Sourdough Country Bread

When I first read Martha Rose Shulman’s book Supper Club chez Martha Rose, published in 1988, my life changed. Why? Because of what she did with bread. I’m not referring to the crazily intense scientific approach to bread baking, I’m talking about her creativity. She added stuff to bread doughs. And I mean just about everything.

On this blog I’ve shared an olive bread, above, that was inspired by a recipe in her cookbook, but the book taught me to add just about anything to bread. This kind of creativity came in handy during my years as a private cook and caterer. Olive bread isn’t that unique these days, but it was in 1988.

Because of Ms. Schulman, I’ve made breads with pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, chili powder, nuts, seeds, grated zucchini, nuts and dried fruits, cooked or raw grains, paprika creme, onions, and cheese… you name it.

But the recipe I want to share from this cookbook today is a rustic sourdough country bread. It’s crusty, chewy, and has the flavor that’s undeniably sourdough.

If you want to get on the scientific sourdough bandwagon with an expert, hop over to Elaine’s blog, called Foodbod Sourdough. I love Elaine because she began innocently enough, with a starter and curiosity and passion, but quickly evolved. Her recipes and techniques are specific, and she now has a book!

But this Martha Schulman recipe shows how sourdough can be created in a matter of days, without a starter. And it’s magnificent! (And no feeding.)

Sourdough Country Bread

for the starter

The First Day
1/3 cup water
1 cup flour, whole-wheat or unbleached white

Mix together the water and flour and knead into a smooth ball on a floured work surface. The dough should be soft and sticky. Flour your hands so you can work with it. Return it to the bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let sit at room temperature for 72 hours. The dough will form a crust on the top and turn a grayish color, which is normal. If you keep wetting the towel it will reduce the drying. The dough will rise slightly and take on an acidic aroma.

After 72 hours
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 1/2 cups flour, whole-wheat or unbleached white

Add the water to the starter and blend together. If the crust on the top is like cardboard, you will have to peel it off and discard it. Try blending it before you resort to this. Add the flour and stir to blend. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and knead into a smooth ball.

Return it to the bowl, cover with a damp towel, and let sit in a warm place for 24 to 48 hours. Again, a crust may form on the top. If it is like cardboard, peel it off and discard before proceeding with the recipe.

for the bread

All of the sourdough starter
2 cups lukewarm water plus 1 cup coffee
Scant tablespoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
1 scant tablespoon salt
4 1/2 to 5 cups whole-wheat flour
Cornmeal for the baking sheet

Combine the sourdough starter, the water and coffee, and the yeast. Whisk together until the starter and yeast are thoroughly dissolved. Whisk in the molasses and the salt.

Fold in the flour, 1 cup at a time. By the time you have added 4 cups, you should be able to knead. I usually do this right in the bowl, as the dough is sticky and unwieldy. Using a pastry scraper instead of your hands to fold the dough for kneading will help. Knead for 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary.

Cover the dough and let rise in a warm spot for 1 1/2 hours. Flour your hands and wrists and punch down the dough. Knead for 2 or 3 minutes on a lightly floured surface, using a pastry scraper to make it easier. Remove a cup of the dough and place in a bowl, to use as a started for your next loaf of bread. Cover the starter and refrigerate after a few hours if not using again in a day’s time.

Dust a clean, dry towel with flour and line a bowl or basket. Form the dough into a ball, dust the surface with flour, and place, rounded side down, in the towel-lined bowl or basket (banneton). Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm spot for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until almost doubled in bulk. You can also let the dough rise in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight. (I made two smaller breads.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place an empty pan on the bottom shelf of the oven. When the oven is heated, pour 2 cups of water into the pan; the steam will help give the bread a thick, hard crust. Turn the dough out onto an un-oiled baking sheet or baking stone dusted with cornmeal, peel off the towel, and slash the dough with a sharp knife or razor. Place it in the oven and bake 45 minutes, until brown and it responds to tapping with a hollow thumping sound. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

I don’t do the slashing cause I’m not good at it. But the first thing I do is slather butter on the hot bread. I’m good at that.

