A few months ago, I wrote a post about how music taught me to bake bread. Since that time, sourdough baking has wormed its way into our everyday life. I bake bread two or three times a week; sometimes I’ll include sourdough in pancakes, crackers, tortillas, pie crust, or even cake. Partially it’s thanks to my son, who absolutely loves bread and wakes up almost every morning asking for it; partially it’s because it’s just so fun! I find bread especially satisfying to make because, at the root, it’s a very simple product: just flour, water, and salt (and your wild yeast). Watching these few ingredients transform into a delicious, nutritious loaf is one of life’s little pleasures. And once you start exploring different types of flours and grains, you realize that there are so many possibilities even with these limited ingredients! However, today’s recipe is for a simple, ordinary, everyday sourdough loaf. It’s versatile (I love it smeared with peanut butter or as a base for fancier toast toppings), and it uses ingredients I normally have stocked in my kitchen.
But before we get on to the recipe, I wanted to answer one of the questions I get fairly often: “How do you fit sourdough bread baking into your day, especially with a little kid?” When you first start baking with sourdough, admittedly it can seem a little overwhelming. Recipes look complicated, and the time schedule seems restricting. But I actually think that making bread is one of the most doable baking hobbies you can undertake with a small child. The actual hands-on time is quite small:
- Preparing the starter (2 minutes)
- Mixing the loaf (5-10 minutes)
- Folding the loaf (less than 1 minute per fold)
- Shaping the loaf (5 minutes)
- Scoring and baking the loaf (about an hour, though most of this time is just waiting for the bread to bake)
I usually plan my bakes on days when I know I’ll be around home, but I’m also a big believer in not letting a bread’s schedule run your life. So here are some things to keep in mind when fitting bread-baking into a busy day.
- Temperature plays a huge factor in rising times. Warmer temperature: faster rise; cooler temperature: slower rise. I do most of my bulk-proofing in a cozy little corner of my kitchen, and I know a typical loaf like the recipe below takes about 3.5-4 hours to bulk ferment. If I want to slow this down, I’ll put the loaf in a cooler part of the house to ferment. You can also play around with refrigeration for part of the bulk fermentation; it’s not something I do often but I know many bakers use this method successfully. On the flip side, if you find your loaf is sluggish, try moving it somewhere warmer (the oven with the light on is a good place), or try mixing your loaf with slightly warmer water. You don’t want to get your dough too warm, though — somewhere around 78-82F is a pretty happy place.
- It’s not a big deal if you miss a fold. There are often times when an appointment runs late and I don’t get the planned number of folds in/fold at the schedule I intended. No biggie. As long as your dough is strong and fermented enough by the end of bulk fermentation, you and your bread will be fine.
- Bake often. Familiarity aids speed. I use my starter fairly often, so I have a daily routine of feeding and am familiar with its fermentation schedule. This helps me know approximately when it’ll be ready to use and my rising times are pretty consistent because my starter is healthy. Plus, baking often helps me be able to judge more accurately how fermentation is progressing and whether I need to manipulate it depending on that day’s schedule.
OK, enough talking and on to the recipe!
This is a basic everyday loaf I’ve been playing around with for a few weeks. I wanted a versatile bread with a decent amount of whole grains for flavor and nutrition. At 30% whole wheat, this bread is hearty but still quite soft and light, thanks to a decent amount of water and a touch of oil and honey. It’s stays fresh for several days and makes some fine toast. I’ve used different types of whole wheat with this formula — red fife, stoneground, sprouted — and they have all worked fine (you may need to adjust the water amount to suit your flour). It’s an everyday loaf; use what you have lying around!
I was honored to be interviewed for a Reader’s Digest article about smartphone photography for Instagram. Check out the article for some of my everyday tricks, plus advice from some actual photographers!
An everyday sourdough loaf
Makes one ~750g loaf
- 260g Bread/AP flour — I usually use a mixture, but a slightly higher amount of bread (70%)
- 111g Whole Wheat flour (30%)
- 304g Water — reserve about 50g for mixing (82%)
- 67g Mature, Ripe Levain @ 100% hydration (18%)
- 8g Salt (2.2%)
- 15g olive oil (4%)
- 15g honey (4%)
- Mix together the flours and water (reserve 50g for mixing later) and autolyse (rest) for 1-3 hours, covered with a tea towel.
- Add the mature starter and about half the reserved water and mix until the starter is incorporated. Rest for 20 minutes.
- Add the salt and pinch in. If the dough feels like it can handle it, add in the remaining reserved water and mix to combine. Add the oil and honey and pinch in to combine thoroughly. If you did a long autolyse, the dough should be decently strong at this point and you shouldn’t need to mix too much (maybe 1-2 minutes). If it feels weak, do a couple minutes of stretch and fold or slap and fold so the dough is moderately developed. It will continue to strengthen through bulk so it doesn’t need to be smooth at this point. Transfer the dough to a clean and lightly oiled container and cover with a clean tea towel.
- Bulk ferment in a warm place for 3-4 hours with stretch and folds every half hour for the first 1-2 hours. If after the second set of folds the dough seems quite strong, skip the last two folds and let the dough sit for the rest of bulk. Bulk fermentation is done when the dough has increased by 30-50%, you can see fermentation bubbles along the bottom and sides of the container, and the edges are domed where the dough meets the container.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and gently preshape into a round. Cover with a bowl or lightly oiled plastic and let rest for about 30 minutes.
- Prepare your basket (or other proofing vessel) by lining with a lint-free linen/cotton tea towel or lightly dusting with rice flour. Lightly flour your work surface and the rested round. Flip your preshaped round and shape as desired (boule or batard). Transfer to the prepared proofing container, cover with plastic, and refrigerate for 10-14 hours (or overnight).
- An hour before baking, preheat your oven to 500F (550 if it goes that high). You can bake this loaf in a Dutch oven (which you should preheat with the oven), or use your preferred method of steaming. (I bake my loaves on a pizza stone and cover them with a large foil roasting pan for the steaming portion of baking.) At this point, I also like to uncover my loaf (i.e. remove the plastic, but keep it refrigerated). This dries out the surface a little which I find makes scoring easier.
- When the oven is ready, invert your loaf onto a piece of parchment on a pizza peel. Score as desired, then transfer to the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 500F. Bake with steam (or covered) at 500F for 20 minutes, then lower the heat to 450F and bake for another 5 minutes. Remove the cover / steam pan and bake for another 15-25 minutes at 450F until your desired doneness, rotating a couple times for even baking. When finished, the crust should be nicely browned and the loaf should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
- Transfer to a wire rack and cool for at least an hour before cutting.