This past summer, I brought back some sourdough starter from a trip to San Francisco. It sat around for a few months until I had some time over the holidays to see what I could do with it. I've been experimenting with different recipes since Christmas. There is a rich body of literature out there about how to do sourdough, but what I like best about what I've learned so far is that, as I'd suspected, making bread can be less about science and formulas, and more about art.
This is the most simple recipe I've found for sourdough, and the cinnamon-raisin bread that I made pictured here is the best loaf I've made so far. I'll keep practicing, though, and someday I'll make "the perfect loaf."
Basic White Sourdough Bread
1 cup sourdough starter (at room temperature)
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup oil (I use olive oil)
6 cups bread flour
1 tsp yeast
1/4 cup of warm water
2 tbsp whole wheat flour or oat bran
1 tsp honey
Mix sugar, oil, salt, water, and 1 cup of sourdough starter together in a large bowl. Sift the flour and add to the mixture. Grease or oil the dough. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise overnight.
The next day, stir the 2 tbsp of flour or bran and 1 tsp of honey into warm water and sprinkle with 1 tsp of yeast. Let this mixture sit for about 10 minutes. While you are waiting, grease & dust two bread pans with either oat bran, semolina, or corn meal. When the yeast mixture starts to look a little frothy or bubbly, pour the mixture into the bread dough and knead for 10 minutes. Allow the dough to double in size. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 40 to 45 minutes, or until bread is golden brown and taps hollow. Turn out to cool on wire racks.
To adapt to a cinnamon-raisin bread, make a mixture of cinnamon-sugar by mixing 2 tbsp sugar with healthy dashes of cinnamon. Add 1 cup of raisins right before you knead the bread. Divide the bread in half, and roll out each half into a long, narrow rectangle. Sprinkle a mixture of sugar and cinnamon over the rectangle and then roll up into a compact shape to place into your bread pans. Bake as directed above.