Sourdough Bread 101

April 18, 2012

I’ve made quite a few loaves from my sourdough starter and I have combined a few recipes, tweaked oven and rising times and think I’ve got it pretty down pat. Here’s a step by step recipe for making your own sourdough loaf!

The finished loaf!

There is one important thing to note about this recipe (or, really, any sourdough recipe)- the amount of waiting time there is.  Don’t let the time intervals scare you! The active time in this recipe is incredibly short, and if you have a morning or an evening to spend at home, it isn’t so bad to do it surrounded by growing yeasts and the smell of baking bread.

You will need about 5 minutes to mix up the sponge which needs to sit for about 8 hours (see instructions below). Then you’ll need a period of about three hours where you’ll be around, but not actively working with your dough the whole time. I suggest either putting the sponge together after dinner and baking in the morning or, putting the sponge together in the morning before leaving for class/work and baking in the evening. Play around with it, make it work for you! If the sponge sits for 10 hours, it won’t kill it. And if the dough rises for 2.5 hours while you’re grocery shopping, it won’t kill it.

And a final note- ff you read the ingredients below, you will realize that there are essentially four important aspects to this bread. Flour, water, salt and oil. You can add some fancy mix-ins but really, using high quality flour is the best way to guarantee you’ll have a stellar loaf. I use about 50/50 whole wheat and white flour to begin with, then any additional flour I need to add while kneading is whole wheat, upping the ratio a bit. I use locally grown and milled whole wheat flour that costs about $2.25/lb and King Arthur white, unbleached flour that costs about $1.60/lb. Because these are really the only things that cost much going into the recipe, I’ve realized it costs me about $4-5 per loaf to make this recipe, which I feel totally comfortable with but others may not.  No matter what you use, I applaud your efforts to make delicious, simple food for you and yours!

The delicious locally grown and milled flour I'm fortunate to have access to!

Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread (makes 1 loaf)
(based on the recipe for sourdough loaf in The Tassajara Bread Book) 

Ingredients:

-1/2 cup sourdough starter
-2-4 cups whole wheat flour
-2-3 cups white, unbleached flour
-2 cups warm water
-1/4 c neutral oil
-1/2 T salt
-optional add ins, 1 cup sunflower seeds, 2 T sesame seeds, 1/2 c raisins, 1/2 c chopped dates, 1/4 c ground flax seed etc.

Other necessities:
-large, plastic or ceramic mixing bowl, I’ve read that metal will interact badly with the yeast
-wooden or plastic spoon (again, avoid metal)
-cheesecloth or other covering for your bowl
-baking sheet

Please let me know how yours turns out if you follow my recipe. Or, if you have a recipe you love- leave a comment and let me know, I always learn so much from trying out new recipes!

Happy kneading.

Step 1: Make the Sponge

Actually, the first step is to make sure your sourdough starter has spent a few hours on the counter, in room temperature. I leave mine in the fridge between baking, so I’ll pull it out a day or two before I know I’ll be making bread, feed it and let it get bubbly and active again. When your starter is ready and you’re ready, add 1/2 cup sourdough starter to a plastic mixing bowl large enough to hold about 6 cups of flour.

1/2 cup of sourdough starter

Next, add 2.5 cups whole wheat flour and 2 cups of warm water. Combine using your wooden spoon and cover with cheesecloth secured with a rubber band, a towel with a dish over it etc. Mostly, we’re trying to let gasses out as the yeasts grow and to keep flies/ants etc. out of the mix. You could also store it in your oven or some other sealed place- make sure it is about room temperature, however, you need the yeasts to eat and grow!

Let sit overnight or 8 hours.

Step 2: Mix up the Dough

2.5 cups white flour, 1/2 T salt, 1/4 c oil added to the sponge

When you check our your sponge after the 8 hour rest period it should be bubbly, smell like your starter and have risen in volume slightly. Don’t worry about the volume change too much- but if it looks like flour and water with no bubbles- you may need to try again. Starting with an active starter my sponge as always developed!

