For an amateur home bread-baker, sourdough bread is next level: it tastes and smells and feels just like a loaf fresh out of the bakery oven, but you also get the satisfaction of having made everything from scratch with only three ingredients: flour, water and salt.
What is sourdough?
In the world of bread-baking, there are two different factions: yeast and sourdough starter. Both are leavening agents, it means that the bacteria they contain feed on the sugars in the flour and produce gas that leavens the dough. baker’s yeast, fresh or dried, can be found in any supermarket. Since it makes the dough rise fast and strongly, you can make good loaf within two or three hours only.
For sourdough, it’s a whole other story: the dough needs a lot more time to rise and requires much more resting time. The lactic bacteria active in the sourdough starter are obtained by the fermentation of flour mixed with water, which makes sourdough a natural leavening agent and very simple in its composition. It takes time to make a sourdough bread, but it is definitely worth it! The taste is more intense, the crust crispy and the inside very chewy. It also has a longer shelf-life than yeast bread.
The idea is quite simple: instead of yeast you mix sourdough starter with water, flour and salt, and after much waiting and kneading it bakes in a very hot oven.
To successfully bake a fluffy and tasty sourdough bread, patience is key. It is possible however to bake a loaf within a day, but you have to start early! Here is a diagram showing the different steps start to finish:
I usually start around 7 or 8 in the morning, and I take my bread out of the oven around 8 or 9 in th evening. Therefore it takes around 12-14 hours minimum for a good loaf.
For the sourdough starter:
- about 100 g of your own sourdough starter (fed the day before)
*you can find the recipe for the sourdough starter here.
- 75 g whole meal wheat flour
- 75 g plain wheat flour type 550
- 150 ml water
For the dough:
- about 250 g of the sourdough starter of the day
- 400 ml water
- 100 g whole meal wheat flour
- 500 g wheat flour type 550
- 15 g salt
Step 1: the starter
- Put all your sourdough starter (you should have refreshed it the day before) in a measuring cup.
- Add 75 g of whole meal wheat flour, 75 g of white wheat flour and 150 ml water. Mix well.
- cover loosely and put it in a warm and dark place to proof.
- After an hour or so small bubbles should start to appear. The starter should double in size before you continue with the recipe, otherwise your dough won’t rise properly. In my case it takes around 4 to 6 hours, but it all depends on the temperature and the activeness of your starter.
- A good test is to drop a bit of your starter in water: if it floats, it’s ready.
Step 2: the dough
- mix around 250 g of your starter with 400 ml of water. You can put the rest of the starter back in a jar, mix it with a bit of flour and water again and use it as your starter base for the next loaf!
- And the flour and mix roughly until there are no big lumps of dry flour left. Let the dough rest for 30-4 5 minutes. This step is important, the flour and water are getting acquainted, it takes some getting used to :).
- Now add the salt: you can first sprinkle the salt on the dough, then add a bit of water to dissolve the salt. It hen becomes easier to incorporate the salt to the dough.
- Drop the dough onto a flat surface and knead it for around 10 to 15 minutes. A good technique goes as follows:
1. pull the dough towards you.
2. fold the pulled part of the dough onto the other part.
3. grab the dough on the right side.
4. rotate the dough 90°, so that the fold faces towards you and lift the dough up. Then slightly slump it down on the surface again.
5. repeat the process.
- The dough will be sticky at first but if you work fast it shouldn’t stick to your fingers to much.
- After a while the dough will get more elastic and homogenous: now you can put the dough back in the bowl, cover and let it proof for 3 to 4 hours.
Step 3: the loaf
- After 3-4 hours the dough got a bit looser, and it might have risen a little. The dough is probably stickier as well. Now you should form the loaf: put the dough onto a floured surface.
- fold the four sides of the dough towards the middle, so that each side covers a bit of another.
- flip the dough so that the folds stay under the dough.
- cautiously hold the dough with open palms and roll the dough towards you. The seam should always stay at the bottom. By rolling the dough you should be able to create some tension on the surface: this helps to trap the air inside the loaf for a better rise and gives the dough strength to keep its shape.
- sprinkle the dough-ball with a bit of flour and put the bowl upside-down on top of it. Let the dough rest for 20 to 30 minutes. The ball will flatten a bit.
- You can repeat the process 2 to 4 times, always making sure to always fold the same side and keep the seam down. The dough will get stronger each time and will flatten less.
Step 4: baking!
- At this point you have two options:
1. put the dough in a bowl to rest in the fridge overnight and bake it in the morning.
2. Or let the dough rest another hour after the last fold and bake it now.
- While the dough rests one last time, preheat your oven to 220°C. If you have a dutchoven, you can preheat it in the oven as well. Baking the bread in the dutchoven will help keep the moisture around the loaf, giving it a better crust.
- Alternatively you can preheat a simple tray and put a bowl with water underneath it to create steam in your oven.
- When the oven and the dutchoven are hot, place the dough quickly in the dutchoven, scorch the dough generously and spray some water onto the dough. Close the lid and put the dutchoven back in the oven.
- After 25-30 minutes your loaf should have risen quite a lot. You can now take off the lid or remove the bowl with water, so that your loaf can get crispy.
- Bake it for another 25 minutes and it’s done!
If you can resist the temptation, you should definitely wait another hour at least to let it cool down before you slice it. Otherwise it will loose all its moisture and it will loose its structure.
Alternatives – Variations
This recipe is just one prototype: you can play around with different ratios of whole meal and white flour, and you can also try different types of flour, not only for the loaf itself but also for the sourdough starter! For example, rye is a good alternative (Although for the loaf you should start with a mix of wheat or spelt and rye flour, since rye gets very very sticky and is very difficult to work with.) You will get a different loaf and a different taste with each new try!
The golden rule is: just try it out! Even if you fail and your dough doesn’t rise properly, it will still always taste good, and with each time you will get better, improve your technique and knowledge.