2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups sourdough starter, recipe follows
3/4 - 1 teaspoon salt
seasonings to taste (optional, but you should experiment as the bread is a "blank canvas" waiting for a little "color." You might try some fresh pepper, oregano, basil, sun-dried tomatoes, or just a little finely diced garlic.)
Ingredients for the Basic Sourdough Starter:
3 cups warm water (110 degrees F)
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
In an electric mixer with the dough hook, combine the flour, starter and salt, and knead until it no longer sticks to the sides or bottom of the mixing bowl.
Place in a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle lightly with flour and knead gently, removing any large air bubbles. Knead into a small circle, and then shape into a tight ball, pinching the seams together underneath. Place on a well-floured board, seam-side down. Cover with a kitchen towels and let it rest until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat a baking stone, if available, on the bottom rack of an oven at 400 degrees F.
With a sharp, serrated knife cut a large "X" or cross-hatch pattern into the top of the dough.
Spray lightly with a mister and transfer to the baking stone (or place on a heavy baking sheet lightly dusted with cornmeal) and bake until golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom, about 60 minutes.
If you do not use a stone you will need to decrease oven temp about 25 degrees and increase cooking time.
(Sourdough should have a darker crust than other breads, so leave in the oven 5 minutes after you think it is done.)
Remove the loaf from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.
For the Starter:
In a large bowl, combine the water, yeast, and sugar. Let it sit until the yeast becomes foamy, about 5 minutes. (If the yeast does not foam, discard the mixture and begin again with a new yeast.)
Add the flour and stir vigorously to work air into the mixture. Cover with a towel and let it rest in a warm, draft-free place (an oven with its light bulb turned on works well) for 8 to12 hours. (The mixture should become very bubbly.) Use immediately or cover loosely with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.
Preserving the Starter: Each time you remove a portion of the starter for a recipe, reserve at least 1/4 cup and replace the amount you have taken out with equal amounts of flour and water.
For example, if you remove 1 cup of starter, you must replace it with 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of warm water. Whisk these ingredients into the starter until blended but not completely smooth, cover loosely, and return to the refrigerator.
Also, the starter must be maintained by feeding it every few days. Refresh by removing 1 cup of the starter (give to a friend or discard it) and adding 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of warm water. Whisk until blended but not smooth. Cover loosely and return to the refrigerator.