Sourdough is one of those things I never thought I'd get into. It sounds time consuming and honestly a little like baking magic.
Today I stand in front of you proud. Having maintained for my starter for almost a full year now! In case you don't understand how much of an accomplishment this is... let me break it down for you.
I am maybe one of the most forgetful people you'll ever meet. I also don't have the attention span for something that always sounded super involved.
Throughout this process, there's one thing I've learned: You too can be a sourdough parent! (I know that sounds weird but your little funky smelling jar of starter will grow on you ;) pun definitely intended).
I've included some tips & tricks I've learned over the past year of maintaining my sourdough here.
When do I start if I want to bake my bread tomorrow?
You'll need a sourdough starter before starting this recipe. Check out my post here on how to get started.
1. Making your levian or leaven
The night before you plan to make your dough, mix together the following ingredients, cover lightly with a kitchen towel or something similar and let it rest in a cool, dark place overnight.
NOTE: Levian is actually the same thing as starter. I just use it to differentiate your starter that you're just feeding regularly and starter that you're intending to bake into bread the following day.
The next day, you'll know when your levian is ready when it's very bubbly and reliably doubles in size within 6-8 hours. As it develops, the smell will change from ripe and sour to sweet and pleasantly fermented; when it reaches this stage, it's ready to use! The more patient you are with your starter the more perfect it will come out 😊
Sourdough starters rise and fall throughout the period of a day. What you're trying to do right now by feeding it the night before baking is trying to catch the starter at it's peak ripeness! Its fine to let it rise 12 hours the night before, just try and make your levian right before sleeping :)
This is what mine tends to look like before I use it (~6-8 hours after feeding):
As a wise figure once said:
Patience you must have, my young padawan.
By the end of this journey, you too will have a mother starter to pass down generation after generation.... or at least until next time you feel like baking bread!
2. Making your dough
After setting aside 1 cup to make your dough, keep somewhere between 2 tbsp and 1/2 cup of what's left aside to maintain your starter. Feed it the same 1:1 ratio from step 2. You can store this newly fed starter in the fridge for another week or so until you're ready to bake again. For more information on maintaining your starter, check out this section.
Combine the dough ingredients in a large bowl and mix until there's no more dry flour bits left. The dough should be soft but tacky, so you might have to adjust the flour and water amounts to get the correct consistency.
Lightly cover the dough and let it rest in a cool, dark place for about 20-30 minutes. This step, also known as autolyse, is important because it allows the flour to absorb the water and kick starts the gluten formation. TLDR; Makes your life easier while kneading.
Next, you need to add. 1.5 tsp-ish salt. You don't want to handle the dough too much right now so just fold it over itself a few times and let it be. It won't be all mixed in right now, but you'll end up doing that over the next step.
Once again, cover loosely with a kitchen towel and let it rest for ANOTHER 30 minutes.
3. Bulk Fermentation
Once again our friends at King Arthur have extensive documentation on the importance of bulk fermentation. Check it out here.
Since we want to preserve all the air bubbles and the delicate gluten structure in the bread, my favorite method instead of kneading the dough is doing a series of "folds" within the container itself. To do a fold, dip 1 hand in water to prevent sticking. Grab the underside of the dough, stretch it out, and fold it back over itself. Rotate container one-quarter turn, and repeat. Do this 2 or 3 times for each fold.
I've also collected a few video examples which demonstrate this method pretty well.
From the sourdough god himself, Chad Robertson of Bar Tartine in SF.
A more reasonably sized example of this method is here:
You will need to repeat this every 30 minutes for about 2-3 hours.
After the 3 hours, the dough should feel aerated and softer, and you will see a 20 to 30 percent increase in volume. If not, continue bulk fermentation for 30 minutes to 1 hour more.
4. Shaping your loaves + Final rise
Dump the dough out of the container onto a lightly floured work surface. Lightly dust the top with flour and cut the dough in half. (I tend to use a dough scraper for these steps but you can just use a knife if you don't have one). Dust some flour on top, cover it with a kitchen towel, and you guessed it... let it rest for 20 minutes!
Next you'll want to shape each dough piece into a round circle and create some tension around the bottom of the dough. What I do is a fold it like an envelope and then flip it.
"As shown top-left, above, fold the bottom of the circle up to the middle. Then, fold the left side up and over about two-thirds toward the right, the right side up and over two-thirds toward the left. Finally, fold the top down to about the middle.