And then, you have the starter in your kitchen or fridge, depending how often you bake bread. A bonus!

The lesson here, is that you can make a slurry/dough with just water and flour, let it sit for a few days, then use it to create a bread. Then you magically have a sour dough!

I usually make the first bread, then use all of the starter for a second bread. I just don’t want that much bread around! But the “souring” process of starting with just flour and water still excites me.

74 thoughts on “Sourdough Country Bread

    • I only care if it tastes good! I love the sour flavor, but it’s not my favorite bread, like it is for a lot of people. And those gorgeous crusts are so pretty but they cut my mouthy! Even some real baguettes.

  • I’m with you! I love baking bread, but don’t do it all that often, because we don’t use that much, and I’ve so little freezer space, to boot. But, this recipe is so inviting, as I love sourdough! It looks so lovely, chewy, with a nice crust! Thanks for the recipe!

    • Thanks! It’s not like the expert looking beautiful sourdoughs, but that’s not my thing anyway. Too tedious for me given my nature and skills. But it’s good!

  • I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never baked sourdough bread. Jest because of the long process (I’m super impatient!) And also because I’m lazy, too. But you’ve described the entire process so beautifully, so I basically felt i was present in your kitchen participating in the process. The bread looks wonderful, nice texture and awesome crust. Oh I wouldn’t be able to resist from eating a half of still warm loaf, with butter or brie!

    • Ah, thanks! I’m not a perfectionist, and I don’t do fiddle things like cakes, but to me bread is a different story. It might take hours or days, but you’re not really actively doing anything during that time. I know some people don’t want to sous vide because for some meats 48 hours are required. But that would be, to me, like giving up on marinating or brining… I just love this recipe cause it doesn’t start with a starter. Yet you get that great flavor. But any freshly baked bread is a delicious bread, with butter and/or brie!

      • I actually was inspired by you. Well, in a very simplified way – I just got dried sourdough starter. Of course, it’s not like making the bread from scratch, but one step at a time, right? Even that “cheat” version turned out great – better that a store-bought one. Going to try this method soon.

      • Aw, thanks! Well, unless you’re in San Francisco, or at a really good bakery, I’m positive whatever you make at home will be better than what you can get at the store. The other day my husband made burgers and I found sourdough buns at the store. Couldn’t even tell they were sourdough.

  • i don’t eat much bread so i didn’t get into the whole covid baking/sourdough thing. but i do love a stuffed bread especially with olives. but mostly i love butter so bread is just the necessary vehicle for me:-) Your bread looks so tasty, and i love a sourdough tang.

    • Thank you, Sherry. The only bread baking I did during 2020 was to make pretzel bites. I will never get on the real science-based sourdough trend, just cause that’s not me.

  • This is a lovely way to create a sourdough starter without having to keep it. I hibernate mine a lot but will take it out over the weekend as I have time to be creative. Your sourdough country bread looks brilliant and I will check out the blog / book you recommended as I am always looking for new recipes to try.

    • It’s a fun book. I wish I could have been one of her friends in Paris for her dinners! Nothing sophisticated, but she’s definitely creative. And certainly was back in ‘88.

  • What an interesting way to make Sourdough. I make Sourdough the ‘normal’ way which of course is no trouble. Only a short time ‘hands on’ then into the fridge to be baked when I have time or one evening when I am relaxing.
    I will try your way which you have explained so well. It will be fun to produce Sourdough with such an unusual recipe.
    Thanks Mimi :))

    • I wish I had more information on how this bread came about, but I imagine it’s a peasant way to create a sour dough. No refrigeration, just keep your dough out to sour!

  • Interesting! I want to try my hand at this recipe. I love baking bread, and I do keep a starter in the back of the fridge – but this version is just so different. I love the taste of a good sourdough, and I know this bread wouldn’t last long here!

    • When I baked a lot of bread for people, it was fun to the make the dough and let it sit and get that sour flavor. I’m not one for feeding starters. No idea why, except that maybe it’s too ritualistic for me!

