Salt Rising Bread –


This should really be properly called – “Pain in the Butt Bread”. No less an authority than James Beard said a good many negative things about it. But even Beard admitted that it is delicious when you get it right.

I had salt rising as a normal thing as a child. There was a neighborhood bakery nearby that made it on a regular basis. I can remember, somewhere around age four or five, going in with my mother about once a month for our fix of salt rising. Oh wow, the smells in that old-fashioned bakery were heavenly. I think it was an old German couple that ran it, but memory is somewhat iffy after all these years.

Salt rising has a particular pungency like no other. The crumb is smooth, creamy and tender. The crust is thin and delicate. The taste is addicting. I like my salt rising cut thin and toasted with a heavy layer of butter. It also makes a nice tomato sandwich, cut thin with a good slathering of mayo, fresh tomatoes, salt and pepper. Add some crisp bacon and a layer of lettuce for a real classic.

Salt rising was quite popular in the first 200 years or so in this country, and it is a real oddball. It does not rise from yeast, the lifting mechanism is the bacterium Clostridium perfringens. This is a three stage bread. First, we have to lasso the wild and wily Clostridium perfringens, this is the starter. Then we make a sponge. Then we make the bread. The bacterium is not as efficient a leavener as yeast, so the rise takes a good bit longer in each stage. We also do not get quite as much lift, even with the longer rise.

There are a ton of different recipes, some involve potatoes, some cornmeal. I even saw an article where one fellow had produced the starter from tree bark. Be forewarned, it may take several tries before you capture your wild Clostridium perfringens. Don’t bother going any farther until you have produced a healthy starter. It may take several tries. Generally, it’s going to be finicky the first time. If you do get good results, put a 1/8” layer of the successful sponge in a small salad bowl and cover with a cloth. When it dries scoop it out and seal it up. Then use a bit of it with the next batch to kick your starter off. It will be even better than the first lot. I tend to use this variation since the more exotic starter recipes involve straining the starter and I’m just too lazy to get involved in all that extra fuss.

Here goes –
Mix up the starter. Scald a cup of milk. That is, gently heat it up to around 180°, stirring constantly. Add ½ cup of cornmeal, a tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of salt. You want to hold this at 110° for up to 24 hours. A good electric skillet filled with water does fine. Set the bowl – glass, or at least something non-reactive – in the skillet and cover with a cloth. When you are successful you will have a layer of foam on top and a good, pungent smell. Not sour, just pungent. The smell of salt rising is unmistakable.

When you have a good starter, make the sponge. Add 2 cups 110° water, 2 more tablespoons of sugar, 3 tablespoons of soft butter, and 2 cups of unbleached AP flour. Mix completely, beating until it is smooth and silky. Put back in the warm water and cover. Let it rise until it is light and bubbly, 2 to 3 hours. It does not rise as much as a yeast bread would, only a 10% to 15% increase in volume, if that much.

Make the main dough. Mix up ½ teaspoon baking soda with just enough warm water to dissolve it and add it to the sponge. Mix in 5 cups AP flour, add just enough more flour, ¼ cup at a time until you have a good consistency: slightly sticky and somewhat tough in feel. Knead for a good 10 minutes. Maybe 5 minutes if using a mixer with dough hooks, when the dough climbs the hook and/or the mixer moans and complains you are there. Cut and form 3 loafs and place in greased bread pans 9x5x3. Grease up the top of the loafs and set aside covered to rise in a warmish place. You can still use the electric skillet, just set to 85°. I like to use butter for the grease as it lends a very nice taste to the crust. Let it rise until it is about 2 ½ times original size, somewhere between 3 and 5 hours.

Bake at 375° for 10 minutes, then drop the oven down to 350° for another 20-25 minutes. Alternately a straight 350° for about an hour. Whichever way you are looking for a nice brown crust and a done loaf. Do the thump test as for a usual loaf.


19 Responses to “Salt Rising Bread –”

  1. turtlemom3 Says:

    Herself sez: My grandmother used to take me to Rhodes Bakery down on Piedmont Ave. They had Salt Rising bread once a week, and she would get a loaf about twice a month. YUMMM! Finding it now is a pain. Rhodes Bakery still exists, and, I suspect, still uses the same recipes. BUT, it is 45 miles away from where we now live, and I just can’t drive that much “just” for a loaf of bread. You also have to be on the “list” of people who want it, so I’d have to order it a week ahead, then go down on “the” day to get it.

    I was sooooo happy when The Ol’ Curmudgeon started making it! It’s wonderful!

    Interestingly, Clostridium perfringens is a bacteria that can cause nasty GI infections – usually in livestock. The Arizona Public Health Department says this: “Humans have also become infected, although cases of enteritis have been localized, most notably in the highlands of Papua New Guinea where it occurs as a severe, usually fatal form of food poisoning that kills the small intestine.

    “In spite of its potential danger as an infectious agent, the avirulent forms of bacillus are commonly found in the intestinal tracts of warm-blooded animals, and it also inhabits terrestrial, marine and aquatic environments. The trouble starts when the balance of bacteria in the gut is disrupted, giving C. perfringens a chance to proliferate unchecked.”

    But DO NOT WORRY! When cooked in the bread, it is killed and its toxins are inactivated.

    So, some “bugs” are both good and bad! In the case of Salt Rising Bread, it is very good!! Very Good! VERY Very Good!

