If you guys have been following along in the sourdough posts, you know the amazing benefits of sourdough, what I’ve been affectionately calling the “lazy man’s” bread (because it’s easy, NOT because you’re lazy).
You likely have a decent starter ready (or near ready) to go too. Many of you are wondering what to do with the starter now that it’s nearing the 2 quart plus capacity. I’ve got a killer sourdough pancake recipe lined up for next week, but first – let’s get down to the nitty gritty of why we’re adding flour and water to a big ol’ empty bowl in the first place.
Let’s bake some bread!
Oh wait. I need to clarify a few things. Well, one major thing with a few spin-offs. Before I go any further, you must understand this:
Sourdough bread is NOTHING like traditional bread.
- When you’re done kneading traditional bread, you likely have a firm, round piece of dough.
- When you’re done kneading sourdough, you will have a very loose and likely pourable dough on your hands. Literally.
- In less than two hours, traditional bread will have doubled in size.
- In two hours, sourdough looks like it hasn’t even budged.
- Traditional bread can be whipped up in half a day’s notice.
- Sourdough definitely requires advanced planning. Like, up to 24 hours in advance. And the hours are particular.
- Traditional bread recipes are often successful on the first try.
- There’s a good chance you’ll fail at your first sourdough attempt. And possibly your second. I’m warning you because I care. Stick with it because it does get easier!
Here’s the neat part though – once you successfully make a batch of sourdough bread, you’ll fall in love with the idea all over again.
My first batch of bread was like a brick. Dense, hard and unworthy of even crouton status (which we DID try, by the way). My second loaf was better, but it still didn’t have the fluff of traditional bread and the shape wasn’t ideal for sandwiches.
My third loaf, however, was (and still is) absolutely divine. Good shape, good tang, air pockets with a golden crust. My oh my.
We sliced into it after it cooled and have been slowly savoring the two loaves every since. A nice little bonus since sourdough doesn’t grow moldy like ordinary bread does.
Once you start baking sourdough, you’ll likely find that you prefer it with less tang… or more tang… with a single rise… or a double rise… But until you’re ready to configure your favorite loaf, here’s a very simple, basic sourdough recipe to act as a starting place.
- In a very large bowl, mix starter, water and 3 cups of whole wheat flour with a wooden spoon and combine well.
- Add salt and remaining flour ½ cup at a time, attempting to completely stir in the flour with each addition. When you can no longer mix with a spoon, use your hands to mix in the flour. Continue adding flour until your dough begins to resemble dough, but is still sticky and "pourable."
- Pour dough into large loaf pans and fill ⅓ way up. Cover with a towel and allow to sit in a warm place for 4-12 hours, until the dough is at least doubled in size and looks to be "domed" on top.
- Place loaves in a cold oven and turn the oven on to 350 degrees. Bake bread for 50-60 minutes, until the edges are golden and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.
- Remove to cool on wire racks for at least 30 minutes. Makes 2-3 loaves, depending on the amount of flour used and size of loaf pans.
Additional Recipe Tips
- Halving the recipe while striving for your “perfect loaf” will cut down the cost on ingredients and reduce waste (if the end result isn’t even worthy of croutons, like my first batch).
- You can use white flour if you don’t have whole wheat or are not comfortable using whole wheat in baking yet. It may be easier to experiment with the lesser expensive flour and once you’ve found your sourdough groove, upgrade to whole wheat.
- Putting the dough into a cold oven and then turning it on gives the yeast a final boost to help the bread rise. Do not do this if your bread has already domed AND is starting to recede in rise.
- When experimenting with rise times, bake this bread on a day you plan to be at home. Numerous factors can affect the rise time overall and when the yeast peaks, so you want to have a vague idea how long the bread will take in your home before you leave. For a point of reference, I turned my oven on the lowest setting, placed it on top of my stove and it was ready in 4 1/2 hours.
- If your bread fails, have no fear! Determine what exactly went wrong and try again, aiming to fix that problem. You wouldn’t be the first person who didn’t succeed on their first attempt! (ahem)
I’ve been reading sourdough books like crazy this past week and plan to share all the great tips I’ve learned. Expect a sophomore level class on the topic coming up soon!