This is a blog post I’ve been meaning to do for a long, long time, but I’ve been reluctant to type it for a few reasons. A big one is my own time. I want to make sure that I’m getting all the information I can think of to you so that you’ll better understand sourdough and be able to make a beautiful loaf. I’m sure I’ll be occasionally adding to this post as I think of new things so make sure to check back often and follow me on Instagram where I’ll mention updates.
Sourdough isn’t difficult to make, but it is fickle and does require commitment and bread dough experience. All of my recipes so far are designed for success, but sourdough can be temperamental based on many factors. Other breads you can make from start to finish in a few hours, whereas a true sourdough takes days. You don’t necessarily need special equipment, but there are some bread items that do make the process easier. Also, you need a starter. We’ll talk about that too.
Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t want to turn you away from the ancient art of wild yeast bread making. It is, after all, the original leavened bread. It’s just not a dough that you can jump into and expect perfect results on the first try. I’ve been making it for years, and I still have loaves that fail. There’s a lot of information in books and blogs out there. Remember, this is the original bread and people have been making it for thousands of years. It’s easy to overthink it and be overwhelmed. So, I’ll try to keep it simple and break it down into my own strategies and what I’ve learned.
What is sourdough and sourdough yeast?
Sourdough is made using wild yeast strains. There is yeast everywhere, because it’s in the air. When you buy flour it has yeast in it. When you mix the dough and knead it with your hands you’re getting the yeast that’s on your skin into the dough mix. When you let the dough rest more yeast settles on the top of it. Every city, and really even sections of cities, will have different yeast strains that produce different results. This is the reason that “San Francisco Sourdough” is the industry standard. They have a unique wild yeast strain there that produces a distinct flavor. It’s even named by species: Lactobacillus Sanfranciscensis. This is truly the beauty of soughdough. The bread from your kitchen will be as delicious and unique as you!
Wild yeast is fragile and not the same as what you sprinkle out of yeast packets. Wild yeast needs coddling and extra care in order to propagate and thrive. When you dump that packet of yeast into your dough mix you’re not worried about the water you’re using or temperatures of things or even the time for a proper rise.
Honestly, the best way to make a sourdough starter is to get some from someone. A new sourdough starter generally doesn’t have as much flavor and strength as one that someone’s kept going for years. Reach out on social media and ask if someone has a starter they could share. It’s really no work to give someone a little starter. I do it often. You can also order powdered sourdough starter online to get one going. Don’t use instant dry yeast as a sourdough starter. It’s not the same strain and you’ll get an overly proofed starter. However, if you can’t find someone with a starter or you simply want to make your own here are a few websites with good, simple instructions.
- King Arthur Flour – sourdough starter
- The Kitchn – sourdough basics
- NYT Cooking – adapted from Peter Reinhart recipe
- Use a high quality bread flour. Bread flour has a high protein content which equates to more gluten which means good chew to your crust and crumb and a higher success rate for a rise. I’ve been using King Arthur Flour bread flour for years. I’ve tried over brands and I haven’t liked the results as much.
- Water should be distilled and at room temperature. (This part is so important that I mention it twice). Sourdough is like a newborn baby and you don’t give babies tap water. You can get a gallon of distilled water for under a dollar, and it will make roughly four batches of sourdough.
- Weigh your ingredients. You can use cups to measure but you’ll get consistent results by using a scale. Flour varies for many reasons like humidity and how packed down it is. Weighing gives you the best results.
- White rice flour will be your best friend. It’s like teflon for a wet dough. When you store your dough in the fridge it’s almost guaranteed to stick to whatever container you put it in unless you use insane amounts of flour. Wheat flour dough won’t stick to rice flour and you’ll be able to plop your dough out of it’s banneton, or bowl, with ease. Trust me on this. I’ve had some epic fails before learning this trick.
How to not kill your sourdough starter
- Use distilled water always. Tap water has chemicals in it that can slow the yeast, make it funky, or kill it entirely. Seriously. Use distilled water.
