I started trying to make sourdough a couple of years ago with mixed results. With a bread that takes as long to make as sourdough does, mixed results isn’t a great outcome. I absolutely love the taste of sourdough and the idea that you can make a delicious bread with just flour, water, and a little salt was too good to give up.
There are so many recipes out there, some knead, some with no-knead, some with a stretch and fold. Which is the right one? Two main recipes I studied were the ones from www.perfectloaf.com and the Rustic Sourdough from Homegrown Kitchen. I mention these two as they both produce a-m-a-z-i-n-g sourdough breads but one has many more steps than the other.
In the recipe at The Perfect Loaf, the temperature is mentioned a lot, there is a levean that needs to be made first (a mixture made of the initial sourdough starter and a little water and flour), an initial autolyse (a mixture of the water and the flour) and the levean is added afterwards. In the Homegrown Kitchen book there is no levean and the sourdough starter is added with the flour and water at the autolyse stage. Water temperature was mentioned a little but not as much as on The Perfect Loaf.
Phew! If you’re a beginner it’s no wonder this can be overwhelming. After initial copying of both these recipes and a little tweaking and adapting of my own, I’ve made my own recipe of a sourdough that works every time and is easy to follow. I’ll document the steps I’ve taken and I’ve made a little video so hopefully, you’ll see how sourdough isn’t as daunting as you may have thought.
A quick note on flours: A strong flour with a protein level between 12% and 15% is necessary to create a nice sturdy loaf. The flour I mainly use is the organic white flour from the bulk bins at Commonsense Organics in Wellington and that happens to have a protein level of 12.4% so it’s perfect to use. Most wholemeal flour will have a high protein level too. I also use rye and wholemeal flour in my bread but use mainly the white flour and the wholemeal to provide the protein and structure. If I make it with too much rye, it makes a denser bread.
Step by Step Sourdough
Before you start, you’ll need an active sourdough starter (naming him something cool like Orlandough bloom or Breadly Cooper is completely optional). Nicola Galloway from Homegrown Kitchen has a great sourdough starter recipe here, which is from where my Orlandough starter was born.
In a large bowl, combine the water and the flour to start the autolyse stage. Use wet hands to mix it into a rough dough, then cover with a towel and leave to sit for 30 minutes to an hour.
Now it’s time to add in the salt and the active starter (one that has been fed in the last 6-12 hours)
Use wet hands to mix this into a sticky dough.
I use a stretch and fold method to work my dough. You’ll need to stretch and fold your dough around about every 45 minutes for three hours to develop the gluten strands in the dough. At the start of this step your dough will tear when you stretch it up. By the end of all your stretch and folds, you should be able to stretch it right out and it won’t tear quickly, in fact it can get really thin, almost see-through. This is called a window pane effect.
How to Stretch and Fold.
To stretch and fold, scoop a wet hand under the dough and stretch it up, then fold it down. Turn the bowl and do it again for at least 5 turns each time.
Here is my dough at the start of this process, it rips very easily.
And here it is after 3 hours of stretching and folding.
Now it’s time for the bulk ferment which is when your dough will proof in the refrigerator for anywhere between 8-20 hours. I usually start my bread at about 4 or 5 pm so that it’s ready to proof overnight when I go to bed and I can bake it in the morning.
You’ll need some sort of basket or bowl for the dough to hold its shape while it proofs. I use a traditional banneton basket. Whatever you use, flour it well so the dough doesn’t stick. Place it in the refrigerator, covered with a damp tea towel.
Fast forward at least 8 hours later and it’s time to get baking! Preheat your oven and a large pot with a lid to 220 Degrees Celsius. If you have a dutch oven that’s perfect to use but I just use a large stainless steel soup pot with a lid.
Tip your dough out onto some baking paper and slash it. It doesn’t really matter how you slash or score it, your bread just needs somewhere for air to escape. I use a razor blade for this job. You can brush the dough with some extra flour which will create a pretty effect when you slash it.
Then place the bread in the preheated pot and pop in the oven, with the lid on for 40 minutes for its covered bake. Capturing the steam inside the pot is what helps create that delicious, iconic sourdough crust.
After the covered bake is done, remove the lid and place back in the oven for 15 minutes to brown up the crust.
Now here’s the hardest part: let the sourdough cool before cutting it.
Want to see me actually make it? Here’s a video!