remove the plastic wrap from the dough and set aside. Using a bowl scraper, turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Make a very rough ball by first folding in one side of the dough, then the other side, then the top, then the bottom. This should take only a minute; don’t handle the dough more than that. If the dough sticks to the work surface, use the bowl scraper to lift it up.
- Proof the dough. The dough will benefit from another short rise. Place the dough on the parchment paper, seam-side down. Lift up the paper and ease it into a bowl. Cover with the plastic wrap and let rise for about 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven and pan. When you are ready to bake, put a cast-iron Dutch oven in the oven and begin preheating to 500F (260C).
- Transfer the dough to the pan. When the oven is preheated, remove the Dutch oven. Remove the plastic wrap from the dough. Lift up the parchment paper that holds the dough and gently ease it into the preheated Dutch oven. With a very sharp knife, score a deep X in the top of the loaf. If you like, spray the dough with water to make the crust crisper. Cover the Dutch oven with the lid.
- Bake. Bake for 30 minutes. Then reduce the oven temperature to 400F (200C) and remove the lid from the Dutch oven. Continue baking for another 20 minutes, until the bread is browned; it should register 190F (88C) on an instant-read thermometer.
- Cool. Turn the bread out of the Dutch oven and let cool completely on a wire rack before slicing. (If you slice the bread while still warm, it will develop a gummy texture.)