Bread-making used to be an intimidating idea for me. But over the years I have learned that it is fun and very rewarding. I have made many terrible and inedible loaves of bread in process, but each time learning something new. Sourdough bread-making may seem like an ambitious place to start, but it is actually very simple and more forgiving than yeasted bread-making. The rise times are much slower, the temperature doesn’t matter as much, and my favourite recipe doesn’t even involve kneading. But the best part of a true sourdough bread is the flavour and digestibility.
The standard yeasted breads (most, if not all supermarket loaves) which are made with sugar and large amounts of commercial yeast and made within a few hours don’t get the time to pre-digest the proteins (gluten) and starches in the grains. This can be an issue for people who may have a more difficult time digesting wheat and gluten in the first place. The high yeast content and sugar in these fast breads can also exacerbate any issues with candida and eczema. Many people who have a hard time digesting grains find they can tolerate a slow-fermented sourdough bread. And the bonus is that these fermented breads have a way more complex and enjoyable flavour.
This is the simplest version of traditional sourdough that I make. It’s about an 80% hydration sourdough bread, which means it is a wetter dough than a standard bread dough. The increased hydration (water) helps to create a better environment for the bacteria and yeasts and is partly responsible for the lovely big holes in this bread. The wetter dough can be harder to handle, which is why the no-knead method works perfectly for this sticky dough.
All of the ingredients go into a mixing bowl and get mixed briefly into a shaggy dough (see photo below) either by hand or using a wooden spoon or a dough whisk. The bowl gets covered and the dough is left to do its fermentation business over the next 12-24 hours, depending on the temperature in your kitchen and when you can get back to the risen dough for the next step. It then gets gently shaped and left again for an hour or so to do its final proofing. And then it gets baked in a super hot oven, either using a Dutch oven or bread cloche or just on a baking tray. And then you get to break open that gorgeous loaf of crusty, bubbly goodness. Oh, and impress all of your friends with your mean-as bread making skills, and hope they eat gluten.
I have included both weight and volume measurements. Weighing is going to produce more consistent results. If you haven’t got a scale, don’t worry. I have been making this bread for a few years now and I used to always measure by volume and it still works great.
Slow Fermented Wheat Sourdough: No-Knead Method
70g (just over 1/4 cup) active sourdough starter (*fed 6-12 hours prior to using)
375g (1 1/2 cups) filtered water
455g (3 1/2 cups) high grade white flour (AP flour) or bread flour (or use 340g white flour and 115g wholemeal or rye flour)
10g (1 1/2 tsp) sea salt
*6-12 hours before making your bread dough, take 50gms of your sourdough starter and feed it with 100gms filtered water and 70gms high grade white flour or bread flour. Allow it to sit loosely covered at room temperature for 6-12hrs to ripen. It will then be ready for adding to your dough. Your starter should have doubled in size in that time and look bubbly and smell sweetly sour and yeasty. If this isn’t happening, you may need to strengthen your starter for a couple of days before using. Check out my post on Starting & Maintaining a Healthy Sourdough Starter.
- Place ripe sourdough starter into a large mixing bowl. Add filtered water and stir well to make a slurry. Add flour and salt and mix briefly into a shaggy dough (see first two images). There is no kneading involved at all and the dough doesn’t need to be smooth, but the flour needs to all be moist. Cover with a plastic bag or clean tea towel and leave on your kitchen bench for 12-24 hours or until the dough has doubled in size with lots of bubbles. In the warmer months I usually only leave the bread for 12 hours. In the cooler months I leave it 18-24 hours. But leaving it too long can cause the dough to over-proof and flatten as it bakes. You will need to use your judgement for this part. You can also put the dough into the fridge after 8-12 hours if you won’t be able to get back to it in time or if leaving it to rise fully will result in a 3am bread-baking session. It will be fine in the fridge for 2-3 days, but will get too sour and over-proofed if left longer.
- Don’t punch the dough down. We want to keep the air in the dough. Generously flour your work surface. With a wet rubber spatula or wet hands, carefully tip the bowl and scrape the sides of the dough and remove it from the bowl. The aim here is to keep as many of the bubbles intact as possible for a fluffyloaf. Flour your hands well and carefully pull the edges of the dough to create a rough rectangle (see images below for shaping).
- Fold the dough into thirds by bringing the side edges over one at a time as pictured. Fold again but into thirds vertically, bringing the top third down into the middle and then the bottom third up. Gently pinch your seams together. Place shaped dough seam-side-up into a floured banneton or a bowl lined with a well-floured tea towel. Sprinkle with flour and place a tea towel over the top. Allow the bread to sit in a draft-free location on your bench for 60-90 minutes or until the loaf has risen well (about doubled in size again). Sometimes this takes longer in my kitchen as it can be rather cool in the winter months.
- About 45 minutes before the bread has finished rising, turn on the oven to 240 degrees Celsius and move the rack to the centre position (I use an inexpensive oven thermometer to make sure my oven is getting hot enough). Place a baking tray on the middle rack of the oven and another tray or metal baking pan on the rack underneath the middle rack (this will be for the hot water to create steam). You can also place a bread or pizza stone into the oven at this point if you have one, but not necessary. **See note below for using a Dutch oven for baking in.
- Once the proofing time is up and the oven is very hot and has been preheated for about 30 minutes, carefully tip the loaf out onto a piece of baking paper. Slash the top using a very sharp knife or a bread lame. Slide the loaf onto the baking tray on the middle rack and pour a cup of hot water into the baking pan underneath and quickly close the oven door to trap the steam. Bake the bread for 40-45 minutes or until the crust is deep golden and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Allow the loaf to cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes (ideally 2+hours) before cutting into it.
**If using a Dutch oven with an oven-proof handle to bake the bread in, begin heating the oven to 250 degrees Celsius 45 minutes before the final proof is done. No need to add a second tray for hot water as the Dutch oven will trap the moisture as the loaf bakes and create a beautiful crisp crust. At the end of proofing, carefully tip the loaf out of the banneton or bowl onto a piece of baking paper. Slash the loaf with a very sharp knife or bread lame and place into the hot Dutch oven. Cover with the lid and set the timer for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the lid and turn the oven down to 210 degrees Celsius and bake for a further 15 minutes or until the loaf is deep golden and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Carefully remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes (ideally 2+ hours) before cutting into it.
Shaping the dough:
This loaf above was made with 1/4 wholemeal rye flour so doesn’t have as many big holes as the loaves I make with 100% white flour, but the flavour is delicious and the bread is surprisingly fluffy!