I’m not an expert bread maker. And since I try to live relatively low carb I basically stopped making bread for bread’s sake. I would make rolls for Thanksgiving, or bread dough for other recipes, like Texas-style sausage kolaches or bierocks. But not plain old loaves. Until I decided I wanted to learn to make sourdough bread. Mainly because of the challenge of learning to make something that has such a beautiful taste, comes in such an artisanal, crunchy package, and that rocks my husband’s world.
Like everything else I decide to tackle, I had to research it. I don’t know how to function without information, people! So I looked online, and read a bunch, and got some tips on techniques. I created my own starter, which took a while to develop a nice sour taste. And I practiced.
I have been making sourdough bread for a couple of years now. There are more authentic, better pedigreed sourdoughs out there made by real bread baking experts, but frankly, theirs have many more steps than mine. My loaves may not get all those pretty little holes in the crumb (which is a good thing for sourdough bread), but I can tell you that it has become a nice little ego boost because everyone raves about the taste and texture.
BTW, if you decide you would like to tackle sourdough bread yourself and would like some established starter, reach out to me HERE and send me a note with your mailing address. I will be happy to dehydrate some of mine and send it to you, along with a link on how you can re-hydrate and grow your starter.
I gave my friend Nataliya some starter, and she has yet to make a loaf. She promised she would if I posted the recipe so you’re on, Nataliya!
Shall we get started?
Simple, right? How can something made of just flour, salt and water taste so darn good?
At this stage your starter should have been out of the fridge for at least a day, it should have been fed, and it should be active. For tips on caring for starter, click here.
I usually go to bed around 10 PM and get up at 5:30 AM (what can I say, I’ve always been a morning person). I have found it is much easier to take the starter out of the fridge in the afternoon, feed it just before I go to bed, mix the dough first thing in the morning, get it in the oven at about noon. By the time it cools, it is ready for the evening meal, which I call dinner, while some of you call it supper because to you dinner is lunch. Which is just terribly confusing.
AND HERE ARE SOME KEY TIPS
One of the tips I learned is that to make a beautifully crusty sourdough loaf, you need the “oven in an oven” effect. So you need a sturdy Dutch oven like this one, which used to belong to my grandmother. She’s 100 and this came down the family to her, so I have no idea how old it is.
I’ve made loaves in this one too. But this one is a lot bigger, so I use it when I am making a pretty big loaf.
Expert bread makers will tell you to add the salt after the autolyse stage by dissolving it in water. Something about how it will autolyse better that way. Since I don’t do an autolyze stage really, I add the salt at the beginning.
I’ve used measurements in the recipe, but keep in mind that the amount of flour and water is going to be a function of how wet or dry the active starter is, climate conditions, etc. I get better results with a pretty moist product compared to other breads. So add all the ingredients, mix, and alternate small amounts of water and flour…
…until you get something that looks like this, and there is no water or flour residue in the mixing bowl.
This bread does not require kneading. Mix only until all of the ingredients have been fully incorporated and the dough resembles this.
Then cover with plastic wrap and let the dough proof for about 6-8 hours, or until double in size.
I find that the plastic wrap is critical to keep the dough from drying out on the outer edges, so tuck that little bundle of future goodness in like a baby in a blankie.
Looking good! And you can see how it it grew into the plastic wrap, leaving a nice, moist soft exterior.
I’m a planner and a process person. I drive spontaneous people a little crazy sometimes. But I always say that you should know where you are going to end before you start. So before shaping your loaf, prep your Dutch oven with a generous coating of coarse corn meal (polenta grade). Seriously. Even the most seasoned cast iron will give you fits with this moist dough when it sticks and you can’t get it out of the pan without marring the perfection of a beautifully baked loaf.
I use a silicone spatula to gently separate the dough from the mixing bowl and gently drop it onto the floured counter top. If you look closely, the dough has a bunch of little holes like spent bubbles that you don’t want to mess with too much.
I use the silicone spatula to fold it from the bottom over, in a sort of flipping motion to shape it into somewhat of a round.
Then I cup the dough in both hands and gently spin with pressure against the counter top to finish the shaping.
Then you place it in the center of the pan and…
…cover it with a clean cloth. Let it sit for about 2 hours, give or take, or until it is bigger. It does not have to be double in size, just noticeably bigger.
It has gotten noticeably bigger, don’t you think?
Slit the bread for venting, but you must use a very sharp knife or razor for this step so you don’t push the dough in. It just spent 2 hours getting nice and fluffy. We don’t want to squish it down.
The oven gets preheated to 500° F. Then you turn it down to 450° F when you put in the bread.
To get that wonderful crunchy, crusty exterior, you need a couple more things. First is moisture, which we add by filling an oven-safe bowl or deep dish with water. This one is about 2/3 full. Next is that “oven in oven” thing we talked about earlier. The first 20 minutes of baking are with the Dutch oven lid on.
After 20 minutes, remove the lid and bake for 20-30 minutes more. I go by color because the cooking time depends on how big the loaf came out and how moist the raw dough was. But I have found that when it is beautifully golden, it is always done inside.
Remove from the pan immediately or it will steam and lose it’s crunch. Place on a cooling rack and let it cool COMPLETELY! I know everyone loves warm bread, but real crusty breads like this one will not stand up to cutting while the bread is hot. The crust is hard and the center soft. The bread will collapse on itself.
I think Kellogg’s stole the “snap crackle pop” thing from the sound cooling sourdough bread makes. I love that sound!
Crunchy on the outside, fluffy in the middle, and that hint of sour and salt. Heaven!
- 1 cup active sourdough starter
- 2 cups + bread flour
- ½ - 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- See my instructions for feeding and activating the sourdough starter at https://www.muttandchops.com/caring-for-sourdough-starter/.
- Add all of the ingredients to a mixing bowl and mix using the paddle attachment until it forms a cohesive, moist clump and there is no flour residue or excess moisture in the bottom of the bowl.
- Cover with plastic wrap and proof for 6 to 8 hours.
- Gently turn onto a floured surface and shape into a ball.
- Coat the bottom of a Dutch oven generously with coarse corn meal (polenta grade).
- Place the shaped dough in the middle of the pan and cover with a clean towel.
- Allow to proof for about 2 hours or until noticeably bigger.
- Slit to vent.
- Preheat oven to 500° F, THEN REDUCE TO 450° WHEN BAKING THE BREAD.
- Cover the Dutch oven with the lid, place the covered bread in the center rack of the oven and an oven-safe bowl or deep dish with water on a lower rack.
- Bake covered for 20 minutes.
- Remove the lid from the Dutch oven and bake for 20-30 minutes more until golden brown.
- Remove from pan immediately and cool completely on cooling rack before slicing.