Posted by Darryl Alder | Apr 1, 2022 | Sourdough Bread Recipes
7 SIMPLE STEPS TO MAKING YOUR FIRST LOAF OF SOURDOUGH BREAD
Our goal with this post is to help you successfully make a simple loaf of sourdough bread while outlining the fundamentals of the process in a straightforward manner. That way you can make a crusty rustic loaf of sourdough bread at home this first time, and every time from now on.
Unfortunately, many people’s first attempts at sourdough bread making don’t work out. They are daunted by the steps and complicated instructions they find on the internet. And then there is the starter! But honestly, this is not a difficult process! We promise.
These 7 Simple Steps to Making Your First Loaf of Sourdough Bread will help your confidence with this age-old way of making bread. Afterall humankind has made this bread this way for millennia. So can you!
If you are ready to get the recipe now click here, but the stuff in Part 1 is pretty darned important!
[BTW, the inspiration for this post came from Brian Lagerstrom's "Your First Sourdough (Sourdough Bread for Complete Beginners)" and his "No Knead Tartine Sourdough Bread" both are posted on YouTube.]
PART 1: MISE EN PLACE (GATHERING ALL THAT's NEEDED)
Mise en place [me-zohn plahs] is is a French culinary term that means “putting in place” or “gathering.” It refers to the setup required before even starting to mix the dough by gathering all the ingredients and setting up all the equipment. First, let’s talk about the ingredients, and second, the tools needed to get this thing done.
Essentially there are just four ingredients, an active starter, and our “3 Perfect” ingredients: flour, water, and salt. Of course, any flour, water, and salt you have might work okay for this first loaf, but quality ingredients will improve your baking in the future. So work to get good the best bread flour, real spring water, and sea salt you can find.
1- First is an active sourdough starter.
Naturally, you need a sourdough starter, and while you could grow your own, it might take a week or so.
If that is your course of action, we suggest reading our post “7 Day Countdown to Starting a Sourdough Starter.”
Or you might order a dehydrated start from us here. You can stop by The Store at the Bakery, (421 South 200 East, Spanish Fork, UT 84660—we are open Mon 12:00 PM-5:00 PM, Tue 9:00 AM-5:00 PM, and Wed-Fri 10:00 AM-5:00 PM) to purchase one.
But if you ask around on social media, someone will have a starter they will share and you. That way you can start making this recipe today.
2- Second, we’ll need the best flour we can get.
At Abigail's Oven, we prefer a mix of 70% bread flour with 30% freshly ground whole wheat flour. This is not essential for this first loaf, but if you have it use it. Otherwise, any good quality bread flour will do that has a higher protein content of 11-13%. This is called “bread flour” because bread needs high amounts of gluten strands (protein) to capture and hold gas bubbles during the leaving process.
If the protein content is at least 11.7% protein, even all-purpose flour will work.
3- Third, is real water.
The best thing to use when we make sourdough is spring water or filtered purified water; just not tap water.
Tap water's disinfecting chemicals (eg. chlorine, chlorimide, etc.) can retard vital bacterial growth in your starter and during the long, bulk fermentation, which is needed for a well-risen loaf of sourdough. Softened water can cause issues too. At the same time, extra hard may leave you with a dense heavy loaf of bread. Don’t use distilled water, because it’s had all the minerals taken out and sourdough bacteria need those minerals.
4- The fourth and final ingredient is real salt.
As one of only three ingredients in sourdough, salt is critical. But avoid table salt, which has had many minerals stripped, been bleached, and had iodine added in.
Real salt is natural salt. Use Himalayan pink or Celtic sea salt which can be found in most supermarkets. And in the Intermountain Area, Redmond salt is an excellent choice, which is harvested from an ancient sea bed underground in Redmond, Utah
It gives flavor to our bread. It is loaded with natural minerals and it works to regulate the growth of good bacteria which feeds the yeast to make gas bubbles for leavening and a better crumb in the end.
THE TOOLS OF SOURDOUGH BAKING
Weight measurements are much more accurate when it comes to making bread. But, we will also list the imperial measurements for this recipe in the description for those of you without scales.
However, since most bakers measure by weight rather than volume we suggest purchasing a small kitchen scale for your next loaf to weigh the ingredients more accurately.
