Sourdough can be confusing stuff, so we turned to Food Network chef Alton Brown for a solid recipe we could be proud of. (By the way, I keep the "proto-dough" in the fridge for years, literally -- it's very difficult to kill.) -- Annie B. Copps
1 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)
3/4 cup Proto-Dough
1/4 cup buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
3-1/3 cups (approx.) bread flour, divided, plus extra for dusting and surfaces
2 teaspoons salt
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 cup water, divided
In a medium-size bowl (or in the bowl of a standing mixer with hook attachment), combine water, Proto-Dough, buttermilk, and yeast. Add 2 cups flour; stir to blend. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm, draft-free area until volume doubles, about 1-1/2 hours.
On slow speed, mix in 1-1/3 cups flour and salt. Increase speed slightly; knead dough 5 minutes, adding more flour by tablespoonfuls if dough sticks to the sides of the bowl. Let dough rest 15 minutes.
Knead on low 5 minutes. Scrape dough from the hook into a bowl. Remove the bowl from the stand. Coat a rubber spatula with nonstick spray; then slide it under and around dough, coating dough lightly. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel. Let dough rise until volume doubles, about 1 hour.
Turn dough out onto a floured surface and fold it over on itself several times to flatten. Divide in half. Shape each half into 4x8-inch rectangle. Make one shallow lengthwise slash down each loaf.
Sprinkle a large rimmed baking sheet with cornmeal. Space loaves on the sheet 3 inches apart. Dust tops with flour. Cover with plastic; let rise in a warm, draft-free area until volume doubles, about 1 hour.
Place a large roasting pan in the bottom of your oven. Position rack at lowest level; heat to 500 degrees. Place bread in the oven. Quickly pour 1/2 cup water into the roasting pan; close the oven door. Bake 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water to the pan. Close the door quickly and reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees.
Bake loaves until puffed and golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
1-2/3 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 500-mg non-chewable vitamin C pill, crushed
2 cups warm water (105-115 degrees)
In a medium-size bowl, combine flour, yeast, sugar, and vitamin C. Place warm water in a large, clean, sealable container. Add dry ingredients; whisk vigorously to combine. Cover container with lid slightly ajar; let stand in warm, draft-free area 24 hours.
After 24 hours, you can use proto-dough in a recipe. Or you can develop the flavor by adding a cup each of warm water and bread flour and letting it stand, uncovered, at room temperature until foamy (about 2 hours). Store it, covered, in the fridge for at least 3 weeks. An alcohol-rich liquid will rise to the surface every few days; just whisk it back in.