How to Make Sourdough Bread (from Start to Finish)
Calling all sourdough bread lovers! In this post we are going to explain how to bake sourdough bread from start to finish. Whether you are using starter which you have made yourself, or purchased starter, we will outline the steps to take to get to your very own home baked sourdough loaf.
Reserve Some Time for Making Your Sourdough Bread
Making a batch of sourdough bread is quite time consuming because the entire process spans a couple of days. In fact, the entire process can take you over a week when you count making your own sourdough starter.= and waiting for it to properly activate. However, once you have the starter ready (or you continually make sourdough over and over so your starter is always ready to go), the process will only take a few days.
Much of the ‘time’ involved with making sourdough is for the yeasts and bacteria present in your starter culture to colonize your dough and lightly ferment it, so you will not be required in the kitchen the whole time!
But if you are making sourdough bread for the first time, perhaps do it over the weekend so that you have time to do all of the steps.
While you will need a few days to complete the process, don’t let the fact that the dough needs time to mature put you off. If something comes up that interferes with bread making, you can always pop your sourdough batch into the fridge where it will use any extra time that you leave it for to develop further, which can result in even better flavors and textures!
Health Benefits of Sourdough Bread
If you are about to try out making your own sourdough bread then you are most probably more than familiar with the tangy delicious flavors of sourdough. But were you aware of the health benefits?
As a fermented food, it brings to the table all the benefits that fermented foods bring.
Sourdough is processed by naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria which are incorporated into the bread in the form of a culture or starter. These micro organisms break down the nutrients into forms which are more easily digestible for us, and they also produce their own bi-products which are nutritious when consumed.
Because bread is baked, it is not a probiotic, as once it is ready to eat the microorganisms have been killed by the heat of the oven. But besides this aspect, sourdough bread is similar to other fermented food and drink, such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, beer etc.
Studies have shown that the sugars contained in sourdough breads do not cause as high insulin spikes as those in non-fermented bread made with instant yeast, and that any gluten present is more easily assimilated, making sourdough bread in some cases an option for those with celiac disease (gluten allergies or intolerance).
Why Eat Sourdough Bread?
Because the hard-to-digest grains have been broken down by micro-organisms during the fermentation process, sourdough bread is far easier to digest and contains more readily accessible nutrition than regular breads. Quite simply, Sourdough is a healthier bread for you to consume, causes less problems (or none) with digestion, and is the better choice of bread to consume.
So if you were in any doubt as to whether or not making sourdough bread is worth it, are wondering if the sourdough process is merely a nostalgic practice, and that making use of instant yeast is just more practical – think again!
Why Make Your Own Sourdough Bread
The benefits of making your own sourdough allow you ultimate control over exactly what goes into the bread. You can flavor the bread in any number of ways, experimenting and perfecting the flavor; you save a lot of money by making your own sourdough. Making sourdough is also quite fun to do. And finally, the flavor of freshly made sourdough is something divine.
The Basic Process of Making Sourdough Bread
There are a number of steps involved when making sourdough. Before we get started on the exact recipe and steps, here’s a general overview of what you’ll need to do — just to give you an idea how the process works.
First Step: Making The Sourdough Starter
Before anyone can do anything with regards to baking a loaf of sourdough bread, there is something which needs to either be made or bought, and that is sourdough starter.
Sourdough starter is available online, or if you know of someone or somewhere that makes sourdough bread, you might be able to wangle some starter from them. If you are not interested in buying or tracking down sourdough starter, you can also make your own! Check out this post How to Make Sourdough Starter for Beginners for full instructions on how to make your very own starter culture.
What is Sourdough Starter?
In case you are unfamiliar with the term sourdough starter, it is basically a concentrated and active colony of naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria which are the agents of the sourdough fermentation process.
The yeasts and bacteria are naturally found in flour, and some are airborne. Allowing them to grow and develop in a ‘starter’ culture of water and flour means that you can then colonize your bread dough with them, and given a little time they will work on the dough, processing the flour and creating carbon dioxide to make the bread rise.
Besides the all important microbes, the only other things present in, and required for, sourdough starter is unbleached flour and filtered water!
Choosing the Right Starter
When it comes to the sour dough starter, you want to choose to make or buy one which is made from the same flour type as the bread which you will be baking. This is important because the yeasts and bacteria become adapted to feeding on the flour type which they are accustomed to. You can get them used to a new flour type, but it is best to do this by adapting them to a new flour in the starter, rather than putting them straight into a bread which is made out of a different flour type. This could result in your dough failing to rise properly.