First, remove a 1/2 cup of the sponge and replenish your starter. At this point I put my starter back into the fridge to wait for next time. I may add a touch more flour to keep it going, but it should have enough fuel from the added sponge.

Add another 2.5 cups of flour, 1/2 T salt and 1/4 c oil to the sponge. I am currently using up the last bottle of canola oil I’ll ever buy. I’m trying to avoid GMOs to the best of my ability, and canola oil is almost ALWAYS genetically modified. Others to use in place are sunflower oil, peanut or even olive. A light olive oil would have the same function as canola, whereas a darker one may impart a deliciously savory flavor to your loaf.

Here, you can also add in any mix-ins you would like. I added sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and a bit of ground flax to our last loaf just for some more interesting texture.

The 2.5 cups of flour is an approximation. I generally need about 6 cups total to make my loaf. Use your wooden spoon to incorporate all the ingredients until your dough begins to pull away from the bowl. It should still be somewhat sticky but not totally wet.

Step 3: Knead!

Kneading, kneading, kneading..

Sprinkle some flour on a clean surface and move dough from bowl to kneading surface. Work to incorporate flour if the dough is remaining too sticky. It is going to be a bit stickier than normal bread dough, if you’ve worked with it before. However, kneading for a good 5-10 minutes and incorporating flour when needed should do the trick. When you’re done, it will be easy to handle without sticking too much, but not be totally dry.

To shape my loaf I flatten the dough into a pretty long rectangle, about 1/2″ thick, then I roll up the long side to make a sealed tube. This is generally pretty long, so I’ll kind of flatten the two ends and smoosh it together to get a loaf that is about 12-15 inches long. You could also make it into a braid, a round etc. If you google around there are youtube videos and other resources on shaping loaves- find your favorite!

Step 4: Rising

Take your shaped loaf and place it on a baking sheet sprinkled with some cornmeal. I slash my loaf a few times, mostly because I like to pretend I work at a fancy bakery. Cover with a towel and let rise about 2 hours until the bread has visibly risen in shape to about 1.5 times its original size.

It is possible that you may need to tweak rising times depending on the temperature in your kitchen. If it is too cool, below 65 degrees, as mine often is in the winter time, I would suggest letting your formed loaf rise longer, really watching for it to almost double in size. To speed up the process if your place is too cool, try boiling some water in a kettle. Pour the water into a deep bowl and place the bowl on the bottom rack of your oven. Put the formed loaf (or sponge if you’re at an earlier stage) on the top shelf and leave it in the oven with the door closed for the requisite period of time. Both the heat and the moisture will help your yeast friends go to town!

Step 5: Bake

When the dough has risen, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake bread for 15 minutes at 375, then lower the heat to 325 and bake for about 30-40 minutes until it is nicely browned and sounds hollow when you tap on the outside. This will give you a beautifuly firm crust but delicate center. My loaves tend to rise another inch or even two while baking, so if yours wasn’t quite as big as you would hope when you put it in the oven, no fear!

Delicious!

I store my bread in the fridge, in a loose plastic bag (actually, our bread bag used to hold 5lbs of potatoes from the grocery store. We’re all about reusing). If you don’t eat it all up it’ll last for 7 days or so in the fridge and a few less on the counter. Remember, there are NO preservatives in this bread, and it is made from the hard work of living things (you and your wild yeast friends!) so it won’t last as long as store-bought bread but it will taste a thousand times better. Best of luck, feel free to comment with any questions, suggestions or clarifications!

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2 Responses to “Sourdough Bread 101”


  1. Great instructions for fresh, homemade bread – looks so delicious! 🙂

    • walkerjdunn Says:

      Thank you! We really enjoy eating only homemade bread, there are some wonderful bakeries around here we love, but making it at home is such a treat. I’ll never get over the smell of freshly baking bread!


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