1 cup starter
3 cups flour
2 tspn salt
1 cup water
Mix well in a large bowl. It should be at least tacky. A bit sticky is not bad. If in doubt, add more water (2 tbsp) as needed. Bread with too much water is pretty good and easy to address later. With too little is a bit like a brick.
Let it rise until it doubles (about 12 hours). If in doubt, wait another hour. Check again. If in doubt, wait another hour. etc. My fastest first rise was about 5 hours (at altitude in the mountains). My slowest was about 40 hours (and ended up soda bread). Many thing affect this: cold means slower. Unhappy starter means slower. When the dough stops growing it’s been long enough. If in doubt, wait another hour!
Put some flour on a bread board and take the starter out. I use a spatula. Let it sit there while you:
Grease an oven safe pot. I usually use butter. If I’m preparing for vegans I use oil. You really want to grease the pot – otherwise you will have to tear the bread out in chunks, and nobody wants that. Now that you’ve greased the pot, return to the dough.
If the dough is really sticky it’s because you added too much water while mixing – that’s OK! The stickier the dough, the more flour you should add at this step. You should fold the dough a few times at least. If you feel like kneading it will make you a better person, knead to your heart’s content! But if the dough is perfect – tacky but not too sticky, folding it 4 times and not integrating too much more flour is just fine.
Ball the dough and plop it in the pot.
Let it sit in the pot until it doubles – about 4 hours. If in doubt, wait one extra hour. I don’t think I’ve ever waited more than 6 hours for my second rise – and it’s usually pretty close to 4. If you don’t wait long enough, your bread may turn out brick like. If you wait too long, it may get mushy and lack body. The latter is usually preferable, as it can always be toasted to firm it up.
Cover the pot and put it in the oven at 400 degrees for about 1 hour. If the crust hasn’t started to turn brown, wait another 10 minutes. If you’re not sure, wait another 10 minutes. (I use a pot with a glass lid)
Take the pot out and see if the bread is really loose – if so, you can pop it out. If not, leave the pot upside down on the counter – it’ll usually fall out in a few minutes (though you won’t hear it plop – it slides down slowly).
This really weird video shows some of the steps: