This recipe is for a basic sourdough loaf using a combination of plain wheat flour and a little wholemeal and rye flour. While this recipe is using predominantly refined flour, it can be a very useful first step when making sourdough for the first time. Once you have mastered this recipe, you will begin to feel more confident with tweaking it to include more whole grain flours, which are a little trickier to work with. If possible, choose an organic, unbleached plain flour, to prevent the likelihood of pesticide residue on the wheat.
This recipe has been adapted from an iconic sourdough book, called “Tartine Bread”. Many sourdough recipes/videos online have originated from this recipe and it is a fantastic place to start your sourdough baking journey.
While each step of sourdough making is quite simple, it can be a little overwhelming to begin with, due to the number of steps involved. It is quite different to classic bread baking. However, I have broken the recipe down into 6 steps, to assist with understanding. Shaping the dough is the part that takes a little practice. I have included some videos to help with this.
Sourdough performs best when the ambient room temperature is about 75-82 degrees. This is the same for the temperature of filtered water you are using. If your house is much cooler than this, consider a temperature controlled proofing box for best results.
Makes: 2 large loaves
FAQ: How do I know my dough is ready to shape? - The dough will transform from a dense, heavy ball to soft and aerated - Surface of the dough is smooth (rather than ragged) - Dough will release easily from the sides of the bowl when turning - The ridges left by the turn will hold their shape for a few minutes - 20-30% increase in volume - Air bubbles along the side of the container
- 1 tablespoon sourdough starter (see recipe for “Sourdough Starter”)
- 200g room temperature filtered water
- 100g unbleached white bakers flour
- 100g wholemeal bakers flour
- 700g + 50g room temperature filtered water
- 800g unbleached white bakers flour
- 100g wholemeal bakers flour
- 100g rye flour
- 20g fine sea salt
- STEP 1: Make the levain (8-12 hours ahead) -- Combine the ingredients for the levain in a medium bowl and mix well. Cover and let sit for 8-12 hours. To test if it is ready, drop 1 tablespoon of levain into a large glass of room temperature filtered water. If it is ready, it will float at the top, if it sinks, let it sit for another hour and test again.
- STEPS 2-4: Mix the bread dough and let rest (allow about 40 minutes to 1 hour) -- For the bread dough, place 700g filtered water in a large bowl. Add the levain and mix with your hands to disperse the levain evenly through the filtered water.
- Add the flours, with your hands, mix the dough into a ragged mass, rubbing the newly formed dough against the side of the bowl to pick up any stray bits of dry flour. Continue to mix until all the dry lumps are integrated into the dough, about 3-4 minutes. The dough will be quite sticky. Cover the bowl and let sit for 30-40 minutes.
- Sprinkle the salt over the dough along with the last 50g of filtered water. Incorporate into the dough by squeezing it between your fingers. Form the dough into a rough ball by folding the sides on top of itself. Transfer, seam side down, to a large clean bowl. Glass is great, so you can observe the fermentation process through the sides. Cover with a clean tea towel.
- STEPS 5-6: Bulk fermentation (3-4 hours) -- The dough will now go through “bulk fermentation” for 3-4 hours and will have to be regularly “turned”. No kneading is required. After the first 30 minutes of fermentation, dip one hand into some filtered water to prevent it from sticking, grab the bottom of the dough on one side, stretch it up and fold it back over the ball of dough. Repeat with all sides. Watch this video if you are unsure.
- Repeat the turning of the dough every 30-40 minutes throughout the bulk fermentation, after the first 2 hours, turn the dough more gently to prevent deflating the dough. See below for “How do I know if my dough is ready to shape?”.
- STEPS 7-11: Shape the loaf (30-40 minutes) -- Using a large spatula (a dough spatula is great for this), carefully pull the dough onto the bench top (no need for flour). You want to come around the sides of the dough to release it from the bowl, so you don’t deflate the loaf.
- Lightly flour the surface of the dough with plain flour. Using a bench knife, or large sharp knife, cut the dough into two equal portions. The recipe makes 2 loaves of bread.
- Flip each loaf so that the floured side rests on the bench. Working on one loaf at a time, fold the cut side of the dough onto itself, so that the floured side becomes the outer surface. Using a bench knife, or any large metal scraper and one hand, work each piece of dough into a round shape. You are working to create tension on the outer surface of each loaf. The technique is demonstrated here. After shaping both loaves, lightly flour the dough, cover with a clean tea towel and let sit for 20-30 minutes.
- To form the final loaf shapes, using the bench knife, flip each loaf so the floured surface is resting on the bench. Fold the part of the dough closest to you up and over the middle third of the round. Stretch out the dough horizontally on the right and folder if over the middle, toward the left, stretch out the dough horizontally to the left and fold over the middle to the right. Stretch out the part of the dough furthest from you and fold toward the middle. Taking hold of the dough nearest to you, wrap it up and over, while rolling away from you so the smooth side is now on the top. See this video. Flour the surface of the dough, rubbing off any excess.
- Line two medium bowls or proofing baskets with a clean tea towel. Using the bench knife, lift each loaf off the bench and transfer to the bowl/basket, smooth side down, so that the seam is facing up. If you choose not to do the Fridge Fermentation step below, cover your loaves and sit them in a warm spot for 3-4 hours (2 hours if the temperature is very warm).
- STEP 12: Fridge fermentation (optional, but recommended, 8-24 hours) -- will increase the digestibility of bread. Cover the loaves with a tea towel, then a plastic bag and place in the fridge. You can leave to ferment for 8 to 24 hours. 8-12 is a good place to start.
- STEPS 13-16: Baking the bread -- Place a large cast iron dutch oven with lid in the middle of the oven and preheat to 260°C (500°F) Note, the dutch oven will get VERY hot, so you need thick oven mitts to prevent burns. Take one of the loaves out of the fridge and uncover.
- Cut out a piece of baking paper into a circle of about 30cm diameter. Turn the bread out onto the baking paper, seam side down. Lightly flour the surface of the loaf and brush off any excess flour.
- You will now need to ‘score’ the loaf, using a thin razor blade, or very thin sharp knife (a razor blade like this is best. You can score the bread in whatever way you like - this is a whole art in itself for some bakers - but an easy place to start on a round loaf if a square. Make 4 long, quick cuts forming a large square shape on the top of the loaf.
- Remove the hot dutch oven pan from the oven, carefully remove the lid. Holding the sides of the baking paper, carefully lower the bread into the pan. Cover with the lid. Reduce the oven temperature to 230°C (450°F). Bake the loaf for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for another 20-25 minutes, until deeply carmelised (the edges formed by the scoring may be a little burnt and that is okay). Remove from the oven and place the bread on a cooling rack. Do not be tempted to cut it while it is hot! Repeat the steps to bake the second loaf - first remove it from the fridge and sit at room temperature while you reheat the oven to 250°C. Also place the dutch oven in the oven to reheat. Allow the breads to completely cool before cutting.
Gluten Free Alternatives: Traditional sourdough baking relies on the gluten in the bread to form the shape and rise of the loaf, so you can’t replace the bulk of the flour with gluten free alternatives and follow the same steps. It is a different process to make GF sourdough.
For those with mild gluten sensitivity, the fermentation process helps break down some of the gluten and may assist with tolerance. The longer you ferment (up to 24 hours in the fridge), the more digestible it will become.