But for now, standard measuring cups and spoons will work fine.
We will need a medium mixing bowl. Any kind you have will work as long as you can cover it somehow; (lids are not necessary, as a damp towel works great).
But we recommend a 12-inch (30 cm) stainless steel restaurant-grade bowl. These are not expensive and last a very long time. And we will be mixing and fermenting the dough in a bowl like this.
It can even be used as your final proofing container if you line it with a flour-dusted linen towel
But if you don’t have one, any medium mixing bowl will work well.
We’ll need a sturdy spoon or even better a Danish Dough Whisk. But once again, no need to run out and buy this, when the human hand does the job well.
However, the dough whisk allows our mix to pass through its three loops in succession. This quickly combines ingredients and with only 5% of the surface area of a large mixing spoon, it takes less force to quickly combine ingredients well and doesn’t overwork the dough while mixing. “The secret to its effectiveness," explains Lee Valley, "is that the hardened stainless-steel loops of different diameters are in three separate planes, one behind the other. The design originated with the Danes long ago, but now the whisk is made only in Poland.” This is available online and even in stores like Walmart.
Proofing Container—we will need something to prove the loaves in. Pictured here are linen-lined bread-proofing baskets; these are also called brotforms or bannetons.
They’re great, but if you don’t have a proofing basket, no worry, because the stainless steel mixing bowl we used to mix the dough in, will serve a dual purpose for bread proofing too.
Even inexpensive plastic storage bowls or other mixing bowls do the job just fine.
Dutch Oven—Next, we’ll need a way to trap steam and heat around the loaf.
During our bakes at Abigail’s Oven, we use 10-inch Dutch ovens with lids. Ours are really worn from hundreds of loaves being baked in them.
But if you don’t have a Dutch oven or you don’t want to put the wear and tear on a nice one, there are lower-tech options we will share later in this post.
Instant Read Thermometer—
Finally, we will need a way to measure the temperature of the baked bread to be sure it is done.
There are many to select from as shown here. These digital instant meat thermometers can be inexpensive but range from a higher price too, especially with laser models.
Still, any meat thermometer will work just fine in the end
PART II: 7 STEPS TO MAKING SOURDOUGH BREAD
To go from starter to a finished loaf, let's follow the seven stages of this sourdough process.
1-The first stage, Feed and Build the Starter Into a Leaven.
Always before baking, feed your starter to activate it by mixing 60g (or 1⁄4 cup) old start, with 120g (1⁄2 cup) filtered or spring water and 120g (1 cup) of flour, either whole wheat flour, or a scant cup of bread or all-purpose flour. This is where we take our starter from its daily maintenance stage (or stored refrigerator stage) and build it into a strong leaven for our bread.
Brian Lagerstrom suggests thinking "of your leaven as the engine for your bread." And if you prefer we can make this leaven in a new or separate container filled with a blend of sourdough starter, flour, and water for use with an individual loaf or two to leaven it, while your storage leaven is returned to the fridge.Let this mixture sit covered until it has doubled. A handy tip is to mark the starting point with a rubber band or piece of tape. The leaven is ready to use when it is doubling every 4-6 hours, it is filled with bubbles, and a spoonful of it floats in water. Always consider all three of these conditions to be sure your starter is an active leaven.
(And be sure to save some starter for the next batch. Feed it flour and water daily, otherwise, store it in the fridge. It can stay there for 60 days easily, but the longer it has been in the fridge, the longer it will take to activate. However, do not keep a starter in a metal container. And don’t forget to give it a name.)
2-The second stage, Mixing
To begin this stage combine just the flour and water. In our mixing bowl (or even a stand-mixer) combine 650g water (3 2⁄3 cups) with 1000g (±8 cups [5 1/2 cups bread flour with 2 1/2 cup whole wheat]) flour. Don't knead the dough, just stir or mix it to combine. Then let this shaggy mass of dough rest for 30 minutes covered (this period is called the autolyse).
Following that add 34g (2 Tbsp) salt and 60g (1⁄4 cup) water. Combine the water and salt in to the dough by poking and pinching it in with your fingers.