- Industrially packed yeast starts to die out at 120 F and will be dead dead by 140 F. For comparison, most moderately hot showers are around 110 F and the hot water coming from your water heater is probably around 140 F. So, make sure that nothing is hot.
- Yeast loves warm. 70-80 F is optimal for a good rise and active yeast. However, cold won’t kill it. Refrigeration, aka to retard, slows yeast metabolization which basically means it’ll eat slower.
- Ensure everything is clean and thoroughly rinsed. Let your equipment air dry for best results.
- Use plastic, glass, or ceramic containers for the rising (AKA proofing) time. Metal reacts with the yeast and can kill it.
How to get a good rise
- Give it time. Lots of time. Like a lot of time. A truly good sourdough takes days of rising both on the counter and in the fridge.
- Use an enamel lined dutch oven to bake it. This is the key to homemade sourdough. The dutch oven traps steam inside which gives your dough time to spring up before the crust bakes hard. Baking on a sheet hardens the outside faster than the inside can warm up and rise.
- Be gentle when handling your dough. The less you bread down the air pockets in your dough the better rise you’ll have which makes for an airy and pocked crumb (the inside of bread).
Tools to use
Remember that sourdough is an ancient bread. People have been making it for thousands of years, and they didn’t have any fancy tools. They had some flour they ground up using rocks, water they found, and a fire. If they can make it, so can you. However, there are some 21st century tools that will give you a higher success rate and generally make your life easier.
- Kitchen scale to weight ingredients for precision
- Bench scraper
- 8 quart clear food bin
- Banneton (bread basked made for proofing)
- Digital food thermometer
- 6 quart enamel lined cast iron dutch oven
- Parchment paper
Watch this 2 min video of the entire process in time lapse before jumping into the recipe. I’ll give you a better idea of the stages and steps.
No Knead Beginners Sourdough Bread Recipe
Ingredients (see below for cups measurements)
- 750 grams bread flour (King Arthur Flour)
- 100 grams whole wheat flour (Montana Wheat Prairie Gold)
- 50 grams rye flour (King Arthur Flour)
- 675 grams distilled, room temperature water
- 18 grams kosher salt
- 250 grams sourdough starter
- The night before you are going to start making your dough add 1 cup distilled water, 1/2 cup all purpose flour, 1/4 cup rye flour to your starter. Mix well using a wooden spoon, close your container, and let it get all bubbly. (Alternatively you could build a Levain which is basically another sourdough starter.)
- The morning of your dough creation, around 8 am: Using the 8 quarter food storage bin, mix together the flours with the salt then add the water then the starter. Using a clean hand or a wooden spoon mix dough together into what will look dry and shaggy. Scrape dough off hand/spoon and into the bin. Close up the bin and let it sit on the counter for one hour. (It’s going to look dry and not like dough yet)
- Standing by your kitchen faucet (you could also use a bowl full of distilled water) wet your dominant hand and use your wet hand to turn the dough and press it into itself. This builds gluten while also hydrating the dough. Flip, turn, and press down for about a minute. Close the bin and let it rest for one hour. (It’s still going to look somewhat dry)
- Repeat step 3. Let dough rest an hour.
- Repeat step 3 again. This should be around noon. You should be able to pull the very elastic dough up and it should look hydrated.
- Turn and flip the dough so that the top side up is the smooth portion and not where you’ve been pressing it into itself.
- Let dough rest in it’s covered container on the counter and rise for 4 hours. This is the initial long rise to let the yeast start working. It’s called bulk fermentation.
- At this point you have a choice. You can put your bin in the refrigerator to continue to rise until the next day OR you can shape it and put it into the prepared bannetons. Letting your dough rise in the fridge overnight gives it even more flavor and it lets you start the shaping process the following day if you’re limited on time. For the sake of this recipe I am going to start shaping it after this 4 hour proofing.
- Sprinkle all purpose flour into your banneton and using your hand spread it out and pack it into the cracks. Sprinkle a little more on the bottom. Being careful not to spill on your work surface, dust the inside of the banneton with roughly 1 tbl of white rice flour. Make sure to get the center of the basket the most, because that’s where the wet dough will stick the most.
