When you get it right, sourdough bread recipe is one of the most amazing things you’ll ever make in your kitchen. I’ve spent a lot of time and research getting this one right, and it is SOOOO rewarding to pull a loaf out of the oven in front of amazed guests at a dinner party!
- 1 1/2 cups of active sourdough starter*
- 5 cups of flour**
- 1 cup water (dechlorinated)
- 3/4 to 1 teaspoon of sea salt
*Making an active starter requires feeding it before you use it. It’s important not to have too much acid in the starter, so don’t let it ferment more than 12 hours for at least three feeding cycles before you use it. For example, if you’re making bread on Saturday morning, feed your starter on Thursday night, again on Friday morning and one last time on Friday night. Your starter should be perfect by Saturday morning!
** Flour is a bit tricky to measure exactly; it can be packed down or loosely packed, so your 1 cup of flour may not be the same as my 1 cup of flour. For this reason, professional bakers measure their flour by weight, instead of volume. I’ve done it this way for years, too, but I decided to make it more accessible to those who don’t have a scale in their kitchen. If things don’t seem right, then feel free to add more flour or water!
Mix all ingredients together and knead well: 10 minutes if kneading by machine, 15 minutes if kneading by hand. The dough should become smooth and should stop sticking to the board. It should also be relatively stiff; if very pliable, add more flour; if very stiff, add more water.
Put dough in a large bowl, and cover with a cloth. Leave at room temperature (65 – 70°F) until dough doubles in size, around 2 1/2 – 5 hours, depending on your starter and the temperature. Cool temperatures result in more flavorful bread.
Gently turn dough out onto floured board. It’s important to handle the bread gently to avoid damaging the gluten strands, which were stretched during the first rising.
Press gas bubbles out of the dough, then fold the edges in to the center. Continue folding until the dough starts to take the shape of a ball.
Turn the ball over, and pinch the bottom of the dough together with your hands. This ball should hold its shape pretty well.
Cover with a towel, allow the dough to relax for 15 minutes.
Turn the dough ball over again, so it’s top down. Repeat steps 4-5.
After your dough ball is shaped, it’s time for the final rise. If you are going to do this free-form, let it sit on a floured board, covered with a towel. If you are going to do this in a basket or colander, put a well-floured linen towel (not terrycloth, or your bread will stick to it!) in the bowl, then put the dough in top down. Sprinkle the loaf with more flour, then cover with the towel. [Optional: if using a cast-iron Dutch oven or casserole for the baking step (see below), you can do this second rise in there.]
Let the loaf rise until doubled in size, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours more.
(Optional): Put the loaf in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 24 hours. This step will actually help the bread get more “oven spring”, and is also great for helping you time the baking if the rising process didn’t cooperate with your schedule.
Time to bake! Preheat your oven to 500°F.
The baking step is one of the most important in helping you get eye-popping bread. It’s important to steam the bread with high heat for the first 15-30 minutes, so you need to set up some way to do this. The easiest way is to use a Cloche, but this is an expense that most people don’t need when they’re just starting out. It’s worth it if you become serious about the baking, though. If you have a Dutch oven or large clay pot or casserole that has a tight-fitting lid, this should work well. If not, the last resort is to put a pan of water in the oven during the baking.
Thoroughly grease the bottom and sides of the casserole with butter, and sprinkle with cornmeal.
Put your loaf in the casserole, and use a sharp knife or razor blade to slash the top of the loaf a couple of times.
Put the lid on the casserole, and put the whole thing in the hot oven.
Bake at 500°F for 30 minutes. [If using the pan of water in the bottom without a casserole, only bake it for 15 minutes at this temp, then remove the hot pan of water.]
Remove the lid (set it down somewhere safe! It’s hot!!!) and turn the oven to 375°F.
Continue to let the bread bake for another 20-25 minutes.
The bread is done when the crust is golden to dark brown, and it sounds hollow when you pick it up and thump it on the bottom.
Put the finished loaf on a wire rack, and let cool for at least one hour (if you can possibly wait that long…) Enjoy with butter!
Sourdough Bread Recipe by Joel Stryker