Since the start of the year, I’ve been baking sourdough bread for our family. It’s a process that initially seemed intimidating, but it’s really not difficult and, once you have a few loaves under your belt you really start to get the hang of it. It makes our house smell AMAZING, and I love being able to give our family the small gift of homemade bread.
I’m by NO means a sourdough expert — and still deal with failed loaves from time to time — but I’m getting better at this whole bread baking thing, and thought I’d share what I’ve learned so far (as well as resources and equipment I use). I also find myself Googling things a lot. King Arthur Flour’s website is a great resource!
Sourdough starts with, well, your starter! This, I’ve found, is the most important part of the process. You have to make sure your starter is really active and ready to go in order to result in the best loaves. I got my starter from a friend (if you’re local to Winston and need some, please let me know — I’m happy to share and pay it forward!), but you can also make your own from scratch. Here’s a resource on that process. Another option is to order a starter online, like this one. (See? Told you King Arthur Flour is full of great advice!)
Once you have your starter, make sure it’s in something large enough to be relatively air tight but also have room to grow. I’ve had good luck using a 32-ounce Mason jar for my starter, but you can also buy something like this. When you aren’t using your starter, store it in the fridge for as long as you need to. Then, about a day before you’re ready to start the baking process, pull it out of the fridge and bring it to room temperature. This is when you’ll start to feed it, too…
Whether your starter is at room temp or you’ve just pulled it out of the fridge, you need to start feeding it to make it ready to result in some amazing bread. To feed it, you just add equal parts all-purpose flour and filtered water. (I like to add four ounces of each, using a food scale to measure, but you can just do something like a half cup each of flour and water, too.) As you feed it, it will start to bubble and grow.
When is your starter ready? Once you see it, YOU’LL KNOW. It will be bubbly and active — it might even burst out of its container a bit and bubble over the sides. You can also give it a quick test: grab a cup or bowl of water and add a spoonful of starter to it. Does the starter float? You’re probably good to go!
Note: In retrospect, I realized I’ve had a few failed loaves because I jumped the gun on my starter. In some cases, it even floated a bit but wasn’t quiiiiite ready. Look for it to seem alive and growing and bubbling…and until then, keep feeding it every few hours.
Okay, once you’re set with your starter, it’s time to get going. Let’s bake some bread, shall we?
First, let’s talk tools and equipment. I knew baking sourdough was something I wanted to do for our family in the long term, so I invested in a few pieces of equipment (and already happened to have a few other tools on hand). You absolutely don’t have to follow suit, but I wanted to share what I use:
- KitchenAid mixer with bread hook attachment. This is pricey, but I already had both the mixer and the bread hook (which we’d gotten as a wedding gift). If you already have the mixer, the bread hook is only about $20. I’d used the mixer a TON, but had never tried the bread hook. It’s been great, and makes kneading a snap!
- Food scale. I’ve been very happy with this $13.99 one from Amazon!
- Proofing baskets. This helps my loaves come out looking especially lovely and well shaped. (It’s a two pack, which is great because the recipe I use makes two loaves!)
- Dutch oven. Like the mixer, I had this on hand so didn’t have to buy one. I’m betting you could use a pot instead, but these really do work well.
- Bees Wrap. You can use saran wrap for the bread making process and plastic bags to store your finished loaves, but we love that these are reusable!
Okay, now recipe time! I’m going to share two recipe options: One that incorporates the equipment I mentioned above, and one that doesn’t.
My favorite recipe to follow is this one from Jen of the Peanut Butter Runner blog. She shares a great step-by-step guide, and I have had great success with it! I can follow this one to the letter and it always works well — provided I have a great, active starter to begin with.
(Here’s a tip: As you’re getting started with baking, you might want to halve this recipe so you make one loaf at a time rather than two. That way, you’re wasting fewer ingredients if you end up with a failed loaf. As you get more experienced and confident, make the full recipe and end up with two gorgeous loves you can enjoy — or share the second with a friend!)
Note: This recipe makes a single loaf, while the recipe above makes two.
Mix the following (in the order listed below) together in a mixing bowl:
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4 cup filtered water
- 3/4 cup starter
- 1 Tablespoon honey
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
Stir together until well combined, and let sit for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, take the dough out of the bowl and put it on a floured surface to knead it well (for about three minutes), adding flour as needed to keep it from getting too sticky. After kneading, place the dough back in the bowl and cover it with a plastic wrap or Bees Wrap (to keep it from drying out), topped with a dish towel.
Let the dough rise for 3-4 hours. BUT, if after 3-4 hours your dough hasn’t doubled in size, keep waiting! I find it can be helpful to turn the oven on to a low temperature and place the mixing bowl on the stove to help speed the process up a bit (especially during cooler seasons).
Remove the risen dough from the bowl and place it back on a floured surface to knead it again (for about three minutes). Then put the dough back in the bowl. (It’s headed into the oven soon!)
Place your Dutch oven (or pot) with the lid on in the oven, the turn the oven on to 450 degrees. Set a timer for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, remove the Dutch oven or pot from the oven and place your dough in it. Score the top (making an “x” shape or three parallel lines) using a sharp knife to give the dough room to expand as it bakes. Put the lid back on the Dutch oven or pot, and put in the oven for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove the lid and bake for an additional 20 minutes.
Pull your bread out of the oven, move the bread to a wire rack and cool it for at least an hour before slicing.
THE BREAD STORAGE
Congratulations — you have a beautifully baked loaf of bread (or maybe even two!). Your family has enjoyed a few slices, and everyone is so impressed. Now what? How can you make sure your bread stays as fresh as possible?
Here’s my advice: If you aren’t going to eat the bread within three or four days, slice the whole loaf and put the slices in a plastic bag in the freezer. As you want to use the bread, pull out the number of slices you want to enjoy and heat it for about 20 seconds in the microwave, then toast it. It will turn out so well!
SERVING YOUR BREAD
Of course, there are tons of ways you can enjoy the bread you’ve so lovingly baked, but I wanted to share my favorite way:
Toast a slice lightly, then top it with almond butter or peanut butter, sliced banana, a drizzle of honey, and a sprinkle of hemp hearts. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it! (Maggie wanted to add that SHE likes her bread topped with peanut butter and sprinkles. I can attest that it’s also delicious.) 🙂