Updated: May 9
Have you made sourdough bread yet? It was definitely The Thing to bake during quarantine, and I decided to give it a try as well. I have finally after a few months figured out what works for me which has been combining several different methods into my own. If you try your hand at sourdough, I urge you to figure out what works best for you and not be scared to veer off the "formula" a bit.
These are the things you will need to get started; sourdough starter, a digital food scale (I promise you can't skip this) and a dutch oven or bread cloche like this Emile Henry one. Other items you can use but don't have to have are a lame (for scoring the bread), a banneton (a basket for proofing the bread) and a dough whisk.
The first thing you need is the much talked about starter. You hear people talk about trying to keep it alive, or feeding it, or discarding it and it can all sound a bit intimidating. I had several starters not work or die on me, but the good news is the ingredients are cheap and you learn from your mistakes. I found the King Arthur Flour starter instructions to be the best to work for me and using whole wheat flour made a big difference versus regular white flour. I have also learned that when using white flour that unbleached is definitely the way to go.
After 4 days to a couple of weeks, you should have a starter that doubles in volume every time you feed it. I feed mine by weighing out 114g of starter, 114g of water and 114g of unbleached all purpose flour. When I am not baking every few days, I store my starter in my fridge and feed it once a week.
The night before I plan to bake, I will feed my starter to make sure that it is ready to go. I have found that some mornings when I test the starter to see if it floats that it does not, and I need to feed it again the morning of baking. I have still had bread turn out from starter that doesn't float, but it's a gamble. The morning of baking I measure out 227g of water in a large bowl and add 202g of starter. mix up the starter and the water with my fingers (no need for a fancy whisk) and then add 510g of unbleached all purpose flour, or bread flour. (It has been hard to get my hands on flour so sometimes I have to switch up what I use) I then mix the starter, water and flour by hands until it comes together. It will be very sticky and that's ok.
Measure out 12g of salt and sprinkle on top of your dough and let sit covered with plastic wrap for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, incorporate the salt into your dough with your hands. Now you cover the dough and let it sit on your counter for 5 hours. Every half hour or so, turn the dough on top of itself in the bowl. Just stretch it out and pull on top of itself while rotating the bowl. You will stretch the dough four or five times as you rotate the bowl. (There have been many days that I am not around or forget to turn the dough every half hour. It is not a big deal. Don't stress over this)
After 5 hours of sitting on your counter in a bowl, the dough is ready for a bench rest. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and shape it into a ball. Don't overwork it. Cover again with plastic wrap and let sit 20 minutes.
Now you are ready to shape the dough and put it into a banneton (a basket for shaping dough) or a bowl. This part is a bit hard to explain, but I find that it doesn't make a big difference in my bread exactly how I do this step. I grab one side of the dough, stretch it out to the side and then pull it up and over onto the middle. Then I take the opposite side and stretch it out and pull it up and over onto the middle. It is kind of like folding a piece of paper into thirds like a letter. Then I take one of the ends and fold up into the middle and then do the same to the other end. Transfer the dough with the smooth side down to the heavily floured banneton or bowl with a clean dish towel also floured.
Let your dough do its final rise for approximately 2-2.5 hours. Next you will preheat your oven to 450 degrees and while it is preheating, place your dutch oven or bread cloche in the oven to heat up. When the oven is ready, place a piece of parchment paper on top of the banneton and then place a large dinner plate upside down on top. You will flip it all over so that the dough comes out onto the parchment paper on top of the plate. This allows you to easily transfer the dough to the dutch oven or cloche. If using a cloche, you will be able to slide the dough onto the cloche bottom. If using the dutch oven, you can hold the sides of the parchment and lower it into the pot.
Score your bread with a knife, or lame or just a clean razor blade which is what I do. You can try fancy scoring like seen below, or you can just do three slashes across the top which is what I prefer. You have to score the bread to allow for the expansion that will occur while baking.
Bake your bread covered for 30 minutes and then uncovered for 10-15 minutes depending on how dark you want the outside. I've been told to wait 3 hours before slicing, but the most I wait is 1 hour because once your house smells like fresh baked sourdough good luck keeping your husband or kids from cutting into that loaf.