Sourdough bread is an art, but I am no artist, and like to have fool-proof methods in place! Recently inspired by others getting into the sourdough bandwagon, as well as having watched the bread supply vanish from the stores, I decided to get a sourdough starter back up an running again. I don’t have an oven (yet, but very soon!) in the house, so I understood that this undertaking would mean I’d need to walk up to Mr BirdCat’s parents’ house and cook it there. A little extra exercise doesn’t hurt, so I went ahead with my plan.
Sourdough bread relies on a “starter” that needs to be fed and managed, instead of using yeast. Because of this, the bread takes longer to make, but it also is a lot better for you, and has extra depth of flavour. In the past I’ve simply started my own from scratch — a mixture of flour and water, fed every day, and in about a week it’ll be ready to cook with.
It didn’t work.
That didn’t dishearten me though, as I remembered a friend had recently purchased an aged starter! A quick message later, and we had bartered some starter and garlic for some of our peas, beans, and eggs.
Then came the bread making itself. Now, I will say, I have made some pretty good loaves of sourdough in the past…that’s why, when my first loaf came out a flat gooey pancake, I was a bit disappointed. When the second loaf came out hardly any better, I felt defeated. I tried a number of recipes, and have finally found one that works really well for us, from Little Spoon Farm! That being said, I’ve made some modifications that I’ll write below, and maybe it’ll help you too.
I’ve worked on sourdough previously that has taken me all day of babysitting to make! Sure, you come up with a perfect loaf at the end, but I was sure there had to be a better way! There is. And it takes hardly any fussing at all…don’t be daunted by the steps, it’s really quite easy!
What You’ll Need
- Active sourdough starter
- A medium-large mixing bowl to hold the ingredients in (with room enough in your fridge to hold it)
- A clean teatowel (optional)
- Cling wrap or a lid for the bowl
- A dutch oven with a lid (or an extra pan you’re happy to put in the oven with water in it)
- A scale (optional, but preferred)
- 500g flour (~3 cups of white bread making flour)
- 10g sea salt (~2 teaspoons)
- Baking paper (or just flour the bottom of your dutch oven and hope for the best!)
- A sharp knife, or razor blade for scoring the top of the loaf
Make sure your starter has been fed! Try for in the morning, but I’ve made bread after feeding the starter the day before at 4pm and it works just fine.
- 4pm – Step 1 – Autolyse
- 5pm – Step 2 – Salt + More sitting
- 6pm-7:30pm – Step 3 – Folds
- ~10:30ish pm (or right before I go to bed) – Step 4 – Into the fridge
- ~9am (aka, an hour before you want to make bread) – Step 5 – Out of the fridge
- 10am – Step 6 – Into the oven
- ~11:10am – Step 7 – All done, fresh bread!
Step 1 – Day 1, ~4pm
Time to start the sourdough!
Grab your sourdough starter, and put 100g (.5 cups) in a medium to large mixing bowl. Add 330g (1.5 cups) of warm (not hot!) water and mix together until the sourdough is blended in. Add 500g (3 cups) of flour, and blend with your hands until everything is mixed and there’s no patches of dry flour. Don’t be worried if it doesn’t look nice and smooth yet.
Wet a clean teatowel with hot water, squeeze out, and drape overtop of the bowl. Set aside for one hour.
This is a good time to feed your sourdough starter again!
Step 2 – Day 1, ~5pm
Grab a separate little bowl, and mix together 10g (I put in ~1 teaspoon) of salt with 30g (1/8 of a cup, half a quarter cup) of warm water. Mix the water around until the salt is dissolved.
Add the water and salt mixture to the bowl of dough, and once again mix everything together with your hands. The dough should start to feel softer and wetter now.
Once again, wet the teatowel with hot water, squeeze it out, and drape it overtop of the bowl. Let sit for another hour.
Step 3 – Day 1, ~6pm, 6:30pm, 7pm
Now comes the folding! Wash your hands, but leave your dominant hand a bit wet. You want to make sure you don’t push the dough down during this stage, you’re trying to get as much air into it as possible and don’t want to squeeze that all out!