After you've folded the top down, flip the dough over so the seams are now on the bench. Using both hands, which remain in contact with the bench, cup the side of the dough farthest from you and gently drag the dough down towards your body. The dough should slightly stick to the bench and, using the area from each pinky to the base of the hand, the dough should be gently tucked under the mass."
Afterwards, you'll want to finish shaping the dough by putting your hands on either side of the dough and rotate the dough back and forth a few times so that the dough tightens up. Check out the video below for a better idea of how to master the motion.
This is super important because the tension that builds on the surface when you do this motion, enables the bread to poof up into a nice round loaf in the oven. Failing to do this step properly and over-proofing (letting it sit too long before you shape and bake) are the 2 main causes for my sourdough turning out into a flatter loaf rather than that gorgeous round loaves of you've been dreaming of.
Once you've shaped your loaves, line a bowl with your handy dandy kitchen towel, dust it with some flour and carefully place a round inside (seam-side on top). Cover and let it rise for about 2-3 hours.
Keep a careful eye on your dough. If it over-proofs (ferments too long), you'll end up w/ a flatter loaf and there's not much you can do about it. Knowing when your dough is ready to be shaped takes practice so you'll get better at it after each bake 😊
I usually test whether or not my dough is ready by lightly poking it. If the indentation quickly bounces back, it needs to proof longer. If the indentation doesn't bounce back at all... you may have let it proof too long. You're looking for the goldilocks bounce. The indentation should slowly bounce back while leaving a slight indentation.
We're almost there I promise!
Take your second loaf and lightly wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for later. Because... let's be honest you'll need more bread soon! The dough will continue to rise at a slower rate in the fridge so when you're ready to bake this loaf, let it sit on. a light floured work surface covered with a towel until it comes to room temperature.
Preheat your oven to 450°F. If you've got one, warm a 9 1/2-inch round or an 11-inch oval Dutch oven (or a heavy oven-proof pot with a tight-fitting lid). If not, you can still make do with a cookie sheet and a metal bowl. The baking sheet does not need to be warmed up.
Make sure your dough is at room temperature before baking.
Once it's pre-heated, carefully turn it out onto a piece of parchment paper. If you're planning on adding any seasoning to the top of your loaf (I love everything bagel seasoning), spray the top with some water and sprinkle away. Then, you'll need to score the top of your loaves. I usually just cut an "X" on top of my loaves, but you can get as fancy as you'd like. It just needs to be scored so that the loaf doesn't burst open in unexpected ways while it bakes.
Load the parchment paper with the loaf onto your baking sheet. If you have a metal bowl larger than your loaf size, place it on your baking sheet with a portion of the bowl hanging off the edge of the sheet, like the picture below.
If you don't have anything else to put on top of your bread while it bakes, you can DIY one with aluminum foil! Make a bowl out of foil that's much larger than your loaf size and cover the dough but leave a little gap for steam to get inside the foil.
This is a good example of a DIY foil bowl:
If you've got an extra cast iron, oven-proof pan or cake pan or even a spray bottle, you can bake your loaf with steam!
Not sure why steam is important? Read more here! TLDR; baking with steam aids your loaves in rising really nicely and develop a gorgeous crust.
There are 3 methods to bake with steam that I've found work the best:
- Spray bottle/Sprinkle water by hand: Spray your loaf with warm water just before putting it in the oven. Spray it again right after placing it in the oven and once again about 5 minutes after.
- With a cast iron: Preheat your cast iron before putting your loaf in the oven. When you load your loaf into the oven, throw a few ice cubes onto your hot cast iron and close the oven immediately. The cast iron should be positioned similar to the picture below.
- With a different oven-proof pan: When you put your loaf in the oven, pour about 1/2 cup boiling water and place it on the rack below your loaf like the picture below.
Some more information on options are available here.
Bake for 30 minutes. After the initial 30 minutes, if you've covered your bread with a metal bowl, remove it now. Continue to bake for another 20 minutes or so until the bread is noticeably a golden brown color.
Remove it from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack. It should feel pretty light and sound hollow when you tap on the bottom of it.
Let it cool before you slice it up and devour it 😁
If you have any leftovers, store leftover bread, in a paper bag or loosely covered in plastic, for a day or so at room temperature. If you're planning on holding onto them for longer, wrap and freeze the loaf for longer storage.
I know that seems like a lot but I promise it's not that bad!
Honestly sourdough is fascinating to read about. I recommend checking out the King Arthur bread blog. for all sorts of goodies.
I'm also always down to gush over sourdough so feel free to message us at @cookinginpjs on instagram.
Here's some resources to help troubleshoot your loaf: