This bread is amazing… and so easy to make. It just takes a bit of preparation beforehand. You’ll need to make sourdough bread starter first.
On day seven, feed your starter as usual. I’ve found that a 5 lb. bag of rye flour is enough to make two batches of starter. It takes a lot of flour to make the starter. Your starter should have gone through the bubbly, frothy stage. If not, try making it again from scratch, and be sure you feed it at the same time everyday and store it in a warm, open place.
Now, it’s a messy job when you’re dividing the starter. I used my one quart measuring bowl which has a pour spout to transfer it to jars.
Save one quart of the starter to start a new batch of starter, and use the remaining 2 quarts to make your bread. This recipe makes 3 large loaves that will keep for up to a week without refrigeration. If you don’t need that much bread at one time, or if you don’t have a HUMONGOUS dough bowl to mix it in, I would suggest using 1 quart of starter and halving this recipe (Half = 6 1/2 cups flour, 1 1/4 TBSP salt, 1/2 cup water, 1 quart starter).
I store my starter in the refrigerator in recycled glass jars. You could also freeze it, but be sure to leave plenty of head space in your jar. You also don’t want your starter to come in contact with metal.
Now, to make the bread, I use freshly milled spelt. You could also use whole wheat or kamut, but spelt gives the best loaf. It seems to rise better and make a slightly lighter loaf than whole wheat.
Add 1 cup of water and 2 1/2 TBSP salt to starter and stir until salt crystals dissolve. Slowly begin adding 13 cups of flour, stirring with a wooden spoon. Towards the end, it will be easier to mix with your hands. After all of the flour is incorporated, you may need to add an additional 1/2 cup of water if your dough is too thick. The dough should be soft, sticky, and pretty easy to knead.
Knead the flour right in your bowl, for about 15 minutes. This dough is stickier than most doughs I’ve kneaded, so don’t be alarmed. If you’re new to bread making and need a kneading tutorial, here's a good one with pictures. Just know that this dough will not be as smooth as the one pictured because they’re using white flour.
Do not punch the dough down. Gently pinch apart and shape into 3 loaves, or 5-6 smaller loaves. Cut slits in the top, cover with a dish towel, and let rise for 4-12 hours (it depends on how warm your house is.) You may bake in loaf pans or on a large sheet pan.
Man, oh man, was that a lot of dough!
I will probably do half as much next time.
I turned my oven on for 5 minutes, turned it off, and allowed my dough to rise (covered with a towel) inside my closed oven for 4 hours. When your dough has doubled in size, cook it at 350 degrees for 1 hour. If you like, rub butter over the top of the hot loaves after cooking.
I wish you were here to smell and taste this sourdough bread! Quite honestly, it is the very best bread I’ve ever tasted. And I’ve made many, many loaves of bread. It’s heavier than traditional sandwich bread, but has a wonderful heartiness and pleasantly sour taste. I’m serving it up tonight with a bowl of homemade chili. Yum!