Some people have reported that the most consistent and reliable results they have experienced when making sourdough bread have been they were using rye flour. If you want to take the safest option, then rye is a good choice to start your sourdough baking project with. However you can make sourdough bread with wheat flour, spelt flour, rice etc.
Next Step: Getting the Starter Ready for Bread Making
Before charging into bread making you will need to make sure that your sourdough starter, whether homemade or purchased, is ready to do its job. This is because during storage – particularly if the starter is refrigerated or dehydrated –the yeasts and bacteria will go into a state of hibernation.
At the moment when you begin your sourdough bread batch, you want the sourdough starter to be at full strength, champing at the bit to get going on a fresh supply of dough. So the very first stage of sourdough bread baking is to feed and let your starter flex its microbial muscles at room temperature for a couple of days.
I will outline the exact steps in the recipe, but for now let’s just walk through the basics.
Next Step: Creating the Leaven
The leaven is basically like a larger version of the starter. The way it is made is by combining a tablespoon of your strong active starter with a specific amount of flour and water. You should do this the day before you plan to mix up your dough, as an overnight rest should be the perfect length of time for the yeasts and bacteria to take over the flour and water. This will be visible by the production of bubbles and the signature tangy smell unique to sourdough bread.
Next Step: Making the Dough
Then we are ready to mix the dough. This contains the leaven, and additional flour and water, but no salt yet. Salt can act as an inhibitive to yeast – which is why you should let the leaven and the flour and water sit together for some time, this can be anything from 30 minutes to 4 hours. If it is convenient, leave it for longer rather than shorter to give time for the proteins to develop and for the yeasts and bacteria from the leaven to get working on the dough.
Once this is done you are ready to add in the salt and knead. After kneading, the dough can be allowed to rise, shaped into loaves – and at long last we are oven ready!
Next Step: Baking the Dough
When baking sourdough bread or other artisan style breads, you want to have some moisture content in your oven to avoid the rise being constricted by the outer layer of the dough drying out, and to enable the inside of the loaves to stay moist while still being able to leave them in the oven long enough for a beautiful crust to develop.
This can be achieved through placing small dishes of water in the oven to create steam, but another great method, which does not involve tinkering around with dishes of water, is to bake your loaves in a Dutch oven style container. You can use anything which has a lid, even a cast iron pot. This way you can bake with the lid on for the main part, and then remove the lid to let a crust develop.
I highly recommend this method, as it is just so much more convenient than providing dishes of water for the oven to turn to steam.
How to Make Sourdough Bread
Now that you are familiar with the stages and science involved in making sourdough bread, let’s get down to the recipe. I am going to breakdown each part – from preparing your starter to the actual baking – into days to make it easy to plan out your process.
The thing which makes sourdough bread making feel so time consuming, is that the process spans a few days, as opposed to a few hours, which is what we modern day food makers are more used to. But just because it needs more time, does not mean that it needs to be your time. Most of the process is taken up with the yeasts and bacteria being allowed to become incorporated into, and work on, your bread dough. Think of yourself as the dough facilitator and custodian! ; )
Lastly, when there are points along the way where you can stall the process by simply banging your stuff in the refrigerator to resume sourdough making in a day or so – I will mark it these with ‘Refrigeration C’. Do not be afraid to take advantage of these bread making gaps, because usually they have the potential to improve your dough rather than being detrimental.
Ingredients: What to Avoid
The last thing you need to know before getting going with your sourdough making is what types of flour and water to use. This might seem like nitpicking – but it is crucial to the cultivation and wellbeing of the yeasts and bacteria you will be trying to encourage.
Flour to Avoid:
While you can bake a sour dough loaf from almost any type of flour, whether it be wheat, rye, rice etc, make sure that the flour which you are using is unbleached. All grains will have the naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria on them which facilitate the sourdough process, but processes such as bleaching will kill these.
Water to Avoid:
Do not use unfiltered water for your bread making. Treated water contains chemicals – mainly chlorine but others as well – to eradicate harmful bacteria and viruses which might be contaminating water sources. These same chemicals can however be extremely detrimental to your bread making when working with sourdough. This is because if there are any harmful chemicals in the water that you are using, they have the potential to kill off the yeast and bacteria which are doing all of the leavening work, resulting in a batch of bread which will not rise, and comes out flat and dense.
Here we are, ready to start our process to make sourdough bread!
