Beginners Sourdough

Written by Liz

I’m Liz, I share recipes and easy substitutes to make plant-based living simple!

January 16, 2021

There’s nothing quite as rewarding as the simple pleasure of baking bread at home. Once you’ve made your own sourdough, with a delicious aroma, tangy flavour, elastic crumb and a nice well baked blistered crust, you can’t go back to store-bought bread! The process of baking sourdough is part science, part technique and part art. There are hundreds of different methods to baking sourdough but you’ll find most follow the same principles. I’ve tried a LOT of different variations and have continually tweaked my process to come up with my own method which forms the base for most of my loaves – it’s the perfect balance of minimal effort for consistently great results: an elastic, lightly webbed open crumb and a dark, blistered crust. The process can seem complicated at first but once you’ve followed a recipe a few times, you’ll find baking becomes an easy rhythm on weekends or the bookends your work day. Don’t be put off if it takes a few attempts to get the results you want – a few pancakes are bound to happen. And remember, if it tastes good, that’s really all that matters! What I found most surprising about sourdough baking is how much enjoyment I got out of the process – it brings people together and gives you a hobby that provides immediate feedback and endless variations to experiment with. I hope my recipe can help you on your own sourdough journey.

 

Understanding the basics

 

What is sourdough?

Sourdough bread is made using the traditional baking method that has been around for centuries and is a natural alternative to commercial bread. Most commercial breads are made using dry yeast, which has been manufactured to speed up the bread making process, but sourdough is made using wild yeast and takes longer to bake (around 24 hours). This extended fermentation time creates a more flavoursome bread that is easier to digest and has a lower GI than most packaged supermarket breads. Essentially, the defining feature of sourdough bread is that it doesn’t use dry yeast, it’s made using sourdough starter!

 

What is sourdough starter?

Sourdough starter is a paste made from flour and water that contains active wild yeast. Yeast are microscopic single-cell organisms that live all around us, including in flour and in the air. The yeast cause the bread to rise and create small air pockets throughout the loaf.

A healthy, strong sourdough starter really is the foundation to successful bread making – starter is what makes your bread rise, after all! It only works if it is fed regularly and is added into the dough at its peak activity. To maintain your starter, be sure to feed it once a week if kept in the fridge or once a day if kept at room temperature. 

 

Where can I get sourdough starter?

If you’re lucky enough to know somebody who’s already baking sourdough bread, see if you can get some from them! Sourdough starter matures over time and builds more strength and complex flavours, so it’s always handy if you can get an existing batch. Generally bread people are a nice bunch and get very chatty when somebody brings up the topic, so it shouldn’t be too hard to persuade them. You can also buy some sourdough starters online from other home bakers, but if you don’t know somebody personally, I’d suggest making your own.

It takes about seven days to make a sourdough starter from scratch, using just flour and water. I have an easy step-by-step guide here!

What do I need to get started?

For my method, the below are my must-haves:

  • Sourdough starter
    • Clear jar or container with lid
    • Elastic band
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Banneton or small-medium sized mixing bowl
  • Clean tea towel or cling film
  • Wooden spoon
  • Spatula / squeegee
  • Sharp knife
  • Kitchen scales
  • Cast iron dutch oven (an investment, but worth it!

These are also nice to have, but not a necessity:

  • Banneton
  • Lame (razor blade for scoring the top of the loaf)
  • Shower cap
  • Bowl scraper
  • Bench scraper

Ingredients:

  • Bakers flour
  • Water
  • Sourdough starter
  • Salt

How long does it take?

Keep in mind before you start baking, the whole process from start to finish takes a minimum of 24 hours, my method is about 26 hours. The actual hands on time is only around 1 hour and it’s minimal effort, but you need to be around for most of the day. To give you a rough idea, if you would like fresh bread for the next morning, you need to start the process around 8am the day before. Check out my timings guideline below!

 

Method

Below is a high-level snapshot of my process without getting too complicated!

1. Feed your starter

To feed your starter, decant 40g of sourdough starter into a small bowl, and discard the rest. Combine the sourdough starter with 40g water until it forms a thin milky consistency. Using a fork, combine 40g flour and mix well until it forms a thick paste. Pour the mixture into a clear jar or container, then place an elastic band around the outside to indicate the starting height of the starter. Seal the jar and leave in a warm place (around 23-26C) until it has at least doubled in size. This usually takes around 4 hours but varies depending on the outside temperature and the strength of your starter. *Note – Ensure the starter only fills 1/3 of the jar or less (otherwise it may overflow or pop!).  *Tip – if you’re short on time, put the sourdough starter into a pot of hot water to speed up the activity of the yeast – it should double in about 2 hours. Be careful not to make it too hot though or you will cook the yeast – the water should be comfortable to touch, like the temperature of a hot shower.

