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Classic American Salt-Rising Bread

Author: Bernard Clayton

Classic American Salt-Rising Bread Recipe

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.

View step-by-step
directions on our blog

At a glance

1 loaf


Choose your measure:

Starter 1

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

Starter 2



  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 90°F and 100°F. We find our turned-off electric oven, with the light turned on for about 2 hours ahead of time, holds a temperature of 95°F to 97°F, 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 (120°F to 130°F) 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 350°F.
  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 190°F to 200°F 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.
  16. Yield: 1 loaf.