Sourdough French Bread with Variations
The simple variations offered with this recipe easily change up the flavor of this sourdough French bread.
1 (0.25-ounce) packet active dry yeast, or 2 1/4 teaspoons
1 1/2 cups warm water (about 110°F | 45°C)
1 cup Sourdough Starter, at room temperature
About 6 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch blended with 1/2 cup cold water
- In a large bowl, combine yeast and warm water; let stand until yeast is softened, about 5 minutes.
- Add starter, 4 cups flour, salt and sugar; beat until smooth and well blended. Cover; let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.
- Stir in enough of the remaining flour, about 1 1/2 cups, to make a very stiff dough. Scrape dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and satiny, about 10 minutes, adding more flour as needed to prevent sticking. Divide dough in half. (If you only have one oven, place one half in a greased bowl, cover, and let stand at room temperature until first loaf is shaped and placed in the oven.)
- For an oblong loaf, roll dough into a 14-inch long. For a round loaf, shape dough into a smooth ball, pinching a seam underneath. Or shape each half into 3 small oblong or round loaves. Set each loaf (or 3 small ones) on a piece of stiff cardboard sprinkled with 1/4 cup cornmeal. Cover lightly and let rise in a warm place until puffy and almost doubled in size, about 1 hour for large loaves; about 45 minutes for small loaves.
- Adjust oven racks so they are at the 2 lowest positions; place a 12 x 15-inch baking sheet on the higher of the 2 racks as oven preheats to 400°F (205°C). Just before bread is ready to bake, place a rimmed baking sheet on lower rack and pour in boiling water to a depth of about 1/4-inch.
- In a small pan, bring cornstarch mixture to boil, stirring constantly; remove from heat and let cool slightly. Evenly brush cornstarch mixture over entire surface of loaf. With a razor blade or sharp knife, cut 1/2-inch-deep slashes on top of loaf (make diagonal slashes on oblong loaves, tick-tack-toe pattern on round loaves). Slip loaf off cardboard onto top baking sheet in oven. (At this point, if using only one oven, punch down remaining dough and knead briefly to release air; shape and let rise, then bake as directed.)
- Bake in a 400°F (205°C) oven for 10 minutes (7 minutes for small loaves); brush with cornstarch mixture again. continue to bake until loaves are golden and sound hollow when tapped, about 25 more minutes for large loaves; about 20 minutes for small loaves. Let cool on racks.
Makes 2 large loaves (10 to 12 servings each) or 6 small loaves (about 4 servings each).
Brown-&-Serve French Bread: Prepare Sourdough French Bread and bake in a 400°F (205°C) oven for 10 minutes (7 minutes for small loaves). Brush again with cornstarch mixture. Continue to bake until surface of loaves is no longer we, about 8 more minutes for large loaves and 5 more minutes for small loaves. Let cool completely on racks. Wrap each loaf separately in foil and freeze. If desired, thaw before heating.
To finish baking, unwrap desired number of loaves and set them (frozen or thawed) on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake in a 400°F (205°C) oven until loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped, about 35 minutes for frozen large loaves, 30 minutes for thawed ones; about 30 minutes for frozen small loaves, 25 minutes for thawed ones.
Sourdough Cheese Bread: Follow directions for Sourdough French Bread, but stir in 2 cups (about 8 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese when you add flour to make a very stiff dough.
Sourdough Onion Bread: Follow directions for Sourdough French Bread, but omit salt. Stir in 1 (2.4-ounce) package dry onion soup mix when you add flour to make a very stiff dough.