In a large stand-mixer bowl, mix together water, flour, syrup or honey, starter, and salt thoroughly with wooden spoon. Allow to rest for at least 15 minutes, and up to an hour. Measuring the Starter: The vigor of your Starter will affect its density. Stir Starter down before measuring, especially if use a measuring cup. (I highly recommend using a kitchen scale to get more consistent results.)
While dough is resting, lightly coat a medium-sized bowl with olive oil. The bowl needs to be a big enough to allow the dough to double in size. I use about two tablespoons of oil to coat the bowl the first time.
Put the mixer bowl on the stand-mixer. Knead dough with bread hook for 10 minutes.
NOTE: This normally is a very sticky, soft dough. However, depending on the actual hydration of your starter, you may find that you need to add a little more flour to get things started. I often end up adding an extra ½ cup during the kneading step. Try not to add more than ½ cup of flour, though. You can work in a little more flour during the folding process if you need to.
BULK FERMENTATION (1st Rise)
Remove dough from mixer, place on a well floured board, knead by hand a couple of times, and shape into ball.After you form the ball, it should kind of slowly settle onto the board, like an old man into a lounge chair. It won’t hold its shape for a long time, but it also shouldn’t just melt into a puddle. You need to find a happy medium.
Put dough ball into the oiled bowl, smooth-side down first. Then flip it smooth-side up so that all sides of the dough are covered with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm place.
Allow dough rise at least 6 hours, folding every 30 minutes for the first 2 to 2½ hours.To fold, turn dough out onto a floured surface and pat down to remove most of the air bubbles. Fold as illustrated and return to bowl, smooth side up.Cover and proceed with the rising process. Re-oil the bowl with a tablespoon or two of oil the first two times you fold the dough. The folding at the beginning of this step helps to align those long gluten strands, and create those lovely sourdough bubbles. You should notice a discernible change in the texture of your dough after folding the first couple of hours. By the end of this step, your dough should feel more "stretchy" and less "sticky" than when you started.Sometimes, because this dough is so sticky, it works easier to "fold-and-stretch" your dough right in the bowl, instead of folding it on the countertop. If that works better for you, go for it.
PROOF (2nd Rise)
After the dough has risen for at least 6 hours (folding every 30 minutes for the first 2-2½ hours), form bread dough into a boule* and place it on a square of parchment paper. Place the dough, parchment and all, back into the bowl. *A boule is a round bread loaf.
Cover loosely with a damp towel and allow to rise for 1½- 3 hours, or until it has approximately doubled. If it is late in the day and your bread needs more time to rise, you can slow the process by allowing it to rise in the refrigerator overnight, and then baking it first thing in the morning.
In the last 30 or 40 minutes of the last rise, move your oven rack to the bottom third of oven. Put an empty cast iron Dutch oven with lid in the cold oven.Preheat to 500°F [260°C] for 40 minutes.
Remove the hot Dutch oven from the oven. Remove the lid from the Dutch oven and put the boule in by picking up the corners of the parchment and gently setting it in. Be very careful - the Dutch oven and lid are very hot!With a wet, serrated knife, cut a couple of slashes on the top of the boule. (I often forget to do this step, and everything still turns out just fine.)
Put the lid back on the Dutch oven. Put the Dutch oven back into the oven.Immediately reduce oven temperature to 450° [232°C], and bake for 13-14 minutes with the lid ON. [Image: After first 13-minute baking time]If you don't have a cast iron Dutch oven, you can use a baking stone. If you use a baking stone, cover the boule with a big roaster lid or something like that. The idea is to create some steam for the first part of the baking process- this is what gives it that awesome chewy crust.
Remove the lid and bake for another 13-14 minutes with the lid OFF.
Using the parchment corners, carefully remove bread from the Dutch oven and place on a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes. DO NOT slice the bread until it has set for 30 minutes - this resting time is part of the baking process.
Weigh your ingredients: doing so will yield more uniform results.UNFED Starter is Starter that is due to be fed right before you begin making the bread. It should have been fed in the last 12-24 hours. Unfed Starter is mature, active, and hungry for food.For comparison, FED Starter is Sourdough Starter that has been fed very recently compared to when you begin making the bread recipe. It isn't as hungry. For more information, see Stages of Sourdoughin post.