This is my first loaf of sourdough bread. I’m happy to report that I succeeded on the first try! Here, I share some of my learnings and a few stumbles along the way. My final bread was super crunchy on the outside, while the inside was tender and full of lovely holes.
Excuse the yelling, but guys – I DID IT!!! I baked my first loaf of sourdough bread! As you all can see, I started this little blog back in 2011. I’d been baking way before then, but never had I ever worked with sourdough until now. My coworker gifted me with her sourdough starter (which we lovingly named Pumbaa), and I finally baked a bread with it.
And you know what? It wasn’t nearly as scary as I had imagined. In fact, I had dreams about my sourdough adventures going bad and started getting anxiety when my dough was resting in the refrigerator. I do, however, want to share a few things that I learned since I had a sourdough phobia:
- Bread experts use what’s call a “float” test to see if the starter is ready for bread baking. If you take a little bit of starter and drop it into a cup of water, it should float. If it sinks, then it’s not ready and it needs to be fed a few more times.
- The whole process is just one large math problem. If you need X grams of starter for a recipe, then you should make sure you have at least X grams plus some extra for your remaining starter.
- Don’t throw away your starter discard – make something with it!
- The dough will feel wet. Don’t be tempted to add lots of flour to it.
- If you name your starter, it may help you take better care of it. That’s why we called ours Pumbaa.
- Keep your starter in the refrigerator if you’re not going to use it often. You can just feed it a few times a month from there.
I also want to share something that went somewhat wrong for me during the bread-making process. When I tried to shape my dough into a rough ball, it did not shape. I essentially had a blobby mess on my hands that didn’t want to stay in a cohesive ball. My dough was extremely wet and sticky as well. When I tried to fold the dough and put it into my round Dutch oven, it also did not stay in a nice round shape. I was going to have to name this thing Blobby.
However, some magic happened while the dough was in the oven. Pumbaa and his friends must have done their job because the natural yeast in the dough helped the bread expand upwards and away from the sides of my Dutch oven. My resulting bread turned out into a beautifully shaped boule.
Great, but what about the inside? That gave me worries as well. While the exterior of the bread looked good, it was highly possible that my dough was denser than a brick. Perhaps I could use my bread to play floor hockey? Thankfully, when I cut into the bread, I saw that there were beautiful and big air pockets from the yeast. Pumbaa did his job!
So even though my dough didn’t hold its shape, and I had a difficult time folding it, the method worked. Perhaps I will try this adventure again, but with another recipe. I might need some time to recover first since this was mentally exhausting for my first go.
Husband’s rating: 4 out of 5
Addie’s rating: 3 out of 5 (she’s not a huge fan of sourdough because of the tang and the crusty exterior)
My rating: 5 out of 5
- 1 cup (227 grams) ripe (fed) sourdough starter
- 1 and ¾ cups (397 grams) lukewarm water
- 5 cups (602 grams) unbleached bread flour
- 1 Tablespoon (18 grams) salt
- In the bowl of a stand mixer or a food-safe bucket, combine all of the ingredients. If you're using your stand mixer, use the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for about 1 minute until you get a shaggy looking dough. Otherwise, use a wooden spoon to mix everything together by hand.
- Cover the bowl or bucket with a lid or plastic wrap and let it rest for 1 hour.
- Gently lift up the dough and fold it onto itself several times. It's best to use a plastic, bendable bench scraper for this. Scoop up one side of the dough, lift it up and flip it towards the center. Do this on all sides of the dough. You are building the dough's strength here. Cover the bowl/bucket once more and allow it rest for 1 more hour.
- Repeat the lifting and folding one more time. This time, cover the bowl/bucket and place it in your refrigerator for at least 8 hours and up to 48 hours.
- Well flour your working surface. Turn the bread out onto the surface and form it into a rough ball shape. Leave it seam-side up and cover. Rest the dough for 15 minutes.
- Grab the baking vessel you will use for your dough. Dust the bottom of the baking vessel with semolina flour or corn meal. I put a piece of parchment paper down and dusted it with corn meal.
- If desired, you can fold your dough using a bench scraper like you did earlier in the process. Otherwise, place your dough in your baking vessel, seam-side down. Cover with a lid and allow it to rest for another 3 hours. Your dough will not puff up - it's mostly relaxing and expanding.
- Preheat your oven to 500°F at least 1 hour before you bake your bread.
- Dust the top of your dough with a coat of flour. Then make ½ inch deep slashes into the top of your dough so that your bread bakes evenly. If you are baking in a round vessel, a criss-cross ("X") works well. If you're using a long/oval shaped baker, make a long, arched slash down the center. Using a super sharp knife (lame) or razor blade works really well here.
- Place your baking vessel into the oven and reduce the oven temperature down to 450°F. Bake for 45 minutes.
- Remove the cover of your baking vessel and bake for another 15 minutes. Your bread should be golden brown and crusty on top, and a thermometer inserted in the center should read at least 210°F.
- Allow the bread to cool before slicing and serving.