*UPDATE: A friend tried this recipe immediately after having this bread at my house and has had some trouble with a doughy center. I think…although I don’t have this problem, the best course of action is to go back to the source so I have changed the recipe from what I now do, to what will be the best way to learn, and is generally fail-safe.
I am going to illustrate just how simple it is to make sourdough. I didn’t say fast, and you must bear in mind that there is a learning curve when it comes to reading your dough; knowing when it is almost ready, and knowing when it has over-proofed. This ain’t no instant yeast bread-either in process or in final result- so if you don’t have the desire to eat an incredibly delicious, artisan style bread, with a crunchy perfect crust and soft warm center, then maybe you just want to hop on over to another blog about now. However, if you want to enjoy some of the best. bread. on earth. made with your own hands, do read on.
Also, you should know that sourdough bread is the best bread you can eat because the long fermentation process aids in digestion by breaking down the grain for you. Eat it. Eat it eat it eat it.
There are a few things to address that you must know before you start.
You need a sourdough starter. Starter is the living yeast that you feed (daily if you bake daily, and keep it out on your counter, or weekly if you bake weekly and keep it in the fridge). Where can you get one? A friend who has one pretty much always has some for you because they dump some out every time they feed theirs. If not from a friend, the most fail-safe way would be to make your own. This will take days. Not much hands-on time, but still some time. Like I said, this requires a bit of a commitment up front. I prefer Sally Fallon’s way to make a starter since she is pretty much the smartest human on the planet.
The Healthy Home Economist does this best.
If you would like to buy starter I fully trust Eric from Breadtopia. (I watched all of Eric’s videos when I was getting started.)
Also, from his site you can buy a lot of useful tools for making bread. I used to use the dough whisk with a proofing basket (round) and the la Cloche clay baker.
Since the fire, I use only my wooden spoons, hands, counter for proofing, and a Romertopf that a girlfriend has loaned me for now. A clay baker is the reason you get that amazing crust that is so delectable. You need it. If you just can’t swing getting one, you can use a Le Creuset or version of that. It needs to be able to withstand very high heat and have a lid.
Okay so let’s review. Before you can even begin you need to have a sourdough starter and a clay baker-at minimum.
Let’s now move on to the feeding of the starter. I feed mine with rye because I find that it keeps my starter really happy and I like to know I’m not just eating ALL bread flour. A few hours before you mix your dough (let’s say, mid-afternoon) pull out your starter from the fridge. Dump out half to 3/4 of it and feed it 1c flour and 3/4c water. Filtered water is best, but our water here is good so I use tap. Doesn’t kill my starter so I use it. Stir with a wooden spoon, set the lid on top (do not tighten the lid or it could pop off from the pressure). A few things to note here:
Store your starter in glass. Never touch with metal of any kind. Don’t tighten the lid, even in the fridge during it’s slow feeds.
Once you have fed your starter, set it on the counter in your kitchen and wait until it is nice and bubbly.
A few hours later (longer in winter when it is cold, or depending on the heat in your home/kitchen). My starter takes 3-6 hours to be ready.
(I don’t keep mine by the window, I just set it here so you can see how happy and bubbly it is. Ready to add to my flour.
Once upon a time I turned my nose up at non-organic ingredients. I would even go so far as to say I was a bit of an extremist when it came to food. These days, although we do mostly organic, for things I use a ton of I generally go with names I trust. King Arthur can be trusted because their flour doesn’t stay on the shelf for long periods. Flour goes rancid very quickly so using a brand that has high standards for shelf life is key. This rye I mix in is stone ground, and aids in proliferating friendly bacteria to the bread. This salt is amazing, and I think there is some miraculous thing happening with it, like when the pots of wine at that wedding in the bible just never ran out. Really, we use a LOT of salt in this family, and this thing has felt full since we moved in! That is MONTHS. No idea what is happening, but I’ll take it.
Now for the recipe. I am a lazy person. Truly. That is why I always make two loaves. I bake once a week, and I make two loaves at a time so I don’t have to do more work than is necessary. Later in this post you will see how being able to discern when exactly your dough is ready is so valuable-since making two loaves with one clay baker means one will be a bit smaller than the other. That is because one was slightly under-proofed to avoid the second being overly proofed, which is much less acceptable.
(Remember, I double this recipe. I’m going to give you the recipe for making ONE LOAF).
No-Knead Sourdough Bread Recipe (taken from Eric at Breadtopia; there is a wealth of information on his site. Check it out).
3.5 cups flour (I use 3 cups bread flour, and 1/2 cup rye)
1.5 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 cup water
1/4 cup starter
(Just to be clear, I double the recipe so my pictures will look like more dough)
Mix your dry ingredients and make a well in the center.
Pour in your water and starter.
Mix the starter into the water-not trying to incorporate the flour just yet.
When you feel the starter is sufficiently broken up, begin to work the spoon in a circular motion outward to incorporate a bit of flour every time you move around the bowl.
Keep going and your flour mixture will soon begin to form a dough ball. From when I started stirring to this next photo, it was probably about 60 seconds. Very fast.
