Welcome back to another episode featuring sourdough! In my last post, we learned how to make a sourdough starter from scratch. Today we get to use that sourdough starter to make a loaf the best homemade sourdough bread ever! Sourdough bread is actually healthy for you because the sourdough starter that is made of simply fermented water and flour provides good bacteria for your digestive system. This also promotes the health of your immune system, mental health and your happiness because, duh, it’s bread. 😉 So let’s get started baking our loaves!
How to Make Homemade Sourdough Bread
Step 1 – Make sure your sourdough starter is ready to use.
Before we do anything, your starter should be active. It should be happily bubbling away with a smell of tangy, yeasty goodness. If your starter is not active, feed it until it’s ready to use. To feed your starter, generally you’ll want to double it by weight. So if you have 8 ounces of starter, you’ll discard half (4 ounces) and add 4 ounces of flour and 4 ounces of water to the remaining starter and let it feed for a day.
*THIS WAS MY DOWNFALL. My starter was not active and therefore, my bread literally flattened instead of rising. #fail #whyme #wasitworthit #epicbreadbomb*
If you were storing your starter in the fridge, take it out about two days prior to warm up to around 75°F and feed it each day so it’s nice and active.
Step 2 – Make your leaven. Let it sit overnight. Then test your leaven.
A leaven is a bit of your starter mixed with flour and water and left to sit out overnight so when it gets mixed into the dough, it will help it rise.
1. Mix 1 Tbsp of your active starter in a large bowl with 75 grams (½ cup) of all-purpose flour and 75 grams (⅓ cup) water.
2. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let it sit overnight (12 hours).
3. After 12 hours, test if your leaven by dropping a small bit in a glass of water. If it floats, your leaven is ready to bake with! If it sinks to the bottom, then repeat step 1 because your starter is probably not active enough. Take a couple days to continue feeding it until it’s bubbly and active, then remake your leaven, let it sit for 12 hours, then retest it.
Disclaimer: Do not do what I did and just carry on with a sinking leaven. My starter was obviously not active and my bread turned into a flat rock. *cries tears over starved starter and days of work down the drain*
Step 3 – Dissolve the salt in water.
Place 1 Tbsp of sea salt in a bowl or glass and add 50 grams (¼ cup) of the water for the dough. Stir it and let it sit out so the salt dissolves in the water. This will help with even distribution of the salt later on in step 7.
Step 4 – Mix the leaven with water.
To your bowl with the active leaven, mix in the remaining 475 grams (2 cups) of water. Get in their with your hands if needed. It’s okay if a few clumpy clumps remain.
Step 5 – Stir in the flour to form the dough.
Stir in 700 grams (5½ cups) of all-purpose flour until you don’t see any dry flour and it forms a sticky dough.
It’s a lot of flour, so make sure you are prepare with a big bowl and some good old fashioned arm-stirring power (no gym required for this workout)!
Step 6 – Allow the dough to rest between 30 minutes to 4 hours.
Cover the dough in the bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let it rest on the counter for 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.
This gives the flour time to absorb the water, which helps with gluten formation once we begin folding the dough. This also allows time for the enzymes in the flour start to break down starches into simple sugars, which will be food for the yeast and bacteria that are in the leaven. This helps with the rise and with flavor.
Step 7 – Mix in the dissolved salt.
Finally we are going to use that salty water. Pour the dissolved salt over the dough in the bowl and work it in by squeezing the dough with your hands. *squish, squish, squelch*
Step 8 – Fold the dough every half hour, six times (for 2½ hours total).
1. With the dough is still in the bowl, grab the side of the dough that is farthest away from you, then fold the dough over itself, towards you.
2. Give the bowl a quarter turn clockwise, then repeat step 1 by grabbing the new side that is farthest away from you and folding it over itself, towards you.
3. Continue giving the bowl a quarter turn clockwise and folding the dough over itself until you have made a full rotation, or four folds of the dough.
4. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes, then repeat steps 1 through 3. Continue folding and resting for 30 minutes in between each folding, for a total of six times. This will take a total of 2½ hours.
The dough will eventually become smoother and tighter by the end of this folding escapade.
Step 9 – Let the dough rest for 30 to 60 minutes.
Cover the dough in the bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel. Let it rest and rise for 30 to 60 minutes. It will puff up a bit, but don’t expect it to rise to double its size.
Step 10 – Divide and shape the dough.
1. Sprinkle some flour on a clean work surface and ease the dough out of the bowl. Use a pastry scraper to divide the dough in half.
I skipped the dividing step because I only have one dutch oven and each dough ball needs to bake in its own dutch oven. My single loaf came out a normal size (albeit very flat), so this dividing step is optional.
