Sourdough baking. For a long time it seemed like an illusive skill for people that appeared to have everything together in their life…It was on my list to learn for years and somehow I never got started. Until I did – and then wondered why I waited so long!
I got to really love the process of sourdough baking. There’s something so intrinsically beautiful about taking flour, water and salt and creating a delicious bread all with your own hands! There’s no pressure with it, no set schedule, no rules…It can be nearly addictive! I can bake multiple times every week or leave it for months – and pick it up whenever life is allowing me to do so.
A lot of you have requested a post about how I bake my sourdough – so here it is! I’m by no means an expert, and I won’t pretend I am one either. Rather, I’ll be sharing some simple basics, tools and resources I actively use. I’m also sharing my current go to recipe that makes a great everyday, versatile and artisan style bread!
So let’s dive in shall we?
What is sourdough bread
A basic sourdough bread is made from flour, water and salt. It’s made by using a starter or ‘mother’ dough which is pretty much a ‘wild’ mixture of yeasts + bacteria rather than a packaged yeast. It ferments the dough and by doing so, creates little pockets of air throughout the dough that help it rise. This fermenting does some wonderful things – it adds a complexity of flavours + a little sourness and enables it to keep much longer without spoiling!
Tools You’ll Need To Get Started
You don’t need a lot of equipment to make your own bread, but there’s a few tools that are essential or just really helpful to have. Here’s what you’ll need to get started:
A Good Scale – I love using our Hario scale that I also use for my coffee brewing. It’s great for it’s precision!
A Cast Iron Pot/Dutch Oven – if you want to create that artisan dark crust on your bread, you’ll want to bake it inside a cast iron pot to recreate a bakers oven inside your own home oven. It traps the steam and holds the heat really well. I got this Lodge Logic Combo cooker as recommended in ‘Tartine Bread’ – it’s a great & worthwhile investment to make as it doubles as both a skillet and deep casserole pot!
A Mixing Bowl – you will need a big mixing bowl, something you probably have on hand already. Glass or ceramic both work great.
A Small Glass Jar For Your Starter – I like to use a simple weck jar, but you could use any type of jar really. Glass works great as you can track the activity of your starter really well.
A Dough Scraper – a simple and inexpensive tool to help gather the dough and shape it.
A Lame (to score the bread) – a simple old school razor blade stuck on a coffee stirrer will do the trick perfectly.
Proofing Baskets – optional but I prefer using these as it helps dry out the skin of the bread dough while proofing. If you don’t own any, you could also line a glass bowl with a cotton cloth/clean tea towel instead, especially as you’re getting started with baking bread.
Obviously you’ll also need different flours and salt. I prefer to get my flour from a local mill as it’s fresher and higher quality than most store bough flours (plus way more fun). But if supermarket flour is all you got, just use that! You’ll also need some rice flour to dust the baskets and prevent the dough from sticking.
The Sourdough Process
Now let’s talk about how to get started making your own sourdough bread. We’ll go through three steps:
- Create a starter
- Make a leaven (a very active ‘big starter’ batch)
- Make the dough
1. Create a starter
There’s two ways you can get your hands on a starter: you either get some from someone who also bakes sourdough or you create your own. I always love the idea of creating your own above buying or receiving from others, as it becomes ‘your baby’ and will be totally unique! Making a starter may sound quite complicated, but it isn’t hard at all. It only takes a few steps every day until you have a working, active starter. From there you’ll need to feed it every now and then to keep it going. It’s pretty much like a low maintenance pet.
Find a detailed description plus troubleshooting in this post from The Perfect Loaf.
I use a mixture of 50/50 wholemeal and rye flour to feed my starter. I’ve found i get a much more active starter when I include rye and therefore get better results with my breads.
2. Make a Leaven
A leaven is used to ferment the final dough – in a way it’s a bigger batch of the starter that’s very active and bubbly. It will have enough strength to ferment a big batch of dough. Making a leaven is very simple and takes only a few minutes – you will need to make this ahead of time (overnight or in my recipe 11 hours beforehand) to give it time to develop.
3. Make the dough & bake
Now you’re ready to make the bread dough! There’s many ways to do this and a range of techniques to try. Some involve ‘folding’ the dough over a period of time, others ask for some kneading and there’s even no knead bread recipes too! The dough needs to proof and ferment to create all those air pockets in the final bread. After this it’s ready to be baked in a cast iron pot inside the oven at a hot temperature.