3- The third stage, Stretching and Folding, and Turning
Once the salt and additional water is mixed, Brian Lagerstrom explains,
"We’re also going to be doing some strength-building folds that are really important to this process. Think of adding strength as like a secret ingredient that doesn’t weigh anything, but it’s essential to creating a good loaf of bread. Adding strength to a dough is just as essential as adding salt without it, it doesn’t work."
Then “turn” or stretch and fold the dough by taking a corner of the dough in the bowl with wet hands, pull the dough up and then fold it up on itself, (see image below).
Turn the dough, and repeat 3–4 times; think of a clock face at 3, 6, 9 and 12 for your turns. As you finish the fourth turn, tuck the edges of the dough under into a ball. Then let this sit covered with a damp towel for 30 minutes.
This should begin developing the gluten, turning our "shaggy mass" into a smooth, elastic dough. All together this is one full “turn” and it will be repeated two more times over the next hour.
After the 30 minute rest, repeat the entire turning process with wet hands, stretching and folding the dough. As you finish the fourth turn, tuck the edges of the dough under into a ball and let this sit covered with a damp towel for 30 minutes.
Then turn the dough again one more time in final preparation for the bulk rise.
Let it sit covered for another 30 minutes. Turn it one final time.
4- The fourth stage, Bulk Rise and Long Fermentation
During this stage, we nothing but wait for eight or more hours, letting the dough ferment that we have just mixed with wild yeast and bacteria from our leaven.This produces the gas that makes the bread rise and the acidity that imparts sourdough's tangy flavor. We also call this step, the bulk or long fermentation stage.
During the bulk rise the dough should double in size. Test it by poking it with your finger; if it springs back just a bit and leaves a slight dent the dough is ready to bake. But if it springs back without a dent, it needs more proofing. If it leaves a dent and doesn’t spring back, it may be over-proofed.
(Tip: warmer temperatures will result in dough that is ready to bake sooner, but rushing it may cost your flavor and digestibility. Colder temperatures allow the dough to develop deeper flavors and mitigates more of the gluten for better digestion. )
5- The fifth stage, Benching and Shaping
"The bulk fermentation has given us a nice gassy blob of dough," explains Lagerstrom. "And now it’s our job to organize that blob into a nice strong taut loaf of bread that will properly rise in the oven and hold itself up during the bake."
To do this we should dump our dough out onto a floured or oiled surface. Then using a bench knife, cut dough in half to form two loaves. Fold, round and preshape each blob into a ball to rest on your bench for 30 minutes covered with a damp towel.
Then form each loose ball into a tighter ball by creating tension and shaping it into a boule for baking. Begin by starting at one edge and folding the dough over itself toward the center. Then roll the dough up like a jelly roll, turn and repeat several times until the dough tightens up. Then using a dough blade or your hands, turn the dough in a circle until it shapes into a ball. You may also draw it toward yourself with both hands cupped around it to increase the tension.
6- The sixth stage, Final Proofing
Place the tensioned dough into a well floured proofing basket or a bowl lined with a floured towel. If you are concerned about gluten, user oiled parchment paper and set in a bowl.
Cover bowl with a lid and let rise until doubled (45 min to 11⁄2 hours depending on temperature). The dough is ready when it is puffy but has not yet quite doubled in size.
Lagerstrom cautions, "This [stage] is where we continue that gas and acid production and to grow the size of the loaf. This is a really essential part of the process and a lot of recipes either misunderstand this part or leave it out altogether."
7- The seventh stage, Scoring, Baking and Cooling
During the final proofing stage, we need to preheat our oven (with our Dutch oven in side), to 500°F (260°C) for 30+ minutes. When the dough has risen and the oven is preheated, score the top of each loaf with a serrated knife.
Place the dough in dutch oven on parchment carefully so as not to burn yourself. Then splash a bit of water in it with your fingers before covering it with the lid.
Bake for 20–30 minutes in the covered dutch oven, then remove the lid and continue baking 20 more minutes until the bread is golden brown and reaches an internal temperature of 205°F (96°C).
Finally, remove the bread and allow it to cool completely before cutting (1-2 hours). This is very important to set the crumb and prevent a gummy loaf.
But if you must, you could slice of a narrow end to enjoy you masterpiece while the rest of it cools for your family!