A few months ago, Martha Levie from Abigail’s Oven demonstrated how to make sourdough bread at a workshop here at our home. I fell in love with this bread and have been making it ever since. It is kind of a long process, but not too intrusive. If you’re up for it, read on!
Or you can head on over to Abagail’s Oven and buy their locally-baked, historic sourdough bread. It is AMAZING. They sell bread at Good Earth locations along the Wasatch Front, at the Provo Farmer’s Market, and you can buy bread for home delivery within 3 miles of their Provo home. They use “Better than organic” flours and natural salt.
The bread requires several steps over 18 hours. It doesn’t require the entire time, and each step takes only a couple minutes. If I’m home already, might as well be making bread, right? I plan breadmaking when I know I am going to be home for an evening and the next morning.
Process Overview (with the time of day that works for our schedule)
- Activate the start (noon)
- Mix dough ingredients and stir every 30 minutes 3 times (6:00-8:00 pm)
- Let dough rise overnight (8-10 hours)
- Bench Rise (7:00 am)
- Tension dough
- Bowl rise (7:30 am)
- Score loaves (9:00 am)
- Bake (9:00-9:30 am)
Sourdough bread only requires 4 ingredients: sourdough start, water, flour, and salt. You will also need 2 dutch ovens with tight-fitting lids that fit into your oven (at the same time) OR a jelly roll pan and a squirt bottle.
Here is how we store the sourdough start. We use a half pint jar (with rim and lid) in the refrigerator. I find that the clear jar reminds me to make the bread when I see it.
Activate the Start
To begin, mix 2 Tablespoons start with 1 cup of water and 1 1/2 cups of flour (around noon).
Stir until combined.
Cover and let sit for about 6 hours.
Mix the Dough
About 6-8 hours later (6:00 pm), the start should look alive. It should be bubbling and increased in size (see photo below).
At this point, it is time to mix the dough. You will need 3 1/2 cups of lukewarm water, 1 cup of the start, 4 cups white flour, and 3 1/3 cups whole wheat flour.
The original recipe calls for 3/4 cups of start, but we prefer a bit more of the sour flavor, and want more of the beneficial bacteria in our diet. The recipe also calls for 5 2/3 cups white flour and 1 2/3 cups wheat flour. I modified it to have more wheat. The modification has a good wheat/moisture balance, and works for us. Baking sourdough bread with all whole wheat flour can be quite temperamental, but feel free to experiment.
Place the water in the bowl and then add the start. A good test to see if the start is ready is if it floats in the water.
Take some of the leftover start (at least 2 T) and put it into the half pint storage jar, cover, and place it in the fridge to save for next time.
Next, add the flour.
30 minutes later, add 2 T salt and 1/4 cup of water.
Stir in the salt and water well. Salt helps the microbes to multiply. This step takes some muscle, but is worth not having a super salty bite of bread.
Turn the dough every 30 minutes 3 times, (total 1 1/2 hours) then go to bed (around 8:30 pm).
In the morning, about 8-10 hours later (7:00 am), you should see this! This beautiful dough is doubled in size and alive-looking.
Put about 1/4 cup of flour onto the counter and then dump the dough out onto the flour.
Then cut it in half.
Form it into 2 loaves. Let these loaves sit for 30 minutes. (This is when I take a shower.)
Tension the Loaves
Spray the parchment paper with oil. I like the EVO oil sprayer.
Once the bowls are ready, it’s time to tension the loaves. Start by taking one of the balls in your hands and stretch it out until it is about 18 inches long.
Stretch one end so it forms an upside-down “T.”
Then the other on top of it (like a diaper).
Next, roll the dough, starting at the folded end.
And ball it in your hands. It will feel firm rather than loose. Repeat on the same loaf, if necessary. Then do the other loaf.
Tensioning the loaf is important so there are fewer large air pockets in the bread. It helps the slices stays together in one piece.
Place the dough in the bowls with oiled parchment and let it rise until doubled. This usually takes about 1 1/2 hours.
For cleanup, it works great to have a cloth that is half wet and half dry. Use the dry cloth to wipe up all of the flour from the counter that you can. Then use the wet side to clean up any stuck bits. Wetting flour on the counter can make doughy and difficult to remove.
3o minutes before baking, (about 8:30 am), place the dutch ovens in the oven and preheat the oven to 500 F (OR place the jelly roll pans in the oven and preheat). I need to remove the baking rack from the oven first.
Take the loaves (now doubled in size).
And score a deep “X” into the top of the dough.
The loaf will usually split on the top while baking. Cutting the “X” helps us control where the loaf will split so that it looks pretty.
Place the scored loaf into the preheated dutch oven and splash about 1/4 cup of water onto the dough. The water helps it be nice and moist and crisp on the outside, chewy in the center.
Place the lid on the dutch oven and place it back in the oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.
If using a jelly roll pan, spray water in the oven before you close the door to create the steam effect. I haven’t tried this, but would guess you need to spray quite a bit of water in the oven. Each loaf requires 1/4 cup in a dutch oven. Bake 25-30 minutes until golden brown.
Remove the dutch ovens from the oven, take off the lid, and pull the bread out using the parchment paper. Slice it up and eat it warm. Yum! One of life’s greatest joys is eating warm buttered bread.