Sourdough bread is bread baked with wild yeast (Lactobacillus) catched and grown within a sourdough starter. Sourdough bread is healthier and have a more sour and rich taste than bread baked with bakers yeast (how to make your own sourdough starter).
350g water (it doesn't matter if it is cold from the fridge or living room warm)
500g bread flour (code 812 if german). Do not experiment with other flour types if you are a sourdough beginner.
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
Pour the 350g water into a bowl.
Drop the 50g sourdough starter into the water (the sourdough should float on top of the water as per the Float test).
Mix in flour and salt just so that all the flour is wet, but don't stir too much as we want to avoid gluten development.
Bulk ferment for 4-6 hours at room temperature 22-27 C (I actually do it 7 hours, but 4-6 is the common advice to avoid overproofing)
Autolyse for 1 hour - put a wet dish towel over the bowl and keep in room temperature for 1 hour to break the flour starch down to easy edible sugars for the yeast.
Start Fold & Stretch (FS) to develop the gluten - do FS 3-5 times with about half to one hour between each FS.
Let the dough rest until bulk fermenting is finished.
Take the dough out of the bowl (if you make a bigger dough, here you divide the dough into final sizes but in our case there will be only 1 loaf) and smear it with rice flour and do the Final shape creating some surface tension - to
Put the dough in a rice flour dusted container either a banneton or another bowl and set it in the fridge over night or around 12 hours (8 hours minimum at 5 degrees celcius) to develop the taste further. The longer the fridge time (called retarding), the more sour and complex the taste.
You can use the Poke test to gauge if the dough is ready to go in the oven, but there is no need to go into this too much - if you have had the dough in the fridge for 12 hours, it is likely not too far off.
Turn on the oven to 220 C (428 F).
The sourdough loaf MUST be baked in a steamed environment to help oven spring and therefore better crumb as well as to create a tastier more beautiful and crispier crust. Therefore we will bake the loaf inside a closed container that can retain the water released from the dough as it heats. Preferably you have a Dutch oven but if not then just use a standard pot. Whether a dutch oven or a pot, line up your oven container with baking paper - that will make it more easy to take the bread out of the oven container and also help protecting the bottom of the bread from darkening too much.
Transfer your dough from the fridge container (banneton or bowl) to your baking paper lined oven container (dutch oven or pot). Set the lid on the oven container so the dough is sealed in (if you use a pot and don't have a metal only lid, then take a smaller oven tray and put on top of the pot).
Score your bread - to control steam outlet avoiding surface ruptures. To create an 'Ear' slice you dough across 0.6 cm (1/4 inch) deep with a shallow 30 degrees angle.
Place the oven container with your loaf in the oven and bake for 50 - 60 minutes or until you start to get a weak golden color on the top. (If you bake without a lid (bad) and uses a custom steaming method, eg. icecubes in a lower tray, be sure to turn off any fan in the oven to avoid dispersing of steam).
Remove the loaf from the oven container and place it on top of a baking paper directly on a tray. Put baking paper on top of the bread and then bake again until the whole of the bread is golden about 20-30 minutes still at 200 C - this last step is to get a good crust on the whole of the bread instead of only at the top and the baking paper below and on top of the loaf is to protect bottom and top from darkening too much.
Then the loaf have the desired color take it out of the oven and plase it on a tray for at least 2 hours in room temperature to finish crumb setup before cutting.
Sourdough Bread Variations
While the standard sourdough bread above is very tasty and good looking, then you start to master getting it right everytime, you will soon be interested in playing around with variations.
I can think of 7 types of variations :
Flour combinations :
Infusements : like raisins, dates, walnuts, sweet potato, beetroot, chocolate etc.
To decrease the crumb size, you can :
Decrease the hydration
Overproof a little
Add a little oil : it will tighten up the crump and add tenderness.
To make the bread more sour, you can :
Stir in any hooze you may have in your starter
Stir well then feeding your starter to add more oxygen, which will encourage the bacteria creating the sour taste.
Decrease hydration of your starter
Feed starter less often, eg. instead of twice a day feed only once a day (retarded feeding does not count, eg. once a week in the refrigerator is not less often)
Add some whole wheat to your feeding, eg. 10g whole wheat, 10g rye & 30g all-purpose.
Retard longer, eg. instead of 12 hours, you can retard a day longer : 36 hours.
Bake longer at a lower temperature, eg. I have had success with 160C even 140C (+4 hours bake).