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  3. Susan Brown Says:

    Hi. You did a fairly good job talking about SRB. One thing I would tell you, though, is that you can and should thump your baked loaf when taking it out of the oven. It’s a good indicator as to whether your bread is done, just as it is in a yeast bread. Also, you refer to “catching your wild Colestridium perfringens.” This is not accurate. One doesn’t “catch” the Cp. It is actually already present in your SRB starter ingredients (i.e. the flour, the cornmeal, and/or the potato). What you are actually doing, rather than catching something wild, is simply giving the bacteria, that are already present, food and heat in order for them to grow. Keep up the good work!!! Susan

  4. Andreas Says:

    I’ll have to let you know ahead of time when I come down to Lanter. How much time do you need for advance notice? I would like some of that SRB.

    Anybody have a good recipe for some old fashioned sourdough? I had some in Alsace-Lorraine years ago and haven’t found a way to duplicate it.


  5. All the Bread Posts - « Rumblings of an Ol’ Curmudgeon Says:

    […] October 16, 2007 Salt Rising Bread – […]

  6. Eli Says:

    I grew up with Rhodes bakery too! I have been fortunate enough to live about 10 minutes away. Their breads and cakes are not what they used to be when I was a child. Anyway, could you use a sourdough starter instead of the cornmeal and milk starter?

  7. turtlemom3 Says:

    You need the Clostridium perfringens rather than one of the other bacteria involved with sourdough starter. You won’t get the same crumb and won’t get the same pungent aroma or taste with the other bacteria. – You’ll get decent sourdough, but not Salt Rising Bread.

  8. Walt Says:

    There was a bakery in Seattle that made ‘Salt Risen’ bread when I was a kid My mother bought the bread regularly in the 1960’s and 1970’s. My sister and I ate the bread, usually with lots of butter and a thin layer of peanut butter. Alas, I can’t find a bakery in the Seattle region that makes Salt Risen. I keep looking and hoping… Perhaps I’ll have to make my own.

  9. Devin Says:

    There is a place in Western New York state called Cuba Cheese Shop that you can order salt rising bread on the internet . It is Angelica Salt rising bread , they also have the best cheese that you will ever eat. I would recomend a reciepe that they have for mac and cheese that uses their extra sharp cheese its the best
    i refuse to eat any other.

  10. June Keiser Says:

    I had salt rising bread years ago and remember it as being very aromatic and tasty. Does the starter for salt rising bread require gluten to rise in the same way yeast requires gluten? Perhaps someone can answer this.

  11. Annie Wachtel Says:

    There was a bakery in Galesburg , MI . ( Southern Michigan ) called “Bells Bakery”- they made SRB regularly . I was hooked then – still hooked .
    FYI- King Arthur Flour website sells a “Salt Rising Bread Starter” . They are out of it today but usually stock it . My Daddy always used to say “It smells like old socks in here- is someone making Salt Rising Bread toast “?
    Ahh memories .

  12. » Blog Archive » Making Stinky Cheese Bread Says:

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  13. Dave Says:

    Not necessarily a reply as much as it is a call for help….“Pain in the Butt Bread” is right!… I have had little to no success thus far… (I admit I am an impatient type). Yeast bread is predictable… sourdough – satisfying process & result… salt rising is a huge question mark. My attempts at a starter (using standard commercial white enriched plain cornmeal then organic yellow cornmeal) have been frustrating… I follow all directions/suggestions and achieve limited success… minimal “foam”… and this is AFTER the 24 hour mark. The temp in the oven with the light on is 100F. I have yet to try a potato approach.. any and all suggestions are welcome. Thanks, Dave

  14. Lee Says:

    I have read that you need yellow corn meal the old fashioned kind with a live germ? I cannot find this ….but wonder about health food stores having it? I LOVE this bread and found that Anjelica just cannot duplicate the old fashioned taste we are craving! I am trying to figure out a way to use my bread maker in this process. Anyone tried this? Thanks! Lee

  15. Pete Says:

    Nice article! I’d love to see a scholarly article on Clostridium perfringens-A… relative to bread baking. Maybe more thorough than:

    What is the contributing factor of potato solution? Potassium Carbonate? Is an alkalai solution required to propagate C.Perf.?
    How does scalded milk and corn meal create a C.Perf. favorable medium? Optimal measure of salinity? pH? graph Temp vs Rise time?
    If C.Perf merely produces acids and necessary flavor, the required baking soda would then create a soda bread, wherein the leaving occurs from the reaction of its acids with the added baking soda?

    Would a ramped cooking temp assist the leavening and crumb?
    Preventing a rocky crust and uncooked center?
    170, 250, 350, 450?
    Adjustments for altitude? aridity?

    Can you be so certain it is C.Perf.? or merely wild yeast(sourdough), advancing rapidly to vinegar(through wild acetobacter), producing an acid medium for the baking soda reaction?

    Is salt-risen bread a single prolonged raise bread (spongeless)?
    Will the NSA confiscate my kitchen for growing biotoxic bacteria?

    Still so many unanswered questions…

  16. Bill Says:

    Check out Susan R. Brown’s (see post above, this thread by SRB) website “The Salt Rising Bread Project”
    Then click on RECIPES FOR SRB until you reach #6 which at the bottom of the second page will link to a Maaster’s degree thesis for SRB. May have some info for you.

  17. Bill Says:

    Check out Susan R. Brown’s (see post above, this thread by SRB) website “The Salt Rising Bread Project”
    Then click on RECIPES FOR SRB until you reach #6 which at the bottom of the second page will link to a Maaster’s degree thesis for SRB. May have some info for you.

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