- Sprinkle a moderate amount of all purpose flour onto your work surface. Dump dough onto the flour, and sprinkle some on the top. Using a knife or bench scraper, divide the dough in half.
- To shape, stretch the dough lightly into a rectangle then fold as a trifold, lightly stretch the opposite direction and do another trifold. Flip the dough over so that the top is the smooth portion. Wipe most of the flour off of an area of your work station. Using floured hands, rock the dough in circular motion while pulling it towards you. The goal is to create a tension on the top of the dough. Be gentle to not break too much of the air pockets and to not tear the top surface.
- Gently pick up dough and place it onto a floured surface. Let rest uncovered for 20 minutes while you prepare the other dough for shaping.
- Using floured hands, carefully pick up the dough, and turn it into the prepared banneton so that the smooth, top surface is in the basket.
- Sprinkle a little white rice flour on the dough and into the gap, along the sides of the baseket/dough.
- Place the basket/dough into a plastic bag (I’ve always just used grocery bags), twist the end to seal it, and use a clothes pin or chip clip to hold the end closed. I puff the bag up a little before sealing it so that the bag doesn’t rest on top of the dough and stick.
- Put baskets/dough into the refrigerator for an overnight rise.
- You can bake your dough either the next day or two days after placing the dough in the refrigerator. I prefer a two day proofing for the best flavor. The entire baking process will take roughly 4 hours so plan accordingly.
- Place your enamel lined cast iron dutch oven on the middle rack of your oven with its lid on. Preheat the oven to 500F. While your oven is preheating remove one of the baskets/dough from the refrigerator. Leave it covered and on the counter for the hour of oven preheating.
- Take basket/dough of it’s bag. Place a large square of parchment paper on top of the dough and then a sturdy cutting board on top of the parchment paper. Carefully flip the board and basket at the same time. Using both hands slowly pull the basket straight up to release the dough.
- Using a very sharp knife or a razor blade (you could buy a lame but I prefer to go old school and just use a straight razor blade because they are cheap) and score the top of your dough. This part takes practice and single movements. You don’t want to saw into your dough. You want to cut down about 1/8″ to break open the tough outer layer so that your dough will be able to expand as it cooks. You really only need to make an X on the top but you can get more fancy with practice.
- Remove dutch oven from the oven. Take the lid off and set aside. (Remember this oven and lid are 500F) Gently pick the dough up by using the parchment paper and place the dough into the preheated dutch oven. Put the lid on and place the dutch oven back into the oven. The dough will deflate some at this step but it will spring back up into a nice round loaf while it bakes.
- Turn heat down to 475F. Bake for 20 minutes.
- Remove the other basket/dough from the refrigerator at this time. Keeping it in the bag still.
- Turn heat down to 450F. Remove the lid of the dutch oven but keep it in the oven still. Bake for 30 minutes. Your sourdough should be golden brown. You can check doneness by inserting a thermometer into the bread, and if it reads 200F your bread is baked!
- Transfer bread to a wire rack to cool.
- Put the lid back on the dutch oven and reheat the oven to 500 F. Should take roughly 30 minutes.
- Repeat the baking process for the second loaf of bread.
- And that’s it! You made sourdough!!!
Sourdough takes practice and experience. Each loaf you’ll feel more comfortable mixing, shaping, and baking. Your first few bakes might not be what you envisioned, but everyone has to start somewhere. Practice. Try often. Enjoy beautiful and delicious food.
U.S. Cups Measurements
The reason you should weight your ingredients is because flour can be dramatically different based on a variety of factors. Do you scoop your measuring cup into flour or do you use a spoon to sprinkle the flour into your measuring cup? How old is your flour? How humid is your kitchen? All of these affect your measurements. Weighing means precise results every time and no guesswork.
- 6 1/4 cups bread flour (King Arthur Flour)
- Scant 1 cup whole wheat flour (Montana Wheat Prairie Gold)
- 1/2 cup rye flour (King Arthur Flour)
- 2 3/4 + 2 tablespoons distilled, room temperature water
- Scant 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- Roughly 1 1/2 cups sourdough starter