This homemade sourdough bread post is our fourth installment in the “Fear Not Bread” series. Come on in! I’ll show you step by step how to make a delicious loaf of homemade sourdough bread.
I started the Fear Not Bread series as a bit of encouragement for my self described “bread challenged” BFF Chris, and for anyone else who is hesitant to make homemade bread from scratch. Baking bread is not difficult. Some bread can be downright simple. Some bread takes time. I started with a simple beer bread, moved on to an easy, but slightly more involved yeast bread, then transitioned to a versatile pizza dough. Through it all, you’ve been a great sport. You’ve ventured out of your comfort zone and baked bread from scratch. Go, you!
Since you’ve had success with the other bread recipes, I think you are ready to move on to something a bit more challenging. Chris chastised me for not giving her a challenge. She asked for rustic breads, or homemade sourdough, so here it is. This recipe is my adaptation of Irma S. Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking recipe, from the 1975 edition. If you haven’t cooked from the Joy of Cooking cookbook, you should. Libraries and eBay are rife with copies. Pick one up. Today.
Fair warning: I am going to throw around strange words like “starter” and “sponge.” I don’t mean the starter on your car, or the sponge you use to wash your dishes. Starter and sponge are bread terms, that I will explain. Don’t let the terminology intimidate you. Sourdough is made in three stages. Stages are very manageable, if you focus on the one at hand. You can do this. You may just win friends and influence a few people. Homemade sourdough is powerful stuff, man!
By the way, this is a long post, but totally worth it. So let’s get started.
Stage 1: The Homemade Sourdough Starter:
2 ¼ tsp. (1 packet) active dry yeast
2 C. lukewarm (70 to 80 degrees F) water
2 C. all-purpose flour
Starter is actually a preferment that will serve as the rising agent for the bread. It also adds depth with a slightly sour flavor, and a complimentary texture. A true starter begins with warm water and flour, which is mixed and set out to allow it to trap wild yeast flying around the air. Being that I don’t continually bake yeast breads or live in a bakery, I don’t have a whole lot of wild yeast hanging around, so I need to add a bit of yeast to get the starter, well, started.
First, invest in a large glass, wide mouth crock. I picked this one up at the local grocery store for under $5. When I’m not using it for starter, it’s an excellent way to display cookies. The starter and sponge are made in the same jar, and you’ll need the height later. This one is about a 12 inches tall. Homemade sourdough is son #2’s favorite bread, so he does a happy dance when he sees me get out this crock.
Fill a 2-cup measuring cup with warm water, and sprinkle yeast over the top. Give it a stir, being sure to get all the yeast off of the spoon and into to water. Let it sit for about 5 minutes to bloom a bit. You remember what “blooming” is, right? When the yeast swims around in the warm water and starts to wake up and get a little frisky? Great! I knew you did.
In the meantime, measure the flour into the crock. Once the yeast has had a brief soak in the warm water, pour it into the flour.
Stir the flour/warm water/yeast mixture with a wooden spoon until it’s smooth. A few tiny lumps are alright, but it shouldn’t be as lumpy as pancake batter.
Because I am easily distracted,(it’s an ADD thing,) I like to label the starter with the date that I mixed it so that I don’t lose track of time and forget where I am in the process. I highly recommend you do the same. Set the starter in a warm, draft free area of your kitchen. We’re going to let it ferment there for 4-7 days. But don’t forget about it–a good starter is like a pet, it needs daily attention.
The starter will separate overnight, and form a bit of a crust on top. Stir the crust down into the starter, breaking it up, and mix it all back together. Then walk away. Go! Be free! But come back the next morning to stir it again. Stir the starter each morning for at least 4 days, but no more than 7. I haven’t noticed much of a taste difference in bread made from 4 day starter vs. 7 day starter. What I have noticed it that there is a fine line between sour starter–which is good, and rancid starter–which is gross. That line tends to be crossed after 7 days on a counter top.
This is what the homemade sourdough starter should look like by day 6. Nice and bubbly, because the yeast has been doing its thing all week, and smelling slightly sour.
I tend to begin the starter on a Sunday night, stir it down all week, then make the sponge on Friday night, so it’s ready to be made into bread by Saturday. Hey, I have organized moments.
SO, let’s move on to the next stage: the sponge. A sponge, by definition, is just a wet batter with yeast added to it. Our yeast is coming from the starter. The yeast/starter creates bubbles in the batter, giving it a sponge-like appearance. That, is what Hubby would call “title significance.”
Stage 2: The Homemade Sourdough Sponge:
1 C. sourdough starter
1 ½ C. warm (80 degrees F) water
4 C. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. honey, or sugar, or molasses
Measure 1 cup of starter out of the crock. I like to pour it from the crock through a mesh strainer into the measuring cup. That way any bits of crust that haven’t been broken down by the fermentation process are filtered out. After measuring the starter, I give the crock a quick rinse with hot water before adding the flour to the crock.
At this point, it’s important to keep the starter warm and happy so that the yeast that we’ve worked so hard to perk up and and grow doesn’t stall out and take a nap. For that reason, warm water is added to keep the yeast warm and active.