 

2. Make the dough

While waiting for your starter to rise, combine the flour and water in a large mixing bowl and leave it to rest. This initial resting phase is called ‘autolyse’.  At first the dough will be loose and shaggy, and will tear apart easily. However as you leave the water and flour to sit for some time, gluten strands will begin to develop and you will notice the consistency of the dough change to something more elastic and smooth. You can test the progression of this phase by doing the ‘window pane’ test – simply lift a thin square of dough and gently ease it apart – you should be able to pull it to a very thin layer (almost see-through) without it tearing. At this point you are ready to add the starter.

3. Add Starter

Add 70g of starter to your dough, spreading it over the top (use wet hands to avoid any excess dough sticking). Gently massage the starter into the dough for a few minutes until combined. Once combined, cover and leave the dough to rest for 30 minutes.

4. Add salt and gently knead

Sprinkle the top of your dough with salt evenly, then gently dimple your dough with your finger tips. With wet hands, massage the salt into the dough for 2-3 minutes until you can feel no more noticeably gritty patches. Cover and rest for 30 minutes.

5. Coil folds x 3

Coil fold the dough on both sides. To do this, wet your hands and run your hand around the edge of the bowl, scooping up the dough and gently peeling it off the sides and base of the bowl. Lift the dough from the middle, then fold it back down into the bowl, tucking it under itself on both sides. Repeat this on the other side.

 

7. Shape and overnight rest

Wet your hands and run your hand around the edge of the bowl, scooping up the dough and gently peeling it away from the sides and base of the bowl. Place the dough onto the floured bench. To shape the dough, using wet hands, gently pull the sides of the dough outwards to form a square. Get your hands well under the dough and pull from the centre outwards, so it is an even thickness. The dough should be roughly 40cm x 40cm, 1.5-2cm thick. Fold one side of the dough onto itself into the middle. Repeat on the other 3 sides in the shape of a square. Brush away any excess flour on the bench to one side. Flip the dough over, so the floured side is facing up. Gently pull the dough towards you, running it along the bench. You should feel some light resistance as you drag it towards yourself. This motion of pulling the dough creates surface tension on the top of the dough and helps form it into a ball. Turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat this pulling process a few times until the dough holds its shape. See video below to demonstrate. Sprinkle some non-gluten flour over the top of the dough, then place it floured-side down into your banneton or floured bowl. Dust the base with some non-gluten flour. Cover and place in the fridge to rest overnight for approximately 12-16 hours.

8. Bake

The moment of truth! Pre-heat your dutch oven for 30 minutes at your oven’s highest possible temperature setting (~260C / 500F is ideal). Dust the base of your dough again with non-gluten flour so it doesn’t stick to the dutch oven. Remove the dutch oven from the oven and take off the lid. As quickly as possible, gently tip the dough out of the banneton into the dutch oven. With a sharp knife or razor blade, score the top of the dough from end-to-end, slightly off-centre. Aim to slice at a 45 degree angle. Be very careful not to burn your wrists as you do this! Put the lid on the dutch oven, and put it back into the oven. Bake for 20 minutes on the highest temperature, fan forced. After 20 minutes, remove the lid from your dutch oven and reduce temperature to 220C / 428F. Continue to bake for an additional 30 minutes. After baking, remove bread from oven and place onto a cooling rack. Ensure there is good air circulation on the bottom of the bread so the base crust stays crunchy. Although it is IMMENSELY TEMPTING to cut into the bread straight away, please allow the bread to cool for 1.5 hours before slicing. If you really can’t help yourself (I know this from personal experience) you can slice it earlier, but it will make the crumb a little gummy.   Top with your favourite spreads and enjoy! My personal favourite is vegan butter with a little sprinkle of sea salt. After slicing, store the bread in a tightly sealed plastic bag or reusable bread bag to prevent it from drying out. Sourdough definitely tastes best at its freshest on day one, but will be fine for toasting for the next 2 days. You can also freeze the loaf and thaw when needed. If freezing – you can pre-slice the loaf for convenience (but it does dry out more) or if you freeze the loaf whole, it will retain moisture better because the crust acts as a moisture seal – just remember you won’t be able to slice the loaf while frozen, you’ll need to thaw the whole loaf. I hope you enjoy your sourdough – any questions, thoughts or suggestions please drop a comment below 🙂

 

