I've been using the same sourdough starter for about fifteen years. I brought it with me when we moved, stashing it safely in my temporary housing refrigerator until we found this place. The thing about sourdough starter is it will stay dormant in the refrigerator for months; in this case, I think its been at least a year since I made sourdough bread.
I pulled it out of the refrigerator last weekend and fed it three times a day, Saturday and Sunday, and then put it back in the refrigerator to rest until this weekend. Thursday I pulled it back out, fed it that evening and twice on Friday. My favorite sourdough starter recipe calls for feeding three times a day, at 4-6 hour intervals, but on a work day that isn't going to happen. I use this cookbook, which goes into excruciating detail on each step (the recipe for starter is at least five pages and the recipe for the bread goes probably ten more). But, the results are amazing and once you have a feel for making bread, the instructions can be condensed.
The thing is, feeding the starter this way yields a bubbling, cracking, totally alive starter.
Saturday morning, I measured out enough starter for the recipe and then poured most of the rest back into my jar to keep for next time. I added flour, water and a smidge of yeast (not needed but I'm superstitious so I do). I kneaded it until it was fairly smooth, covered it with a towel for 20 minutes and let it rest.
Then I sprinkled it with sea salt and kept on kneading. When the dough was smooth (like a baby's bottom) and starting to push back, I put it in a container to rise. I marked the height of the dough on the outside with a marker.
When it had doubled in size, a few hours later, I took it out, divided it into two pieces and formed them into loaves.
I have these cool forms for shaping bread. I line it with a clean linen towel, shake some flour on the towel, then set the formed loaves into the bowls. I covered them with plastic wrap and let them rise an hour or so before putting them in the refrigerator.
Having them spend the night in the refrigerator slows down the fermentation and gives the bread better texture and better flavor.
This morning, I pulled the loaves out of the refrigerator. I took off the plastic wrap so the tops wouldn't get soggy, and wrapped their towels over the top (floured). They were on the counter for a few hours, coming to room temperature and doing a bit more rising.
In the meantime, I put my pizza stone in the oven and cranked up the heat. The stone was in the oven for an hour before I added the bread so it could absorb all the heat. When everything was ready to go, I inverted the loaves onto a piece of parchment paper set on a baking sheet so that I could easily slide them into the oven. I slashed the tops so they could spring up in the oven. Last, I sprayed the baking stone with water to create steam and then slid the loaves into the oven.
I sprayed again, twice, during the first five minutes of baking and then left the bread alone; other than turning it once to get even color.
One loaf didn't spring much -- I don't think my slashes were exactly right: too shallow and too straight. It looks like a fat frisbee. The other one came out perfect.
I'm mafrdeoup for dinner and the bread was perfect. I had one bowl of soup and an unspecified number of pieces of bread. I love bread.