perfecting the no-knead sourdough

Who doesn't love a delicious piece of crusty bread slathered with creamy butter or dipped in olive oil? Personally, I am a sucker for great bread. I would be a hopeless participant in any diet that required me to give up bread or baked goods. And I am particularly loyal to restaurants that serve a good crusty roll or piece of bread at the start of a meal.

I have always been under the assumption that baking bread at home takes endless amounts of time and attention to detail. I have never before thought to make my own bread, always believing it better to leave that task to the experts. But recently a friend of mine gave me a portion of her sourdough starter, which she nurtured and developed throughout her maternity leave. She said between feedings, she could mix her flour, salt and starter, and then let it sit for hours before quickly tossing in a Dutch oven to bake. I was amazed that it could be this simple (and of course amazed that she chose to do this while also keeping a tiny baby alive!). She assured me that the "no knead" technique produced great results without much active time in the kitchen. I decided to accept her gift of starter and see what I could do.

After many months, my husband continues to be perplexed by the active starter that lives in our refrigerator. It must be kept in a container with the top slightly ajar to allow exposure to air. The flour and water mixture is bubbly and fragrant of yeast. It is satisfyingly sticky and moist. It must be fed every week a portion of fresh flour and water. The living yeast consume sugar and give off carbon dioxide, and so you also should remove a portion of the starter and toss it before feeding it fresh ingredients. The process of maintaining a starter is somewhat wasteful, and yet the result of fresh bread (and the satisfaction of having made it yourself!) almost makes it worthwhile.

There are many no-knead sourdough recipes out there, and Serious Eats did a good piece on the chemistry behind the molecular processes that occur during the baking process. I won't bother to re-write a recipe here, but I'd encourage you to consider giving it a try if you can find some starter (or make your own!). It has been a fun, hands-on experience - and a fried egg has never tasted better than on a homemade slice of sourdough!