I know this is 100% whole food blog, but this sourdough bread is sort of the exception. One of the things that I have learned while researching sourdough over the years, is that white sourdough bread that uses the slow fermentation process people used for 1000's of years prior to the invention of active dry yeast, makes this bread OK for people with sugar issues, like Type II Diabetes, to eat. The sugars in the white flour are pre-digested, therefore gone by the time baking is done, so your body won't treat it in the same manner as other simple carbohydrates. For Diabetics, this is supposed to be better to eat than 100% whole wheat, but do your research first. Here's an article about the benefits of sourdough bread in blood sugar control if you want to read more about it.
3 cups all purpose flour (plus a half cup for kneading) (I usually just use 3 1/2 cups and knead it in a bowl by hand or with a KitchenAid and bread hook)
3 rounded tablespoons vital wheat gluten
1 cup active sourdough starter
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup distilled or bottled water
1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey
In a large mixing bowl, add all of the dry ingredients and mix them together using a whisk. I like to use a two cup glass measuring cup for the next part. Add 1 cup water and one cup of starter that you have stirred down prior to remove the air and to measuring to get a more accurate reading. Add the water and starter to the dry ingredients. Add the agave syrup or honey and stir all ingredients with a wooden or plastic spoon. (Don't use metal at any point in the making of bread other than the pan as you want to avoid a chemical reaction due to the long rise period)
Once you can no longer stir using a spoon, I like to just keep the dough in the bowl and knead it there. You can also knead it on a floured cutting board or granite/marble counter (or using a Kitchenaid mixer with a dough hook). If you're doing it in the bowl, while you knead it slowly add the remaining 1/2 cup of all purpose flour if you didn't use the extra half cup initially. If you're doing it on the board or counter, use the 1/2 cup flour to keep the dough from sticking. Eventually it should all be absorbed into the dough. When you are done you will have a tacky but not sticky dough ball. If dough is really stiff, add more water. Different environments cause different results. Altitude, temperature, humidity all affect the results.
I use a large plastic container with a top, lightly sprayed with cooking oil (the other rule I break but you'll never get it out of the container if you don't use this) to allow the dough to rise. It will take between 8 and 12 hours to double in size depending on the temperature. The dough rises best in a 70 degree to 80 degree environment, but it will go faster if it's warmer and slower if it's colder. The longer the rise, the stronger the sour taste. (you can actually put it in the refrigerator at this point if you want it to rise later, but I wouldn't do this until you've mastered the process.
After it has doubled in size, deflate it by punching it down and let it rise one more time...should only take an hour to and hour and a half.
Pick the container you want to use to bake. I prefer something that is cast iron like a Le Creuset or cast iron skillet with a lid. Place the baking pan in the oven and pre-heat to 475 degrees Fahrenheit.This will take about 1/2 hour to heat. While it's heating, form the dough into a loaf. I like to put it on a floured counter with the dry side (smooth side) of the dough down and the sponge side (looks like a sponge) facing me. Pull the 4 sides to the middle and flip it over with the seam facing down and play with it until you get a small loaf. When the oven is ready, carefully remove the pan and place the dough, seam side down, into the pan. Use a razor blade or very sharp knife to cut three 3" slashes on the top, and put the lid on it. Place it back in the oven and bake for 25 minutes.
After the first 25 minutes turn the oven down to 375 degrees and remove the lid of the pan. Bake for an additional 25 minutes. When the baking time is over, remove the bread from the pan, (tap on the bottom of the loaf...it should sound hollow) place it on a cooling rack (if you don't have a cooling rack but have a toaster oven, use one of the racks from the oven for a cooling rack). Allow the bread to cool for an hour before cutting into it as it's still setting up while cooling.
* Feed the starter
By this time you have an active starter. You should always keep 1 cup of starter. Before you bake, if the starter has been in the refrigerator, remove it for two hours so it warms up to room temperature. Add 1 cup of All Purpose Flour and 2/3 cups of filtered or bottled water (equal volume by weight) to the existing starter. Stir with a wooden or plastic spoon or spatula until you have a fairly smooth consistency. Mark where the level amount of starter is on the side or your container with a piece of tape so you can tell when it's about doubled in volume. When this happens, stir it down and use it in the bread recipe. Sometimes you may have to dump out all but a cup and repeat this process a couple of times if you haven't used the starter or fed it for awhile. It's pretty hard to kill the starter if you keep it in the fridge. It's pretty easy to kill it by leaving it on the counter without feeding it constantly. If you're making bread on a semi regular basis, feeding before using makes it all you need to do to keep the starter going.
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to leave a comment below and I'll get back to you right away.