The aroma of a fresh loaf of sourdough bread baking in the oven is probably one of the most comforting smells in the world. I'm going to break the process down into simple and scrumptious bite-sized pieces. Any baker, experienced or brand new, can easily follow this delicious artisan recipe!
What is sourdough bread?
Sourdough bread is leavened naturally, meaning it rises by a sourdough starter. This is opposed to dough that rises by commercial yeast or a chemical leavening agent such as baking powder or baking soda.
What is a sourdough starter?
A sourdough starter is a fermented mix of flour and water containing wild yeasts and bacteria. When it is healthy and active, a sourdough starter makes your sourdough bread rise.
How to make a sourdough starter: Days 1-3
Most home bakers make their own starter by combining flour and water and allowing the natural fermentation process to occur. The process is both art as well as science, but to quote Michael Crichton, "life will find a way.'
Day 1: Combine 113 (1 cup) grams of whole wheat flour with 113 (½ cup) grams of cool water. Store this mixture in a one quart glass container. Cover the container loosely and let it sit at room temperature for 24 hours.
Day 2: Most likely, no activity will be occurring at this point. It is possible to see a bit of bubbling or growth. Regardless of the level of activity, we are now ready to do our first discard and feeding. Remove half of the starter, 113 grams or ½ cup. Feed the starter with 113 grams each of flour and lukewarm water. Stir it up, cover loosely and let it sit for another 24 hours.
Day 3: Likely the starter will be showing a little life at this point: bubbling, growing and smelling a little funky. Now it is time to begin feeding the starter twice a day, ideally every 12 hours. Just like the previous days, half of the sourdough starter must be discarded and then 113 grams of flour and lukewarm water added back in. Stir and cover the starter. If the starter has not been growing or bubbling, repeat step 2 until activity occurs.
How to make sourdough starer: Days 4-7
Day 4: Weigh out 113 grams of starter, discard any remaining starter. This is a good time to wash the glass vessel. Place a rubber band around the vessel at the level of the starter. This will measure the growth activity of the starter and act as a gauge for the level of activity.
Day 5 & 6: Repeat the feeding and discarding for two more days. The starter will become very bubbly and have a fruity, acidic aroma. It will rise in the vessel after feeding, then gradually shrink down a bit when the activity slows and it needs to be fed again. Only use it for baking when it is at peak activity, nice and bubbly.
Day 7 (give for take a few days): Sourdough starter must be fed daily or twice daily when kept at room temperature. I typically store my starter in the refrigerator when I am not planning on baking in the upcoming days. A starter kept in the refrigerator can be stored for up to two weeks (or even longer) between feedings.
When is my starter ready to be used?
If your starter doubles (or triples!) in volume within 4 to 8 hours after a feeding, it is ready to go. It is so satisfying, and incredibly messy, when I find my starer has spilled out of the container like a yeasty little volcano. In a perfect world, I want to use my starter 4 to 8 hours after it's been feed or when it has doubled. This will absolutely make the tastiest crusty bread with a soft and airy texture.
Every time I feed my starter, I place a rubber band around the vessel it is in to mark its height. This helps me watch it's growth and see when it has doubled in volume and is ready to be used.
If your starter is not doubling within 4 to 8 hours of feeding it, you should spend a few days focusing on growing the culture back to optimal health by feeding and discarding regularly. Typically I can repeat this routine for 2-3 days and my starter will become very active and happy.
Basic equipment for making sourdough bread
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- Bread flour
- Sourdough starter
- a kitchen scale : This is linked to the one I use. It's simple and cheap.
- large mixing bowl
- swedish whisk: game changer for mixing dough!
- dough scraper
- proofing basket with liner
- parchment paper
- razor blade
- dutch oven: I use both le crueset ($$$) and lodge cast iron ($)
- sourdough bundle: this is very cost effective and what I currently use
5 steps to a perfect loaf of sourdough bread
making the dough
- Make the autolyse: In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 ½ scant cups of lukewarm water and 405 grams of all-purpose flour. Use your hands or a Swedish whisk to stir the mixture together. It will be sticky and messy, this is okay! Try to form it into a ball as best as possible. Cover the dough bowl with a tea towel and set a timer for one hour.
- Make the dough: Using a kitchen scale, add 100 grams of active sourdough starter and 11 grams of Himalayan salt to the autolyse. It is fine to substitute table salt, but I recommend baking with high quality salt. Time to get those hands messy! Fold in the starter and salt by pulling and pushing the autolyse towards the center, covering and pulling the starter throughout the mixture. A word of caution: do not overwork the dough. I usually try to accomplish this step in less than ten kneading repetitions. Cover with a tea towel and set a timer for thirty minutes.
- Stretch, fold & rest: Every thirty minutes for the next two hours (for repetitions total), work the dough gently by pulling the edges towards the middle. This is basically adding shape and tension to the dough ball. I typically do six sets of stretching and pulling, taking care not to actually knead the dough and accidentally pop the air bubbles that create an airy and light loaf.
proofing, fermenting & baking
- Rest, proof & ferment: After the last stretch & fold, place the dough ball on the counter top and gently pull it towards you. Do this several times from each direction, adding tension and a round dome shape to the loaf. Let the loaf sit on the counter for ten minutes before transferring to a floured proofing basket to ferment in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours.
- Baking: Preheat the oven & dutch oven to 475 for one hour. Once the oven is thoroughly preheated, invert the proofing basket onto a piece of parchment paper. The dough can be scored with a razor blade in a decorative pattern. This allows the heat to escape in a controlled way, creating a beautiful pattern in the process. Place the loaf and parchment in the HOT dutch oven with the lid on. Bake for 35 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for ten minutes more.
Troubleshooting disappointing sourdough
Whenever I have had trouble with the texture or quality of a sourdough loaf, it almost always can be attributed to one of these factors:
- Using a weak starter or not using starter at its peak.
- Improper ratio of flour to water, usually from eyeballing and not weighing.
- Over fermentation: letting the bulk fermentation (first rise) go too long, aka forgetting about it.
- Using too much whole wheat flour. I've found that substituting ⅓ whole wheat flour for white is the highest I can use before the loaf texture becomes too dense.
More sourdough recipes
Feeling inspired to bake even more sourdough recipes? I've got you covered!
If you make this recipe, please leave a comment below! This provides helpful feedback to both me and other readers. For more delicious recipes from scratch and homesteading tips, follow me on instagram @NinnescahHomestead