Recently, I have been asked by a couple of people how I make sourdough bread. In describing what happens I realised that one problem people have is in knowing what each stage should look like and so here is an illustrated method that shows you just that.
Note: the photos were taken with an iPhone rather than one of my proper cameras – this accounts for a couple of them being slightly out of focus. Apologies.
This is how I make a batch of basic bread (see linked pages for various other recipes) and I do it at least once a week. It is simplicity itself. To try this you will need, of course, to have a good sourdough starter/plant – there are many methods available on the internet to make one from scratch or alternatively, you can purchase a “seed” starter from various googleable sources (not me, however). A very reliable source of professional information, including how to create your own sourdough starter, is here
In this demonstration I am making a basic loaf using a strong multigrain flour which explains the dark bits in the dough that you will see but it’s all the same regardless of which flour you use, white, brown, wholemeal, whatever.
So – first of all this is not hard, not arcane, only a slight touch of magic is involved. There are many recipes out there to make bread like this and I have no doubt they work but sometimes they scare newcomers off by being too technical. A professional baker will talk about gluten content and hydration percentages and other technical matters – and they are all very important … except that if you know what things should look and feel like at each stage you can work this stuff out empirically as you go along. Also note that as I live in Canada, I have used cups as the measure to which I refer rather than weights. You can use whatever you like because it is the proportions that matter, not the absolute units.
This is where the “art” of bread making comes into play and is something you will get better at the more you do it. You are aiming to make a firm and springy dough that is not too wet and not too dry so you will almost certainly want to add a little bit of flour to the mix at the stage or, conceivably a tiny amount of water. Do it carefully and with caution as the nature of the dough changes the longer it is in the mixer and what looked too wet can suddenly come together into a ball that is “just right”. The amounts of flour and water needed vary depending, mostly, on the flour you are using.
Note, when handling the dough, should you find it a bit sticky do not put flour on your hands but moisten them with a teaspoon of cooking oil – it really works, much less messy.
Oil your hands again and gently take the dough out of the bowl. You don’t want to give it a second kneading as you would for yeast dough. Be gentle but don’t be timid. Tear off the size of pieces you want, don’t use a knife, and stretch the dough in your hands then tuck and roll into the final shape – at this stage you are making that lovely gluten work for you and helping it give rise and structure to the final loaf.
Patience needed now. Let the bread stand covered for two or three or more hours (depends on temperature). it will rise nicely and be springy but not to final size – don’t worry, more rising will happen in the oven, remember you are not working with yeast dough here.
Cooking temperatures depend on your oven – this bread is cooked at 375degF in a fan assisted oven (sorry to talk about Fahrenheit, but the oven was made in the US and they don’t “do” centigrade there. Use a conversion table for your oven if you have a sensible metric one) – add 25degF if you don’t have a fan.
Cook until done – about 20 minutes for rolls and about 30-35 minutes for loaves. The bread will rise quite a lot in the oven … sourdough is much more lenient and helpful than yeast bread in this respect.
And that is it – really easy and each stage is longer than yeast bread baking so you can take the dogs for a walk or go shopping or whatever at various stages instead of hanging around waiting for things to rise.
There are other bread making links in the menu at the top of the page, including a few starter recipes.