Growing up in a family of bread bakers who specialize in sourdough I can tell you two things. I recognize the look, taste and smell of a perfectly made loaf, AND I have been completely intimidated by that living yeast to tackle this style of bread baking, until now. You know, I’m not getting any younger. I’ve decided on many fronts that I’d rather continue to try new things and fail instead of living in a little bubble spinning in the same circles. Sourdough is a good challenge–and I’ve made several batches now of really delicious bread!
Sourdough is made with the simplest of ingredients. Flour, water, salt and that wonderful mixture of sour sponge. (Sourdough starter–or sponge– is flour and water and many little living yeasties that are kept alive by consistent feeding. It’s like having a little puppy in the house–a puppy who lives in the cupboard. Here’s a recipe for making starter from scratch that explains the process well.) Because making a starter takes quite a bit of time, ask around to see if there’s someone you know who might be willing to share theirs. I’ve given away many small batches of starter already this year to neighbors and friends…
Note: I don’t give any firm times in this recipe for when to mold the dough and when to bake. This is not a loaf of bread for beginners because you’ll need to be familiar with the way dough looks when it’s ready at each stage. Much will depend on the temperature and moisture in your kitchen, and the liveliness of the sponge. That said, go ahead and give it a whirl–there’s nothing like learning by doing–and you can always make croutons if it doesn’t come out quite right!
Time Commitment: Between 20 and 24 hours, depending on the conditions in your kitchen. You’ll need to activate your starter before you begin, so think about that as you’re planning…
- Tools you need:
- Cookie sheets or bread peel
- Large mixing bowl
- an oven
- Wooden spoon
- Other tools I use, but that aren’t imperative: spray bottle, parchment paper, dough scrapers, baking stone,
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 3/4 cup bread flour
- 1/2 cup sourdough starter
- 10-12 ounces of cool or lukewarm water
- 2 teaspoons salt (I like sea salt)
- rice flour or corn meal for dusting
- What to do:
Step One: Activate the starter. If your starter hasn’t been used in a few days, then it could do with a bit of refreshing before you begin. Add a little flour and water into your starter several hours before you want to mix your dough.
Step Two: Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl and mix with a wooden spoon. Add the starter, mix some more, then add the water. (I keep my starter fairly liquid, so I have to adjust my water accordingly.) Stir, then get your hands into the dough and mix.
Turn it out onto a clean surface and begin kneading. Knead for about 8-10 minutes. Pray while you knead… Sing some Sourdough Slim ballads such as You Are My Sunshine while you knead, maybe even do a little yodeling :).
Step Three: In a large, clean mixing bowl, either dust the bottom of your bowl with flour, or oil it. Place your dough in the bowl and cover it with a moist, clean cloth. Allow to rise until double in bulk. I typically mix my sourdough in the early evening or late afternoon. The first rise will take around 12-15 hours. Sleeping during this rise makes the most sense!
Step Four: Time to prepare my pans for baking. First, I take out a sheet of parchment paper and place it on a cookie sheet. I sprinkle the paper with rice flour (you can also use corn meal) in order to easily remove the bread when it’s baked. Another method I use is to dust rice flour on my husband’s favorite wooden pizza peel and allow the bread to rise there…
Mold your dough. I like to shape my sourdough into round boules. Once your loaves are molded, cover them again with a damp cloth.
Step Five: Allow the dough to again double in size. This rise takes less time than the first, usually about 5-8 hours. About 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
Step Six: Your loaves are ready to bake and the oven is HOT. Score the loaves with a sharp knife or razor blade. I use a small, serrated pairing knife. Place your cookie sheet onto the baking stone in the center of the oven, or peel off your bread directly onto the stone. Take a spray bottle and spray in your oven, (I like to spray below the bread, but be careful of the heating elements…) to create steam. I typically do this twice during the first 10 minutes of baking. Bake for 10 minutes.
Reduce the heat of the oven to 425 degrees. Sometimes I will remove the cookie sheet at this point and allow the bread to bake directly on the baking stone for the rest of the time. Bake another 20-24 minutes, depending on the shape of your loaves (rolls require a shorter bake) and the true heat of your oven.
Remove the bread, and cool on a rack, unbothered, for at least 30 minutes. Then, the best part.
Give one loaf to a neighbor and eat the other:)