Sourdough Italian Bread

Sourdough Italian Bread

1 1/4 cup sourdough starter
1 t salt
1 cup lukewarm water
1 1/2 cups flour *

4 1/2 teaspoons yeast
1 1/3 cup lukewarm water
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 t salt
1 t course ground pepper (I sometimes double this amount)
4 to 5 cups of flour

Early in the day, mix the first 4 ingredients. Combine them thoroughly. This is the 'sponge' and this step adds much flavor. Cover it with a clean towel and set it aside for 4 to 5 hours.
You're gonna want to put this in a large glass or plastic (non-reactive) bowl as it's gonna grow!

Stir the sponge down. Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water and add to the sponge. Stir in the next 4 ingredients, using 4 cups of flour, until you see if you need the other. I usually like the feel of the dough with just 4 cups added at this point. I use a generous amount during kneading and shaping without worrying about it getting too stiff. When a workable ball has formed, turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead it for between 5 and 10 minutes (depending on how tense you are!). You will feel it become elastic and smooth. Return the dough to an oiled or buttered bowl, cover it again and set it aside to rise until doubled, or about an hour.

When it has doubled, punch the dough down and let is sit covered for another 1/2 hour.

Turn the dough out again and shape. If you wish to braid two loaves, divide into 6 equal pieces of dough.. Roll and stretch the dough pieces into long ropes. Braid three pieces together. You will tuck the ends underneath and place each braid into a glass loaf pan that's been buttered. I lightly brush the tops with some melted butter as well. Cover and set them aside until they have doubled, about an hour. They should rise an inch or more above the side of the loaf pan. I brush them again, lightly, with butter before popping them into a preheated 375 degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes.

They can cool in the pan, or you can place them on a rack on their sides to cool.

To convert this dough to dinner rolls, make out 20 to 24 rolls and set them to rise in a 9 by 13 pan.  They will rise to fill the pan and will be beautiful.
For the rolls, in my oven, I bake them on 375 for 20 minutes, checking them the last few minutes..