Let’s jump right in:
For the leaven-
- 2.5 ounces (75 grams or 1/2 cup) unbleached flour
- 2.5 ounces (75 grams or 1/3 cup) filtered water
- 1 tablespoon sourdough starter
For the dough-
- 25 ounces (700 grams or 5 1/2 cups) unbleached flour
- 19 ounces (525 grams or 2 1/2 cups) filtered water
- 1 tablespoon salt
For the dough-
- 1 Small mixing bowl (for leaven)
- 1 Large mixing bowl (for dough)
- Knife (for making a cut in the top of the bread)
- Pastry scraper
- Ceram wrap (for covering)
- Bowls, pans or colander (to let your bread rise in – anything which
- will let it keep the shape you want)
- Dutch oven (for baking)
- Scale (it is really great to bake with a scale as you get be very specific – but if you do not have one you can also follow the cup measurements as well)
Pre-step: Activate Your Starter the Week Before
If your starter has been dehydrated, re-hydrate it and let it sit at room temperature, feeding daily. If the starter has been in the refrigerator it will also need to be revived. It might not take as long for the starter to regain vitality, but it will still require at least 3 days out of the fridge with daily feeding to get the culture to full strength.
You will know for sure that it is ready if you see lots of bubble action after feeding it. If this is not happening, then you can leave the culture out, and feed until you see that it is active.
Day 1: Make Leaven
Once your starter is rearing to go, you are ready to make the leaven:
- Mix 1 tablespoon of starter with the flour and water until it forms a thick batter.
- Cover and leave to sit overnight.
Baking Hack – to double check that your leaven is ready, dab a bit into a cup with water. If it floats it is most definitely ready.
Day 2: Make the Dough
Now that your leaven is ready to use it is time to make dough.
- Combine 17 ounces of water and your leaven in the large mixing bowl. Set aside the rest of the water to dissolve the salt into.
- Mix the leaven and water with your hands or the spatula.
- Add in the flour, mixing until a shaggy dough forms.
- Let the dough now sit for 30 minutes to 4 hours.
After the resting period is done, do the following:
- Mix the salt and remaining water until the salt is dissolved.
- Pour this over the dough and work in with your fingers.
- Fold/gently knead the dough briefly.
- Every half hour over 2.5 hours repeat this quick kneading/folding.
You are now ready to let the dough rise:
- Place your dough into a container which will allow it to keep its shape while rising.
- Leave to rise for 4 -12 hours.
Prepping the dough and oven:
- Pre-heat your oven and two Dutch ovens or cast iron pots to 450o
- Shape into 2 loaves and place into preheated and lightly floured Dutch ovens.
- With your knife make a few scores onto the top of your loaves, to allow for easy expansion when baking.
- Place in the oven with the lids on and bake at 400o Fahrenheit (205 o Celsius) for 35 minutes.
- Remove the lids and leave to bake until the crust turns a beautiful brown color, which will probably be another 20-30 minutes.
Turn the loaves out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely. Do not try to slice your loaves before they are fully cooled, as it will be difficult.
And there you have it! Two gorgeous loaves of uber healthy sourdough bread. Yum!
The recipe we have outlined is merely a basic method of making sourdough, and can be adapted to your liking. You may decrease the temperature slightly and increase the baking time – or vice a versa. You can do more rises if you feel that this will result in a better loaf – you can let the dough stand overnight to develop a more sour tang. The variations are endless and you are free to play.
Besides the basic ingredients of flour, water and leaven, you can also include additional ingredients such as herbs to add in flavoring. Here are some ideas to get you going:
- Dried fruit
Half the fun of bread making is to come up with experimental and unique combinations, so don’t be shy when it comes to your bread. I find that if I am adding in flavorings, it is difficult to choose between sweet and savory.
No one wants to have a slice of garlic and parsley bread with apricot jelly spread on top! Or for that matter, marmite on bread which has chopped dates in it!
To get around this, what I sometimes do is split the dough before adding in flavoring or additional ingredients. This way one can bake one loaf on the sweet side, and one loaf with savory flavoring.
While sourdough bread might be a lengthy process to get to the final loaves, the health benefits and unique flavor are a real plus. You can store additional loaves of sourdough bread in the freezer if you are keen on making big batches to economize on time spent baking. When you are ready to get a out a new one, simply let it defrost, and then pop it into the oven to re-toast the crust.
Like anything, practice is the best teacher. If your first batch did not turn out the way you expected it to – give it another go and see. Sometimes with a lengthy process it is possible to miss out a step.
And remember, if in doubt with rising times and resting times, longer is better when it comes to sourdough. : )
Lastly, if you are sensitive to gluten, but love bread, you might find that sourdough bread will not spark off digestive issues, and you may be able to enjoy it pain-free.