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Yield: 3 8-by-4-inch loaves

Read this recipe all the way through before beginning if you’ve never made sourdough before. It’s truly easy, but there are multiple steps to follow. You’ll first make a starter, wait a week, then pull the starter from the fridge, add buttermilk and flour, and let it stand overnight before mixing up your bread dough. After that, whenever you want to make bread, you’ll have starter in the fridge but will always need to begin at least eight hours before wth the addition of buttermilk and flour (this is “feeding” your starter).

This starter cheats and uses instant yeast, rather than capturing wild yeasts from the air. I have made wild yeast starters before and find it very satisfying, but I’m also perfectly happy to cheat. This one keeps very well in the fridge, ignored for weeks at a time.

Once I had made the recipe as printed below a few times, I fed my starter 3 cups of buttermilk and 3 cups of flour, so I could increase the total amount. Then I pulled out 4 cups at one go to make a very big batch of bread (not that I kneaded all the bread at once — I mixed up separate bowls of dough). You don’t need to go for that quantity, of course — just know that it’s OK to remove more than 2 cups starter at a time if you’ve given it a little extra food. It can feel like starters have so many rules to follow, but really, it’s fairly flexible stuff.

You can knead this dough by hand. I prefer to split the recipe between two bowls and let my stand mixer do the work (even a heavy-duty KitchenAid can’t happily handle 10 cups of flour at a time, though I do ask it to from time to time).

You can use this starter in other recipes calling for a sourdough starter (though it’s not particularly sour). Just feed it the 2 cups buttermilk and 2 cups flour and let it stand overnight before removing the amount the recipe calls for.

This recipe, with my adaptations, came from the message board at the website for King Arthur flour.

First, make starter:

Do this one week ahead of time (you’ll do this just once, not every time you want to make bread):

3 cups buttermilk (preferably low-fat or full-fat)

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons instant yeast

1/4 cup honey

In the morning, in a large plastic or glass container, thoroughly mix all ingredients together and let them stand, loosely covered, at room temperature. I use a 1-gallon plastic pitcher with a lid. Check the starter several times during the day, stirring it down when it’s gotten very bubbly so it can rise again. That night, cover and refrigerate it. Check it for the next week, stirring down as needed. Then continue with the recipe below.

Buttermilk Sourdough Sandwich Bread

At least 8 hours before you want to make bread:

2 cups buttermilk

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Sourdough starter, above

Remove the starter from the fridge. If it has liquid sitting on top, stir it in. (If you haven’t used the starter for some time, just give it a sniff; it should smell sour but still pleasant. If it smells like nail-polish remover, you’ll have to toss it — but this has never happened to me.) Stir in the buttermilk and flour and let stand overnight or at least 8 hours at room temperature, until bubbly. When you’re ready to bake, remove 2 cups starter (this is the “refreshed” or “fed” starter) and return the rest to the fridge, covered.

To make bread:

2 cups refreshed sourdough starter, above

3 cups milk, warmed to 110 degrees (or mix together dry milk powder and warm water)

1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter or vegetable oil

1/3 cup honey

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 teaspoons instant yeast

About 10 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, or more as needed

In  a large bowl (or two stand mixer bowls), stir all ingredients together until well mixed. Loosely cover and let stand for 15 minutes, then knead, adding flour as needed to make a soft dough,  for 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic; place in a clean bowl to rise. With a mixer, knead with the dough hook for 7 minutes on speed 5, adding flour as needed — don’t let the dough get too stiff. Cover dough with a piece of greased plastic wrap, pressed directly on the dough, and let rise until doubled. If your kitchen is very cold, let the dough rise in a cold oven with a small pan of water that’s been brought to a boil.

When dough has risen (a finger pressed into the dough should leave an indentation that does not spring back), gently press it down, divide into three pieces, and shape into loaves. To shape, press dough into a rectangle, fold into thirds like a letter, turn a quarter-turn, and fold in half, pinching the bottom seam together. Gently press and roll each loaf until it fits, seam-side down, into greased 8-by-4-inch loaf pans. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until almost doubled.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake loaves for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden brown on top and bottom. A loaf should sound hollow when you rap on the bottom.  Remove from pans and let cool on wire racks.

This recipe also takes well to add-ins, such as a cinnamon-sugar swirl, raisins, dried cranberries, or minced herbs. If you like, you can brush the tops with a bit of melted butter when the loaves come out of the oven.

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