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Merlin's Magic Sourdough Bread

Merlin's Magic Sourdough Bread Categories:
Nb persons: 10
Yield: 1 slice
Preparation time:
Total time:

This finely textured bread will stay fresh longer than most loaves you'll make, due to both the olive oil, and the sourdough starter: breads higher in acid retain moisture better than less acidic loaves.
    1 cup  sourdough starter, fed or unfed
    2 cups  warm water
    1 tablespoon  active dry yeast or instant yeast
    5 1/2 cups  King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
    2 teaspoons  salt
    1/4 cup  olive oil

The day before: mix together the starter, water, and yeast. Add 3 cups of the flour. Cover with a damp towel, and let this sponge sit overnight. At this point, you may let the sponge sit for as long as 24 hours; the longer it rests, the more sour your final bread will be.
The next day: Add the salt, oil, and enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough that cleans the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured or oiled work surface, and knead it, adding more flour as necessary, until it's smooth and springs back when you poke it. If the dough feels too stiff, add a few more teaspoons of water to soften it.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover it with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let it rise for 2 hours. The dough should become puffy. Again, you may let the dough rise for as long as 12 hours at this point, to develop flavor. See "tips," below.
Press the dough down and divide it into two pieces. Form each piece into a round ball, and place each ball on a baking sheet that has been greased and sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover the loaves with damp towels or lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow them to rise for 1 hour (or more), or until they've become puffy and a pressed finger leaves a mark.

While the loaves are rising, preheat the oven to 375F.

Use a sharp knife or lame to make three slashes on the top of each loaf, which helps the bread to rise evenly in the oven. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until the bread is golden, sounds hollow when tapped, and the internal temperature of the loaf is 190F to 205F on an instant-read thermometer.
Remove the bread from the oven, and cool completely on a rack.
Store loosely wrapped in plastic for 3 days, or wrap tightly and freeze for up to 3 months.

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