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Marylee's Sourdough Bread

My name is Marylee Scanlan and I just turned 79 this January. I also just learned to make San Francisco Sourdough Bread. For the story behind this new adventure I started - and believe me it has been an adventure - you must know a little about me. I have worked all my life. At the age of 76, I was asked to retire because of my health. I have severe arthritis and neuropathy. In case you have never known someone with this combination, it means that I can't walk very well and that my hands and other parts of this tired old body hurt all the time.

One day I was watching a TV cooking show and the chef was making sourdough bread. My thoughts keep saying to me "you can do this" ...and so I made the decision to try.

First to get started I had to learn about 'leaven' and 'culture'. I found out that both of these terms mean the same thing. As the chef was explaining the care and feeding of the culture, he made it sound as if it were alive. I no sooner thought this then he remarked, "To keep your starter alive you must feed the culture even if you don't use it to often". So now, when I open my starter crock, I say to myself "It's is alive" and think of the Frankenstein movie I saw at the age of l0.

So I was anxious to get started and begin my journey. First I ordered some books. The best book I read was World Sourdoughs from Antiquity by Ed Wood. I read it from cover to cover and I was hooked. Who knew that bread making could be so fascinating. By the way you can get the book at www. along with a crock and a package of sourdough starter.

I was now ready to put into practice all my new knowledge.

I would like to tell you my first loaf was wonderful ... but I can't. It was heavy and the only thing that resembled the recipe that I followed to the letter was the smell. Oh that sourdough smell was wonderful! I kept trying and trying and each time it got better. And bless my son-in-law - he keeps eating my bread. Yesterday he told me my bread was perfect and I felt like I had won the bread making Emmy award.

One night I was in bed and my hands hurt so bad I had tears. I had taken all the medications I could for the time of day - 2a.m. I thought, "This is silly to just lie here in pain. Get up and do something." My starter was at room temperature so I started to set up my bread baking. My hands always felt better in the bread dough when I kneaded it.

Now I have to stop here and tell you that on the Internet I found where I could buy a used, large Kitchen Aid mixer. I never do things halfway and I did like the idea of the dough hook, so I ordered the big one. When my commercial mixer arrived and I could not lift the thing, a friend helped me get it on my kitchen counter. Now, I can push it forward or back when I am finished using the machine. I am ashamed to admit it but I did not use the Kitchen Aid for about three weeks, as it was large and intimidating. I finally pulled it out, put my dough hook in the machine and used it. It worked! My hands just were not strong enough to give that last 4 cups of flour the right kneading. This was the beginning of my making some pretty good bread.

And practice makes even better. I can't use the word 'perfect', but I am getting close. I make about four loaves a week and now have a waiting list for my bread. Not one person I know has not been given a loaf of my bread. I know it may sound shallow but I love to hear "You made this? It tastes wonderful and smells so good!"

Now for my recipe:


2 cups warm water (about 85-degrees F)
7-1/2 cups to 8 cups all-purpose flour, un-sifted
l cup San Francisco sourdough starter at room temperature
2-TSP plain or iodized salt. (I use sea salt)
2 TSP granulated sugar

water for the oven and a spray bottle of water.

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine water, sourdough starter and 4 cups of flour. Mix well, cover with clear plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place (85 degrees F) 8 to 12 hours. I have a stove with two ovens. I set one oven at about 125 degrees F when I am beginning my bread making, and put my mix in it and then turn it off. I do this at night so that I can get 8 to 12 hours of rising. (Armchair World Note: If you use Marylee's method of proofing, make sure that the oven does stay above 85 degrees F during proofing or you might kill the sourdough culture. You will need a good thermometer to test your oven's temperature.)

2. Stir in salt, sugar and enough flour (about 4 cups) to form a very stiff dough. Knead until smooth. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double in size (2 to 2-1/2 hours). I do this in the oven as explained in (1).

3. Punch down and divide in half (this part is fun). Knead gently until smooth. Shape each half into a loaf or round shape. Cover the sourdough bread loaves lightly. Let them rise in a warm place until puffy and almost doubled in size (1 to 1-1/2 hours). Again, I do this in the oven.

At this point I stop, clean up my mess up and set my other oven (the bigger one) to 400 degrees F.

4. Carefully place a small pan on the shelf below the oven baking rack and fill it with hot water.

5. Place your sourdough bread loaves on the baking rack. (I use a stone brought a couple of years ago so that I could make pizza; I hope to get around to making pizza someday.) Close the oven door and bake in the preheated 400-degree oven for 10 minutes. Then open the oven and spray both loves a couple of times (I do this at least two or three times during baking). Close the oven door and continue baking for 20 to 25 minutes or longer until the loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. (Early in my baking I had no trouble with judging the color, but the "hollow sound" was another matter. The first time I heard the hollow sound and compared it with my finished loaf, I finally knew what the bread should sound like when it is done. What a good feeling!). Take the loaves out of the oven and then (the hard part for me) let them cool. The loaves are not fully flavored until they are fully cool.

I hope you have enjoyed my little tale. And please, if you are looking for something to keep you mind busy and you like to bake, try making some sourdough bread. My kitchen is my sanatorium.

©2004 Marylee Scanlon

If you would like to contact Marylee, please fill out our feedback form and reference "Marylee's Sourdough Bread" in the subject field.

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