I was skeptical that I could making artisan, professional baker quality breads, until I had a chance to learn from a few pro-amateur bakers. It was surprising to learn how straightforward it is! With a few tools (most of which you probably already have in your kitchen), and a little practice with your technique, you can turn out crunchy, crusted, delicious naturally leavened loaves right from your home oven!
Does it really take 24 hours? Do I have to stay home all day?
Well, sort of. If you time it properly, I found that the time needed to be actively doing stuff (vs. wait time) is about 6 hours. That is, once your starter has been activated (best done overnight so you can work with it first thing in the morning), from making the dough until setting it up for final rise takes about 6 hours, with an activity required about every half hour. (This assumes you are doing an overnight final rise in the refrigerator. If not, and you want to bake the same day, total time is about 10 hours given a 4 hour final rise),
- Large heavy mixing bowl
- Flat surface such as clean countertop or large cutting board
- measuring cup
- clean dish/tea towel
- heavy dutch oven with lid or clay bread baker
- bench scrapers (straight and curved)
- digital kitchen scale
- offset bread (serrated) knife
It’s important to have an already active sourdough starter before beginning this recipe.
There are many volumes written about the science of sourdough and which styles of flour work best for which application. Factors such as seed variety, protein content, milling technique, whole wheat vs. flour, etc. are just some of the things that influence the bread style significantly. For purposes of getting you baking your first loaf, I will keep it simple. This recipe is a mostly (75%) white all-purpose (AP) flour bread. You can use a variety of other flours like whole wheat, spelt, rye, etc. for the remaining 25%. This ratio allows the newbie to easily achieve that oh-so-satisfying oven spring (when bread rises well and has large open holes) that is the holy grail of baking sourdough.
Turns are a series of folds that you’ll do (instead of kneading). Take one side of the dough and stretch it up (being careful not to tear it), and then fold it down towards you. Give your bowl a one-third turn (120 degrees out of 360 degrees of a full circle) and repeat the stretch and fold. Turn the bowl one-third again and do a final stretch and fold. The idea is that you want your dough to aerate, so be gentle and don’t push all the bubbles out as you turn the dough.
See how the dough rises over the course of the day.
- 350 grams plus 25 grams warmed water (80F/27C)
- 100 grams active sourdough starter
- 500 grams flour total:
- - 375 grams all-purpose flour
- - 125 grams total flour: whole wheat flour, spelt, or bread flour
- 10 grams salt
- Large heavy bowl
- heavy dutch oven with lid or bread baker
- bench scraper
- kitchen scale
- bread (serrated) knife
- Discard all but 3 tablespoons (50g) of starter. You can use discarded starter for other purposes.
- Mix in 100 grams of 78F/26C water and 100 grams all-purpose flour.
- Mix thoroughly and make sure there aren’t any dry bits of flour.
- Cover mixture with a towel or paper towel and let it rise overnight or about 8 hours.
- In a large heavy bowl, mix 350 grams of 80F/27C water and 100 grams of the starter that was activated the night before.
- Add the flours and mix thoroughly, making sure there aren’t any dry bits of flour.
- Let the dough rest for 25 to 40 minutes.
- At the end of the resting period, dough should look less shaggy and smoother.
- Add 10 grams salt and 25 grams of 80F/27C water. Use your hands to mix it and make sure the salt is worked through all of it. Once the water and salt are mixed in and the dough feels more cohesive, do one or two turns.
- This is the first rise for your bread, and it will take 3 to 4 hours if your kitchen is relatively warm (78-82F/25-28C). In a cooler kitchen, it will take at least 4 hours, maybe longer. Leave the dough in its bowl and cover it with a kitchen towel.
- Every 30 minutes, do one gentle turn of the bread. During the bulk fermentation, you want your dough to aerate, so don’t push all the bubbles out as you turn.
- Dough will increase in volume noticeably after a few hours. (A good rule of thumb is you want it to roughly double in size.)
- Flour your work surface and use a spatula to flip the dough out onto the floured surface.
- Fold the dough onto itself, and flip it over so the seam is down.
- Tuck the bottom under to shape it into a ball, and build tension in the outer layer as you shape it. Use your bench scraper or your hands to tuck the dough into itself as you go "around" the ball.
- Sprinkle the top of the dough lightly with flour and cover with a kitchen towel.
- Let dough rest on your work surface for 20-30 minutes. It will relax into a fat pancake shape.
- If it looks too runny, do a second shaping and a second bench rest to develop tension in the surface.
- To final shape, flip the dough over so the seam is up.
- Do one final and gentle turn of the dough before shaping it again: Instead of three folds, you will do four. If your dough is a clock, take the 12:00 side and gently stretch it up and fold toward you, towards 6:00.
- Do the same with the 3:00 (from 3 to 9) and then from 9:00 to 3:00.
- Take the 6:00 side and fold it over the other folds; as you fold it away from you, keep turning the dough so it flips over seam-side down.
- Let your dough rest for a minute.
- If you use a proofing basket/banneton, flour the inside generously so dough doesn’t stick. If you use a bowl, line the inside with a kitchen towel and then flour the towel generously.
- Gently pick up your dough and flip it over into the basket/bowl so the seam is facing up.
- Flour the seam.
- Let the dough rise in your kitchen for 2-4 hours (if your kitchen is relatively warm (78-82F/25-28C); if it's cooler than that, extend the time. The shorter the final rise time, the milder your loaf will taste. The longer, the more sour it will taste.
- You can extend the final rise by putting your dough in the fridge overnight for 8-12 hours. (This is also handy to let the sour flavor develop, and it lets you bake fresh bread first thing in the morning!)
- Place your dutch oven or bread baker in the oven and pre-heat to 500F/260C.
- Once the oven has pre-heated, carefully remove the dutch oven.
- Remove bowl from fridge if you did overnight rise (no need to let it come to room temp first).
- Dust the bottom of the dutch oven or bread baker with flour, and then invert your dough into it.
- Score the top of the dough with serrated knife or bread lame.
- Cover the dutch oven and put it back in the oven
- Turn down the oven temp to 450F/232C.
- Bake covered for 20 minutes.
- Remove the lid from the dutch oven/bread baker and bake for an additional 18-20 minutes to develop color on outside of loaf.
- Remove from oven/dutch oven, and let cool on baking rack.