Sourdough Bread is one of those foods that is called a "slow food." REALLY slow, in fact. First you need to make a starter, then tend it for about two weeks before it is ready to use (although it will get better the older it is). See instructions below on making your own starter. Finally, when you are ready to actually make the bread, it can take the better part of a day to make it (3-4 hours with the rising times). Many recipes even call for you to make a "sponge" the night before you intend to bake the bread. So there is a lot of planning ahead.
If I haven't scared you away yet, you will find that Sourdough Bread really is worth all the trouble! There is something exhilarating about taking on the challenge and coming out at the end with a loaf of real sourdough bread that you made yourself. Below you will find an easy recipe for Sourdough bread that does not have to be prepped the night before you bake it. This recipe is a great one to start with, then you can move up to more complex recipes after you have the basics down.
A great resource for Sourdough is Heartland Renaissance's Definitive Guide to Sourdough. Another great resource for Sourdough (and bread in general) is The King Arthur Flour Baking Book. I recommend buying it or checking it out at your local library.
My favorite basic sourdough recipe comes from the King Arthur Flour website, and you can find it here: King Arthur Rustic Sourdough Bread
Here is my own recipe for a slightly healthier version of the basic Rustic Sourdough Bread:
1 Cup Starter
1 Tablespoon Honey
1 1/2 Cups lukewarm water
3 1/2 Cups White Flour
1 1/2 Cups Wheat Flour
2 tsp Instant Yeast
1 Tablespoon salt
Mix the flour, yeast, and salt together. Stir in the starter, water, and honey, and mix well. Knead with your hands until the dough becomes smooth. Put it in a lightly greased large bowl and cover loosely. Allow to rise for about 1 1/2 hours or until doubled. Cut the dough into two parts and shape into loaves or place into proofing baskets or bowls:
Cover and let rise about another hour or until nice and puffy.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees for a good half hour before you put the loaves in the oven. Put a pan of water in the bottom of the oven to make it a little steamy in there (Sourdough seems to like a little moistness while baking). Brush the loaves with butter or lightly beaten egg. You can sprinkle the loaves with a touch of kosher salt or sea salt if desired. Bake for about 25-30 minutes until done. To check for doneness you can insert a cake tester in the center, or just tap the bread lightly like a drum - it should sound dense but "hollow" and it will not feel squishy.
Baked without any butter or egg wash, so it has a more rustic appearance.
(The photo at the top of the page has an egg wash so the bread looks kind of shiny)
This one was baked in a cast iron skillet for extra crustiness.
To make your own Starter:
Note that the more complex your starter ingredients are, the better your bread will eventually be. BUT for those of you like me who just want a basic recipe to get started in learning how to make sourdough, here is a very simple starter recipe:
In a large glass or ceramic bowl, mix 2 cups flour with 2 tsp instant yeast. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before mixing in 2 Cups warm (not hot) water. Allow this mixture to ferment, covered loosely, on your countertop at room temperature for 48 hours. Then begin the process of feeding the starter daily for seven days before using it to bake: Each day, pour off half of your starter and replace with 1 cup flour and 1 cup water. Let sit at room temp, loosely covered, until the next day's feeding. If you'd like to give away what you pour off (say, to a friend who likes to bake), that is much better than just pouring it down the drain. After a minimum of seven days of doing this, the starter should be sufficiently sour. It will get better the longer you keep it. If you do not plan to use it right away, you can either keep feeding it daily at room temperature, or store it in the fridge and feed it once a week. Before baking with it, feed it the day before and let it come to room temp again. You can increase the volume of your starter by not pouring off half of it when you feed it. Do this gradually until you reach the amount you need.