My sourdough bread
Let's be honest here for a mere second, it's more a process than a recipe. A good sourdough bread is not recipe dependent, it requires time and perseverance. It's fascinating to see the texture of the dough change and evolve. Bread after bread, I'm still amazed at what 3 ingredients can do. Because it's only water, flour and salt, choose them carefully. Just like with everything else, the more you bake, the better your bread will be. It takes me roughly 3 days to make sourdough bread. But the active time is maybe 30 minutes. The rest is just planning, timing and waiting. Making bread is both relaxing and meditative. You can also be creative, test new techniques, new flours, new flavors.
On day one, I usually get my chief starter up to speed (meaning I feed it well so that it's rising well). On day 2, I make the starter for the bread and mix that starter with flour and water - then salt. I usually do this on a day when I'm at home so that I can give the dough the turns it needs every hour or so. On day 3 or 4 , I bake the bread.
If you're a beginner, you could divide the recipe in half to start small. I usually make this much - which is enough to bake 3 loaves during the week. Proofing the dough in the fridge considerably slows down fermentation and I've left sourdough in my fridge for up to 3/4 days - the more you leave it in the fridge, the more sour it will taste. But you can't leave it too long either otherwise it will overproof and your bread will be flat.
If you've never used sourdough before, start feeding your starter once or twice a day to get used to its cycle. Try baking once a week or even once a month (keep your starter in the fridge if you're not gonna be using it for a while). With your discarded starter, make pancakes! Your first loaf will already impress you. But your 100th will most probably be spectacular. If you haven't bought a scale, try to get one - baking bread (and baking in general) requires a good amount of precision (and measuring in cups will only lead to approximation). My scale is so thin and light that I bring it in my suitcase when I travel - and I haven't changed the battery once in 5 years.
I use a cast iron pot to bake bread (Le Creuset and Staub make great reliable pots, and you can buy these second-hand) but you can use a cast iron skillet, or a baking stone too. Before investing in a cast iron pot, I used to bake my bread in a Pyrex glass pot covered with a round baking pan - it was a bit wonky but it worked very well!)
This recipe - or rather guidelines - yields 3 loaves of bread. You can divide the recipe as needed. If you are are a beginner, start with a strong white bread flour.
• 1200 of flour (I use a mix of white, whole wheat, rye and spelt flours - always unbleached, organic and not enriched. My favorites are T70 and T80 flours. I usually use a larger percentage of white or near white flour like T60 or T70, and then a smaller percentage of whole wheat, spelt, rye, buckwheat)
• 300g of well fed starter (I use 3/4 rye and 1/4 white bread flour, look for big bubbles and a nice sound when your spoon goes across it - it usually takes 6-8 hours to reach that state depending on the temperature of your kitchen and whether you are using a liquid or a stiff starter - I never quite measure my starter feeds and go from liquid to stiff whenever I want)
• 900g of water (I used tap water filtered with binchotan charcoal)
• 24g of salt (I use coarse grey salt from Guérande - I bring a 1kg bag from France and that lasts me the year)
• Mix the flour, starter and water and bring together in a dough with a spoon - cover with a tea towel and leave at room temperature between 30 minutes and two hours - this step is called autolyse and lets the starter and the gluten develop before adding the salt. You can also start the autolyse before putting in the starter - just mix the flour and water to together and leave at room temperature - for 3-10 hours - this is is called extended autolyse and leads to great results - and less 'turns') I usually do a 3 or 4 hours autolyse with just water and flour (while my starter is still growing, then when it's ready (6-8 hours after feed) I then add the starter to the mix.
• After 30 mn or an hour, add the salt. Dip you hand in water and bring the outside of the dough towards the middle (these are called 'turns'). Turn your bowl as to do this, so that you can do 4 turns. Cover with a towel and let sit for another hour (or 30 mn).
• Repeat this process an hour or so later (every 30 mn is fine) - for a total of 4/5 times. After the final 'turn', let your dough sit at room temperature for another 4 hours. (You could put the dough in the fridge at this stage if you need to and pick up the next day).
• If you want to add things to your bread (hazelnuts, raisins, walnuts, goji berries, rosemary, pepita seeds, prosciutto, cheese), it's best to do it around turn 3 or 4. That said, I often forget and add these at the last minute when I'm diving the dough - that way I can have one plain loaf and a couple of different ones. You can play with the bulk proof time here - I usually do around 4 or 5 hours, sometimes 6.
• Divide the dough in three equal parts. Using a little bit of flour on your work surface, fold the dough in three like an enveloppe a few times then shape into a ball. Put the dough in little baskets or in bowls (lined with a linen cloth, or with some rice flower - nice side to the bottom of the bowl) and cover with cling film or a kitchen towel .
• Let the bread ferment for another 5-6 hours - depending on the temperature of the room - the hotter the weather the faster your bread will rise. At this point, you can also let your dough in the fridge overnight or more (this will slow down the fermentation process - I usually do this because I like a more sour sourdough bread, so I leave it in my fridge for 14 to 18 hours). Before baking your bread, take it out of the fridge.
• Take a cast iron pot, sprinkle rice flour in it or use parchment paper and place the bread dough in the middle. Sprinkle rice flour on the dough and make incisions with a knife, a cutter, or even better a razor blade (this is called bread scoring and it’s so much fun to design patterns). Turn on your oven at 460°F
• After 20 minutes, remove the lid of the cast iron pot and let the crust brown. Lower heat to 425F and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes.
• Once your bread is baked, remove from the cast iron pot, tap the bottom of the bread and check for a hollow sound. Let cool for a couple of hours while resisting the temptation to cutting it. The bread will sing a little - the crust crackle as it cools down. Why wait? Hot bread is not that easy to digest and letting it sit for a few hours before eating it will let you taste all the flavor (every 'bread' tastes 'good' when it's hot, a sourdough bread tastes great when it's no longer hot, and even the next day : and that's what we're trying to make here!)
• To keep the bread fresher for longer, wrap in a tea towel or a linen cloth. You can freeze bread too - not forever though - two weeks max. Sometimes I freeze slices so that I can take them straight from the freezer to the toaster. If I have baked too much bread - I usually find someone to give it too, not that many people can say no to homemade bread!