I started trying to make sourdough a few 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 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 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.
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, the starter 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 an hour.
Now it’s time to add in the salt.
Use wet hands to mix this in.
I use a stretch and fold method to work my dough. You’ll need to stretch and fold your dough every 30 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. Your dough should feel spongy and soft and hold together in a sort of ball after all the stretching and folding is done (though may flatten out again when left which is fine). After all your stretches are done, leave the dough to sit and rest for another 1-2 hours before moving on to step 4.
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.
Now it’s time for the bulk ferment which is when your dough will proof in the refrigerator for anywhere between 10-20 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 on a very lightly floured work surface and form it into a rough rectangle. Take one side at a time and bring it into the middle so they all overlap and form a ball. If your dough sticks and breaks off on the bench, this means it’s probably not been stretched and folded enough. The dough will be sticky but it should hold together.
Now gently grab this ball and roll it towards you on the bench. This will create some surface tension.
As you roll it towards you it will elongate and form a sausage. Tuck the ends in to form a ball again and roll it towards you again.
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 10 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 just 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 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 flour (at least 70% strong flour with 12-15% protein)
- 330ml warm water
- 3/4 cup active sourdough starter
- 1 tsp salt
- In a large bowl combine the flour and water into a rough dough and let it sit for 30-60 minutes to hydrate.
- Add in the sourdough starter and the salt and combine together using wet hands, into a sticky dough.
- Over the next three hours, stretch and fold this dough every 30-45 minutes, at least 5-6 turns of the bowl each time.
- Flour a banneton basket or other basket or bowl well and place in the dough. Cover with a damp 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.
- On 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 40 minutes. Remove the lid and bake uncovered for 15 minutes more.
- Let the sourdough cool before slicing