Tart and buttery, and pairs well with everything…
Sourdough is one of the best breads in the world because it is overall simple to make, yet it rewards us with flavors, textures, and satisfaction akin to drinking wine.
It isn’t always sour; mostly, it is tart and buttery, and pairs well with everything from butter to jam to maple butter to cream cheese―kind of like how denim goes with all shirts.
Making sourdough seems complicated, but it is surprisingly forgiving; mostly, the complications come from understanding what dough should feel, look, and smell like―all of which comes from practice.
You may not succeed the first or even second time, but this guide will help you create sourdough even if you have never made bread before. Don’t give up if it doesn’t turn out well!
With that said, I do recommend acquainting yourself with bread baking by attempting this easy soft white bread recipe at least once before attempting sourdough. It helps to get used to what dough feels so that you’ll be more comfortable with the process.
This bread recipe in particular takes roughly 2 to 5 days to prepare before it’s ready to bake—not including the 5 days it takes to make your own starter if you’re going this route.
Even though this seems like a long time, the end result will be much more reliable and forgiving, not to mention easier to work around your busy life schedule. The recipe below is for one loaf of bread, but in the photographs I doubled the recipe to show one loaf of bread baked straight in the oven, and another loaf baked inside of a cloche.
The “Oven Loaf” was baked using a pan of water lining the bottom of the oven. This helped to make the crust crispier. It was also scored using the slashing pattern in “Graph B” Below.
The “Cloche Loaf” was baked in the oven with a cloche and scored using the slashing pattern in “Graph C”. This loaf resulted in a much crispier crust than the “Oven Loaf” as well as a better rise and darker crumb. The same results can be produced with a dutch oven.
Tools You’ll Need
- Scale Recommended for accurate measurements. Reduces likelihood of mistakes and inconsistencies. Cup and tablespoon measurements have been provided, however, for your convenience.
- Large Mixing Bowl For folding and kneading.
- Sharp Knife or Lame For scoring the bread after it proofs; this helps the bread rise evenly, allows steam to escape, and makes the bread eye-catching.
- Optional Dutch Oven or Bread Cloche Produces a moist environment for the bread to bake in, creating a better rise and attractive crust. A large pot with a lid can be substituted. Worst case scenario, it is possible to create a moist environment with a tray of water beneath the bread.
- 1 Cup (150g) Fed and Vigorous Starter
- ¾ Cup (175ml) Bottled Water
- 2 Cups (200g) Bread Flour
Day Two or Beyond:
- 1 Cup (100g) Bread Flour
- 2 TSP (8g) Fine Sea Salt
Step One: Make or Acquire a Sourdough Starter
You can usually get a sourdough starter from your local bakery or a friend or family member who has their own. Most people will gladly let you have some of theirs at no cost!
Or, you can make your own! Follow this sourdough calendar to get started.
Step Two: Feed Your Starter
Feed your starter enough water and flour to get a pancake consistency. Let it expand and bubble to double or triple the size at room temperature.
Step Three: Autolyse Overnight
In a large mixing bowl and with a rubber spatula, mix the ingredients from “Day One” together until a shiny batter develops or all of the flour has been incorporated. In this example, I doubled the recipe to make 2 loaves of bread.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap and leave it in the refrigerator overnight or up to 3 days.
Step Four: Mix the Final Dough
Remove the batter from the refrigerator. It should have well developed bubbles by now. Let it warm to room temperature.
With a spatula, fold the “Day 2 and Beyond” ingredients into the batter until no flour remains. Let the dough rest for 15 to 30 minutes. If you find that the dough is a bit too runny to shape, you can add 1 to 3 more tablespoons of flour to make it easier to hold.
Step Five: Stretch and Fold (or Pull and Fold)
Pull the top end of the dough up and over to the opposite end of the dough. Rotate the bowl 90 degrees and repeat this motion 2 more times. Cover the bowl and let it rest for 15 to 30 minutes.
Note: This isn’t super wet dough, so be patient while it stretches.
Rotate the bowl 90 degrees and fold the top end of the dough to the opposite end. Repeat this motion 2 more times. Cover the bowl and let it rest for 15 to 30 minutes.
Repeat this motion of stretching, folding, and resting three more times until the dough loses most of its “dimples” and develops a smoother, shiny texture.
Note: Since I doubled the recipe, I used a bench cutter to cut the dough in half.
Step Six: Shape the Dough
On a floured surface, pinch all ends of the dough upward, then flip the dough over.
Using light tension and a circular motion, shape the dough into a ball on your counter.
Step Seven: Proof the Dough
In a floured bowl or proofing basket, place the dough ball inside, pinched side up (upside down).
Spray or rub the top of the dough with vegetable oil, and cover it loosely with plastic wrap.
Let the dough rise to nearly triple the size. Depending on the humidity and temperature in your house, this may take anywhere from 4 to 10 hours.
Preheat your oven to 425°F (220°C). If you’re using a cloche, place the top of the lid in the oven to heat up as well. If you’re not using a cloche, place a pan of water on the bottom shelf of the oven. This will help create steam to make a crispy crust.
Step Eight: Score the Dough
On a parchment lined sheet pan or on the bottom of the cloche pan, gently flip the proofing bowl or basket over onto the pans to release the proofed dough.
Using a serrated knife or a bread lame, score approximately ½ an inch to 1 inch deep slashes into your bread. If this is your first time scoring bread, I recommend cutting slashes as shown on Graph A above.
The bread will deflate slightly, but these scores will help the bread expand as well as make the crust look attractive.
Step Nine: Bake the Bread
Quickly place the bread into the oven and bake it for 25 to 35 minutes. If using a cloche, bake for 30 minutes with the lid on, then another 10 minutes with the lid off.
You know when the bread is ready if you carefully hold the bread upside down and tap the bottom. If it sounds hollow, then the bread is ready. If the bread sounds solid, bake it for an additional 5 to 10 minutes.
Remove the bread from the oven and let it rest at room temperature until cooled.
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