When I first made sourdough I had 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 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? If you’re a beginner it’s no wonder this can be overwhelming. After many trials and errors, I’ve made my own recipe of a sourdough that is easy to follow. Over my time I have found that though the ingredients are important, the working of the dough and the resting/proofing of the dough play the biggest parts in the end result. Take your time to feel your dough and gage what it’s doing. I’ll explain more below.
A quick note on flours: A strong flour can be helpful to create a nice sturdy loaf, like an unbleached high-grade flour. They have a higher protein level than plain flour.
Most wholemeal flour will have a high protein level too but using more wholemeal flour will give you a denser bread and more water can be added to the dough.
If you start with white flour for the first few breads and get used to the texture and feel of the dough you can feel if water needs to be added when adding wholemeal.
Before you start, you’ll need an active sourdough starter, at 100% hydration (naming him something cool like Orlandough bloom or Breadly Cooper is completely optional).
To see how I make my starter, check out this post here.
Step by Step Sourdough
In a large bowl, combine the water and the flour to start the autolyse stage. This will help develop the glutens in the flour. Use wet hands to mix it into a rough dough, then cover with a towel and leave to sit for 1-3 hours on the bench.
Now it’s time to add in the salt and the starter.
Use wet hands to mix this in well and form a ball of dough. Lightly grease a glass or ceramic tray and place the dough ball in and let it rest for 30 minutes before moving on to step 3. It will flatten out.
I use a stretch and fold method to work my dough, in the form of a coil fold. You’ll need to fold your dough every 30 minutes for three hours to develop the gluten strands in the dough.
Using wet hands, gently coax the sides up with your fingers and lift it up from the middle and back onto itself. Turn your tray and repeat on all sides. Repeat this every 30 minutes for three hours. (Watch the video below for a demonstration.)
The video below is of the third stretch and fold. Initially the dough will be very sticky and wet but after a few folds it will hold togethere more and become elastic.
After all your folds are done, leave the dough to sit and bulk ferment. How long this takes depends on the warmth of your room. Your dough should bulk out by 50%. This can take between 1-4 hours. It is normal for your dough to stretch back out and fill the dish again, but it should feel bouncier and fuller if touched with a wet finger.
Now it’s time for the shaping of the dough and the slow, cool ferment which is when your dough will proof in the refrigerator for anywhere between 8-20 hours.
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 lined with a floured towel. Whatever you use, flour it well so the dough doesn’t stick.
Tip your dough out carefully on a very lightly floured work surface and gently form it into a rectangle. Take care at this shaping stage to not squash the dough too much and lose all the gases that have been forming.
Here is a video of my shaping.
The ‘Stitching’ where I grab little bits of dough from each side to create a seam, and the rolling of the dough towards me on the bench help to create surface tension in the dough.
Place the dough in your basket with the smooth side facing down. 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 to as hot as it can go, as well preheating a large pot with a lid. If you have a dutch oven that’s perfect to use, but I used to use a large stainless steel soup pot with a lid.
Tip your dough out onto some baking paper if you’re lowering it into a large pot (so you don’t burn your hands!) or flour a Dutch oven pot well and tip your dough into that. Now 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.
Then place the bread in the preheated pot and pop in the oven, with the lid on for 30-35 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 15-20 minutes to brown up the crust.
Now here’s the hardest part: let the sourdough cool before cutting it.
- 460 grams strong flour
- 330ml warm water
- 150g active sourdough starter at 100% hydration
- 1 tsp salt
- In a large bowl combine the flour and water into a rough dough and let it sit for 1-3 hours to hydrate.
- Add in the sourdough starter and the salt and combine together using wet hands, into a sticky dough. Place in wide a glass or ceramic dish.
- Over the next three hours, stretch and fold this dough every 30 minutes, using a coil fold (see video.) Always use wet hands. It is normal for your dough to stretch back out after each fold.
- Now leave the dough on the bench to sit for another 1-4 hours until doubled in size.
- Flour a banneton basket or other basket or bowl well.
- Tip your dough out carefully on a very lightly floured work surface and gently form it into a rectangle. Take care at this shaping stage to not squash the dough too much and lose all the gases that have been forming. Take one side at a time and bring it into the middle so they all overlap and form a ball.Now gently grab this ball and roll it gently towards you on the bench. This will create some surface tension. All the while, take care not to de-gas your dough too much. Place in the floured bowel or basket, smooth side down.
- Cover with a damp or floured tea towel and place in the refrigerator for 8-20 hours.
- After the 8-20 hours, preheat your oven and a large pot with a lid, at 220 degrees Celsius.
- Flour the bottom of the pot or baking paper. Flip the dough out of the basket and brush with flour (flour is optional). Score the dough using a razor blade or very sharp knife.
- Bake in the pot covered with the lid for 30- 35 minutes. Remove the lid and bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes more depending on your preference.
- Let the sourdough cool before slicing
Here is the full video of my sourdough: