Time: 2-3 days
Type: naturally leavened
Temperature: 45 minutes at 450
Ingredient 1 loaf 2 loaves 3 loaves
Barm 113g 226g 339g
Bread Flour 128g 256g 384g
Water 45g 90g 135g
Bread Flour 574g 1140g 1720g
Salt 2t 4t 6t
Water 330g 660g 1000g
Disclaimer: This bread will never be perfect. This recipe is really just a blank canvas, a jumping off point. I modify this bread a little every time I make it, in the hopes of getting a perfect rustic bread. I will be doing this until I die, and even then I won’t be done. But I offer it up to you, kind readers, to let you experiment with it.
Now onto the basics of sourdough. First, it’s not as scary or difficult as you think. Until factory-produced yeast was widely available, all bread was naturally leavened with wild yeasts and people kept starters alive for years. Mine’s been going now for two years, and bakeries in San Francisco are working with starters that have been going since the nineteenth century! To make your own starter, I’ll point you toward Peter Reinhart’s method in Crust and Crumb. Basically you mix a little pineapple juice with unbleached bread flour until you get a paste, and leave it out at room temperature in a sealed jar, stirring two or three times daily for several days until it gets bubbly. Dump half in the trash and add more flour and juice to make paste. Gradually swap out the pineapple juice for water. Once you start using your starter, you can feed it once a week and keep it refrigerated. If you want to get technical, you can keep your starter at anywhere from 60-100% hydration. What I do each time I use mine is add 100 grams of flour and 75 grams of water, so I get 75% hydration. Dees here mafs is easy!
So you’ve got a starter in the fridge and some bread flour, salt and water. This is all you need to make sourdough. I refer to barm in the recipe to indicate your long-term starter. The starter in the recipe at the top is a short-term starter, like a kick in the pants to your bread. Mix up all the ingredients for the starter until it forms a sticky dough, then cover it and leave it until it at least doubles in size. I make mine at night, leave it out while I dream about zombies and car chases, then punch it down in the morning and put it in the fridge.
You can leave this starter for a day or two in the fridge, or you can use it right away to make your bread. If you do refrigerate, take it out an hour before so it can warm up a bit. Add it to the flour, water, and salt listed above and mix just until incorporated. Now wait twenty minutes so the magic can happen. When you come back, you’ll only have to knead for 5-7 minutes until you get a good windowpane. Add water or flour to get the dough to a consistency where it is tacky but not sticky. It will want to stick to your hands but should pull away cleanly. When the gluten strands have formed well, this dough will feel like silk in your hands with a gorgeous creamy color. Put the dough in an oiled bowl, cover, and leave it until it doubles. Depending on the room temperature, this can take from 2-5 hours. Let it do its thing—sourdough is alive and can’t be rushed. I like to overnight ferment my dough, so after it doubles I punch it down and put it in the fridge in a covered container. Overnight fermenting adds great flavor and when you bake it, that extra ferment time creates a deeper reddish-gold color in the crust. If you have the time, I highly recommend this.
Once it has doubled, get it out and divide and shape it. If you did an overnight ferment, give it at least 2 hours to warm up a bit, though shaping with your warm hands will help it along. Sometimes I make boules (rounds), usually I make batards (that’s French for bastards! Tee hee!). Put the formed loaves on parchment, flour the top and cover them with a cloth for the final proof. This can take from 1-3 hours, and the dough is ready when you poke it with your finger and doesn’t spring back. Preheat your oven to 450 for at least 45 minutes to get the stone nice and hot.
When it’s time to bake, score the tops with a sharp razor or good serrated knife, slide the loaves into the oven, and cover them with a large foil roasting pan. This keeps the steam around the loaf in the crucial first minutes. I usually take it off after 5 minutes, and continue to bake for another 40, rotating once halfway through for even browning.
Now comes the fun part. Turn off the oven and prop the oven door open. Leave your bread in the oven for another 10 minutes, minimum. What you’re doing is allowing the bread to cool down slowly so the crust dries out. If you just take the bread out, it cools quickly and steam escaping from the moist interior will soften your crust. If you leave it in the oven to cool, you should get something like this:
Once it’s been in the cooling oven for 10 minutes, you can take it out and let it finish cooling on a rack. Here’s the great thing about sourdough: it lasts easily twice as long as yeasted breads. You can keep it wrapped up in a breadbox for over a week and it won’t mold. You can freeze it for a month and it’ll be okay. Chances are, it’ll be gone long before it has a chance to get moldy. This bread is fantastic and whether you add rosemary and parmigiano or make little baguettes, this dough will always be good. Happy baking!