As mentioned a few weeks ago, I had been using the Carl’s starter mix. Well, I managed to deal it a crippling blow after stirring in milk and started anew. One theory, which is actually kinda scary, is the antibiotics in the milk wiped out my yeastie beasties.

This recipe is a light sourdough from Peter Reinhart’s excellent cookbook The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. The recipe is a paradox in that it takes over a week to make from seed culture to baked goods, yet the ingredient list is very simple: flour, water, salt, and whatever happens to be hanging around in the air around your kitchen. (Oil is used to prevent sticking, but it’s very small quantities.) Once you get the barm done, subsequent breadmaking takes a day, with minimal intervention.

Seed culture (from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice):

  • Day 1 Mix 1 C rye flour and 3/4 C water into a dough ball, enough to hydrate the flour. Place into a large glass or plastic cup and let this sit out on your counter for a day. Reinhart recommends Rye for its earthier start, though as the barm gets refreshed, it will eventually adopt its own characteristics.
  • Day 2 Add 1 C unbleached flour and 1/2 C water. It’ll start to show fermentation and may smell a little nasty. Don’t worry, the nasty smell goes away in a couple of days.
  • Day 3 Discard half of the previous mixture, add in 1 C unbleached flour and 1/2 C water.
  • Day 4 Add 1 C unbleached flour and 1/2 C water. Let sit out until double in volume, about 8-24 hours.
  • The seed culture is used to create the barm, which is what you’ll use going forward.


  • 3 1/2 C unbleached flour, 2 C warm water and 1 C seed culture. Put in a glass or plastic bowl and let ferment at room temperature for another day or two.
  • Barm can be refreshed by adding an equivalent (in weight) of flour and water (e.g., 1 C barm plus 1C flour and 3/4 C water). Barm will keep in the fridge for a while provided it hasn’t overfermented. It’s very easy for this stuff to triple or quadruple volume and spill over the container.

    The Bread:

    Firm starter:
    2/3 C barm
    1 C unbleached flour
    1/8 C water

    1. Take the barm out of the fridge and measure out 2/3 C. Let it warm up to room temperature (about an hour). It’s extremely viscous, so dip the measuring cup in water first and the barm slides right off.
    2. Add the flour to the bowl and mix the barm in, adding only enough water so this congeals into a small ball. Lightly oil the side of the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for about four hours at room temperature.
    3. Put it in the fridge overnight.

    The morning you’re going to cook, take the firm starter out of the fridge and let it warm up to room temperature. It helps if you cut it into chunks and let it sit for an hour.

    Final dough:
    4 to 4 1/2 C unbleached flour (You can use 2 C whole wheat and the remainder unbleached flour)
    1 1/2 C warm water
    2 teaspoons salt

    1. Mix salt and flour in a large bowl. Add the firm starter and water. You can hand knead it about 15 minutes or use a large kitchen mixer. I do a 4 minute low-speed stir in the KitchenAid followed by a 15 minute rest, then another 4 minute stir.
    2. Lightly oil a large bowl. Place the dough ball in the bowl and let ferment at room temperature for about 3 to 4 hours, or until doubled in size.
    3. Gently remove the dough from the bowl, divide it into two equal sized pieces. Shape the dough as you’d like.
    4. Place dough on parchment paper and lightly mist with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and proof for about 2 to 3 hours. My oven has a “warm” setting that works really well for this. If you do, remember to remove the bread while you’re preheating the oven…
    5. Place large pan of water on the bottom rack and preheat the oven to 500°F for about 10 minutes. This will create a nice, steamy environment. Quickly place the bread in the oven and shut the door. Turn the temperature down to 450°F and cook 10 minutes.
    6. Rotate the bread 180° and cook another 8-10 minutes, or until the internal temperature is about 205°F. (Hint: if you thump on the bread and it sounds hollow, it’s done.)
    7. Place the finished loaves on a cooling rack for about 40 minutes prior to serving.

    The crust turns out wonderful because of the steam pan. Reinhart recommends pouring in the water and misting the sides during the first few minutes, but my method’s easier.

    The bread has a very subtle tanginess to it. The version with 50% whole wheat flour didn’t rise as high as the original version. I have yet to get the asymmetrical bubbles inside and may try a different brand of flour. (Currently I use King Arthur brand.)

    2 thoughts on “Bread”

    1. > Having a bakery a block away from my place sure spoils me!

      That must be very nice. When my spouse was in grad school we lived next door to a bakery. I don’t think I appreciated it nearly enough as I would now.

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