Gently slide your hand down along the inside of the bowl, scraping the dough away from the edge. Grab a handful of the dough, and pull it up as far as it’ll go, just before it gets to the point where it’s about to break, then fold it down on-top of the rest of the dough. Turn the bowl slightly, and repeat the previous steps three or four times until you make your way around the bowl.
Set a timer for half an hour, and then repeat the steps above! After that, set another half hour timer, and do it again one last time. All up, you’re doing three sets of dough folding in about an hour and a half.
Once you’re finished your three sets, you can let the dough sit again, until around 10:30pm, or just before you go to bed.
Step 4 – Day 1, ~10:30pm, or just before you go to bed
Remove the teatowel, and cover the bowl with cling-wrap, or a lid. Place in your fridge, that’s it!
Step 5 – Day 2, ~9am, or an hour before you’d like to start baking bread
Take the dough out of the fridge, and let it warm up on the counter. Depending on how long your oven takes to heat up, you can put that on now too. I put the oven I use on at 240C (464F), but I’ve seen some go cooler (232C (450F)) or hotter (260C (500F)). It really depends on your oven!
Some people will also put their dutch oven inside the oven to heat up…but for me, I don’t find it makes a whole lot of difference, and just increases the chance that I’ll burn myself, so I keep it out.
Step 6 – Day 2, ~10am, or an hour after you’ve taken the bread out of the fridge
Cut off a piece of parchment paper and place it in your dutch oven so the bread doesn’t stick to the base. Alternatively, dust with flour.
Add a sprinkling of flour to the top of the dough. It also helps to make sure there is flour on your hands for this part to try and stop the dough from sticking so much. Gently ease the dough out of the bowl, by scraping your hand down the side and pulling it up from the edges. Once you have the dough in your hands, do your best to tuck the bottom in on itself (though don’t be too disheartened if it stays a bit of a sticky mess) which should make a smooth top and round it out. You’ll need to act fast with this part!
Once the dough is in a rough round shape in your hands, place it into the dutch oven. Grab your knife or razor blade, and score a set of 45° lines into the top. Feel free to get creative with this part!
Put the lid on the dutch oven, and place the dough in the oven. Alternatively if you don’t have a lidded dutch oven, fill a separate tray with water and place that underneath the rack that holds the tray for the bread. This will create humidity in the oven and help get a nicer crust.
Bake the dough for 20-35 minutes before removing the lid. Now I know that is a large range! If you have a modern oven, you may want to start with 20 minutes and see how you go with that. Mr BirdCat and I prefer a softer crust, and so leave the lid on for 35 minutes.
Bake for an additional 25-35 minutes (again, the oven we use is slow and can be tempermental, so ours is left in there for an extra 35 minutes.) If you’re not sure if you need more time, use a skewer to stab into the middle of the loaf and see if it comes out doughy or not — if it is doughy, it needs more time.
Step 7 – Day 2
Remove the loaf from the oven and place it on a rack to cool. The general consensus is to leave the loaf for an hour, to an hour and a half, which helps it continue to cook inside and stops it from being a gluggy mess! Nothing beats hot bread though, so in order to combat that, I leave the bread for about an hour, then stick it back into the oven inside the dutch oven with the lid ontop, on low for about ten minutes. Not looking to cook it any further, or harden the crust, just warming it back up! After that, slice, and enjoy!
- I’ve provided my ways of doing things, but you’re really going to have to try…and potentially fail…and find ways that work for you, your household, oven, and schedule. Hopefully the instructions above will be a good place to start.
- There’s probably a lot of things I could be doing better! But with gardens to tend, and animals to manage, I’ve found this way to be a good trade-off for maybe not show-case level bread.
- I don’t hold to these times etc as an exact.
- This is a two-day process, and you’ll get a loaf around lunchtime on the second day. Without preservatives, sourdough bread doesn’t last very long, so I find having it available at lunch and dinner (if it makes it that far) gets the most use out of it, and any leftovers can be made into sandwiches for the following day.
- Measuring ingredients by weight is the preferred method for bread making, but in the chance that you don’t have a scale, I’ve included cups etc as well. My suggestion would be to use a scale for the first time around if possible, but keep track of how many cups etc you’re using, so you don’t need to bother with a scale in the future.
- I’m open to suggestions and questions, let me know in the comments below!