Title: Wild Yeast Sourdough
Yield: 6 servings
The Chef or Starter (Based by Thorne on the method of Lionel Poilane)
1. Pour one-half cup of (unchlorinated) water into a bowl. Work in enough flour to
make a "moist but cohering dough." Prac- tice will make this stage obvious: when the
soupy slurry turns to a solid, puttylike mass that can be massaged (kneaded) into a small,
elastic ball. Please note that no commercial yeast has been added. This starter will
ferment, if it does ferment, be- cause of the presence, either in the ambient air or in the
flour, of naturally occurring yeasts and symbiotic bacteria.
2. Put the starter in a small bowl. Cover with a damp dish towel secured by a rubber
band. Leave on a shelf in a draft-free kitchen for three days, re-moistening the towel as
needed (and when possible: clearly, the atmosphere in your kitchen may dry out the
towel so rapidly that only round-the clock surveillance will really keep the towel
continually moist. Eternal vigilance is impossible, but do your best. Also please note that
no kitchen temperature is specified, since you will probably have to work with what
you've got. Unheated kitchens in severe winter weather are obviously not the ideal, but
the normal range of temperature in a modern home should work in something like the
times speci- fied here and below).
3. The starter is activated when it looks and smells active. Fermentation produces a
noticeable expansion in its size and a slightly "tangy" odor. It can then be used or
refrigerated for several days.
The Levain, or Sponge: 8-ounce starter, 2 1/2 cups flour,
Put the starter in a bowl with 1 1/4 cups cold water (cold to slow the fermentation, on
the theory that a long rising at this point improves flavor and. be cause it relaxes the
gluten, makes the job of working in the water easier). Work until the starter has
completely dissolved. (Thorne uses his hands: an electric hand beater is it much more
efficient. Just add a little water at a time.) Stir in the flour and the salt to make a loose
mass. With floured hands move it to a clean bowl. Cover with a damp towel and a piece
of plastic wrap. Secure with a rubber band and leave to ripen overnight in a cool place
(Thorne specifies 60 degrees).
The Loaf: 1 sponge, Flour, Cornmeal
1. Put the sponge on a well-floured surface. Begin to work in the new flour. The idea is
to knead in as much flour as the sponge will "take" until it turns into silken, nonsticky
dough that is a pleasure to work. No amount of flour is specified. The limiting factor is
the 1 1/4 cups of water added at the sponge stage. This kneading stage takes 12 to 15
minutes, during which the movement activates the elasticity of the gluten and traps air
in the dough so that the yeast can do its work.
2. Dust the dough with flour, put it in a large, lightly oiled bowl, cover with a damp
towel and let rise to double in bulk. This is a fairly fast rise and needs a warm
environment, around 80 degrees, for one to three hours, usually about two.
3. Flour your hands and gently rework the dough to break up air bubbles. Pinch off an
egg-shaped piece of the dough and reserve as the starter for subsequent adventures. Line
a colander with a generously floured towel, and secure it around the colan- der's
perimeter with a rubber band. Set the dough on the towel and let rise almost as far as it
did on the first rise.
4. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Heat the base of the bread cloche.
5. When the dough is ready, sprinkle the cloche base liber- ally with corn meal. Then,
grasping the towel, pick up the loaf, and roll it gently onto the cloche base so that the
round part faces up. Slash the surface in three places with a sharp knife or single edged
razor blade. Place in oven, cover with cloche top, and bake for 15 minutes.
6. Reduce heat to 400 degrees and bake another 20 minutes. Then remove the cloche top
to brown the crust for about 10 minutes. The loaf is done if it sounds hollow when
tapped on the bottom. After it cools, store in a closed paper bag.
Yield: One crusty loaf.
Raymond Sokolov writing in "Natural History", 4/93.
(Abstracted from Outlaw Cook, by John Thorne, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1992)