Sourdough is a type of bread made with flour, water, a bit of salt and natural yeast, unlike most breads we know, which are made with manufactured, dry yeast, baking powder or buttermilk for example. Naturally, the wild yeast takes longer to develop in the dough, but that time is well worth waiting.
Sourdough bread has a wonderful, complex, earthy flavour with that gentle sour note on the finish, and no commercial yeast based bread compares to it. It has a fantastic, full bodied, chewy and rustic texture and a lovely crust, if done properly.
To me the sourdough bread is the mother of all breads – honest, uncompromising and beautiful in every way. The oldest known sourdough bread from around 3700 BC was excavated in Switzerland, but “Bread production relied on the use of sourdough as a leavening agent for most of human history; the use of baker’s yeast as a leavening agent dates back less than 150 years.”*
Sourdough bread is super good for you and helps to restore the good bacteria in your gut.
It is what I grew up on before I got to taste other breads and what I still cherish dearly. It goes with pretty much anything you would normally use any other bread for, but I must add that it also makes the most amazing dunker for sauces, stews and soups.
Because of its rich and full bodied texture it is very satisfying – it works also with sweet jams, marmalades and savoury toppings.
There is only so much I can tell you about sourdough bread without getting too emotional.
I really, really love making it, baking it and eating it. Sourdough bread is a true labour of love and that means care, attention and time. Next to flour and water, putting time in the bowl is what makes this bread best out of all breads I’ve tasted.
Because of the time and effort there also is a certain sense of accomplishment you feel after going through the process of making sourdough bread.
First of all you need to prepare a sourdough starter, which I told you in depth in my previous post. I still can’t get over that article I shared with you about Lucille’s sourdough starter which was cultivated in her family for over 122 years now! Crazy stuff!
The fact is that sourdough bread starter is the easy part, which making and keeping you simply fit around your lifestyle. When it comes to making the sourdough bread itself though, plan it well, so you bake the most amazing and flavourful bread. Below a few of my tips.
While making sourdough bread:
- Don’t knead. Fold. Fold the dough, you won’t get far with kneading as the sourdough is wet and sticky, and only scraping it off the bowl, pulling and folding over, and pushing back to the dough is the way to keep things reasonably tidy in my experience. Just like on the pictures below.
- Rest the dough. As in all good things the dough needs time to develop the flavour, form the gluten, rise in peace and build the strength. Rest your dough every time after you messed with it, don’t overwork it trying to save time. Fold the dough 10, 12 times and rest it before folding it again. Moving the sourdough to another basket, dish, baking tray? Rest it for a while every time. What does that resting do? Think of your sourdough bread as if it is an infant. To grow and develop your infant needs lots of sleep to start with.
- Don’t be shy with flour in the rising basket. Sourdough is very flimsy and loose after it has risen a bit, expanded and is ready to be transferred to a baking dish. Coat your kitchen towel or a linen cloth you want to line a rising basket with plenty of flour. This will create a skin, almost like a bag holding the sourdough inside and this is super helpful when moving the dough to the baking dish, plus that skin will become your sourdough bread crust later.
- Be gentle. When transferring the sour bread dough to the baking dish be super gentle. First, sprinkle more flour over it if it got absorbed into the dough and very gently lift the sides of the dough all around making sure that it hasn’t stuck to the cloth. If it did, the dough is ruined and you have to start all over again. No, just joking. Gently pinch the dough off the cloth, sprinkle some flour over and stick the opening together to protect the integrity of your future sourdough bread. What I do is, after lifting the dough on the sides, I tip it into the baking tray/dish and then gently unstick the cloth from the top trying to keep things intact.
- Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any questions about baking sourdough bread or making the sourdough bread starter.
- 1.5 tablespoons active sourdough starter
- 850 grams strong, white bread flour and more for dusting
- 750ml grams filtered or boiled and completely cooled water
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 3-4 tablespoons seeds of your choice
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- Make the leaven the evening before you want to bake the sourdough bread: In a small bowl, mix together sourdough starter, 125ml water and 100 grams of flour. Leave covered, but with some air access, at room temperature for 10-12 hours. Making your leaven the evening before you want to bake sourdough bread is the most practical solution.
- In a mug or a small bowl, completely dissolve 1 tablespoon of salt in 125ml water.
- In a large bowl, combine the remaining 500ml water with the leaven, mix very well. Add the remaining 750g flour and mix well with a wooden spoon or spatula to get a rough dough. Pour the dissolved salt and mix it the best you can with a wooden spoon or spatula before getting in with your hands to form a loose dough ball.
- Wash your hands and without drying them grab a side of the dough, lift it up so it stretches with the motion of your hand, fold it over the top of the remaining part of the dough and push down to the middle. Repeat the folding while turning the bowl with one hand and going round all sides of the dough 3-4 times in a circle. Wash your hands again. Cover the bowl with your sourdough with some cling film and leave to rest for 20-30 minutes. Repeat this step another 4-5 times, making sure you allow the dough to rest 20-30 minutes after every folding session.
- During the last folding add seeds and oil and then place the dough in a well floured proofing basket. You can line any basket or colander with a linen or cotton cloth as long as there is an air access on the surface all around. It is helpful if your proofing basket is the same shape and size of the baking tray you want to bake the sourdough bread in. Sprinkle some flour over the top of the dough in the basket. Allow 3-4 hours for the dough to rise in the proofing basket, covered, but with some air access, in room temperature. (Placing the proofing basket with the dough inside an open clean plastic bag is a good idea.) Alternatively, place the basket in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours. If you do that, leave the basket on the counter afterwards for at least 1 hour, so the dough comes to room temperature, before moving it to the baking tray.
- Place an oven rack you will put the sourdough baking tray on into the middle level of your oven.
- Preheat oven to 220C (428F).
- Use a baking dish/tray slightly larger than your proofing basket and in a shape of your proofing basket, so there is no issue with having to reshape the very loose and flimsy dough. I use a regular round cake pan: 9 inches across and 2.5 inches deep. When transferring the sour bread dough to the baking dish be super gentle. First, sprinkle more flour over if it got absorbed into the dough and very gently lift the sides of the dough all around making sure that it hasn’t stuck to the cloth. If this happens though, gently pinch the dough off the cloth, sprinkle some flour over and stick the opening together to protect the integrity of your sourdough. Very gently tip the sourdough into the baking tray and then gently unstick the cloth from the top trying to keep things intact. Score the top of the dough with a sharp knife.
- Bake the sourdough for 50 min.
- After removing the dough from the oven, allow it to cool on a cooling rack before cutting it open.
This recipe was partly adapted from Tartine Bread and 100 Great Breads.
*Michael Gaenzle (1 April 2014). “Sourdough Bread”. In Batt, Carl. Encyclopedia of Food Microbiology (2nd ed.). Academic Press. p. 309. – Wikipedia