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Sourdough Bread

Simplified from Sourdough Home

Mix together wet ingredients, salt, and about 2 cups of the flour. Cover loosely and allow to rest for 10 minutes. This step is really important and well worth the wait, as the flour needs a little time to soak up the liquid. If you start kneading too soon, you end up adding a lot of extra flour and the dough ends up too stiff and dry.

Knead dough for 10 full minutes, adding only as much flour as you need to keep it from sticking terribly to your hands and the counter. Depending on how wet your starter was, this may be very little additional flour. (It may be a little bit sticky, but should be manageable.) After 10 minutes the dough should feel smooth and elastic.

Oil a glass or plastic bowl that is at least twice as big as your ball of dough. place the dough in the bowl, then flip it over so that it is all coated with oil. Cover the bowl loosely with a clean towel.

Allow dough to rise till doubled. Punch it down with your fist to deflate the gas bubbles, and let it rise a second time. The second rise takes less time than the first. After the second rise, knead it several times to deflate again. Then flatten the dough with your hands and then roll it up tightly and tuck under the ends to form a neat loaf. Place in an oiled 9 x 4" loaf pan, cover and allow to rise until dough has risen to the top of the pan. Do not let it rise too high or your finished loaf may have poor texture or big hollows inside.

When dough is looking close to ready, preheat oven to 450 degrees with one rack at the lowest position and one in the center position. Place an old baking pan on the bottom rack, and when oven is up to temperature dump in about a cup of boiling water. Immediately place the bread pan on the middle rack and close the door quickly to retain the heat and steam. Bake at 450 for 15 minutes. The crust should look golden brown. Lower the heat to 325 and continue to bake for 25 minutes. Remove loaf from the oven and quickly pop it out of the pan onto a cooling rack. Thump the bottom of the loaf with your knuckles. If it doesn't make a hollow sound, pop it back into the pan and back in the oven for about 10 more minutes.

Baking times vary with climate conditions, the material of the pan and the reliability of your oven. My pans are those dark, bakers-secret coated ones, which supposedly bake the bread faster. If your first loaf comes out a little sticky in the middle, add more time next time. If it seems dry, pull the next one out sooner.

Rising time is a bit less predictable. I like to set the dough to rise at bedtime at room temperature. By morning it has usually doubled in size, and the subsequent risings take less time so I can have the bread ready before lunchtime. I have also done the second rise overnight and that allows the bread to be finished within 2 hours of getting up in the morning. If you want the rising to go faster, you can place the bowl or loaf pan on a heating pad or radiator, but it shouldn't be heated above about 100-105 degrees.