Honey is added as well, so that the yeast has something to eat, which will help create the air bubbles that help the sponge rise and give it texture.
Salt is added to keep the yeast in check so it doesn’t get too crazy and rise way too much. I’ve forgotten the salt before, and it wasn’t pretty. Think of the Blob oozing out of the crock, over the counter, and onto the floor. What a mess! Do yourself a favor, and don’t forget the salt.
Stir it all together with a wooden spoon until everything is well incorporated. This will take some muscle, as the batter will be stiff. Leave the sponge overnight, in a warm place in the kitchen.
See how bubbly and spongy it looks? The well fed yeast will cause the sponge to rise near the top of the crock. This picture was taken an hour after mixing the sponge. If you are more patient than I am, you could probably watch it grow.
By morning, the yeast will have exhausted itself, and the sponge will have fallen.
As with the starter, a light crust will form on the sponge overnight–no worries, that will be stirred into the dough. Which brings us, at last, to the bread.
Stage 3: Making The Homemade Sourdough Bread:
2 C. all-purpose flour, divided
2 Tbls. butter, softened
1 egg, beaten
Add 1 cup of the flour, the softened butter, and beaten egg to the sunken sponge. Stir with a wooden spoon until well incorporated, or if your arms are tired like mine from mixing the sponge the night before, and dump it all in the bowl of a stand mixer, and let the mixer do the work. (Add the sponge, flour, butter and beaten egg to the mixing bowl, and stir on medium speed with the paddle attachment until thoroughly mixed.)
Switch to the dough hook, and knead in the last cup of flour, on medium speed. Once the flour has been mixed into the dough, increase the speed to medium-high, and let the hook knead the dough for 3 minutes. If you are kickin’ it old school without a stand mixer, knead in the last cup of flour by hand until the dough is smooth and elastic–about 10 minutes.
Now for the fun part–making the loaves!
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. It will be slightly tacky. Sprinkle a touch of flour on top, and roll it around the mat to form a large ball.
The dough is ready to form into loaves if you can push two fingers into the middle of the dough
and it bounces back slightly, but the indents remain. If the dough bounces back all the way, cover it with a clean towel, and let it rest for 10 minutes, and try again.
Divide the large dough ball in half with a bench scraper, or a sharp knife. If you use a knife, be sure not to cut through your pastry cloth. Trust me, cutting through your pastry cloth will ruin your day.
Roll the dough around to create two smooth dough balls. Set one aside.
Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a sort-of-rectangle. It’ll probably be more oval shaped. Place your loaf pan on top to make sure the dough is long enough. The dough should be about 1/2 inch longer than your loaf pan on each end.
Start with the side furthest from you, and tightly roll the dough into a cylinder.
Pull up the edges and pinch them together to seal.
Push down on the edges to release any trapped air. Tuck the edges up an pinch them to seal.
Put the bread into a greased loaf pan, seam side down.
Press the dough down to flatten.
The dough should mostly fill the gaps in the pan. Set it aside and go to the next loaf.
You can repeat the whole process, and make the second loaf of homemade sourdough the same way.
Or… Here’s what I like to do with the second loaf: Dump 1/2 cup of mini chocolate chips onto it!
It was initially son #2’s idea, because he thinks everything is better with chocolate chips.
Fold the dough in half, over the chocolate chips. Tuck any escapees in, and fold it in half a few more times to knead the chips into the dough.
Once the chocolate chips seem to be contained and embedded into the dough,
roll it out and drool over the chocolate-studded goodness.
Roll and form the dough into a loaf, as you did with the first one. Be extra sure that the ends are pinched together around the chocolate chips.
Brush the tops of both loaves with about 1 tablespoon of melted butter. The butter will keep the top crust soft. If you want a more rustic and crunchy crust, skip this step.
Cover the pans with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel. Let them rise until almost doubled in bulk–about 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Just for grins, brush the tops of the risen loaves with more melted butter.
Bake the loaves in the preheated 400 degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until its an even, light golden brown. We like our sourdough to be on the lighter side. I think it’s more versatile that way. For a more rustic bread, with a darker, thicker crust, continue baking an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until it’s as dark as you like it.
Remove the bread from the oven, tip the pans sideways, and cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, remove the bread from the pans, and finish cooling the loaves completely on their sides. Why on the side, you ask? It keeps the bread from sinking under the weight of the top crust during the cooling process. The bottoms of the loaves are very soft while still hot, right out of the pans.
Being that I made this homemade sourdough bread on a weekend that we had house guests, we tore into the bread within the first 10 minutes of it being out of the oven. Both loaves were gone before the end of the night.
The chocolate chip sourdough is delightful toasted, with a smear of butter. What fresh bread isn’t? But chocolate chip sourdough is life changing as french toast. Life changing!
Before we snarfed down all of the homemade sourdough with a stick of butter, we decided to make panini. Because we are all disciplined, and stuff. My brother packs more into a panini than anyone has a right to, but it always works.
Venture out of your comfort zone, and try making homemade sourdough bread. You’ll be glad that you did.