When I figured out that I can eat sourdough bread, I knew right away that I wanted to make my own. First, I want to control the quality of the bread I eat. If the grains aren’t actually fermented in the longer sourdough-making process, then it’s pretty likely that I’ll feel sick after eating the bread. To prevent that from happening, making my own sourdough seemed like a great option. But I also love the cyclical nature of sourdough making. I brew my own kombucha, a process that I’ll share on Scout & Wiles eventually, and there’s something really attractive to me about establishing a weekly rhythm in making sourdough and kombucha. It’s very grounding, and I appreciate making the same thing often and moving toward perfecting the process.
So settle in with a cup of coffee, and maybe a notepad, because this is going to be a long post. Making sourdough is pretty much a 24-hour process, and you will need to start it the night before you actually want to bake. My recipe is based off of Michael Pollan’s recipe from his book Cooked, which is a great resource. It makes two loaves of sourdough bread. I’ve tried to lay out each step as clearly as possible and to include what I’ve learned while making my own sourdough. The heading of each step also includes how much time that step will take. Please share in the comments if you have any questions!
- Kitchen scale – Most bread recipes give measurements by weight, so this can be a really helpful tool. I have this one. It’s inexpensive and small, and it gets the job done.
- 2 large glass or plastic bowls
- Wooden spoon
- Plastic wrap or a plate that will fit over one of your bowls
- 2 kitchen towels, preferably linen
- Bowl scraper
- 2 bread baking pans – I bake using bread pans because we mostly use our bread for sandwiches, and I like the shape better. You can also bake your bread in a dutch oven, which keeps the crust moist while the loaf is setting. Using a dutch oven will create a round loaf of bread.
- Lame or double-sided razor blade
- Optional: 2 banneton baskets – These are for proofing the dough and are recommended by some bakers, but they are an additional investment. I proof my dough in the two bowls listed above and have felt satisfied with the outcome.
For the Leaven:
- 100 g stone-ground whole wheat flour
- 100 g white flour
- 200 g warm water
- 2 tbsp sourdough starter
For the Bread:
- 600 g stone-ground whole wheat flour
- 250 g white flour
- 150 g rye flour
- 900 g warm water
- 25 g fine sea salt
- Additional white flour for dusting
- Optional: 1 ½ tsp yeast, mixed with 50 g warm water
The night before baking:
Make the leaven – Overnight
Thoroughly mix the whole wheat and white flours, warm water, and sourdough starter in one of your glass or plastic bowls. Cover with a towel and leave out overnight.
Soak the grains – Overnight
Thoroughly combine the whole wheat, white, and rye flours with 850 g of the warm water in your other bowl. Mix until there is no dry flour left, using your hands if necessary. Cover with plastic wrap or a glass plate that fits over the top of the bowl to trap the moisture leave out overnight.
The next morning:
Test the leaven – 5 minutes
In the morning, test the leaven by dropping a tablespoon of it into a glass of warm water. If it floats, you are good to know. If not, that’s okay – this is where the yeast will come in. Divide your leaven in half. Set one half aside; this will become your new starter (do not mix any yeast into this half of the leaven). Mix the yeast with 50 g of warm water and let sit for five minutes. Then, mix it into the remaining half of the leaven.
Bulk ferment and turn the dough – 4-5 hours
Mix your remaining leaven into the grains that you set out to soak overnight. Let the dough rest for about twenty minutes. Mix the remaining 50 g of warm water with the salt. After 20 minutes, mix the salt water in with the dough.
Plan on sticking close to home for the next 4 to 5 hours. Every 45 to 60 minutes, you will turn the dough. Wet one of your hands. Reach into the bowl and stretch the dough up before folding it over itself. Give the bowl a quarter turn with your other hand. Repeat this process either 4 or 8 times each time that you turn the dough. Turning the dough creates air bubbles in the dough, which makes the sourdough bread more flavorful. You’ll be able to tell that it’s ready for the next step by using a sharp knife to slice into the dough. You should be able to see air bubbles in the dough when you do this.
Divide and shape the dough – 25 minutes
After turning the dough over a period of 4 to 5 hours, dust your work surface with flour, and place your dough on it. Use your bowl scraper to divide the dough in half. Then, use your hands to create two round shapes out of the dough. Sprinkle them with flour, cover them with a towel, and allow them to sit like this for 20 minutes.
To shape the dough, flip one of the halves over onto its back using your dough scraper. Imagine that your sourdough has four sides, although it is technically round. Alternating between the sides, pull each one of them up and towards the middle of the top of the ball of dough. This step tightens the outside of the dough, which will help create the sourdough crust. Do this several times, and then use the scraper to flip the dough over so that those little seams that you just created are on the bottom. Use your hands to push the dough away from you, then use your scraper to pick it up and bring it back toward you. Push the dough away from you several time to seal the crust and help the dough keep its shape. Repeat the dough shaping steps with the other half of your dough.
I’m going to include a video here because I think that shaping the dough is one of the most difficult parts of sourdough making to describe in writing. Also, this woman loves sourdough so much, and watching this video always puts me in a good mood. Enjoy!
Proof the dough – 2-3 hours
Sprinkle two bowls with flour. Place each of your dough rounds into their own bowl, top side down. Cover the bowls with towels, and let the dough rest for 2 to 3 hours. This is the second part of the fermentation process. During this time, it should puff back up.
Baking the bread – 45 minutes
You made it! Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Sprinkle your bread pans with flour, and drop your proofed dough into them. Use your lame or razor blade to score the top of the dough. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy; I usually score my dough once horizontally and once vertically. Place the bread pans together on the top shelf of your oven. Bake for 45 minutes.
After 45 minutes, check on your loaves of bread. They should be a dark brown color with a little bit of blackening around where they were scored. If they are lighter than this, bake for a few more minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few hours. Store in a paper or linen bag.
I hope you enjoy the process of baking your own sourdough bread! Let me know how it goes in the comments below, and don’t hesitate to respond with any questions you have!