Classic American Salt-Rising Bread

star rating (5) rate this recipe
Recipe photo
Hands-on time:
Yield: 1 loaf

Recipe photo

This recipe comes to us courtesy of the late Bernard Clayton, a fine gentleman and author whose books we've long admired. We've made a few minor changes, but a very similar version of this recipe appears in Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads. Clayton, in turn, cited its publication by the Ladies Aid Society of the First Presbyterian Church of Polson, Montana, in 1912. Now, we're pleased to pass it along to you. This traditional American bread recipe, made without yeast, is worth saving — and savoring.

We urge you to read this recipe start to finish before beginning, in order to plan a timeline. We also suggest you read our "tips," below — so you're not surprised by the bread's unusual aroma as it rises and bakes.

Classic American Salt-Rising Bread

star rating (5) rate this recipe
Hands-on time:
Yield: 1 loaf
Published: 09/13/2013

Ingredients

Starter 1

  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Starter 2

Dough

Tips from our bakers

  • If you've never made salt-rising bread, please be prepared to trust us through some of the following procedures. Yes, it's supposed to smell that way. Yes, it's very important to keep the starter warm. If you're willing to take on a challenge (which this will be, if you live in a drafty house in a cold climate), the end result will be a distinctively flavored, fine-grained loaf of bread that will stay fresh for almost a week; and makes wonderful toast, as well.

    The bread's aroma is redolent of cheese, but there's no cheese in this bread; the flavor comes from the slight fermentation of the ingredients, during the bread's preparation. Speaking of fermentation, be prepared; the starter and dough will smell like... dirty socks? Old sneakers mixed with Parmesan cheese? Somewhat unpleasant, anyway, but please bear with it — it's just the enzymes and bacteria doing their jobs and giving the bread its special qualities. If you've ever made cheese or yogurt, you know exactly what we mean.
  • Can you double this recipe? Thanks to our intrepid readers, who tested this out for us, yes. One reader reports having better results with the doubled recipe when cooling the scalded milk in starter #1 to lukewarm before combining with the cornmeal, so keep that in mind.

Directions

see this recipe's blog

1) To make Starter 1: Heat the milk until it's nearly but not quite boiling; small bubbles will form around the edge of the pan (or microwave container), and you might see a bit of steam. This is called "scalding" the milk.

2) Cool the milk until it's lukewarm, then whisk together the milk, cornmeal, and sugar in a small heatproof container. The container should be large enough to let the starter expand a bit. Whisking vigorously will help prevent lumps.

3) Cover the container with plastic wrap, and place it somewhere warm, between 90F and 100F. We find our turned-off electric oven, with the light turned on for about 2 hours ahead of time, holds a temperature of 95F to 97F, perfect for this starter.

4) Let the starter rest in its warm place overnight, or for 8 to 12 hours. It won't expand much, but will develop a bubbly foam on its surface. It'll also smell a bit fermented. If it doesn't bubble at all, and doesn't smell fermented, your starter has failed; try again, using different cornmeal, or finding a warmer spot.

5) To make Starter 2: Combine the hot water (120F to 130F) with the salt, baking soda, and sugar, stirring to combine. Add the flour, stirring until everything is thoroughly moistened.

6) Stir Starter 1 into Starter 2.

7) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and place it in the same warm spot Starter 1 was in. Let it rest until very bubbly and doubled in size, 2 to 4 hours. If it's not showing any bubbles after a couple of hours, move it somewhere warmer. If it still doesn't bubble after a couple of hours, give it up; you'll need to start over.

8) Transfer your bubbly starter to a larger bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer (or your bread machine bucket).

9) Stir in the soft butter, salt, and flour. Knead until smooth; the dough will be soft, and fairly elastic/stretchy.

10) Shape the dough into a log, and place it in a lightly greased 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pan.

11) Cover the pan, and place it back in its warm spot. Let the loaf rise until it's crowned about 1/2" to 3/4" over the rim of the pan, which could take up to 4 hours or so. This won't form the typical large, domed top; it will rise straight up, with just a slight dome.

12) Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350F.

13) Bake the bread for 35 to 40 minutes, until it's nicely browned. Again, it won't rise much; that's OK.

14) Remove the bread from the oven; if you have a digital thermometer, it should read about 190F to 200F at its center. Wait 5 minutes, then turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool.

15) Store cooled bread at room temperature for 5 to 7 days; freeze for longer storage.

Yield: 1 loaf.

Reviews

1
  • star rating 12/18/2014
  • Amy from wv
  • I just wanted to try this bread to see if I could actually do it. Success, 3 times! Boy, it sure does stink! I put it in the oven with the light on, then put a heating pad on top of the bowl with a towel over it all. Thanks for the great detailed instructions.
  • star rating 11/04/2014
  • Mikki from Houston, TX
  • It stinks to high heaven but it's a great bread. I haven't made this since I was a little girl with my Grandma. We didn't have A/C so she would make it in the summer when the temps were in the 90's, it was a fav of my Grandfathers. A family friend requested I make a loaf, sadly my Grandma is gone but PJ came through with another winner. Since I make my yogurt a gallon at a time in my Excalibur Dehydrator I figured why not and it worked perfectly on first the try. The crust and the crumb were lovely and the flavor was just as I remembered, with hints of cheese, butter and sourdough. Makes a great grilled cheese sandwich!
  • star rating 10/07/2014
  • Ruth from Bethlehem, CT.
  • I came across a reference to salt rising bread the other day on the internet. I had never heard of it before, so being an avid bread baker, I had to find out what it was. I did a search for it and found a link to KAF's blog and PJ Hamel's article about it, which came as no surprise to me. KAF is always my go to site for questions about baking or for new recipes. You guys are awesome and have never let me down! After reading the blog article and recipe, I was so amused and intrigued that I had to try to bake a loaf. It smells like dirty socks while it ferments and it is supposed to smell like that? Really? How could I resist trying it out after reading that? The recipe was so very detailed and very easy to follow (and the look on my husband's face when he got his first whiff of the starter was priceless). I own the Brod & Taylor Bread Proofer (an incredibly awesome product by the way). So I had no problems maintaining the required temperatures and had no failures along the way. I can't imagine even trying to make this bread, though, without the Proofer, not in my old, cold, drafty house that has high ceilings everywhere. Although this bread takes quite a while to make, ultimately it was more than worth it. The bread was amazing, the taste, the texture. I will definitely make this again and would recommend the recipe to anyone. Thank you King Arthur for a wonderful recipe!
  • star rating 09/15/2014
  • Maria from Harford, NY
  • This turned out great! My first attempt failed - temperature inside my oven, with the light on, wasn't warm enough. Next, I put the container on a heating pad on the medium setting, with a towel over everything - just right! Wonderful taste.
  • star rating 03/13/2014
  • Jim from Roanoke, VA
  • It is very difficult to find anyone that makes salt rising bread in this part of Virginia. Most bakerys say it is too unreliable and difficult to make. I have tried many formulas for years and none satisfactory. Relatives of mine made it in their wood fired ovens in the depression to sell and I have the recipe, but it didn't work. The King Arthur recipe worked great and is consistent. Thank you King Arthur. Dr. Jim Morgan
1
bakershotline

Related recipes