Updated: Mar 30, 2020
Bread. The staple of life. Growing up in a Honduran household, we would always have fresh bread. Whether it was a batch of fresh tortillas, a loaf of crunchy bread, or some semitas from the local bodega, my parents always kept bread on the table.
The perfect sourdough usually means a crispy, crunchy, rustic loaf of bread. It has taken me some time to begin to understand exactly what a good loaf of bread is supposed to be like. During the baking process, I am often ruminating on how to achieve the perfect loaf. Every time I bake a loaf, I am looking for that perfect crust, that amazing texture.
Although I have plenty of different ideas about what sourdough bread should be like, here is my rendition of a basic "country" loaf.
There is something about having fresh, rustic bread in your kitchen that can't be compared with anything else. It doesn't matter what meal you're preparing to eat - fresh bread will always have a place at the table. I first started making rustic loaves of sourdough because I was intrigued by this building block of bread baking. It is the purest form of making a delicious loaf of bread. All you need to do is create yourself a sourdough starter and understand when to use it. Check out my simple process for making a sourdough starter here.
I don't want you to feel as though you need to understand any complex math or science problems to make a good loaf of bread. The goal of this process is to keep everything simple and easy to understand while allowing you to begin to use your instincts. Trial and error is the best way to improve your ability to bake good bread. I encourage you to embrace your "failures" and enjoy them at the dinner table. Every loaf of bread you make has its own personality and purpose - don't forget that you made it with your two hands. Be proud of every loaf that you bake!
As a note, in my recipes, I use almost exclusively King Arthur flour.
While it can be difficult to get consistent, quality fresh flour in some areas of the country.
In my opinion, King Arthur flour is the most affordable and readily accessible flour to achieve a flavorful result. If you are in an area with quality, fresh flour, by all means, use what you have and desire.
What You'll Need (Levain Mix - makes more than you need)
100 grams mature sourdough starter
50 grams Whole Wheat Flour
150 grams Bread Flour
170 grams warm water
What you'll need:
600 grams Bread Flour
200 grams Whole Wheat Flour
200 grams All-Purpose Flour
20 grams Kosher Salt
210 grams levain (see build below)
Up to 800 grams warm water
If you don't have a mature sourdough starter, check out my simple five day process on creating one from scratch.
I usually will mix with a fork or with my hand.
Since I incorporate a lot of mature starter into the mix, it is ready to use in about 3-4 hours, when it is in its "young" stage. You'll know it's ready to use, not just because of the volume increase, but because when you pull at it you can see a web-like structure has developed. This is my cue to start mixing. Thus, you have to keep an eye on the structure and not just rely strictly on the clock. My ambient temperature is usually between 72-75 degrees Fahrenheit.
I recommend using up to 800 grams of water for a basic loaf of bread that is hand mixed. If you are new to baking, you can even use as little as 650 grams of water for the final mix amount. This will allow you to get comfortable handling dough and understanding fermentation. The more water you incorporate, the more possibility of a soupy mess you can get. So, the amount of water you want to use is depending on your ambition or skill level.
I will use a total of 800 grams of water, but I will start with only about 600 grams of warm water. I will break the steps down in a numbered list to make it easy to follow:
Add about 75% of your total water into a bowl.
Dissolve the 210 grams of levain into the water. It may not dissolve completely, which is fine.
Slowly add your flour with one hand while mixing with the other. You will, at some point, need both hands. Your goal is to incorporate the water into the flour. Once it starts to come together and feels dry, let it rest for 5 minutes.
Proceed to slowly add the remaining water, but save about 10-20 grams for when we add the salt in step 6. I usually will add 50g at a time, mix, and let it rest for 5 minutes.
Once all of your desired water is added and there is no dry flour, transfer to another tub or bowl and let rest for an hour. It's wise to transfer from the bowl you mixed in because you will start to get dried up flour particles interfering with your folds later on.
After an hour has elapsed, add the salt and the last bit of water. Squeeze the water and salt into the dough, but don't tear at it. The water and salt will absorb with squeezing and gentle folding for about 5-7 minutes. Trust the process and be patient, as at first, it does not seem like the water will incorporate.
After the salt is incorporated, perform a gentle "stretch and fold" every 30 minutes, for a total of 2 times. You can also get away with no stretches if you aren't a perfectionist and just want to eat good bread.
Depending on your ambient temperature, your dough may need up to 5 more hours to finish its first fermentation. Signs to look for are a smooth surface, bubbles, elasticity when you pull at the top, and a slight web-like structure at the bottom when you turn the dough out of the table.
Once you're ready to shape, flour your work surface and divide the dough into 2 pieces.
Get creative here. You can check out my Instagram feed for examples of how I like to shape.
Proof in baskets or bowls for about 30 minutes, cover with a plastic bag and put into your fridge overnight (8-12 hours).
You can bake these in cast iron pans or on pizza stones. Preheat either of these items with the oven to 500 degrees. By the way, I use the Ooni pizza stone as it is designed to withstand high heat. I've had plenty of cheaper stones crack at 450 degrees.
If using the cast iron, no need to spray the oven or add extra steam. If using the pizza stone, use a spray bottle after loading your bread into the oven and spray the sides and back.
You can lower your oven to 475 or 450 depending on your oven. Bake the loaf for 20 minutes on the stone/in the cast iron.
Let the steam out and then transfer your loaf to the top rack for another 20 minutes. I like to bake dark, so sometimes I go a little extra. I finish my bake with the oven door open to let all the moisture out.
They say to let your bread cool, but I say dig in. Warm bread with butter is the best.