Ever wondered how to make sourdough bread at home? It’s really very easy once you have a tried-and-true recipe and know the steps. It does take some time to make it, but the actual hands-on time is fairly short. I’ve been baking sourdough bread for a few years now, after my successes with baking French baguettes, and the results have been nothing short of spectacular.
There is nothing like homemade sourdough bread – crusty, flavorful and slightly tangy. Actually, you can make it not sour at all, using very young sourdough starter, or very sour, using a mature sourdough starter.The quantity of the starter also plays a role in how sour your bread will turn out. That’s what I love about homemade bread – you can make it any way you like it. Even failed batches seem to taste awesome. They may look ugly when under-proofed and flat, or over-proofed, but the rich flavor will still be there. Long fermentation is what gives the bread its rich, complex flavor and amazing taste.
To make a great sourdough bread you must start with a healthy, strong sourdough starter. There are hundreds of resources on the Internet on how to make sourdough starter. I read dozens of them, tried many and … failed at every single attempt. No matter what and how I tried, I could never get starter give me a nice, airy, open crumb. Often I could not even get the starter going. My bread would turn out flat, dense and unappetizing. Perhaps local wild yeast strains are not that great, who knows. But then I found a solution.
I ordered a small package of dried true San Francisco Sourdough starter from a seller on eBay and… it worked! Finally, my sourdough bread started to look just like sourdough bread on those really pretty pictures I see on the Internet. So, if you can’t get your starter going strong, or just don’t want to mess with this whole wild yeast harnessing process, go on eBay, pick up a package of SF sourdough starter from a reputable seller and you will have your sourdough starter going in no time. From that you can make own dried sourdough starter and store it in the freezer for future bakes.
The process of making sourdough bread is very simple. You build up your sourdough starter in two stages, then make a final bread mix. The final dough will need two sets of stretch and folds, a technique explained in the French Baguette Recipe post.
After that the dough will be placed in proofing baskets and will undergo an extended fermentation, until it about doubles in volume, after which it will be ready for baking. That’s it. I bake my sourdough straight from the fridge. All I do is turn it over on the preheated baking stone, score and bake. Scoring is just a fancy bakers’ word for making cuts on top of the shaped dough to allow it expand and rise in a controlled way.
So, in essence, 6 easy steps with minimal time investment is all that is needed to make a loaf (or two) of the best sourdough bread you have ever tried. You do need to start the whole process about 24 hours before you bake, but the actual hands-on time is minimal, I would say no more than 25 – 30 minutes altogether.
Another very important thing is the quality of flour. For this recipe I am using unbleached, sifted bread flour. The better quality flour you use, the better tasting bread you will end up with. King Arthur bread flour (in blue packaging) is great and I use it often. If you are in Canada, especially in Montreal area, you may want to try organic all-purpose La Milanaise flour, which is usually sold in health-food stores. It’s milled to T55 standard, has a higher protein content and is a little grittier than American all-purpose flours. It’s perfect for baking baguettes. I love using it for breads too.
The last thing I find important in this process is making sure you don’t over- or under-proof your dough. I am looking for the dough to double by the end of the fermentation period. If your fridge is too cold, the dough may not double in size, which will result in a flat bread. Unless that’s what you are looking for, if your dough has not risen enough, take it out of the fridge and put in a warm place for an hour or so.
If the dough rose too much, there is not much that can be done. Just go with that. The bread will still taste great, but you will not get a nicely shaped loaf and oven spring will be very minimal.
To get a nice color and oven spring, you need to have a steady supply of steam in the oven for at least the first 15 minutes of the bake. I personally keep the pan in the oven throughout the entire bake. I use a bread pan with water on the lower rack for that. For more details on this method read my French Baguette Recipe post.
Oh, make sure you bake on a baking stone. You can’t bake even a half-decent loaf on a baking sheet! It’s not going to happen. You need a baking stone. I am using this baking stone I picked up on Amazon, and I absolutely love it. It’s great for baking bread, baguettes and pizza.
Once the bread is done, it will be super tempting to cut it immediately, and I won’t blame you if you do – I do it all the time. But I did notice that the crust becomes thinner and less hard if I let the bread rest for 10-15 minutes before cutting. Your choice.
- 48 g sourdough starter
- 915 g bread flour
- 622 g water
- 18 g kosher salt
- Morning the day before baking - Mix 48 g sourdough starter, 97 g flour and 73 g water in a large bowl, cover with plastic and let sit at room temperature for about 8-10 hours.
- Afternoon before baking around 5-6 PM - Add 218 g flour and 164 g water to the starter mix from above, mix and let sit at room temperature for about 2 hours.
- Evening before baking - Add 600 g flour and 385 g water to the mix from the step above, and mix by hand until all ingredients are mixed well. Add salt and continue mixing by hand until the salt is mixed in well. Cover with plastic and let sit at room temperature for one hour, doing stretch and folds every 30 minutes.
- Divide the dough into 2 pieces, shape and place seam up into well-floured proofing baskets (or well floured bowls lined with kitchen towels). Cover with plastic and proof at room temperature for 2 hours, and in a refrigerator for additional 12 hours.
- Morning of the baking day - Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Make sure to place a bread pan with a folded kitchen towel inside and filled with water on the bottom rack, and place baking stone on the middle rack of the oven.
- Once the oven is preheated, take one of the loaves out of the fridge, turn right onto the baking stone, score with a serrated knife or a razor blade, and close the oven. Turn the temperature down to 450 degrees F and bake for 15 minutes. Turn the bread around to ensure even baking and continue baking for another 15 minutes or until desired color of the crust. Once your first loaf is done, repeat the steps above to bake the second loaf. Alternatively, bake both loaves at the same time if the size of your baking stone permits.