How to make bread from starter

you are my subjunctive
my hope for what is yet to come

I have kept starter in the refrigerator without using it for two months now. I got it going at the beginning of all this, with a dried cherry, an apple core, some flour and water, that I carried wrapped in a napkin and stuffed up under my sweater, to keep it warm. I haven’t felt like making bread for a while, but I am going to think about it.

It takes a couple of days to get the starter up and running again. I add as much flour as there is starter, and half as much water. Twelve hours later, I throw half of that away, and repeat the preceding step. When it starts to show a little life, I save the discard in a separate bowl, instead of tossing it. When the starter smells like fresh yeast and is full of life–a web of tiny bubbles that you can see through the side of the jar–it is ready. I add half of what I have (usually about a cup) to whatever is in the discard bowl, along with 2 cups of high quality flour (spelt and a little rye is my favorite mix), a good spill of olive oil around the edges, a rounded teaspoon of salt around the edges, and enough water to make a loose dough. I beat it for a hundred strokes with my hand, and let it rest, covered and in a warm place, until it doubles. I add more flour, not more than about 1/2 a cup, to make a dough that is not at all stiff, but can hold itself together without looking like a milkshake. I move that around the board for a minute, then turn it around and onto itself, to make a ball. I let it rise in the fridge overnight and up to 24 hours. I let it come to room temp, and rise a bit more on an oiled sheet pan, either in a ball shape, or ciacina, a flat-ish round. I make a slash across the top, if it is a ball, and bake it in a 400 degree oven until the bottom sounds hollow.

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