This is a wonderful recipe for a basic sourdough loaf. The bread is airy and chewy with a light and crisp crust. No kneading is involved in the process but time and patience is required for the stages of fermentation. The instructions will seem long at first but bear with it; once you have made a few loaves you will find it easy to fit the stages around your day (well – easy ‘ish’ with some planning!)
Over the past few years, I have attempted a variety of recipes for baking sourdough bread. Some loaves were too sour, some over fermented, some had too dense a crust and some were too moist in the middle. Some didn’t rise evenly and some were not airy enough. I have followed and combined various recipes using different flours, starter ratios and hydration percentages. In short, I have dabbled with variant success.
I purchased the book ‘Tartine Bread’ by Chad Robertson a while back and this was a turning point in my baking. Not so much a book of recipes but more a guide to making excellent bread and getting to know your dough and its environment. There are detailed explanations regarding ratios and the process of fermentation and tending your dough.
I have experimented with the basic recipe from Tartine Bread, increasing the amount of leaven to speed up the fermentation process when I am short on time, trying different flour ratios, hydration % and fermentation times depending on my schedule that day. Most importantly I have spent time getting to know my dough. A longer fermentation leads to a tangier dough, a higher % of water gives a lighter more airy loaf and a crisper crust but can be harder to handle. An increased amount of brown flour or adding rye flour makes for a denser loaf, which requires a higher hydration % (more water).
Careful handling e.g. not taking the air out of your dough during any stage will give you a lighter and more aerated loaf. On a warm day my loaves have fermented faster than the suggested times. On a cold day, leave your loaves in a draft free, warm spot in your kitchen and be aware that fermentation might take longer.
The below recipe makes 2 loaves. If you do not need 2 loaves, freeze one loaf or make one loaf and use the other half of the dough for a wonderful sourdough pizza.
- A large, thick plastic box (I use a large tupperware box with no lid) that can contain 1000g of dough with space for you to fold and for the dough to grow. A thick walled receptacle will control the temperature of the fermenting dough. A large glass or ceramic bowl would also work.
- 2 clean tea towels
- 2 Proving baskets. If you do not have these, you can improvise with a colander or large bowl with a tea towel inside it.
- A sharp knife for slashing the loaf
- A cast iron casserole dish with a fitted lid, or a dutch oven with a fitted lid. If you don’t have one, get one. It will make a huge difference to the bread you produce. It makes up for the fact that home ovens do not get as hot as they need to be to make optimum bread and will keep the moisture in your loaves.
Making the leaven
Prep time – 10 minutes
fermentation time – 6 – 8 hours
I usually prepare this before I go to bed so that I can make my dough in the morning. I have also done it in the morning and baked my bread at night. Avoid making it in the afternoon unless you are an insomniac / enjoy staying up all night / have a baby.
- 1 tablespoon of fed and active sourdough starter. Feed it a few hours before you want to use it. If you cannot obtain one from someone else or buy one, you will need to make your own.
- If you are making your own or need to revive an existing starter, please see my post Making & reviving sourdough starter
- 200g of flour (I use a 50/50 blend of white and brown)
- 200g of warm water
- In your box / bowl, mix together all of the above ingredients until well combined. Cover with a kitchen towel and leave for 6-8 hours.
- The leaven should increase in volume by about 20%
- Your leaven should smell sweet. If it smells vinegary you can still use it (your resulting bread will be more sour) or you can discard half of the leaven and add 100g water / 100g flour and leave it to ferment for 2 hours more.
- You can test if your leaven is ready by putting a teaspoon of it in a bowl of water. If it is ready it will float.
Making the Dough
Work time – 30 minutes
Fermentation time – 8 hours
- 200g leaven
- 900g white flour
- 100g wholewheat flour
- 20g salt
- 700 g water + 50g water
- rice flour or semolina for sprinkling
- Combine the leaven, all the flour and 700g water in your bowl / container with your hands and leave the dough to rest for 30 minutes with a tea towel resting on top of the container in a non drafty area of your kitchen.
- Add the 20g salt and the final 50g water to the dough, mix well and recover with the tea towel
- Fold the dough every hour or so for the next 4 hours. Stretch the dough, fold it over, turn and stretch and fold. Do this approximately 4 or 5 times being careful not to deflate the dough.
- Your dough should have approximately doubled in size by this point and should be aerated and springy.
- Carefully with a sharp knife or a doughcutter, split your dough in half (avoid handling it too much, which will deflate it) and shape quickly to a round / oval shape according to your proving basket shape. There is usually a seam from the shaping; this will be the bottom side of your loaf.
- Leave your two rounds of dough on a board or plate sprinkled with semolina or rice flour (to avoid sticking) and rest your dough for approximately 30 minutes
- Prepare your proving basket by sprinkling it with semolina or rice flour.
- Put your dough seam side up into the baskets. Sprinkle more semolina / rice flour on top of the dough.
- If you do not have a proving basket, use a colander with a tea towel in it
- Leave the dough to prove for 4 hours or prove it in the fridge for 8 hours.
Shaping, Scoring and Baking your loaf
- Heat your oven to the maximum temperature (heat both ovens if you are baking two loaves). If you only have one oven, leave your second loaf proving for another hour, then slash it just before baking and bake it straight after the first loaf is done.
- Place your cast iron casserole dish(s) / dutch oven(s) in the oven for at least 30 minutes. It will need to be very hot
- Remove your casserole from the oven, remove the lid and sprinkle the base of your pot with semolina or rice flour and quickly turn your loaf in to it seam side down.
- Using a razor blade or a sharp knife score shallow slashes into your loaf (be careful of your hot pot!). Scoring creates weak spots in the bread’s crust, allowing for the dough expansion and avoiding a burst loaf. I like to slash a rectangle or square on top, but there are many other patterns you might want to try or experiment with. **If your loaf springs back up, there is no need to slash it again – it is done and doing it again will just deflate your dough**
- Place the lid on your pot and bake in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes with the lid on and then take the lid off and bake for another 30 – 35 minutes until the loaf is golden with burnt crusty bits on top of it.
- If you are not sure; to check your loaf is done you can knock the base of your loaf firmly with a knife and it should sound hollow
- Cool on a wire rack
Best eaten with lots of butter or fruity olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt.