I can’t believe this is my first post dedicated to sourdough, as it is a big part of my weekly routine. Let me preface this post by saying I am by no means a sourdough expert. Everything that I know about sourdough has been from quick, online searches and learning what works for me. I’ve come a long way in my short time of making sourdough, and I am constantly learning new things. For example, these two loaves were baked from the same recipe, one that I now bake about every week.
I’ve found that sourdough can be forgiving if you accidentally make a mistake with the rising time or feedings, so it’s less daunting to work with than you might think. You may not achieve a perfect outcome, but the odds are that it won’t utterly fail either. My starters had a period of time where they were tasting particularly twangy and not rising well, but it was nothing that extra feedings and care couldn’t fix.
I am a busy mama, so I choose to keep my routine simple and pick recipes that yield tasty results with as few steps as possible. The first artisan-style loaves that I made were beautiful and round, but the recipe was pages long and unattainable for me to often bake. The loaves that I bake now are not technical masterpieces, but I’ve never eaten better bread, and they get devoured at family functions.
For this blog, I will walk you through my whole process of planning and making a loaf of bread for a family dinner party. The recipe I chose is a simple crusty loaf by Bless This Mess, one of my all-time favorites. Let’s get into it!
One of the first things you have to get used to with baking sourdough is thinking ahead, so as soon as I got the text from my mother-in-law to bring a crusty sourdough loaf to Italian dinner night, I got to thinking about when I would need to get my starter out of the fridge, feed it, and prepare the dough. I knew that I wanted to get two feedings in before making a loaf to share with others, as I noticed that my starter didn’t quite double the last time that I fed it. That said, 9 times out of 10, I will only feed it once in the early afternoon and start the bread dough later in the evening after my son goes to bed.
|2 days out||Evening||Set sourdough starter on the counter|
|1 day out||Morning||Optional: Feed starter only if it has not been very active|
|1 day out||Afternoon||Feed starter|
|1 day out||Evening||Start bread dough|
|1 day out||Overnight||Bulk rise|
|Day of||Morning||Short second rise and bake|
My routine would be different if I kept my sourdough starter at room temperature on the counter, and I would be able to make bread on shorter notice; however, I don’t feel confident in my ability to keep it alive and well with all of the feedings that that would entail. Instead, I have two sourdough starters that I rotate between, averaging about a loaf from each a week. Having two starters is my security blanket in case I accidentally kill one; however, these are from my original starter.
Ideally, you want to make sourdough bread with a starter that is highly active (able to double in size within about 4-8 hours) and prepare the dough when the starter is at its peak prior to falling. Once you find a recipe, you have to look at the steps and adjust the timing as necessary to fit in your schedule.
Here is how the schedule above played out:
3:00pm Thursday Afternoon:
Take the starter out of the fridge and pop the lid so that it can get air.
7:00am Friday Morning- Feed Starter
To feed my starter, I…
- Pour out and measure a portion of the starter into a new glass jar (usually between 65 and 90 grams).
- Take note of the weight and add equal parts of all-purpose flour and room temperature water. For example, if I had done 65 grams of starter, then I would add 65 grams of flour and 65 grams of water.
- Stir with a rubber spatula until well combined.
- Lightly put on a lid and wrap a rubber band around the starter’s top to measure how far it rises.
- Place the unused starter from the old jar back in the fridge to use in sourdough discard recipes.
2:00pm Friday Afternoon- Feed starter again
Because my starter hasn’t doubled in 7 hours (as indicated by the rubber band), I feed it again to make sure it is fully ripe.
8:45pm Friday Evening- Prepare dough
The starter doubled and is ready to bake with! Another way that you can tell it’s ready is by how it’s bubbly enough to float on the water (the float test). I mix together the starter with warm water, add flour and salt, mix, and cover.
9:45pm Friday Evening- A set of turns
This recipe calls for one set of turns, which is much less than more advanced sourdough recipes require. While I’ve never made a loaf with this recipe as beautiful as the few times that I did a full, traditional sourdough recipe, the taste is just as good (if not better) with significantly less work. All you need to do is go around the dough and fold the outer edges into the center a few times to make a ball. Cover the dough with a damp towel.
Friday Overnight- Bulk rise
Let the sourdough work its magic. If my house is particularly chilly, I try to find the warmest spot possible.
8:15am Saturday Morning- Shaping and the second rise
Confirm that the dough doubled, turn it on the counter, fold each quarter of the dough ball into the middle, flip it, and let it sit for 5-10 minutes.
- 8 minutes later: Tighten the dough more into a ball by rotating and dragging it on the counter. Carefully put the ball into a flour-lined bowl. Because I make bread often, I have a dedicated “flour-towel” that I’ve let build up. I do check it each time to make sure that it doesn’t have mold or a foul smell.
- Let the dough sit for 1-2 hours.
12:00pm Saturday- Scoring and baking
Remember when I said that sourdough can be forgiving? Well, we wanted to go out for coffee, and there’s no way I would let the bread bake while we were gone. Because of that, the second rise ended up being more like 3.5 hours instead of 1-2 hours, but that’s okay. The dough was much softer than it probably would’ve been otherwise, so it spread more and was harder to score. In hindsight, I wish I would’ve done four cuts (12, 3, 6, and 9 of a clock), but it is what it is, and now I feel motivated to go out and buy a scoring tool.
Time for the oven! The recipe calls for the oven to be 450 degrees, but I bake mine at 425 in a parchment paper lined Lodge enameled cast iron dutch oven. My gas oven tends to burn the bottoms of loaves at 450, and it shuts itself off due to high heat when I have it on for more than 20 minutes or so. After 30 minutes with the lid on, take off the dutch oven’s lid, and let it bake one more time. For my particular oven, 24 extra minutes is the sweet spot.
For the sake of comparison, here is the same recipe when the second rise isn’t longer than it should be. You can see it spread much less and let out more air where it was scored.
The bread was certainly a hit with the family! From bringing a loaf to dinner in the past, I know that it’s sometimes easier to arrive with the loaf pre-cut, and no one had any idea that it wasn’t as perfectly shaped as it could have been.
While this process looks like a lot of steps, I hope this post shows that the “hands-on” time with sourdough isn’t super long. Once you find a handful of recipes that you enjoy and a feeding routine that works for your lifestyle, I promise that taking the time to make your own bread is 100% worth the extra effort. A bread void of preservatives and made with few, whole ingredients would be much more expensive to buy at the store. Plus, it tastes great and gives you something to be proud of. If you’ve been curious about sourdough, this is your sign to give it a try.
Until next time, much love, Gabriela.