I have been experimenting with sourdough bread for about a year now. I’ve finally figured out how to consistently make a great loaf of bread that my family loves. If you’ve read the two previous sourdough posts you better understand the health benefits of sourdough. You also know how to feed your starter and keep it alive. During this post, I will describe how we manage our starter and how we make our bread. Unless you have a large family, you probably won’t need to make as much as we do.
I keep my starter in a dough bucket*.
I love these buckets because it’s easy to estimate how much starter you have because the buckets are marked. You can also set the lid on loosely when you’re making bread, or secure the lids when you’re putting the starter in the fridge. They’re a good size, but they do have smaller ones for those of you with smaller families.
If we want to make bread the next day, at night before bed we take the following steps:
- Stir the starter in Bucket A
- Add 1 cup of the starter to Bucket B
- Add 1 cup of the starter to Bucket C
- “Feed” each bucket by adding 1 cup of water and 2 cups of flour* to each bucket
- Stir each bucket well
- Set the lids on loosely
In the morning,
- Leave bucket A alone – you don’t need to feed it until the evening
- Add 1 cup water, 3 1/3 cups flour, 1 scant TBSP salt to bucket B
- Add 1 cup water, 3 1/3 cups flour, 1 scant TBSP salt to bucket C
- Stir well
- Turn each bucket out onto a floured surface
Each bucket makes 2 loaves, so these directions produce four loaves of bread. Once it is turned onto the floured surface we cut the dough in half so we now have 4 balls of dough. We gather four children and set the kitchen timer for 20 minutes (the amount of time the bread needs to be kneaded).
Everybody starts kneading and every two minutes the dough gets passed to the right. This makes the dough more evenly kneaded because some of the children are better at kneading than others.
Your dough may seem very dry at first, but if you keep kneading it will soften and you can work all the flour in. We don’t ever add more water, but if your dough is still super hard after you’ve been kneading awhile, you could sprinkle some water on.
Make sure the dough gets kneaded for 20 full minutes. You can take breaks if you need to because your hands and shoulders will get tired if you’re not used to kneading, but keep the actual knead time at 20 minutes.
Once you’ve finished kneading, shape the loaf and place it on a greased cookie sheet*.
We melt a little bit of coconut oil* in our hands and smooth it over the dough so the plastic wrap doesn’t stick. You can do this with butter or olive oil as well, but I like coconut oil because we’ll be baking the sourdough at high temps.
Cover the dough with plastic wrap and allow it to rise. Knowing the amount of time to let it rise is the tricky part because it depends on so many factors like temperature and how active your starter is. It usually takes anywhere from 4-8 hours to rise. If you let it rise too much, it will fall. It still tastes good, but it isn’t as light and fluffy.
When you are satisfied with the rise, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Once the oven is preheated, remove the plastic wrap and place the loaves in the oven. If you wish, you can score your loaves with a sharp knife* at this point.
These breads below have risen too long and fallen a little:
Once in the oven, I set the timer for 10 minutes. At the 10 minute mark, I switch the loaves and insert a thermometer into the bigger loaf. When the thermometer hits 200 degrees (takes anywhere from a few minutes to 15 minutes depending on how big the loaves have gotten), I remove the loaves from the cookie sheets and bake directly on the racks for 5 more minutes.
I then stand back while the children devour it.
A few random notes:
- You need to make sure that your starter is very active if you want your bread to rise well. You do this by making sure that you’ve fed it at least 3 times since it has been out of the fridge. Preferably 3 times in 36 hours or less.
- For a crispier crust, you can put a shallow pan of water in the bottom of your oven. You can also brush your crust with egg white.
- A longer, cooler rise will make your bread more sour. You can put it in the fridge for a little bit if your house is too warm, but if you cool it down too much, the starter may go inactive and your bread may not rise as well as you like, so play around til you find a good balance.
Because you’re regularly feeding your starter, you can get a lot of it, especially if you don’t make bread but once or twice a week. You can give your extra starter away, feed it to your chickens if you have any, or do what we do and make sourdough pancakes.
And that is how we make our sourdough bread!