This is a basic sourdough bread that is pretty simple, but keep in mind good sourdough takes time. Sourdough starters are living things, and they work best when fed and watered on a regular basis. You can use stoneware or cast iron casserole dishes for baking, or even heavy baking sheets for the base.
2 1/2 cups flour (unbleached bread flour, preferably), plus more for dusting
3/4 cup sourdough starter
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Vegetable or olive oil
In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine the flour, 3/4 cup room-temperature water, and the starter. Mix on medium speed for about 12 minutes, or until the dough is smooth. You may need to add more water, but only add a tablespoon at a time. Add the salt and mix for 1 full minute.
If you want to mix it by hand, I recommend using a good wood spoon to mix everything in the order above then turning out to a lightly floured board and knead for 5-10 minutes. You can also knead it for 2-3 minutes, let it rest for 5, then repeat 1-2 times.
Grease a large bowl with the olive or vegetable oil and transfer the dough to the bowl. Lightly flour the top of the dough and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise for about 1 1/2 hours, or until it’s almost doubled in size.
A fun alternative to using plastic wrap is a new, unused shower cap. They are easy to clean, and I find that the dough sticks to them less than plastic wrap. Shower caps are also more eco-friendly since you can wash and reuse them.
Punch down the dough to get some of the bubbles out, fold it a few times (like folding a letter), return it to the bowl, cover it, and let it rise again for another hour. If you poke the dough with a knuckle, the hole should almost completely fill in but have a slight dent. At that point, the dough is ready to be shaped.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and divide it into two or equal parts. Shape each part into a round or oval.
For each loaf, line a small bowl or banneton (proofing basket) with a clean kitchen towel, dust the towel liberally with flour, add the dough, cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap, and let it rise in there.
Let the dough proof for 1 1/2 hours, or until it springs back when you gently poke it, then proceed to the next step. You can also place your bread in the fridge overnight. Lightly flour the tops of the loaves and cover loosely with plastic wrap or shower cap.
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the parchment paper to fit the bottom of the baking dish. If you are using a baking stone and dome, let the dome heat up inside the oven. If you are using a cast iron dutch oven, put the container in the oven when the temperature is around 250F. When the oven and dome/container are hot, place a piece of parchment paper on top of dough in the bowl. Gently flip over and remove the bowl and towel. Brush off any excess flour. With a sharp knife or razor blade, cut one, two or three lines about 1 1/2 inches deep across the top of the loaf. Place the lid on the baking dish and put back in the oven. If you have a large oven, you can bake both loaves at the same time. Otherwise, bake one, let the oven reheat for 5-10 minutes, then bake the second one.
Bake for about 20 minutes with the lid on, or until the bread is a deep golden brown and sounds hollow when you tap on the bottom. Remove the lid or dome, and set inside the oven (if you bake two loaves at a time, you’ll have to set them somewhere heatproof to cool. Turn the oven temperature down to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 25 minutes, then turn the oven off and crack the door. Let the bread sit in the oven 15 minutes.
Keep in mind, the larger the loaf the longer the first part of the baking time. If you make one large loaf, increase the time at 450F to 25-30 minutes.
Remove the bread from the oven to cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.
**optional – lightly sprinkle the top of the loaf before baking with coarse salt, poppy seeds, or chopped nuts.