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Simple Sourdough

A basic sourdough recipe that serves as a great starting point for novice bread bakers. Minimal hands-on time, however the whole process takes several hours, so it's best to start early in the morning.
Course Breakfast
Keyword bread, sourdough
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Resting time 1 day
Servings 14 slices
Cost $2

Equipment

  • Sourdough starter
  • Clear jar or container with lid
  • Elastic band
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Banneton or a small-medium sized mixing bowl
  • Clingfilm or a clean tea towel
  • Wooden spoon
  • Spatula/squeegee/scraper
  • Sharp knife or razor blade
  • Kitchen scales
  • Dutch oven

Ingredients

Sourdough starter preparation (feeding)

  • 40 g sourdough starter
  • 40 g white bakers flour
  • 40 g water

Sourdough loaf

  • 350 g white bakers flour
  • 280 g water lukewarm
  • 70 g sourdough starter fed and active
  • 1/2 tbsp salt cooking or table

For dusting

  • 1/2 cup non-gluten flour tapioca, corn starch, polenta etc
  • white flour extra for shaping

Instructions

Starter preparation (feeding)

  • In a clear container or jar, feed 40g of sourdough starter with 40g water and 40g flour. Mix well with a fork until it forms a thick paste.
  • Seal the jar and leave in a warm place (around 23-26C) until it has at least doubled in size.

Making the dough

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine flour and water together to make the dough. Ensure there is no dry flour remaining.
  • Cover the dough and leave it to rest in a warm place until the starter is ready. Around 23C is ideal.
  • Once the starter has doubled in size, add 70g to the dough. Using a wet hand, smooth the starter over the top of the dough and then gently knead/massage for 2 minutes to combine.
  • Cover the dough and rest for 30 minutes.
  • Sprinkle salt evenly over the dough and gently dimple it into the dough your fingertips. Gently knead/massage the dough for 2 minutes to completely incorporate the salt.
  • Cover the dough and rest for 30 minutes.
  • Coil fold the dough on both sides.
    Wet your hands to stop the dough sticking, then run your hands around the edge of the bowl, loosening the dough from the sides. Lift the dough from the middle, then fold it back down into the bowl, tucking it under itself on both sides. Repeat this on the other side.
  • Cover the dough and rest for 30 minutes.
  • Repeat the coil fold and rest process another 2 times.
  • After the 3rd coil fold, cover the dough and rest for 90 minutes.

Shaping and proofing the dough

  • Wet the inside of the banneton and coat with non-gluten flour. If using a mixing bowl, lightly grease the bowl before flouring.
  • Lightly dust a clean bench with baker's flour and place the dough onto the floured bench.
  • To shape the dough, using wet hands, gently pull the sides of the dough outwards to form a square. Get your hands well under the dough and pull from the centre outwards, so it is an even thickness. Repeat the stretching process until you have an even square of dough, roughly 40cm x 40cm, 1.5-2cm thick.
  • Fold one side of the dough onto itself into the middle. Repeat on the other 3 sides in the shape of a square.
  • Brush away any excess flour on the bench to one side.
  • Flip the dough over, so the floured side is facing up. Gently pull the dough towards you, running it along the bench. You should feel some light resistance as you drag it towards yourself. Repeat a few times until the dough ball holds its shape.
  • Sprinkle some non-gluten flour over the top of the dough, then place it floured-side down into your banneton or floured bowl. Dust the base with some non-gluten flour.
  • Cover and place in the fridge to rest overnight for approximately 12-16 hours.

Baking

  • After 12-16 hours of resting, you're ready to bake! Pre-heat your dutch oven at the oven's highest temperature setting, fan forced, for 30 minutes.
  • Once the oven is pre-heated, remove your dough from the fridge. Dust the base of your dough again with non-gluten flour so it doesn't stick.
  • Remove the dutch oven from the oven and take off the lid. As quickly as possible, gently tip the dough out of the banneton into the dutch oven. With a sharp knife or razor blade, score the top of the dough from end-to-end, slightly off-centre. Aim to slice at a 45 degree angle.
  • Put the lid on the dutch oven, and put it back into the oven. Bake for 20 minutes on the highest temperature, fan forced.
  • After 20 minutes, remove the lid from your dutch oven and reduce temperature to 220C. Continue to bake for an additional 30 minutes.
  • After baking, remove bread from oven and place onto a cooling rack.
  • Allow the bread to cool for 1.5 hours before slicing.
  • Top with your favourite spreads and enjoy! Bread will keep best in a tightly sealed plastic bag or bread bag for 2-3 days.

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