Fresh sourdough bread is delicious! It’s also pretty easy to make at home. All it takes is a little patience and a few minutes of mixing and kneading. Not only is sourdough bread tasty and easy to make, it’s also pretty damn good for you. Sourdough bread has a low glycemic index, so it does not jack up your blood sugar like that crappy bread sitting in bags lining the aisle at your grocery store.  Also, the wild yeast and bacteria cultures, especially Lactobacillus, break down phytic acid, which makes the nutrients in the wheat more accessible to your body. The longer fermentation time results in the yeast doing a lot of the hard work of converting locked up nutrition into things your body can actually use. The result is that the vitamins and minerals in sourdough bread are much more bioavailable. 
Stuff you need to get baking
- Bread flour. When you’re getting started, I recommend using mostly white bread flour with some whole wheat flour mixed in for flavor.
- Kitchen scale. Baking sourdough bread isn’t an exact science, but if you do want to be able to replicate a recipe in the future, a scale is a must. It’s also important for feeding your starter and keeping it at a known hydration level.
- Sourdough starter. I used the Cultures for Health San Francisco Sourdough Starter.
- Salt. Any salt will do. I use Himalayan pink salt because it has a very complete mineral profile.
- Proofing basket to give your loaf that sexy curve.
- Baking cloche. I have a SuperStone La Cloche Baker. It makes for an amazing, crackly crust on my sourdough bread.
- A large metal mixing bowl.
- One large mason jar and one small mason jar.
Start your starter
If you don’t already have a sourdough starter, it’s pretty easy to start one using a kit or you can start one on your own and let the natural yeast and bacteria around your house take over. I recommend using the kit; you’ll end up with a more consistent end product. The Cultures for Health San Francisco Sourdough Starter is what I used, and it has produced a starter that makes for an excellent crumb and it isn’t too sour. Not being too sour is important for me because I want my daughter to like the bread we bake, too!
The other option is to bum some sourdough starter from a friend. Sourdough starter grows like crazy, so once you have some, you will have a lot in no time. I’m sure your baking buddy would be more than happy to give you a bit of sourdough starter to begin growing your own.
Get your sourdough starter ready
At this point, you should have a healthy sourdough starter. I store some starter in my fridge on day 4 when I start making my sourdough loaf. The idea is to take a little bit and start growing it to a good size over the course of several days. This process makes sure there are plenty of strong, healthy little yeast-pets ready to give their lives to leaven your delicious sourdough bread. This is accomplished by feeding your starter and storing it in a warm place. I feed my starter once a day during this phase, but you can feed it twice a day to speed up the process so long as your sourdough starter is consuming the flour you add. You’ll be able to tell the sourdough starter is healthy by the volume of the starter in the jar: The bubbles they produce when digesting the flour will make the starter rise up the side of your jar.
For the first three days, feed your starter. A one quart mason jar works great for growing your starter in. On day one, kick if off with starter, bread flour, and water in your mason jar. On day two and three, continue feeding your sourdough starter; double the amount of flour and water you’re adding each day. Stir everything together really well after each feeding and store your jar in a warm place with a tea towel over the top, held in place by a rubber band. The towel helps prevent dust and other stuff from getting in and ruining your starter, and you cannot just put the lid on the jar because the yeast needs oxygen to do it’s thing.
25 grams of sourdough starter, 25 grams of white bread flour, 25 grams of water. Stir well and store in a warm place.
Add 50 grams of white bread flour and 50 grams of water. Stir well and store in a warm place.
Add 100 grams of white bread flour and 100 grams of water. Stir well and store in a warm place.
Day 4, time to bake your bread
Now that you have plenty of sourdough starter with healthy, strong yeast-friends, it’s time to start making your bread. Remember to save some of your sourdough starter for next time! You can either begin another loaf right away in a clean one quart mason jar, or if you want to wait a few days before you start making another loaf, store some starter in a pint size mason jar in your fridge. It’ll keep reasonably well for a couple of weeks in the fridge. The lactic acid prevents nasty stuff from growing in it and the yeast will be alive enough that it can start a new batch.
The recipe I’m going to lay out here is pretty basic and super easy to make. Active time for you should be about 30 minutes total, and you’ll have a delicious loaf of bread. When baking bread, bakers talk about the hydration of the recipe. It is the ratio of how much water is used compared to how much flour is used. You don’t really have to worry about that too much right now; for reference, this recipe is right around 64% hydration. We will also add a small amount of water during kneading and shaping, so the final hydration is probably closer to 66%.
