Sourdough Bread

Sourdough is a crusty, tangy bread that can be intimidating to make at home. The loaf begins with a starter, often called a "mother," which is a mixture of wild yeast and Lactobacillus bacteria that feeds on flour and water. A sought-after starter may be passed from friend to friend or down through the generations of a family. And caring for a starter is a long-term commitment, requiring you to occasionally feed it to keep the microorganisms alive. According to Floyd Mann, who runs the baking site The Fresh Loaf, "It's not a sentient being, but people do treat it almost as a pet. If you neglect it and it dies, you feel very bad. I've had to remind myself, 'It doesn't feel any pain!'" Once you have the starter formed, you can mix the dough and finally bake your loaf. F&W's guide holds your hand through all the steps of making this labor-intensive bread and spotlights our favorite recipes.

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Sourdough Country Bread

This sourdough bread recipe is ideal for beginners and expert bakers alike. First, always start with a happy starter (click here for more on how to maintain your own sourdough starter) that has been fed at regular, successive intervals before you start to bake. The day before you plan to bake, feed your starter twice for the best results—once in the morning, and again in the evening, about 8 to 10 hours before you’ll start the recipe.This dough is based on a levain—basically just sourdough starter that’s been bulked up with a bit of extra flour and water. Let the levain rise for a couple hours, then stir in more water and the remaining flour to form the dough. After a brief rest, you’ll work in a bit more water plus a dose of salt (adding it later in the process helps promote gluten development) and let it rise for 3 to 4 hours, folding it over itself every 30 minutes or so to help encourage a strong dough.After shaping the dough into a round boule, letting it rest on your work surface, and shaping it again, you’ll place it into a proofing basket or bowl for a final rise, then preheat the oven for an hour (yes, an hour) before cutting a slash in your dough and baking the bread in your favorite round bread pan, Dutch oven (enameled or non-enameled), or bread cloche until crusty and golden. The toughest part? Waiting for your bread to cool before slathering it with salted butter.Read More: 15 Bread Baking Tools Every Home Baker NeedsThe Best Bread Cloches You Can Buy Right Now

Sourdough Crackers

Conventional wisdom has it that every time you feed your sourdough starter, you discard some of that starter. But if you save it instead, you’ll soon have enough for these crunchy crackers (you can keep sourdough starter discard in the fridge for up to five days). Even without toppings, these easy-to-make snacks boast plenty of flavor, thanks to the combination of starter and fine-ground cornmeal.Be sure to roll the cracker dough to the thinness specified, since that will help the crackers turn crisp when baked. To scale down the recipe, simply reduce all the amounts by half to form a single brick of dough rather than two.

Birote (Guadalajaran Sourdough Bread)

I find nothing more satisfying than recreating the unique breads of Latin America in my own kitchen. I especially love when the bread is meant to be stuffed with savory fillings and drowned in spicy salsa—in Mexico, the torta ahogada is just that. Birote (pronounced bee-row-teh) is a crunchy, darkly baked sourdough bread said to have a flavor unique to the environment of Guadalajara, but if you grab your favorite beer and some limes, you’ll come pretty close!

An Extremely Chill Beginner's Guide to Sourdough

Don't panic: Sourdough baking seems complicated, but it actually just requires patience, flour, water, and salt.

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