Sourdough is an ancient method of making leavened bread without using yeast. A fermented mixture of flour and water is added to a few other simple ingredients. The fermented mixture is called a starter, and the starter is what gives sourdough bread its lift and rise.
What Is Sourdough Starter?
Sourdough starter is equal parts flour and water left to ferment over an extended period of time. You can make your own sourdough starter very easily at home! Simply mix 50 grams of all-purpose flour with 50 grams of warm water in a glass container with a tight fitting lid. Each day, discard about half of the mixture, and refresh the jar with 50 grams more each of flour and water.
Many people use different flours, such as whole wheat or rye to make their starters; however, all-purpose white flour is a good starting point. After about a week, you will begin to see bubbles on the surface of your starter. This is a good thing! It means your sourdough starter is active, and ready to use.
The Importance of a Scale
Baking sourdough is a precise process that doesn’t lend itself well to measuring cups. To ensure best results, use a kitchen scale that weighs ingredients by grams.
The active sourdough starter should look bubbly and slightly foamy at the surface.
Here’s What You Need to Make Sourdough Bread
Active, bubbly sourdough starter
All-purpose flour or bread flour
Large mixing bowl
Hard plastic or wood spatula
A lid from a pot that fits snugly on top of the mixing bowl
8-inch (20-cm) banneton sourdough basket (optional) or round bowl for overnight rise
Parchment paper cut into a large square approximately 14” x 14” (36cm x 36cm)
Sourdough lame (a sharp blade for scoring the top of the dough before baking) or razor blade
Basic Sourdough Loaf Recipe
70 grams active bubbly sourdough starter
300 grams warm water
454 grams flour
12 grams salt
Sample Baker’s Schedule
Make The Dough (35 minutes) - Whisk the starter and water together in a large bowl. Add the flour and salt. Mix everything together with a plastic or wood spatula to combine, scraping the sides of the bowl as you go. Finish mixing the dough by hand. The dough will be very sticky and ragged. Drape a tea towel over the bowl then a lid from a pot that fits snugly on top. Place the bowl in the oven, with the oven light bulb turned on, for 30 minutes.
Do a Series of Four Stretch and Folds (90 minutes) - After the dough has rested for 30 minutes, you will do a series of four “stretch and folds”. To do the first stretch and fold, reach into the bowl of dough, scooping your fingers under the dough to really get a handle on it. Pull and stretch the dough up and out of the bowl as far as you can without it breaking. Lay the bottom half of the stretched dough back in the bottom of the bowl (if it has lifted out). Fold the top section of stretched dough over and on top of the bottom section of dough. Rotate the bowl 90º and repeat, continuing until all four quadrants of the dough have been stretched and folded. Scrape as much dough from your fingers as you can (which will be hard because it is so sticky). Cover the bowl with the tea towel and lid and return the dough to the oven with the light bulb on for 20 minutes. Repeat this process three more times, for a total of four stretch and folds done over 10 minutes with an additional 80 minutes of resting time.
LATE MORNING AND AFTERNOON
First Bulk Rise (4 hours) - After the fourth stretch and fold, re-cover the bowl with the tea towel and pot lid. Return the bowl to the oven with the light on for four hours.
Top: Pulling and stretching the dough. Bottom: Folding the dough.
Shape the Dough (10 – 15 minutes) - If using a banneton bread basket, generously flour the inside of it. If using a bowl, line it with a clean cotton tea towel and generously sprinkle with flour. Lightly flour a work surface and gently coax the sourdough out of the bowl. Do a stretch and fold on each quadrant of the dough, then rotate the dough quickly using the sides of your hands to gently shape the dough into a smooth ball. Cup your hands behind the dough and gently pull the ball towards you. The dough should stay almost in one place as the overall surface tightens slightly, creating tension over the top and sides of the dough ball. Too much flour and the dough will slide. Too little and it will stick. It may take a few tries to get the feel for it, and you can adjust the amount of flour accordingly. Basically, you are creating a taut surface on the outer surface which, after baking, will be the thick golden crust. Rotate the dough ball 90º and repeat the tension pull on all four quadrants of the dough. After the last tension pull, use a bench scraper to gently and quickly lift the dough from the work surface. Flip the dough over quickly, then gently place it into the prepared banneton or bowl.
Second Bulk Rise (8+ hours) - Cover the exposed dough in the banneton or bowl with plastic wrap, pressing gently to make sure all of the dough’s surface is protected from drying out. Drape the banneton or bowl with a tea towel and place it in the fridge for the second rise overnight (8 – 12 hours, and up to 48 hours).
Transferring the ball of dough to a bowl.
Bake - Place the Dutch oven pot, with the lid on, in the oven. Turn the oven on to 450ºF (230ºC) and heat the pot for one hour. When the pot has preheated, get the parchment paper square ready and the sourdough out of the fridge. Remove the tea towel and plastic wrap from the dough. Center the parchment square on top of the dough, and quickly flip the bowl or basket or bowl over to gently invert the dough and the paper out onto a work surface. Carefully use a lame or razor blade to score the top of the dough into your desired shape (a half moon across the top being the most classic). The blade should gently slice through the taut surface of the dough. If the blade drags and tears the dough, it either isn’t sharp enough or you didn’t pull the dough tightly enough during shaping. Remove the pre-heated pot from the oven and carefully remove the lid. Lift the sourdough up and into the hot pot using the parchment paper handles as a sling. Quickly and gently place the loaf into the pot and replace the lid. Bake the loaf for 30 minutes with the lid on. Remove the lid and continue to bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until the crust is golden. Once baked, remove the bread from the pot and allow it to cool completely before slicing, about 4 – 6 hours.
To learn more about all things sourdough, including many great recipes using sourdough discard, visit baked-theblog.com!
Kelly Neil is a food photographer and blog publisher living and working in her hometown of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.