The real deal. Chewy, tangy, and fragrant with a good crust and plenty of tiny nooks and crannies inside. About a day and a half to two days before you want to bake your loaf, you need to shift your starter into high gear so that the bread rises. Measure ½ cup of starter into a large glass or stainless steel bowl, and feed it by whisking in ¼ cup of flour and three tablespoons of warm water. Cover it with a clean cloth, and set it in a warm place for 6 to 12 hours. Feed it again (same amounts of flour and water), and set it aside again for 6 to 12 hours. You should now have about a cup of happily bubbling, rarin'-to-go starter.
No-Knead Sourdough Bread
1 cup actively bubbling starter
¾ cup warm water
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups flour (if you use whole grain, sift it twice before measuring it to take out the coarsest bits of bran—you can save those to sprinkle on the loaf before baking)
1 teaspoon olive oil or butter, plus extra for brushing
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1. Combine the starter, water, and salt in a large bowl, and stir in about one cup of flour. Continue to add small amounts of flour until you can just barely stir the dough and it holds together in a soft ball. It will be very moist, much softer and stickier than dough you'd knead. This texture is critical to getting a good rise, so stop adding flour as soon as you have a soft ball, even if you haven't used all the flour you measured out.
2. Grease a clean bowl with the butter or olive oil. Wet your hands, pick up the dough, and tuck/stretch the rough edges, tucking them underneath to make a smooth oval. This should take just two or three quick moves, as your aim is to touch the dough as little as possible.
3. Place the oval seam-side down in the greased bowl. Brush or spray the surface with more olive oil. Cover the bowl with a moist towel and set it on your countertop at room temperature to rise for roughly 8 to 12 hours; it should double in size. Dough rises more slowly in a cool room and faster in a warm room. Rising time also depends on how active your starter is; once you've baked with yours a few times you'll have a better idea of what to expect. Once the dough has doubled in size, you are ready to bake.
4. Place a pizza stone on the center shelf of your oven. If you don't have a stone, a large cast-iron griddle or oven-safe cast-iron skillet will do. Also place a metal—not glass—baking pan on the bottom shelf (you'll be putting hot water in it later). Preheat the oven to 450 degrees for at least ½ hour.
5. Uncover your loaf. Sprinkle a pizza peel or other flat, portable surface such as a cutting board or an edgeless cookie sheet with cornmeal, and carefully slide your risen dough onto it, again stretching and tucking under any parts that stick to your hands or the board. Use a very sharp knife to cut ¼-inch-deep slits across the top of the loaf. Make sure the loaf slides easily onto its bed of cornmeal. Add more cornmeal as needed. Pour one cup of hot water into a cup with a spout (I actually use a small watering can) and keep it close to your oven.
6. Open the oven and pull out the shelf with the hot stone or skillet on it, and quickly slide the peel or pan out from underneath your dough onto the hot surface. Then pour your water into the empty pan in the bottom of the oven—watch the steam—and close the oven door immediately. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when you tap on it. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. Enjoy!
Related: What's The Healthiest Bread For Your Sandwich?