Sourdough Bread Eating
When come time to eat - my favourite sourdough toppings are :
just butter : if you have a good butter, eg. homemade butter or danish lurpak, a butter only sourdough slice is very satisfying and should be the first topping to go for.
pepperoni : impossible to control the mouth water then thinking of the sharp taste of pepperoni together with the sour filling of sourdough bread.
brown cheese : a Norwegian 'cheese' not wellknown outside of scandinavia (Norwegian : brunost, Danish : myseost, Swedish : mesost, Finnish : mesjuusto) made on goat milk, whey and cream with a caramelish taste - the combination of sourdough bread and brown cheese will take your tastebuds to another dimension there so far only matematics have been able to take humans but now we can actual experience it : multidimensions are real!
Appendix : Sourdough Concepts & Acronyms
Autolyse : the process of hydrating the flour without developing the gluten (invented by frech scientiest and bread expert Prof. Raymond Calvel in 1974). Blending the flour with most of the water beforehand 10 minutes up to 5 hours - white fine flour short time while coarser flour and flour with bran longer time (I typically do 1 hour for unbleashed bread wheat of 70% hydration). As the flour hydrates, two enzymes within the flour, amylase & protease, will be activated :
Amylase will begin to break down the flour's starches into simpler sugars (glucose, sucrose and maltose). These simple sugars are easily eaten by the yeast. Then yeast eat sugar they produce carbon dioxide (that's called the respiration process).
Protease will begin to break down the proteins within the flour making it more stretchable helping us in the stretch & fold process (see below) and helping the dough to keep it's shape. If working with bread of higher hydrations, we can take advantage of the protease effect by increasing the autolyse time to assist the very wet dough to keep it's shape better.
Fermentation will proceed in a slower pace allowing for better flavor development and longer keeping.
Note that if adding the sourdough starter and maybe even the salt (which I do), it is not actually called autolyse anymore but a pre-fermentation instead.
Note that rye flour should NOT be autolysed as it ferments quicker and develop gluten in a different way from wheat.
Bread shapes : actually there are a huge amount of recognized bread shapes but let's list the most common sourdough basic bread shapes :
Boule : round (boule is French for round or ball)
Batard : oval (batard is Frensh for oval)
Baguette : long (baguette is French for stick or 'little rod') rounded stick up to 60 cm (2 feet) in length.
Dutch oven (DO) : A dutch oven is creating a moisture-sealed champer avoiding the steam released from the dough (then heated up and the water therefore steaming out) to escape. The steam keeps the dough moist, which have 5 benefits
The crust will be more crispy - starch molecules on the exterior of the dough will absorb moisture, starting to swell and eventually pop to form a thin liquid layer (called starch gel), which then finally bakes hard as a thin, shiny and crispy exterior.
The crust will more deep and bigger spectrum of colors - the cooler temperature of the surface allows enzyme fermenting activity for longer time creating sugars which add the the crust coloring.
The crust will be more shiny.
The bread will be bigger or rather fully developed - if there are no steam in the beginning of the baking (which is there the spring occurs), the crust will harden quickly and limit the spring and therefore the overall volume of the finished bread with a denser crumb.
The steam cools down the surface of the bread, which allows the crumb to bake finish before the crust burns.
Fermentation : the creation of organic acids and carbon dioxide by the yeast. The carbon dioxide is the result of yeast aerob respiration and will give the bread volume and lightness as the carbon dioxide get's trapped in the gluten and thereby expanding the gluten. Long fermentation results in longer keeping time.
Pre-fermentation : mix of flour, water AND sourdough starter without kneading or SF. Prefermentation can be done INSTEAD of or after an autolyse. There are theoritcal differences in results between autolyse and pre-fermentation (eg. salt will tighten the gluten which is inconsistent with the purpose of elasticising the gluten under autolyse), but for home bakers I think difference in results are insignificant. If you choose to start with a real autolyse instead of a pre-fermentation, hold a little of the water back to create a slurry of the sourdough starter & salt then ready to incorporate start & salt into the dough as it can otherwise be difficult to incorporate.
Bulk fermentation : alternatively called first rise or primary fermentation begins then mixing ends and ends then preshaping or dividing starts. The name bulk fermentation comes from the fact that the bread is fermenting in one large single mass, that is : a bulk. Typically bulk fermentation last 3-5 hours at room temperature (Desired Dough Temperature, DDT, is 24-25.5C or 75-78F. If your temperature is less, you should ferment longer. If your temperature is higher you should ferment less).
Proofing or Proving : final rest & rise taking place after the final shaping and before baking. The internal dough processes under bulk fermentation and proofing are the same.