Before I share my own recipe with you, I’d like to talk about some resources that I’ve used to learn more about sourdough baking. Sourdough baking is not about simply following a recipe. It’s about getting to know your starter and the dough – how it should look, feel, smell…it’s a beautiful journey because it is so everchanging and organic. Your first few breads might be a total fail (that’s what happened to me), but it’s about adjusting the recipe until you find what works for your time schedule and your kitchen! That’s why I’m encouraging you to dive deeper into it so you really get to understand all the basics. My favourite resources are:
Tartine bread – this book is genius and got me started on my sourdough baking. It’s chockful of pictures for every step of the process, plus so many great variations (including my favourite fennel + raisin bread, it’s heavenly).
Do Sourdough – a down to earth approach to baking sourdough, very helpful if you’d like to get started but don’t have much time at home but still like to be baking. The techniques and tips in this book has helped me to bake more even while it’s busy during day time hours.
The Perfect Loaf – a beautiful blog dedicated to baking sourdough. It’s full of recipes, guides, troubleshooting and the most gorgeous images.
Now we’re ready to dive into my basic sourdough recipe, let’s get started!
Recipe: Eve’s Artisan Sourdough Bread
Eve’s Artisan Sourdough Bread
- 100 gram sourdough starter
- 600 gram white flour
- 300 gram whole wheat flour
- 100 gram rye flour
- 750 gram water at 35C
- 16 gram sea salt
- Rice flour to dust
Build a Leaven (9am)
- Make the leaven by adding the following to a big jar or small mixing bowl:100 gram active starter (you can refresh it the night before)100 gram whole wheat flour100 gram white flour150 grams water at 35C Mix the ingredients briefly together with a wooden spoon, until there's no lumps. Cover and let it develop on your countertop. Over the next few hours it should start to rise and have aeration throughout.
Make the dough (7pm)
- We'll start by mixing the flours and water in a bowl and let them rest (autolyse) for at least 30 min, but it can be longer too (whatever works in your schedule). This helps the flour to absorb the water and makes working with the dough afterwards easier and more effective. To do so, grab a big mixing bowl and add the following:200 grams whole wheat flour500 grams white flour100 grams rye flour600 grams water at 35CMix quickly by hand until there's visible lumps of flour. Cover with a cloth or plastic bag.
- After the resting period, turn the dough out on the countertop and add 16 grams of salt. Squeeze the salt in and start kneading the dough for about 5 minutes. This will be quite sticky but avoid adding any extra water. Use a dough scraper to help with any dough that's stuck on the bench.
- Now add 300 grams of the leaven to the dough and knead for another five minutes. You'll want to end up with a very stretchy dough full of developed gluten. A good way to test this is to pull a little piece of dough and stretch it between your fingers – it's well developed if you can nearly see through it without it tearing!
- Cut the dough into two equal parts and shape them into two rounds using a little flour. I use the preshaping and shaping techniques from Tartine's book but you can also find enough online. Cover them and let them rest for a couple of minutes while you prepare your tins or proofing baskets. I usually make one of these into a round bread and one into a loaf, which means I get both a proofing basket and a loaf tin ready.
- Shape the breads into your desired style and place them into the baskets/tins. I like to use rice flour to dust the tops of the bread and the baskets. Cover them with a plastic bag and let them ferment overnight in a cool room (mine is about 17-18C). If your room temperature is warmer, you can put the loaves in the fridge to slow the fermentation (or after a couple of hours at room temperature)
Bake (8 am)
- Place a cast iron dutch oven (if using) in the oven and preheat the oven to 260C. When your oven is ready, dust the top of the bread with some rice flour and place inside the pan. Using a sharp razor blade, score the bread (make shallow cuts) to control how the bread will open up during baking. Place the bread in the oven and lower the temperature to 240C. Bake for 20 minutes covered, remove the lid and bake for about another 20 minutes, until the crust is dark and blistered. If you bake in a tin, you won't have a cover and you'll probably have a shorter cooking time (depending on the size you use). Aim for 35 minutes and check for doneness.
- Remove the bread from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Try to let the bread cool completely before cutting. This bread will keep well for quite some days, although will becoming harder (which makes is epic for toasting). I keep mine in a cotton drawstring bag on the counter. You can also slice and freeze it well for longer storage.
Nothing better than fresh bread with a bit of butter or olive oil and a little sea salt. For day 2-4, I love to toast this bread and serve with a little avocado, scrambled eggs or even vegemite (ha!). Older bread can work amazing for cheese toasties, french toast or croutons and bread crumbs. You can also slice it up and put it in the freezer for longer storage!
I hope this encourages you to just get started and stuck in, even if it seems a little overwhelming to you! Please leave any comments and questions below – I definitely don’t have all (or most of) the answers, but there’s enough resources out there to share! And do let me know if you make this bread by tagging @eatyourdailygreens on Instagram!