    • Ha! I wonder if she’s around any more. I would have loved to have been part of her paris dinner parties!

  • I always love a sourdough, before I only buy them in Bakeries or try them on the bread baskets in a restaurant entree but thanks COVID, I learned how to make one which is nearly similar to your great recipe

    • I just love how this teaches you that you don’t need a starter. Just let your dough sit around for a few days!

  • There is something so comforting with homemade breads ! While being “closed” for several times this and last year, I did my best to try several recipes and we enjoyed them very much. Since our covid stampede rides again, I printed this one to make. Thank you so much !

  • You listed a bread add-in that’s still on my to-make list: sun dried tomatoes. Can’t wait to see how it turns out. I’m with you that it’s so nice to be able to dress up bread in so many ways, the possibilities are endless!

    • They really are. I spent years convincing people that you can pretty much do what you want when you’re a home cook. It’s not rocket science!

  • Martha Rose Shulman is such a superb cook and recipe writer. I found it amusing that for years her recipes appeared in the Health section of the NY Times, not the Food section — when her recipes were consistently better than any published in the Food section! In later years the Food section wised up and she appeared there, too (at least in the electronic version). Anyway, this looks so good — thanks.

    • Oh really. Very interesting. I didn’t even know she was a food columnist. Maybe they just didn’t know how to put her in a food genre, since she was a mix of cuisines.

  • I love sourdough but always hesitant to try making it from starter. I want to try this recipe someday, It sounds simple enough for me. I like it even better with whole wheat.

    • I’m not sure it’s quicker, really, cause it takes days to get the sour flavor, but you don’t have to start with a starter. That doesn’t appeal to me, plus I don’t want that much bread around!!!

  • Well I need to get both of these books! There is nothing better than homemade bread. And getting that sourdough taste and texture without needing to feed a starter is a dream!!! This bread looks absolutely delicious, and I am so with you Mimi! Putting delicious things in the bread dough is basically the best thing ever. I’ll need to make your olive bread as well!

    • The thing is, it works. My mother used to not less us in the kitchen when bread was rising. I learned early on that you can do pretty much anything with bread. It’s forgiving! And, it all works. Just add a mix of chopped olives in the last knead, do the last rise, and bake!

    • Ha! During the years I baked a ton of yeasted bread I’d just sometimes leave the slurry our for a few days, lid on, to get that flavor, even if I wasn’t making an actual sourdough. Soured a bit, but not sourdough. It works wonders!

  • Maybe it’s time to put on my big boy pants and give sourdough a try. I know for sure I don’t like sourdough bread from the grocery store, but a fresh loaf like yours has such great appeal! And I don’t think there’s anything better and toasted real sourdough bread with creamy unsalted butter. Naturally, I sprinkle it with salt… thanks for the step-by-step instructions; we’ve been looking for a recipe that starts with making the starter. Most recipe say “just add a cup of starter“.

    • No starter necessary with this recipe, you just sour the dough. I’ve only followed this specific recipe twice – the first time, and then for the blog. But in between, if I wanted a country sourdough flavor, I just let my dough, more like a slurry, then you don’t have to deal with the “cap,” sit for a few days to sour. And, hello again, no the coffee isn’t necessary for the flavor or texture or anything. Not even color.

  • What a lovely loaf! Sourdough really is having a moment. I wish I could get on board, but I keep killing my starters, no matter how hard I try. Happy to just watch and enjoy vicariously!

    • Well, that’s the thing. You don’t have to start with a starter. You can make a sourdough once a year if you want! Try this recipe when you have about 5 days. It’s interesting!

  • This loaf of bread is beautiful. I love to make bread, it makes the entire house smell heavenly. Like you though I do t like to keep too much of it around or I’m tempted to eat the entire loaf. Thanks for sharing these cookbooks. I’m always looking for great ones.

    • This one is very old – not sure it’s in print, but I really loved her approach to bread and cooking!

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