This is a wet dough. You don’t want to use your hands, and you don’t need to. This is a true no-knead recipe. All you want to do is “activate the gluten” in your dough, so keep stirring and picking up the bottom with your spoon and pulling it up over the top, or any motion that incorporates all of the dough, for another minute or two to get it alive and awake.
Cover it with a super sexy plastic bag and set it aside in your kitchen (preferably a spot without a draft) for about 12 hours. This time frame is very contingent upon the heat in your home, but I find that mixing my dough in the evening works well if I want to bake in the morning. Or, feed starter at night, next morning mix dough, then bake that evening. It becomes second nature, I swear.
Here is what my dough looked like a few hours before I was ready to bake.
Wet. Almost there. Not overly proofed. Amazing. Overly proofed would have bubbles on top and would mean less “oven spring” when it comes to bake time. Oven spring is a magical thing, and we can talk more about that in a minute.
When turning your dough out onto a well floured surface, I like to use a malleable rubber spatula. It tends to stick the least to this very wet dough.
Now you are going to flatten out your dough. Not thin, just flat enough to shape into a boule. Youtube that if you have never seen it. I will someday do a video of this and it will be the most amazing thing you have ever seen since it can replace all of my blah-blah with simple action. That’s how I learn, so I get it.
Remember, I doubled that first recipe so this is two loaves.
You will just have one, so let’s do that together shall we?
Fold one side over and brush the flour off.
Then, the next side.
Then the next.
Then the next.
Flip it over and put a small handful of flour on top.
Rub that flour around.
Here I like to get a head start and pick it up in my hands and gently tuck in the edges while rotating it in a circle. You are wanting to smooth it out and create a ball.
Now you are ready to create your boule. Place your hands on top and in a clockwise motion while gently pushing down, begin to shape this into the pre-proofed version of the shape you will be baking with. For example, if your vessel is round, do that. If it is oblong, do that.
Here are mine. They are ready to do the final proof. I place that sexy plastic bag back on top of them, and wait until they are proofed. Proofed is about 1.5 times the size they are now. It generally takes 2-3 hours.
A few things to note here:
Remember how I said I would illustrate how it is important to read your dough. Here is where that is important. I knew I would be heating up my kitchen (which speeds the proofing process significantly) by preheating my oven, and by baking the first loaf I might over-proof the second loaf as it waits on the counter. So I started baking the first a little before it was actually ready. I knew I could rely on “oven-spring” to give it the added size in a pinch.
Here are the loaves when I started heating the oven.
Not huge. But the heat of the kitchen would hurry them.
NOW YOU ARE READY TO BAKE.
Pre-heat your oven to 500 degrees with your vessel in it. This part is very important, as clay doesn’t do well with extreme temperature changes. That’s right. I said 500.
Once your oven has beeped, let it continue to heat up for another 20 minutes or so. You want it damn hot in there.
Score your bread. You can get fancy with this. There are all sorts of threads on the internet regarding the necessity (or lack thereof) of scoring bread. More interestingly, the history of why we scored bread goes way way back to community bake houses and family symbols, and all sorts of fascinating stuff. I like to get really boring with it. Like I said, lazy.
Be oh so careful opening your oven. Watch out for steam burns as you take the lid off of your baking vessel. Carefully and gently pick up your loaf and place it in the vessel It will deflate a bit, but no worries. If it hasn’t over-proofed your friend “oven-spring” has got your back.
Place the lid on top, close the oven, and set the timer for 30 minutes.
Timing is subjective, but even though the timing changed from my old oven to this new one, I kept this initial time the same.
After 30 minutes lower the heat to 450, remove the lid and bake for another 10-15. Sorry for the variable time there, given the differences in everyone’s oven, just keep an eye on it.
What you want is for that crust to get nice and golden and almost brown in spots. What feels like a hard loaf when it comes out of the oven, will become a perfect crust with a soft center as it cools.
For added assurance, you want to hear a hollow thud when you tap the bottom with your finger. Also, it should be about 200 degrees F. I never test anymore-I just know. (Also, I don’t measure anything for this bread anymore either. I eyeball it all. I have done it enough to know what I’m seeing now-and you will too eventually. You will be a wizardly temptress in the kitchen whirling about, creating magic!)
My first smaller loaf is on the left, and the perfect proof-timed loaf is on the right. See the difference? However, the large CO2 bubbles in the crumb are not affected, as you can see. This crumb is the smaller loaf. See? Unaffected.
Oh, and this little hand that just COULD NOT WAIT A SECOND (even though he knows he isn’t allowed to reach up and just grab from the counter).
You do want to cool it slightly before cutting into it if only because it is fragile as it cools and could collapse under your hands as you put pressure on it to cut through that heavenly crust. We waited about 20 minutes. That’s all we can ever wait—-however, bread does continue to cook as it cools so it really is best to wait until it has cooled to slice into it.
Slather that warm bread in grass-fed butter and sea salt and ruin your dinner with it.
Once you make this (or attempt this) bread a few times, you will see that it really is easy, mindless, and cray that you ever bought bread in the first place.
Happy sticking it to all those “carbs are bad for you” people. They are not healthier, and they certainly aren’t as happy as we are.