2. Sprinkle some more flour on the dough and gently shape it into loose rounds. Be careful not to deflate the air we spent so long incorporating into the dough. To watch the technique how to shape the dough, watch this dough-shaping tutorial.
3. Cover the dough with a clean kitchen towel and let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes on your work surface.
4. Shape the dough one final time (seriously, watch that video in step 2).
Step 10 – Transfer the dough to proofing baskets.
Lightly dust flour in the bottom and on the sides of your proofing basket or baskets. Place each dough ball in its own proofing basket so the smooth side is down and the seams are facing up.
Step 11 – Let the dough rise.
Cover the proofing basket(s) with plastic wrap.
Let the dough rise at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours until the dough looks like a puffy pillow.
Or let the dough rise in the fridge overnight, for 12 to 15 hours. Once you take it out of the fridge, you don’t need to wait extra time for the dough to come up to room temperature before you bake it.
Step 12 – Heat the oven to 500°F.
Place your dutch oven (or two dutch ovens, if you divided the dough) into the oven while it is preheating to warm them up.
To keep things concise, I’ll continue with instructions for one loaf. If you divided the dough to make two loaves, just do everything for both of your loaves.
Step 13 – Transfer the loaf to the dutch oven and score the top.
Once the oven is preheated, CAREFULLY (watch your hands and wrists and hair and metal jewelry) remove the dutch oven and remove the lid.
Gently tip the loaf into the pot so that the seam side is now facing down in the dutch oven, and the smooth side is now facing up.
Score the top of your bread. Using a sharp or a serrated knife, quickly cut four lines at a slight angle that are about ¼ to ½ inch deep to make a hashtag shape (#).
Put the lid back on the dutch oven and CAREFULLY put it back in the oven.
<3 If you want to be inspired by some bread-scoring masterpieces, check these out. From leafs to flowers to freaking birds, some folks out there are literally turning their homemade sourdough bread into art.
Step 14 – Bake for 20 minutes at 500°F.
Maybe do some dishes or catch up with someone on a video call while you wait.
Step 15 – Bake for 10 minutes at 450°F.
Turn the oven temperature down to 450°F and bake for another 10 minutes. Do NOT open the oven yet.
Step 16 – Bake uncovered for 15 – 25 minutes at 450°F.
Carefully remove the lid from the dutch oven. Bake another 15 to 25 minutes, until the crust is a deep brown. The color should be pretty far past golden but not quite burnt.
Step 17 – Cool the loaf completely.
Lift the loaf out of the dutch oven with a spatula and set it on a wire cooling rack to cool down to room temperature. Resist the urge to cut into them before they have cooled down completely. You’ve waited this long, just wait a wee bit longer.
Once it is fully cooled, slice and enjoy the well-deserved fruits of your labor! 😀
What Not To Do…
So as you can clearly see, my homemade sourdough bread did the opposite of rise in the oven. In fact, it flattened into a giant, solid, heavy disc. All that work…. Literally a week to make the starter and then let the dough rise at all of its various precarious stages. UGH! And I thought I had learned my lesson with the herb focaccia bread fail that turned into crackers…
First, let’s take a minute to marvel at the gorgeous color of the bottom of my loaf.
Okay, that minute is over and now it’s time to discuss what not to do when baking homemade sourdough bread.
1. Don’t use and inactive starter or an inactive leaven.
All the way back in step one and step two, I messed up big time. My sourdough starter was not very bubbly, it had a play-doh sort of aroma and it had a layer of hooch on it. All three of these things indicate that my starter was starved and needed to be fed more before it was active and ready enough to rise bread. Thus my leaven didn’t float in the water. I should have stopped at both these points, returned my starter to a healthy and active state, then begun again. Alas, lessons to be learned.
2. If it’s your first time baking homemade sourdough bread, follow one single recipe.
Duh. That seems logical and common sense, right? First time making something that literally requires days to make, who would think to try piecing together different methods with different rising times, baking times and different oven temperatures?! *raises hand slowly in guilty silence*
I got to about halfway through the Kitchn’s recipe for sourdough bread and I realized I didn’t want to divide the dough. So for some reason, it seemed like a good idea to switch to Tasty’s recipe for sourdough bread. Don’t do that. Obviously.
Other Resources for Homemade Sourdough Bread
1. The Kitchn’s recipe for sourdough bread is the one I followed to make my starter as well as the first about ½ of my loaf.
2. Tasty’s recipe and video tutorial to make sourdough bread is the one I ended up switching to half way through making my loaf. The video is nice because it shows a professional baker and a tasty contributor who’s never made sourdough side-by-side in a split-screen which is both entertaining and informative.
3. Pro Home Cook’s video on 15 mistakes most beginner sourdough bakers make is something I wished I watched before I baked my first loaf. It would have saved me time and tears.
Best of luck!!! <3