Sourdough bread is my personal favorite: tangy, crusty, light, it’s perfect for all kinds of meals, whether as a simple buttered toast or as the best croutons for a salad. It’s also one of the most difficult types of bread to make, which is why many home cooks (like myself!) are hesitant to make it at home.
However, once you bake your first sourdough bread, you’re going to find that, while laborious, it’s one of the most fulfilling and satisfying things to make in the kitchen. Here’s a basic recipe for you to try:
For the leaven:
75 grams water (1/3 cup)
1 tablespoon active sourdough starter
75 grams (1/2 cup) all-purpose flour (you can also substitute this with bread flour)
For the dough:
700 grams (5 ½ cups) all-purpose flour (you can substitute this with bread flour)
525 grams (2 ½ cups) water, divided into 2
1 tablespoon salt
A Dutch oven, or, if you don’t have one, a large heavy-bottomed pot with a solid lid.
Bread proofing basket (mixing bowls and or colanders can also be used)
BEFORE YOU START:
It’s essential that your sourdough culture is alive and active. To ensure this, take out your starter from the refrigerator and leave it somewhere warm and dry (I use a switched-off oven). Feed it daily to make sure it’s active.
Step 1) Making the Leavening
Put all of your leaven ingredients into a bowl. Mix thoroughly until it turns into a thick, batter-like consistency. Cover this and let it sit out in room temperature overnight, or 12 hours at least.
Step 2) Testing the Leaven
Check your leaven after leaving it overnight. If the surface is smooth and undisturbed, it needs more time. However, if the leaven surface is rough and bubbly, you’re ready to go. You can also check by dropping a small amount of leaven into water: if it floats, it’s ready for use.
Step 3) Dissolve the salt
Dissolve your salt in a quarter cup of water and set aside.
Step 4) Mix The Leaven and the Water
Add 2 cups of water to your leaven and stir. You can use a spatula or you can use your hands, just make sure to break up and dissolve as much of the leaven as possible. Given that, however, don’t be too stressed if a few stubborn clumps remain: it’s perfectly fine.
Step 5) Incorporate the Flour
Once your leaven has been dissolved, add your flour. Mix until all the flour has been incorporated and there are no dry spots. This should create a very shaggy dough.
Step 6) Let the Dough Rest
Put your shaggy dough into a mixing bowl and cover with cling wrap or a (very clean) kitchen towel. Rest the dough for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours. This allows the flour to fully absorb the water and for the enzymes to start breaking down starches and proteins, creating that unique sourdough texture.
Step 7) Add the Salt
Once the dough has been rested, add your salty water. Work it into dough by squeezing and pinching. By the end of it, your dough should feel loose and wet.
Step 8) Start Folding the Dough
Once your salt is incorporated, it’s time to fold the dough. Take your dough and grab one side, lift it up, and fold it on top of itself. Do this four more times, rotating a quarter turn between folds.
After that, let it rest for around half an hour, then start folding again. Repeat for a total of 6 times, with 30 minute rests in between. This whole process should take around 2 and a half hours, and by the end of it, your dough should go from shaggy and loose, to smooth and tight.
Step 9) Rest the Dough and Let it Rise
Once you finish the folding process, let the dough rest and rise undisturbed for about an hour or until it looks kind of puffed up. Don’t expect it to double in size like regular bread; it’s perfectly normal for your sourdough bread to have minimal growth during the rising stage. Having said that, it should still look noticeably larger than when you started out.
Step 10) Divide the Dough
Turn your dough out on top of a lightly floured work surface. Be gentle as possible so as to avoid deflation. Using your pastry or bench scraper, divide the dough into 2 equal halves.
Step 11) Shape the Dough
Shape the dough into loose rounds.
Once you have your two halves, dust them with a light sprinkling of flour. Using your scraper, roughly shape them into loose rounds by taking your scraper under the dough and then going around in a curve. Dust your scraper with flour when necessary so that it doesn’t stick. Don’t worry if they don’t come out perfect: this is just a preliminary shaping that preps them for the actual shaping later on.
Step 12) Let the Dough Rest Again
Once you finish shaping your dough, let them rest for 20 minutes to half an hour. This allows the gluten in the flour to relax, making it easier to shape later on.
Once both pieces of dough are shaped, let them rest for 20 to 30 minutes to relax the gluten again before final shaping.
Step 13) Prep Your Proofing Basket
Line 2 bread proofing baskets (or colander, or bowl, depending on what you have) with clean kitchen towels. Dust the entire surface of the towels with flour, leaving no spot un-floured. Do this to both sides.
Step 14) Reshape the Dough
Take your dough and sprinkle the top with flour. Using your pastry scraper, flip the dough upside down so that the floured top is now at the bottom. Just like in step 8, fold the dough into itself using the same technique, bringing the floured bottom to the top. If it starts losing its roundness, cup your hands to both sides of the dough and coax it back into shape. Do this to both halves of the dough.
Step 15) Place the Dough Into Your Proofing Basket
Once the dough has been shaped, sprinkle generously with flour. Place them into your proofing basket upside down, so that the seams of the folding from the previous step are at the top.
Step 16) Rest the Dough and Let it Rise Again
Cover the baskets with plastic wrap, but keep it loose. Place the bowl on the kitchen counter and let the dough rise at room temperature, around 3 to 4 hours (overnight in the fridge). Once they’ve risen, they should look like plump pillows.
Step 17) Preheat Your Oven
Take your Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot with lid and place it into your oven. Heat them until they reach 500°F, or 260°C.
Step 18) Transfer the Dough
Once the Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot has been heated through, take your dough and tip it into the Dutch oven so that it’s seam-side down.
Step 19) Score the LoafScore the top of the loaf. Us
Using a sharp knofe, score the surface of the loaf at a slight angle. This gives it that distinctive sourdough shelf.
Step 20) Bake for 20 minutes
Once the bread has been scored, put the Dutch oven lid on and place back in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes.
Step 21) Reduce the Temperature to 450°F and Bake for Another 10 Minutes
After 20 minutes, dial down the oven temperature to 450°F, or 230°C. Do NOT open the oven at this point.
Step 22) Remove Dutch Oven Lid
After 10 minutes, open the oven and take out the pot lid to release the steam. Your loaves should look dry, golden, and sprung up.
Step 23) Bake Uncovered for 15 to 25 Minuteso
With the lid off, bake your bread uncovered for 15 to 25 minutes, or until the crust has changed from gold to a deep brown.
Step 24) Cool Completely
Once they’ve achieved that deep brown, almost burnt (but not quite), color, they’re done. Take your loaves out of the pot with a spatula and transfer them to a wire rack. Cool completely before slicing.
Step 25) Feel Proud
Congratulations! You’ve made your first ever sourdough bread!
A Satisfying Experience
All in all, it takes about 5 days to a week to make your sourdough starter, and another day or so to make the actual bread. Didn’t I say it was laborious?
Despite its difficulty, baking sourdough bread gives you a sense of accomplishment, this feeling of laboring over something day in and day out to produce a wonderful and delicious product. It truly is a satisfying experience that I encourage all of you to try at least once!