Sourdough Bread: A Beginner's Guide
14 hourstotal time
150g/ 5.35 oz bubbly, active sourdough starter
250g/ 8.80 oz warm water, preferably filtered*
25g/ .90 oz olive oil
500g/ 17.65 oz bread flour (not all purpose flour)
10g/ .4 oz fine sea salt
fine ground cornmeal, for dusting
Make the Dough
Whisk the starter, water, and olive oil in a large bowl. Add the flour and salt. Squish everything together with your hands until all of the flour is absorbed. The dough will be dry and shaggy. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, reusable wrap or a clean, very damp kitchen towel. Let rest (autolyse) for 30 minutes or up to 1 hour, if preferred.
After the dough has rested, work the dough in the bowl into a rough ball, about 15 seconds.
Now the dough needs to rise.
Cover the bowl with wrap or a very damp kitchen cloth. Let rest in a warm spot to rise. The dough is ready when it no longer looks dense and has doubled in size. This can take anywhere from 3-12 hours depending on the temperature of your ingredients, the potency of your starter and surrounding environment. For example, in the summer rise times can take anywhere between 2-4 hours @ 85º F/ 29º C whereas in the winter, the dough will take about 10-12 hours @ 68º F/ 20º C.
Optional Step: Stretch & Fold the Dough
During bulk rise, you have the option to perform a series of ‘stretch & folds’ to strengthen the dough. Start 30 minutes into the bulk rise. Gather a portion of the dough, stretch it upwards and then fold it over itself. Rotate the bowl ¼ turn and repeat this process until you have come full circle to complete 1 set. Do this once or twice spaced about an hour apart. Although this step is not mandatory, it will increase the total volume and height of your bread. Click here for a step-by-step video tutorial.
Cut & Shape the Dough
Divide your work surface in half; lightly flour one side (for cutting) and leave the other half clean (for shaping).
Remove the dough from the bowl, and place onto the floured section so that it does not stick. You do not need to ‘punch down’ the dough; it will gently deflate as you fold and shape it.
Cut the dough in half to make 2 loaves, or leave it whole for a single loaf.
To shape, use a bench scraper to move your dough to the non-floured section (if there is any flour present, it will be difficult to shape- brush away any excess). Starting at the top, fold the dough over toward the center. Give it a slight turn, and then fold over the next section of dough. Repeat until you have come full circle.
Then flip the dough over and place it seam side down. Using your hands, gently cup the sides of the dough and rotate it, using quarter turns in a circular motion. You can also pull it towards you to even out the shape. Repeat this process until you are happy with its appearance. *See note below.
Now the dough needs to rise again, but for a shorter period of time.
Coat the bottom of your Dutch oven with cornmeal. Alternatively, use parchment paper to prevent sticking (this is what I do, now). Place the dough inside for a second shorter rise, about 30 minutes to 1 hour and cover with the lid of the pot or a very damp cloth. The dough ready when it is slightly puffy but not double in size.
Preheat your oven to 450º F/ 232º C towards the tail end of the second rise.
Score the Dough
Right before your bread goes into the oven, make a shallow slash about 2-3 inches long (or more) in the center of the dough. Use a bread lame, sharp pairing or a small serrated steak knife. The cut should be about 1/4-inch deep.
Bake the Dough
Place the bread into the oven on the center rack (lid on) and reduce the temperature to 400° F/ 204° C. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the lid, and continue to bake (uncovered) for an additional 40 minutes or until deep, golden brown. Keep in mind that all ovens are different; you might have to make minimal adjustments to these temperatures.
You can also take the internal temperature of your bread to double check that it is done. For sourdough, it should read about 205-210º F/ 96-98º C.
Remove the bread from the oven, and cool on a wire rack for at least an hour before slicing. Don’t cut too soon or else the inside will have a gummy texture!
14 hourstotal time