Sourdough bread recipe
- 500 grams of white bread flour
- 100 grams of whole wheat bread flour
- 200 grams of sourdough starter at 100% hydration
- 350 grams of water
- 15 grams of salt
Mix things together
Set your large metal bowl on your kitchen scale and zero it out. Add 350 grams of water and 100 grams of sourdough starter. Mix the starter into the water. Add 500 grams of white bread flour and 100 grams of whole wheat bread flour. Wait to add the salt during the second kneading. I find that makes for a better loaf; perhaps it gives the yeast a chance to kick start their growth? Not sure. Mix it all together until you have a shaggy ball of dough.
Next stick the bowl inside of a large plastic bag so it doesn’t dry out and leave it alone for 20 minutes. That 20 minute rest lets the flour soak in all the liquid and helps make it a little easier to knead.
Knead the bread
Scrape the dough out onto your counter and knead it. You can either use a dough scraper to get it out of the bowl, or just do like I do and use your hands. Up to you. Either way, do not flour the counter, or put flour on your dough. Adding more flour to your dough is a rookie mistake. Making good sourdough bread is largely about changing the structure of the flour in your dough. We want it to soak up the water, and we want the gluten to form a big web that will make the bread light and airy with a delicious crust. If you add more flour, it will mess up that process. Instead of using flour, set out a bowl of water and wet your hands if they are sticking to the dough too much. Water will not mess up the consistency of the gluten in the dough. Now it’s time to knead the bread.
How to knead bread
- Fold your dough over.
- Lean onto it with the heel of your hand and push it away from you.
- Repeat this process, turning and stretching the dough as you go.
Knead the bread for five minutes, then put it back in the bowl, and put the bowl back in the bag and wait 15 minutes. Do this four times, so knead, wait 15 minutes, add the salt and knead, wait 15 minutes, knead, wait 15 minutes, and knead one last time. Over the course of kneading the bread, it should have went from sticky and wet, to tacky and silky. Now put the dough back in the bowl, put the bowl in your large plastic bag, and put the bowl in a warm place for 8 hours to let the dough rise.
Punch down the dough and form it
Now that your dough has risen for 8 hours, it should be at least double the size it was when you last saw it. The next step is to punch down the dough to release all that air. This helps to redistribute the yeast so it’s closer to the food it needs for it’s final rise. Now form the dough into a boule. A boule is what a round-shaped artisan loaf of bread is called. It’s also the right shape for the proofing basket. To form a boule, push out your dough into a square and fold each edge towards the center, then flip it over and push the edges down while pulling it towards you and spinning it. This creates tension and stretches the dough along the top and sides, which aids in creating a perfect crust. Once you have formed the dough into a boule, place it top down in a well-floured proofing basket, then flour the bottom of your boule. This flour prevents the dough from sticking to your proofing basket and makes it much easier to release it into your baking cloche after the final rise. Since you’re done kneading and forming, this flour won’t incorporate into your dough and mess things up.
I clean and dry my large bowl, then put the proofing basket, with the boule in it, inside the large bowl, and put the bowl into a plastic bag to allow it time for it’s final rise. This is a good time to put your baking cloche in the oven and turn the oven up to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Let the cloche heat up for two hours while the dough finishes rising.
Bake your bread
Now that the baking cloche is nice and hot and your boule has finished it’s final rise, it’s time to bake your bread. Take the lid off the baking cloche and turn your bread out of the proofing basket into the middle of the cloche. Slice a pattern into the top of the bread with a sharp knife so when the crust breaks it has some order to it. If you don’t slice the top, it’s likely to create it’s own hole in the side of your loaf! Put the lid back on the cloche and bake at 475 for 45 minutes, then take the lid off and turn the heat down to 350 degrees and bake it for 15 more minutes:
Take your loaf out of the oven and put it on a rack to cool. It should be making a crackling noise at this point. That’s the sound of success! Let your loaf cool for an hour or two before you eat it.
Storing your sourdough bread
I have been storing the bread I bake wrapped in a tea towel inside of a paper bag. That seems to work well for a few days, but it does start to dry out after 3 or 4 days. That is the best method I have found so far, but if you have a better one, please share in the comments! I would love to hear it.
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