There’s something special about homemade bread. It makes the house smell good, and when it is still slightly warm, with butter spread on it getting all melty, it tastes absolutely amazing. Like, the best thing ever.
I only started experimenting with making bread about 4 months ago. I started with a white free form artisan loaf, then a whole wheat sandwich bread. Both were great. But I kept thinking about my true bread love: sourdough. I didn’t know much about making it, except that I needed a starter. Since I didn’t know anyone that had one, nor did I want to wait the weeks it can take to make one, I ordered a live culture from Breadtopia. I followed the directions to “revive” it, and I was making bread within a couple days.
If you’re just starting out with bread, it’s important to know that how it turns out can be completely dependent on your environment. The temperature will affect how it rises. The humidity will affect the texture, and sometimes it just doesn’t turn out for no apparent reason. For this reason, you can’t always go “by the books” for the recipe. You might have to let it rise longer, or stick it in the oven sooner. You might have to add more or less flour than the recipe says. Once you’ve made it a few times, you will get to know what the dough should feel like and use your best judgement to make any alterations.
The recipe I use was one I adapted from Instructables. I have tried other recipes, but this one is the best. Because of the timing of this recipe (it takes a total of 14-19 hours of rising), you’ll likely want to start it in the evening to let it rise overnight. Then you’ll need to be around the next day to put it in the oven after the second rise. Because the dough in this recipe is very wet and sticky, it cannot be formed into a loaf – it needs to be cooked in a dutch oven instead. This recipe make one VERY large loaf, or two smaller ones.
You start out by mixing your sourdough starter into lukewarm water and whisking vigorously to incorporate air.
Next you stir in the yeast and half the flour. Then the rest of the water, salt and the rest of the flour. All of this can be done either by hand or with a stand mixer. This time I used my mixer, but I usually do it by hand with a danish dough whisk.
That is pretty much it for work on your part. Now it’s the dough’s time to shine. You transfer it to a big bowl, or, if you mixed by hand, leave it in the same bowl you mixed it in. Cover it up with some plastic or a lid (don’t use a towel – the top of the dough will get crusty and/or stick to the towel) and let it rise for 12-15 hours. When it’s done rising, it should have risen close to the top of the bowl.
Now it’s time to get your hands dirty (or use a wooden spoon if you wish). This is what we call “turning” the dough. Basically you punch down the dough (coat your hands or spoon in flour first) then peel it off the sides of the bowl. Lift one side of the dough and fold it to the center. Repeat with the opposite side, then with both perpendicular sides. Repeat the whole folding process so that each side gets folded in twice. You will likely want to flour your hand or spoon each time to minimize sticking.
Now we put the dough onto a piece of parchment paper. Then wash out the bowl, or get a new one. Stick the dough, along with the parchment, back into the bowl. Cover it and let it rest for another 2-4 hours. When you’re about 30 minutes away from bake time, preheat the oven and dutch oven you’ll be cooking the bread in to 450ºF. Choose a dutch oven that has a lid, as it is cooked covered for part of the time.
Take the dutch oven out, and VERY CAREFULLY transfer the dough (with the parchment) into the dutch oven. Make sure you don’t burn yourself, and be gentle with the dough – you don’t want it to fall!
Put on the cover and stick it in the oven for 30 minutes.
Remove the lid. The bread will be pale on top. Don’t worry – it’s not done yet! Let it cook for another 15 minutes.
When the timer is done, the top will be nice and brown. Mine usually gets deep cracks in it, but for some reason this time it didn’t (I told you bread was finnicky!)
Lift the bread out of the oven with the parchment, then peel the paper off. Let it cool on a wire rack. I know it’s really tempting to take a slice right now, but try to resist. If you do, it will probably collapse and become dense and gummy inside.
The bread is best enjoyed with butter, a few hours after it’s done. But it will still be good toasted or in grilled sandwiches for several days. Enjoy!
- 3 cups lukewarm water
- 1.5 cup sourdough starter
- 1/4 tsp. yeast
- 1.5 cups whole wheat flour
- 5 cups bread flour
- 2 tsp. salt
- Pour 2 cups lukewarm water into a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add sourdough starter and whisk vigorously to combine.
- Add the yeast, whole wheat flour and 1.5 cups of the bread flour and stir until smooth.
- Add the remaining cup of water and salt. Mix completely.
- Add the remaining bread flour and stir until combined. The dough will be wet and sticky.
- Cover bowl with plastic or a lid (if mixed in a stand mixer, transfer to large bowl). Let rise for 12-15 hours.
- After dough has risen, turn the dough, either with a wooden spoon or your hand. Lift up one side of the dough and fold it into the center. Repeat on the opposite side, then rotate the bowl and fold in the perpendicular sides for a total of 8-10 folds.
- Transfer dough onto a large sheet of parchment paper. Clean bowl or get a new large bowl.
- Transfer dough, on the parchment paper into the bowl and let rise again for 2-4 hours.
- When there is 30 minutes left in the rise time, place a dutch oven in the oven and preheat to 450°F for 30 minutes.
- Transfer the dough on the parchment paper to the hot dutch oven. Do this very gently as you don't want the dough to deflate, and carefully to avoid burns on the hot pot.Cover and bake for 30 minutes.
- Remove lid. Bake for an additional 15 minutes. Remove from dutch oven, peel off the parchment and cool on a wire rack.
- This makes either 1 very large loaf (using a 8-12 quart dutch oven) or 2 smaller loaves.
- Choose a large dutch oven with a lid, or two smaller ones.
- If you don't have a lid for your dutch oven, you can get a similar effect by spritzing a few sprays of water (from a food safe spray bottle) into the oven just before you close the door.