Updated: Sep 13, 2022
Makes 1 loaf
Prep Time - 6 hours, optional overnight step
Bake Time - 50 minutes
Making sourdough bread can be easy. Once you have a healthy and active starter, it is very straightforward. But honestly, don't even bother if your starter isn't ready, you would be wasting your time. I have learnt this the hard way. I'll share a quick test to help you ensure that you have a ripe starter before you invest the time in baking. Making your own starter is also pretty easy. In this linked blog post; I explain how to make your own sourdough starter.
A good sourdough loaf has a nice crusty dark brown exterior with good crumb structure, and a nice springy interior that is well aerated, with varying sizes of well developed alveoli (basically nice holes of varying sizes).
The second and third picture in this post shows what I (and most sourdough bakers) consider to be the ideal crumb structure. You can achieve this by working with a runnier dough (less flour). My husband on the other hand prefers a tighter crumb structure (pictured at the end of this post), so when I bake for him, I can modify the amount of flour I use to get the desired result.
If you are just starting out baking sourdough bread, I suggest you utilize the version of this recipe with more flour. The sourdough dough is at its baseline, looser, and more difficult to handle than regular bread dough so before you start striving for a bread structure with bigger alveoli, focus on baking a good loaf with a good rise, even if the crumb structure is tighter. As you get better at baking sourdough, you can manipulate the flour ratio to get the crumb structure you desire.
Baking sourdough bread feels like an amazing spiritual experience. Because think about it, we make this amazing food just from flour and yeast that we harvest from the air in our kitchens. Once we started eating sourdough bread, my family no longer enjoyed other types of bread.
Tips for a Successful Bake.
1. Use a starter that is ripe. You know you have a strong and ready starter if; (a) It doubles in size (full of bubbles) within 6 hours of feeding it. (b) The starter floats when you place a small dollop (about 1/2 teaspoon) in a glass of water.
2. Fold the dough, don't knead.
3. Allow time for your dough to rise, always covering the bowl with a kitchen towel for each rising/resting step.
4. Using a dutch oven is highly recommended. If you don't have a dutch oven, here is what you can do to still get a good loaf. Preheat your oven with a broiler pan or cake pan on the bottom rack and a baking stone, cast iron skillet, or baking sheet on the medium oven rack. (The cast iron skillet or baking stone is preferred). While the oven is preheating, boil a cup of water. When the oven is preheated, transfer the loaf to the baking stone, cast iron skillet, or baking sheet. Pour the cup of hot water into the hot broiler pan or cake pan on the bottom rack and shut the oven quickly to trap steam. DO NOT slam the oven door, least you deflate your dough.
1 cup ripe and recently fed sourdough starter (I actually use just under a cup. More than 3/4 cup but less than a full cup)
2 cups to 2 1/2 cups of flour (use 2 cups for a looser crumb structure and 2 1/2 cups for a tighter structure)
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 1/4 cup of water
In a large bowl, combine the starter and 1 cup of water. Stir.
Add the flour and stir with a ladle to combine until no dry flour remains but don't overhandle it. The dough will be shaggy at this point.
Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let it rest for 30 minutes. This step is called the autolyze step and the starch is broken down at this point.
Dissolve the salt in 1/4 cup of water and add it to the dough.
Incorporate the salt into the dough by working the mixture with your fingertips.
Folding: This involves pulling the dough in four quadrants and folding it over itself. Do one complete cycle (4-6) folds. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and then let the dough rest for 20-30 mins. Do this process a total of 6 times.
After the 6th cycle of folding, let the dough rise undisturbed for 30-60 mins.
8. On a well-floured countertop, shape the dough. I start by dumping the dough out of the bowl unto the floured surface. Then with well-floured fingers, I fold the edges to the center. Then I pick up the dough. The surface on the countertop now becomes the top of the dough. I make the dough ball tighter when it is in my hands by moving the underside that's in my palms together.
9. I place in a clean bowl and let rise for 20-30 more minutes.
10. Prep a bowl for the final rise by lining a mixing bowl with parchment paper. A picture near the top of this post shows how the dough will look prior to the final rise in a parchment-lined bowl.
11. Shape the dough again by repeating step #8.
12. Place in the prepped bowl from step #10. Then sprinkle the top GENEROUSLY with flour. This makes scoring the loaf easier when you are ready to bake. Let rise for 3 hours or overnight in the fridge. If you are letting it rise overnight in the fridge, cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
13. One hour before you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit with the dutch oven in, lid on.
14. When the oven is ready, transfer the dough (with the parchment paper) to the dutch oven. Cover and bake at 500 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce to 450 degrees and bake for another 15 minutes.
Note: If you did the second rise overnight in the fridge, you can bake straight out of the refrigerator.
15. Uncover the dutch oven and bake for another 20 minutes at 450 degrees or until you get a rich dark brown crust. Take the dutch oven out of the oven. Be careful, it is extremely hot. Let cool for a few minutes, it will still be very hot, then take the loaf out of the dutch oven and set it on a wire rack to cool.
The same recipe tweaked for different crumb structures