For the Sourdough Starter:
1 package active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups lukewarm water (105-115 degrees F)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
For the Bread:
1 cup sourdough starter, above
5 1/2-6 cups all-purpose flour
2 packages active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups warm water (120-130 degrees F)
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water
FOR THE SOURDOUGH STARTER: In a large mixing bowl soften yeast in 1/2 cup of the lukewarm water. Stir in the remaining water, flour, and sugar or honey. Stir till smooth. Cover the bowl with 100 percent cotton cheesecloth. Let stand at room temperature (75-85 degrees) for 5-10 days, stirring 2-3 times each day, or till the mixture has a sour, fermented aroma. (Fermentation time depends upon the room temperature. A warmer room hastens fermentation.) When fermented, transfer sourdough starter to a 1-quart jar or plastic container. Loosely cover and refrigerate. If starter isn’t used within 10 days, stir in 1 teaspoon sugar or honey. Repeat every 10 days till used (the starter can be kept indefinitely). To use starter, bring desired amount to room temperature. For every cup used, stir 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup water, and 1 teaspoon sugar or honey into the remaining amount. Cover and let stand at room temperature for at least 1 day, or till bubbly. Then refrigerate for later use.
FOR THE BREAD: Bring 1 cup sourdough starter to room temperature (about 1 hour). In a large mixing bowl combine 2 1/2 cups of the flour, the yeast, and salt. Add the 1 1/2 cups warm water and the sourdough starter. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, scraping bowl constantly. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can.
On a lightly floured surface, knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a stiff dough that is smooth and elastic (8-10 minutes total). Shape into a ball. Place in a lightly greased bowl; turn once. Cover and let rise in a warm place till double (about 1 hour).
Punch dough down. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide dough in half. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes. Lightly grease a large baking sheet. Sprinkle with cornmeal. Roll each half of dough into a 15x10-inch rectangle. Roll up, starting from a long side. Moisten edge with water and seal. Taper ends. Place, seam-side down, on the prepared baking sheet. Cover and let rise in a warm place till nearly double (35-45 minutes).
Place an ovenproof ceramic or heavy-duty glass baking dish filled with 1 inch of water on the lowest rack of the oven. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Let the water steam the oven while the bread rises.
Combine egg yolk and water. Brush dough with egg wash. With a very sharp knife or single-edge razor blade, make 4-5 diagonal cuts about 1/4 inch deep across top of each loaf. Place baking sheet with bread on rack above pan of water. Lower oven temperature to 375 degrees; bake for 30-35 minutes, or till bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. (If necessary, cover loosely with foil the last 15 minutes to prevent overbrowning.) Remove bread from baking sheet; cool on a rack.
Active Time: 25 Minutes
Total Time: 1 Hours 50 Minutes
Yield: 30 Servings