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No-knead sourdough bread recipe

You've seen those lovely domed sourdough loaves and baguettes in restaurants and bakeries or pictured on television and in magazines. And you've wondered whether you could make a loaf as lovely.

Well, yes, you can. The hardest part might be trying to decide on where to get your starter. After that, it's easy peasy.

If you're an absolute beginner with sourdoughs, the easiest way to get a starter is to get some from a friend. Or mail-order one from a number of reputable places online. Try Sourdoughs International (sourdo.com) or the website Breadtopia (breadtopia.com). I use a starter from Friends of Carl (carlsfriends.net), a group that provides Carl Griffith's 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter for the price of a self-addressed envelope. It's an especially robust starter that rises quickly and can withstand mistreatment. Whatever your decision, the starter you receive will come with instructions for getting it going.

One reason sourdough may intimidate people is because the starter is a living thing that requires food and occasional attention. But keeping a starter is easy, and you're likely to develop affectionate feelings for it. Your starter will probably include instructions on its care, but they are essentially all the same: Once a week, at minimum, remove (and use, discard or share with a friend) half of the starter. Stir into the remainder a cup of all-purpose flour and a cup of water. Let it stand, lightly covered, at room temperature until it's bubbly and smells deliciously yeasty, then refrigerate if you're not planning to use it right away.

Sourdoughs love whole-grain flours, but it's best to keep a separate whole-wheat starter. My starter loves rye flour, which seems to keep the starter's flavor nicely "sour" and gives it especial vigor. Approximately every other time I feed it, I give it rye flour.

Maybe you'll be satisfied with just maintaining one starter and letting it develop into your own house sourdough. But most sourdough fans end up with several starters, and many end by creating their own.

There are lots of approaches to do so. Some people suggest adding fruit with a bloom — grapes, blueberries and the like — but that's not really necessary. And although there's a lot of talk about capturing wild yeast from the air, that's not really what you're doing in starting your own culture. Rather, you're relying on the yeast that naturally resides in the flour that you're using to encourage the starter. If you'd like to try, Breadtopia has excellent instructions.

However you lay hands on your starter, though, let's not forget the reason you wanted to do so in the first place: those lovely domed loaves of entrancingly tart sourdough bread, with their crisp crusts and sturdy crumb. Here is the most foolproof recipe I know to get you started.

Robin Mather is a senior associate editor at Mother Earth News magazine and the author of "The Feast Nearby," a collection of essays and recipes from a year of eating locally on a budget.

No-knead sourdough bread

Prep: 15 minutes

Rise: 13 to 20 hours

Bake: 50 minutes

Makes: 1 loaf, 10 servings

My friend Karen Keb Will developed this recipe for GRIT magazine, and it's reprinted here with permission. It is the easiest sourdough bread I've found, just right for a not-yet-confident sourdough aficionado. If your starter is very lively, as mine is, you may not need to let it rise for 12 hours.

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast

1 3/4 teaspoons salt

2/3 cup sourdough starter

1 1/2 cups water

Coarse cornmeal, for dusting

1. Combine flour, yeast and salt in large mixing bowl; whisk together.

2. Combine sourdough starter and water in a large mixing cup; stir until well combined. Add to flour mixture; mix with rubber spatula until you have a thoroughly mixed, wet, sticky mass of dough.

3. Cover bowl with plastic wrap; let sit at room temperature, 12 to 18 hours.

4. After at least 12 hours have passed, your dough should be dotted with bubbles and more than doubled in size. Dust a wooden cutting board with flour. Scrape dough loose from sides of bowl; turn out dough onto board in one piece. The dough will be loose and sticky, but do not add more flour. Dust top lightly with flour; cover with clean tea towel. Let dough rise an additional 1 to 2 hours.

5. About 30 minutes before second rise is complete, place a 3 1/2-quart cast-iron Dutch oven (oval-shaped gives best results) on a rack positioned in the middle of oven. Heat oven to 450 degrees.

6. Once oven has reached desired temperature, remove Dutch oven; sprinkle about 1 teaspoon coarse cornmeal evenly over bottom.

7. Uncover dough; using two plastic dough scrapers, shape dough into a ball by folding it over onto itself a few times. With scrapers, lift dough carefully; let it fall into heated Dutch oven by slowly separating scrapers. Dust top of dough with coarse cornmeal. Cover; bake, 35 minutes.

8. After 35 minutes, remove cover from Dutch oven; rotate and continue baking, 15 minutes, or until loaf is nicely browned.

9. Remove Dutch oven from oven. With sturdy wooden or metal spatula, pry loaf free; transfer to cooling rack. Allow bread to cool for 1 hour before slicing.

Nutrition information per serving: 183 calories, 0.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 38 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, 408 mg sodium, 1 g fiber

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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