It only takes 4 ingredients to make sourdough bread:
- sourdough starter
If you don’t have any sourdough starter, either ask a friend for some or read Basic Sourdough Bread Making for Ordinary People – Part One. In that blog and video I talk about how I made my starter, as well as how I refresh (reactivate) it when I am ready to bake more bread.
My favorite sourdough bread recipe comes from the book The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast. it uses more starter than other recipes I have tried, but it is simpler and faster. Besides, as anyone who keeps starter knows, it is easy to end up with a lot of starter.
The book has many recipes, but the one I use is called Adam’s Bread. It can be used to make either loaves or flatbread, as I show in the video below. The flatbread has become a staple breakfast item (think English muffins) and a preferred bun for hamburgers or sandwiches. The recipe is typed out below, and is available as a pdf for easy printing.
I typically make 3-4 recipes worth of bread on a baking day. One recipe yields 2 loaves or 2 half-sheet pans of flat bread. All of it freezes well. Now that we have fewer children at home, I freeze the loaves in halves. The flatbread gets cut into individual squares. These take about 30 seconds to defrost on high in the microwave, and can then be sliced for toast or sandwiches.
Using up to half wheat flour does not result in any noticeable change in the bread texture for me. I use hard red wheat berries, freshly ground in my over 25 year old Whisper Mill Grain Mill, now sold as GrainMaster WhisperMill. Since the total amount of flour added depends on feel when kneading, there are no exact amounts to give you to accommodate this, but it often takes a bit more whole wheat flour.
It seems to work better to add the wheat flour in the first stages of bread making, as it is easier to knead using white flour. NOTE: I always refresh the starter using white flour.
From start to finish, it take about 7 hours to make sourdough loaves and about 9.5 – 12.5 hours to make sourdough flatbread. Of course, not all of this is time spent working on the bread and I have even gone for a 10 mile run while my sourdough flatbread is rising. The 6 hour rise is quite sufficient for me to obtain excellent flat bread, but I have let it rise 12 hours overnight a couple of times. The longer rise did not seem to give any benefit, but it is nice to have the option.
It works best for me if I get all bowls through the first mix and rest state, then I get the flatbread dough kneaded and rising first. Then I can move on to the dough that will be baked as loaves. The first rest period does not need to be exact. When I am making multiple batches, it is sometimes an hour or so before I get to the final bowl of resting dough. This may end up shortening the long rise time needed, particularly for loaves.
We have occasionally baked our sourdough loaves in our brick oven that my husband built in the backyard. (You can also see our book about it in the right sidebar.) In those cases, the loaves are left to rise on a layer of cornmeal on a wooden pizza peel (this link is to one the size we have, but the size you want would depend on the size of the opening to your brick oven). At the risk of being redundant, these loaves are NOT in any pans and end up the traditional round shape. They are cooked right on the pre-heated firebricks, so a long handled spatula of some sort is needed to remove them from the still very hot brick oven.
Basic Sourdough Bread Recipe
Prepare the basic sourdough recipe:
3 cups of sourdough starter
4 cups of unbleached white flour (optional time to add some portion of whole wheat flour)
2 cups room temperature water
2 teaspoons salt (if using sea salt, you might want to make those slightly rounded, as sea salt is somewhat less concentrated in saltiness.)
Blend with whisk until dry ingredients are completely moist. Let rest 5 minutes. (This does not have to be exact. I have let it rest for a good hour before.)
After resting period, add about 1/2 cup of flour at a time and mix after each addition until the dough forms a semi-sticky ball. The reason for adding the flour a portion at a time is to keep from adding too much before the kneading stage.
Spread a thin, but complete layer of flour on the counter or kneading surface. Put the sticky ball of dough on top of that, then sprinkle a bit of flour on top of it.
Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, adding just enough flour to keep it from sticking to the counter, until the ball is smooth and springs back quickly to a finger indentation. (see above video for demonstration of kneading action.)
Place kneaded dough in a greased bowl, turning it once to have a greased side up to keep it from drying out while rising. Cover with a damp towel.
Loaves – Let rise 3 to 4 hours, until doubled. Meanwhile, grease 2 loaf pans.
Flatbread – Let rise 6-12 hours. (I don’t try to eyeball doubling here as much, going more by time, but it will noticeably rise.) Before it is done, grease 2 half-sheet pans.
Loaves – Lightly sprinkle flour on the countertop as needed. Dump the dough out of the bowl and divide the dough in half, trying to only cut where it will be divided (I use a table knife or the narrow edge of a rubber spatula). Tuck and fold the ends and edges of each half into a loaf shape, trying pinch to seal where necessary to keep holes from developing in the loaf. Place the dough in the pre-greased loaf pan.
Flatbread – Follow the same steps for dividing as with loaves, only place each half on one pre-greased half-sheet pan. Then, gently press the dough so that it evenly fills the pan. Score it into the size pieces you want with a sharp knife. I cut it into a 3 by 4 array, which is a good bun and sandwich size.
Loaves – Let rise in pans about 90 minutes, or until center of uncooked loaf is about one inch taller than the sides of the pan. During the last half hour or so of rising, pre-heat oven to 400°F.
Flatbread – Let rise in the half-sheet pans 2 hours, or until approximately doubled. During last half hour of rising, pre-heat oven to 500°F.
Loaves – Bake for about 45 minutes, or until loaves are done. If they are browned and sound hollow when you knock on the top of them, that is a good sign of being done. Take them out of pans immediately to cool on a cooling rack. The end-crust is really good to eat right away. If you do cut the crust off, you might want to cool the loaf cut-side dough on a wooden cutting board.
Flatbread – Bake for 12 – 14 minutes. I find they cook more evenly if I rotate the pans halfway through the baking time. The flatbread cools fine in the pan on a cooling rack, but can also be removed to get a crustier lower crust.
Cool all bread thoroughly before putting in plastic to store on the counter. How long it will keep at room temperature will depend on your climate. Both the loaves and the flatbread pieces store well in the freezer for several weeks in sealed plastic bags or containers.
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments and I’ll see if I can help!