Sourdough Bread Recipe

There is nothing better on a cold winter day than a nice warm loaf of sourdough bread. One of our favorite ways to eat is it to toast up some slices on our cast iron pan and make a sandwich. A grilled ham and cheese sandwich is TO DIE FOR made out of some homemade sourdough bread! Once you try it, you will never eat a regular grilled cheese sandwich again... 

If you need a great sourdough starter recipe, head over to Farmhouse on Boone and check our hers. It's the one I use when I'm in the mood for some sourdough. We've had our current starter for about a month and it's been awesome! Fair warning, sourdough bread making is not hard, but it takes a lot of patience. This post is loaded with TONS of photos showing you how to do it every step of the way so you will be able to make it too! 

This is how our starter is looking this morning. I fed it last night and covered it with a cotton kitchen towel and set it out on our kitchen counter.

Before I fed it, I used a spoonful of the starter to get my next batch of sourdough bread rolling. I mixed that spoonful in a different bowl with water and flour (see recipe below for all the specifics) to create the leaven that will be the base for my bread. Then I covered the leaven with plastic wrap and let it sit overnight on my counter. In the morning it was nice and bubbly. That's how you know when it's ready.

Add the water to the leaven. I like to use room temperature tap water.

It isn't all going to dissolve into the water, but it will look very "milky" white.

Next add in the 5 1/2 cups of flour. You have a few choices here. Our family preference is to use bread flour. It has more gluten in it and produces a much softer, chewier loaf. If you prefer harder, drier sourdough use all purpose flour. I'm making ours with bread flour.

The flour doesn't want to mix in very easily. I just use my wooden spoon and sort of chop and turn the mixture until it looks like this.

You'll want to be sure that there isn't any loose flour on the bottom of your bowl. This shaggy dough shouldn't stick too badly to your hands if you try and pull it off your spoon. Don't be tempted to add any extra water. It will all work out perfectly in the end... trust me!

While that sits for a minute, I mix up the salt water. I like to add the salt to warm water... it probably doesn't matter, but somehow I think it dissolves a tiny bit faster .. but it could all just be in my head.

Next is the first of several waiting periods. Cover the shaggy dough with plastic wrap and let it rest for a minimum of 30 minutes and up to 4 hours. Be sure to stir the saltwater mixture to try and dissolve as much of the salt as possible.

I let mine rest for about an hour before I added my saltwater. The longer you let it sit, the more the water can be absorbed into the flour and it can break down the proteins in the flour better. But, if you are on a time crunch (or are impatient like me) letting it sit for at least the 30 minutes will be enough.

I like to pour my saltwater all over the top of the dough to try and spread it out for the next step.

Instead of taking your spoon to try and stir in the water (which would be nearly impossible), or trying to knead the water into your dough, you simply pinch the dough. It sounds a little crazy maybe, but all you need to do is to pinch and squeeze the dough to get the saltwater mixture to fully incorporate.

You'll know you are done when there isn't anymore saltwater in the bottom of your bowl.

Now begins the longest 2/5 hours of your life... well sort of. Just be sure you have a timer handy and nowhere in particular you need to be. This is the step I like to do in the afternoon when kids are home from school and we are only up to getting homework done. Begin by grabbing the top edge of your dough and fold it over to the other side. Then turn your bowl 1/4 turn and repeat. Continue around until you have folded over your dough four times. Then cover and let sit for 30 minutes. Set your timer! You need to repeat the process every 30 minutes for 2.5 hours (6 times).

The dough starts out very sticky and slightly watery. Each time it rests and you refold the dough it tightens up and absorbs all of the water into the flour.

After the 6 times of folding the dough, let it rest for 30-60 minutes, covered. Then turn the dough out on to a floured surface. I use my large pizza stone for this because it's flat and easy to clean. Your dough will rise slightly during the rest period, but it won't double in size.

I use my trusty Cake Boss scraper to slice my dough in half.

Taking one half of the dough, tug the sides and bring them to the back over and over again until you have a nice smooth top to your dough ball.

The underside will look something like this. It's okay if it looks a little rough... 

You can set your dough roll down and prep your proofing basket (or in my case bowl). I grabbed a large plastic bowl and put my flour sack towel in it. Then took nearly 1/4 cup of flour and rubbed it all over the towel. You want the flour to really get into the towel because it prevents your dough from sticking to the towel as it proofs. Seriously, lots of flour!

Take your smooth dough ball, and place it smooth side down inside your proofing basket. I like to dust the top of the ball with flour and add some more to the sides of the towel... just to be sure it's well coated.

Then lightly fold over the ends of your towel so that it covers the dough. Once your two dough balls have been covered up in their proofing baskets, allow them to proof for 3-4 hours.

The baking comes next. I did my baking at night after the kids had gone to bed, so they aren't the best pictures, but you'll get the gist of it. Start by heating up a dutch oven to 500ºF in the oven. It doesn't take long for it to heat, especially if you have a well seasoned cast iron one like we do.

Once it's warmed up, carefully take it out of the oven. Open the towel on one of your dough balls to reveal your sourdough in all it's glory! I put my hand under the towel so that the top of the dough ball (the side that was down in the proofing basket) sits in my hand. Then in one quick motion, flip your hand over so that your dough lands in the HOT dutch oven. If your towel was sufficiently floured you will be able to simply peel your towel off the top of your dough and it will be beautiful. If you are like me, and sometimes don't get enough flour on it, you may need to pinch the dough where it is sticking to the towel. It isn't going to look as perfect when it cooks, but it will still taste delicious!

Use a sharp knife to score the top - you can sort of see my score lines in the photo above. Then place the lid on your dutch oven, and put it back in your 500ºF oven for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, lower the oven temp to 450ºF and keep the lid on, cooking it for another 10 minutes. You don't even need to open your oven. You need to leave the lid on the entire time. Your sourdough is steaming inside the dutch oven and getting that nice crispy crust that we love on sourdough!

Once the ten minutes are up, take the lid off your dutch oven and continue to let it cook for another 10-15 minutes depending on how crunchy you like your crust to be. Here's how mine looked once I took the lid off.

Be sure to set your timers along the way so that you don't burn your bread. My husband was laughing last night because my timers kept going off. Once it's ready to come out of the oven, let it cool for a few minutes in the dutch oven. Then transfer it to a cooling rack. I find that if I leave mine in the dutch oven to cool the bottom gets too cooked for our liking.

We've made lots of sourdough and I've found that my kids don't like it with a super tough, crunchy crust. So, this is how ours looks when I pull them out of the oven.

Once one is out of the oven I bump up the oven temp back to 500ºF, stick the dutch oven back in to warm to temperature again, and do the whole process over again for the second loaf. My oven isn't big enough to fit two dutch ovens, but if yours is you can totally cook them at the same time.

I love to just hold the cooked sourdough bread in my hands and smell it. There is something so satisfying about being able to enjoy all the work that's led up to this point.

We can't wait to slice into these loaves and make some toast or grilled sandwiches. Watch for more sourdough recipes to come!

I made another batch and this time I let the dough rise overnight in the fridge (which I've done before). I find that when they rise in the fridge, they don't plump out as much, and it's easier to control the slice on the top of your bread that you make before you bake it. Here is how the two loaves that I left overnight in the fridge turned out. You can see that they have a much more "classic" sourdough shape to them.

Download the Web Version of the Recipe Here or a PDF of the recipe here.

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