If you've never made salt-rising bread, please be prepared to trust us through some of the following procedures. Yes, it is 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? Something somewhat unpleasant, anyway, but please bear with itit'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.

This bread is best made over a 2 to 3 day period; it can't be rushed. It also must be kept warm, which is perhaps why this was a popular bread in the 19th century; the warming oven of a wood stove, which just about every household possessed back then, is the perfect place to keep the culture alive. So, let's get started.
1 cup (8 ounces) boiling water
3 tablespoons salt-rising yeast*
2 tablespoons nonfat dry milk
*There's no substitute for this special yeast, which can be ordered through The Baker's Catalogue.

Pour the boiling water into a 2-cup or larger container, and sprinkle on the salt-rising yeast and nonfat dry milk. Stir once to moisten, then again after a few minutes, stirring until thickened and evenly moistened. Place the starter, covered, in a warm area (between 100F and 105F) for about 12 hours. (If you have a gas oven, the pilot light may keep your oven warm enough. Or use a heating pad set on low; a small cooler to which you've added a couple of inches of boiling water, or a yogurt maker.) After 12 hours, and up to 24 hours later, this mixture should look bubbly and smell sour. It may also have separated; this is OK. If the starter's not bubbly, the culture has probably died or hasn't been activated, so toss it out and start again.

Step 1
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) King Unbleached Arthur Bread Flour
1 cup hot (not boiling) water

Add the flour and hot water to the starter and set aside to rest, covered, in a warm place for 2 to 4 hours or longer-letting it rest overnight is fine. Remember to keep the mixture at the proper warm temperature, as listed above.

Step 2
1 tablespoon nonfat dry milk
1 tablespoon instant yeast (NOT salt-rising yeast)
1/2 cup (4 ounces) warm water
4 cups (17 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
3 tablespoons (1 1/4 ounces) sugar
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1/4 cup (2 ounces, 4 tablespoons) butter

Add the dry milk, yeast, warm water, bread flour, sugar, salt, and butter to the starter and mix well; use a stand mixer or a bread machine if you have one, as this dough starts out sticky and stays that way. Mix on dough cycle or with well-greased hands, until the dough looks shiny (about 5 minutes by machine or 8 to 10 minutes by hand).

Divide the dough into two pieces, and place each piece in a lightly greased 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pan. Cover the pans with greased plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise in a warm place for 2 to 4 hours, or more. (This dough can be unpredictable, so check it after 1 1/2 hours, but plan for 4; the bread is ready to bake when it has almost doubled. Don't expect much oven spring, so give it the time it needs to rise fully in the pan.)

Bake the bread in a preheated 375F oven for 35 to 40 minutes. The bread will be done when it's golden brown and its interior measure 190F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove it from the oven, and turn it out of the pans after 10 minutes. Let it cool completely before slicing. Yield: 2 loaves.

This bread stays fresh for at least a week, and also freezes well. In our opinion it's not an all-purpose sandwich bread, due to its distinctive cheesy flavor, but we do know people who use it for everything. P.S. It makes great grilled cheese!