1) To start your sourdough starter:
Mix 1 cup each flour and warm water in a plastic container, and stir them well. Put a lid on it, set it aside, and the next day open it, stir it, dump out half, and replace it with 1/2 cup each of fresh flour and warm water. Repeat until, after a few days (anywhere from 3 days to a week) it smells really sour and has gotten bubbly and frothy. On this day, do not pour any out, for you are ready to make bread!
Pour your starter into a large plastic or glass bowl and add 1 cup each of flour and warm water. Stir it well and set it in a warm place for several hours (6 to 12) to ferment. The longer it sits, the more sour the bread will be. When it is frothy and leaning toward pungent, it's ready. You can start your sponge in the morning and make the dough when you get home from work, or do it in the evening and let it ferment overnight.
For the dough, you will need:
- 2 cups sponge
- 3 cups unbleached flour
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 teaspoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
Add the olive oil, sugar, and salt to the 2 cups of sponge, mix well, then add the flour a cup at a time. As the dough solidifies, if you find it too dry or crumbly to form a proper dough, dip your hands in water and knead with wet hands. Once you've got the bread at a good consistency, set it aside in a warm place, covered, and let rise until doubled.
Once it has doubled, punch it down, knead it a little, form the loaf shape of your choice (I like a big boule, personally). Cut deep slits in the top and let it rise double again before baking.
Turn on the oven when you put the bread in (do not preheat) and bake at 350º for 35 minutes or until the crust is golden.