Sourdough Bread

Sourdough is my oldest son’s favorite bread, and he loves sandwiches so I make a LOT of sourdough. I have had my starter for 10 years and I’m honestly not the best starter parent. I don’t measure my feedings and I sometimes forget to feed it for a while, and yet my starter always performs well. It was so intimidating to start making sourdough at first, but it is actually so very simple when you think about it. You just need some natural yeast from the environment, some flour, some water, and salt and you can make bread. It is amazing to me and I never lose my wonder at the process.

There are a million online tutorials for getting a starter going and I’m no expert on that so I’m not going to talk about that here. You can also buy dry powdered starter to make it easier to get your own starter going, or get some from a friend who has a starter already growing.

I have some basic bread making information and tips in my post on my favorite sandwich bread if you are newer to bread baking and want more into.

There are many methods and variations and techniques you can use to make a sourdough loaf, the one I’m showing here is by far the one I use most. Since I got my ceramic bread baker, I can’t stop using that because it gives such a great size and shape to the loaf and a great crust. But you absolutely do not need that, I baked mine for years on a cookie sheet or pizza steel, and both work fine. If you are interested here is the baker I use. It is quite expensive so not worth it unless you are going to bake a lot of bread. My husband sweetly gave me mine as a gift and I love it and as you can see in my pics it gets a lot of use.

This recipe requires a pre-ferment, so you have to plan ahead and start that the night before. The pre-ferment jump starts the yeast in your starter and gets them ready to make bread. It also helps add flavor to the bread, helps gluten development, and can help extend the shelf life of the bread. So lots of benefits! Make sure your starter is fed a few hours before you use it to make the pre-ferment to get the most out of your starter.

This is a slow ferment receipt with no instant yeast added so you also need to be home pretty much all day to make it (not a problem for me as I love to be home). There are quick sourdough recipes that use additional yeast so they can be finished a lot faster, and they taste pretty good, just not as deep of a sourdough flavor. I use that technique if I’m in a hurry.

I could probably go on all day about making bread, and the intricacies of sourdough, but let’s move along to the recipe. I always use my kitchen scale for this recipe, but if you don’t have one you can measure in cups. I love this scale:

For the pre-ferment:

  • 102 grams (1/2 cup) sourdough starter
  • 99 grams (2/3 cup) bread flour
  • 8 grams (1 tbsp) rye flour (the rye helps the yeast grow more, you can skip if you don’t have it)
  • 1/3 cup room temp water

Mix the ingredients together, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temp 8-12 hours. You should see tons of bubbles when you check it the next day if your starter is working well. Here is a picture of what mine looked like in the morning.

For the bread:

  • 691 grams (about 5 cups) bread flour
  • 13 ounces room temp water
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt

In the morning, in the bowl of a stand mixer (or by hand), combine the bread flour and water and mix until it just comes together. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let sit for 20 minutes. This rest is called an autolyse, and it has a ton of benefits for your bread like these:

  • the flour fully hydrates
  • gluten begins to form so less kneading is needed
  • better color, aroma, and flavor of the bread
  • fermentation proceeds at a slower pace, allowing for better flavor
  • the dough becomes more stretchy, which allows easier shaping, a bigger loaf, and a more open crumb

There is a lot to know about bread, isn’t there? But the cool thing is that you don’t really have to know any of it, and you don’t have to do everything right, and you can still end up with a pretty tasty end product. There are so many variables to baking bread, so it is always a bit of a mystery as to what you will get, and that makes it fun.

After the rest, add the salt and the starter and knead on low until it clears the sides of the bowl and is smooth and stretchy and can pass the window pane test. Sourdough should be a fairly wet dough, so at first it may seem like it won’t come together, but gluten is amazing and it will. Adjust the flour or water a little if needed based on the factors I mentioned in the buttermilk sandwich bread post.

Once the bread is at the right point, transfer it to a greased dough rising bucket (see my favorite one in the buttermilk bread post). In this case for this recipe, I really like to use my bucket because since this is a slow rise, the timing can really vary for the dough to rise, and you want to make sure it has risen enough before you shape it.

Allow the dough to rise for 1 hour until you can see some puffiness in it. In the winter, this takes more like 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Pick up the dough and stretch it a little gently and fold one side into the center, then the other. This is called a stretch and fold. Turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat. Place back into the container.

Allow to rise another hour (or however long is needed to see a bit more puffiness again). Repeat the stretch and fold technique and return to the bucket again. Let it rise another 1 1/2 – 2 hours depending on the temp until it is noticeably larger than before. The volume should increase by around 50%.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and shape according to how you will bake it. For my ceramic baker I use a long loaf. You can also make a ball for a round loaf. There are many good videos online on how to shape any kind of bread. Hopefully at some point I will add my own. For my loaf I folded the long edge into the center, then the other edge into the center, then took the outside edges and pinched them together into the middle to create a log shape.

If using a bread baker or banneton (a wooden basket for shaping dough like these below – I have several and love them), flour it well. If baking free form on a pizza steel or baking sheet, line a baking sheet with parchment for your bread.

Cover your loaf with greased or floured plastic wrap and allow to rise 2-3 hours until it is pillowy and almost doubled in volume. You can poke it gently with a floured finger and if the dent remains, it is ready. If you are using a pizza steel, heat it in the over at hottest temp it goes for the last hour of rising time. If using a baker like I am here, preheat the oven to 475 before you are ready to bake.

Score your bread as you like (this is a skill I’d like to get better at), and if using a baker, put on the lid and put into the oven. If you are baking on a steel or cookie sheet, place an oven safe pan below that rack, and pour in 1/2 cup water to create steam. Place bread into the oven. If not baking in a baker, spray some water into the oven to create more steam, just be careful not to hit your oven glass.

Bake about 50 minutes for a free standing loaf, until it is golden brown and at least 205 in the center. For a loaf in a baker, bake for about 40 minutes and then remove the top and allow to keep baking another 10 or so until is well browned.

Remove from the oven and cool on a cooling rack. For the baker, let it cool a few minutes and then carefully remove it (the baker will still be very hot so use oven mitts), and cool on a rack. Once it is fully cool, cut and serve.

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