Country Lore: Make Sourdough Bread Like a Pro

We make sourdough bread with a rye starter and whole grain rye flour, and sometimes let it rise in a warm sauna!
By Willie Suter
December 2010/January 2011
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The guests at our bed-and-breakfast love our bread and love it when we make sourdough bread. 

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Here at Brigette’s Bavarian Bed and Breakfast in Alaska, we make sourdough bread and bake it in a cast iron Dutch oven. We start by making a sourdough starter using rye flour, boiled potato water, 3 to 4 tablespoons of salt and a dash of sugar. Start with 4 cups of rye flour and add the potato water so the batter is more liquidy than thick — a spoon shouldn’t be able to stand up in it. Cover the container with a clean cloth and let it sit in a warm place until it starts to ferment (bubble) — this could take a few days.

To make the bread, start with 4 cups of starter, then add 4 cups of flat dark beer and 4 cups of rye flour. Some days I mix ground fennel seed into the dough, and other times I use ground caraway or anise seeds. The dough should be too sticky to mix by hand; I use a drill press with a mud paddle in a 5-gallon bucket. Cover this dough and let it rise for 12 to 16 hours. Take the cover off and mix the dough again, put the cover on and let it sit for a few more hours. Too much time is never a problem. The dough is heavy and will take its time to rise.

After it has risen and is light, place a hunk of the dough into a buttered cast iron Dutch oven lined with pumpkin seeds — the amount of dough should be less than half the capacity of the Dutch oven. Put the lid on and let it rise until it doubles. This may take two hours or more, depending on how warm it is — sometimes we use the sauna! After the dough has risen, prick some holes into the loaf and bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit, with the lid off. Six-pound loaves can take two hours or more to bake. Spray a little water on the bread while it’s baking to form a good crust. After baking, let the bread cool before cutting.

Willie Suter
Homer, Alaska

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