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CLASSIC SOURDOUGH BREAD
This recipe and directions are the results of many trials and errors plus many more discussions with folks at King Arthur Flour as well as many members of the Baking Circle. This dough is best mixed and kneaded by stand mixer or by hand, always bearing in mind that "wetter is better" but in this case only to a moderate degree. If you wish to use a food processor, you're on your own! (And no, I've never used a bread machine!) (This is upadated as of 2/4/06)

Yields 2 loaves

SPONGE:
1 cup Sourdough Starter, fed and ready to use *
1 1/2 cups warm bottled spring water (12 oz.)
3 cups unbleached bread flour or all-purpose flour (12.75 oz.)
DOUGH:
2 cups unbleached bread flour or all-purpose flour (8.5 oz.)
1 tablespoon salt (1 oz.) - I use fine sea salt

Cornmeal or semolina for pan
Boiling water for oven **

*FEED STARTER: Remove starter from fridge and stir in accummulated liquids on the top (if the liquid is grayish, it's okay---if pink- or orange-colored, throw it out and forget it!). When starter is mixed, remove and discard approximtely one-half of the mixture. Place the remainder into a medium bowl, add 4 ounces of botted water and mix well. Then add 4 ounces of alpurpose flour. Mix very thoroughly to incorporate all the flour, making sure all the lumps are gone. The mixture should be a little thicker than pancake batter. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature at least 4 hours or up to 8 hours to "feed". (After 4 hours, watch it---if it begins to collapse in on itself, it is ready to use.)

SPONGE: Place 1 cup of the the starter into a large mixing bowl; add the warm water and the 3 cups of flour. Beat vigorously with a large spoon or dough whisk to thoroughly hydrate the flour. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature (at least 72 deg.F.) to begin to come to life and work. The time can be very flexible, but allow at least 2 hours or maximum of 8 hours ( usually proceed after about 2-1/2 hours). Watch after about 5 hours ---if it begins to collapse into itself, it should ge used.
ALTERNATIVE FOR THE SPONGE
- Use room temperature water in the sponge and place the covered sponge in the fridge overnight.
- Take it out in the morning and allow to warm up. Watch it and let it get nice and bubbly before using, (usually about 2-1/2 to 3 hours, depending on the type of bowl used.

DOUGH: When the sponge is ready, combine the 2 cups of flour with the salt. Add the flour/salt mixture to the sponge and mix thoroughly with a dough whisk or large spoon (or 3 minutes on low speed with the dough hook of a stand mixer), making sure all the flour is incorporated and the dough begins to come away from the sides of the bowl. When the dough begins to hold together but is still somehwat of a shaggy mass, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead it for 10-12 minutes (or 3 minutes on medium speed of a stand mixer), adding as little flour as possible, but enough to make a smooth and elastic dough (too much flour will make it too stiff). Cover the dough with a towel and let it rest about 10 minutes. Clean and lightly oil the bowl. Continue kneading another 5-7 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic, a little tacky but not sticky. It should pass the windowpane test.

FERMENTATION: Shape dough into a ball and place into the oiled bowl, turning it over to oil the top. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap to let it rise anywhere from 2 to 2-1/2 hours or until doubled in bulk. Test the dough with 2 fingers poked into the top; if it doesn't bounce back, it's ready to go. If it bounces back, replace the cover and let it finish rising.
ALTERNATE FERMENTATION:
- Place the covered dough in the fridge to rise overnight (maximum 16-18 hours).
- The next day, remove the dough from the fridge and let it sit out about 3 to 3-1/2 hours to warm up and finish rising until doubled.

SHAPING AND PROOFING: Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Using a bench knife or other sharp knife, divide the dough into two equal pieces. Knead each piece gently and shape each piece into a free-form loaf (batard) or a round ball (boule). Line a laarge sheet pan with parchment paper and sprinnkle it with cornmeal or semolina. Place the loaves on prepared pan, cover with a proof box. Alternatively, mist lightly with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the loaves rise for another 1-1/2 to 2 hours.
ALTERNATE PROOFING:
- Place the pan with the loaves into a large food-grade plastic bag and put them into the refrigerator overnight.
- The next day, remove the loaves from the bag allow them come to room temperature and finish proofing until doubled.

BAKING: At least 30-40 minutes before the end of the proofing period, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. Using a lame or a sharp knife, slash the tops of the loaves in any desired pattern. Place the pan with the loaves into the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 450 degrees F. and bake a total of 25-28 minutes, depending on the size of the loaves. After 15 minutes, check if the loaves are browning too quickly; if so, reduce temperature to 425 degrees F. to finish baking. The bread is done when it registers 200-205 degrees F. on an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center. Remove to a wire rack and cool completely.

The crust will be very hard when you remove the bread, but in 5 minutes it will be soft and chewy. To make the crust hard and chewy, turn the oven off and leave the loaves inside for an additional 5 minutes.

* NOTE: If desired, achieve bakery-style steam by preparing the oven at least 45 minutes before baking. Place one oven rack on the lowest possible setting; place an empty sheet pan or cast iron skillet on it. Place a second rack directly above that and place the baking stone on it. Preheat the oven too 500 degrees F. with the empty pan and the stone. Slide the loaves directly onto the hot stone, pour about 1 cup of hot water into the empty pan and quickly close the oven door (it's wise to place akitchen towel over the glass in the oven door). Wait 30 seconds, open the oven door, spritz the oven walls with water and close the oven door. Repeat thhis process two more times, then reduce the temperature to 475 degrees F and bake as described above

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Copyright 2006 Carol Stevens, Shaboom's Kitchen, All Rights Reserved