Retarding : refers to slowing down yeast proofing typically by letting the proofing happen in the refrigerator. The cold environment slows yeast growth but not bacteria growth thereby allowing more sugar to be digested by bacteria. Most often retarding is overnight, that is 9-12 hours, however some doughs can be retarded for up to 2 days. Note that salt is in itself a retarder. Whole grain & rye does NOT render itself well to retarding because they are more sensitive to the acids produced qua their weaker gluten. The benefits of retarding are :
More complex taste because retarding allows the bacteria to thrive thereby creating a more diverse mix of alcohols.
More convenient as the bread can be taken out of the fridge then you are ready.
Control of sourness as the shorter the retarding the more mellow the sourness.
Float test : to test if your leaven is ready, you can take a little of it and drop it in water - if it floats, it is ready, if it does not float, it is not ready. I am not sure how precise this test is, what I do myself is that I use the leaven just before I think it will reach it's max and that also always turns out that it will float then I put it into the water.
Hydration : a 'bakers' percentage specifying how much water to flour, eg. if the flour is 1kg and the water is 700g, then the hydration is 70%. If the flour is 1kg and the water is 1kg, then the hydration is 100%.
Leaven : (in French Levain) the sourdough starter you directly use in bread, eg. if you have a "mother" starter in the fridge and you take say 50g from it and add flour & water to that 50g with the intention to use that mix as the actual starter for a new bake - then that mix is called the leaven. The part of your starter that is NOT going into a bread this time is often called the mother starter. (Note that there is no real concensus nor any authority on the precise meaning and words to use for different preferments, however the above definition is used by many).
Oven spring : the loaf rise happening inside the oven typically the first 20 minutes. The faster the heat can penetrate the bread the better the spring (that's why many people like to preheat their DO). A steamed environment while mostly for developing better crust will also help facilitate the oven spring by postponing hardening of the crust thereby giving the load a longer time in which it can potentially grow.
Poke test : poking the loaf with your finger and based on how the loaf responds to the poking estimate whether the loaf is ready to be put in the oven.
Scoring : slicing your bread (just before it goes into the oven) with a sharp blade (typically a barbers blade or a very sharp knife - oftentimes called a lame, which is french for blade) to control how steam created within the bread (from heated water and from gas by the yeast) is let out during oven spring. If you don't score, your bread may rupture on several weak places or in a single blowout as the steam forces itself out (though I once forgot to score and did not have any such ruptures nor any blowout). It is easier to score if the blade is wet. While the purpose is to control the steam outlet, many people like to use scoring to create decorative patterns, here are some popular ones :
Ear : blade cut at a shallow 30 degrees angle to the loaf surface 0.6 cm (1/4 inch) deep.
Stretch & Fold (SF) : stretching the dough and then fold it. Stretching helps strengthening the gluten network and to even the temperature all over the dough (no high or low pockets of temperature especially at the top & bottom). We start stretch & fold after the autolyse and then one SF session every half to one hour 3 to 5 times and then let the dough alone for the rest of the bulk fermentation. Stretch & Fold (SF) one session :
With the dough bowl in front of you grab with 2 hands under the farthest half of the dough and lift up that half and then fold down inwards before the dough starts to tear (if it tears we destroy the gluten network).
Turn the bowl 180 degrees and again lift up the farthest half of the dough and fold it down towards you.
Turn the bowl 90 degrees and do another stretch & fold
Turn the bowl 180 degrees and to the last stretch & fold
SF is superior to kneading because kneading oxidizes the dough, which inhibits development of flavor and color.
Note that another gluten stretching technique called Coil Fold, where you lift from the middle and fold the edges unders, have become popular. Video on how to do coil fold.
Appendix : Sourdough bread pictures to die for
These are not my own sourdough breads, but instead pictures I have copied from a Sourdough Facebook group I am member of.
Chocolate Cherry Sourdough Rye Loaf
250g whole grain rye flour
250g bread flour
50 gram cacao powder (or cocoa powder)
50 grams coconut sugar
130g dark chocolate chips/chunks
125g dried cherries
110g active sourdough starter
Combine flours, salt, cacao/cocoa, sugar, chocolate and cherries and mix well.
Mix water and starter together to combine.
Add wet mixture to flours and mix well until all flour is incorporated.
Cover and bulk ferment for 4-6 hours at room temperature.
On a lightly floured surface, turn over dough and gently shape into a boule. Place in a parchment lined bowl and cover to proof another 1-2 hours.
While doing the second proof, preheat your oven and DO to 500 F.
After second proof, score dough, lift parchment and transfer dough to DO. Bake covered for 20 minutes and then uncovered at 425 for another 25 minutes.
*Note: Next time I would add in stretch and folds and then add in the chocolate and cherries.