Basic White Sourdough

Basic White Sourdough

This basic white sourdough bread recipe will make two one kilo sourdough loaves. It is designed for liquid sourdough starter, but can be used with other types by simply keeping an eye on the liquid content when making the dough.

This is what we bakers call a 'straight up' recipe; clearly that means we make it 'straight up'. There is no prefermentation with this recipe. In this instance, the crumb will be loose but not big and open, like it is when we use dough starter and prefermentation. 

You'll need: 

  • About 300 g ripe liquid sourdough starter (to ascertain ripeness, see '7 day sourdough starter recipe). This equates to about 2 cups full. Better to weigh it though.

  • About 1.2 kg plain flour (I'm a fan of organic unbleached flour, but if you prefer regular white flour, go for it!).

  • Be ready with about 600 ml of water (the temperature of the water needs to be luke warm in winter, but for the rest of the year room temperature will do - more on this in future articles).

  • 24g of coarse salt (cooking salt is fine. Salt flakes are even better for texture, but don't get these mixed up with rock salt. Rock salt, or coarse salt, just doesn't dissolve - and you'll end up with chunks of salt in the bread. If you have a mortar and pestle, you can grind it down to be fine enough.

This sourdough bread recipe will produce about 2 to 2.2 kg of dough. This will be enough dough for 2 common sized bread tins to be about half filled. This sourdough recipe doesn't rise as much as yeasted bread, but it should fill your tins nicely when risen and baked. 

Making the dough:

In your plastic box or mixing bowl (see  'breadmaking equipment'), pour in the flour. Make a well in the middle, and pour in the water - start with about half, and then add most of the rest. Keep a little reserved, to be used if the dough feels too tough when it comes together. Put the starter in the well of water and squelch it so it mixes with the liquid.

Using one hand only, mix all the ingredients together roughly. I go for a circular motion, using my whole hand. This causes the flour to fall into line quite naturally. You don't need to knead - what you're after at this stage is just a fairly loose dough. Lumps are OK - this method actually allows chemistry to do the work for you.

If you can manage keeping one hand clean, you'll find that cleaning up afterwards is much easier. You may need to add some more water as you go, if the dough feels too thick or tight (remember to just use one hand if you can - when you do stuff like turn on and off taps, open cupboards etc with doughy hands, you'll soon discover just how quickly dough gets onto everything! The distribution of small fragments of dough through your kitchen makes being a domestic baker quite a chore, so I do what I can to keep it tidy as I go).

Make sure that the dough has absorbed all the flour and all the water before you leave it to rest. Once this has been achieved, put the lid on and leave it for about an hour. The picture below gives you a bit of an idea about how loose this dough can be. This method is known as the delayed salt method.

After about an hour, spinkle the salt over the dough. Knead it through, still using one hand until the dough comes together. You'll be amazed at how smooth the dough quickly becomes - in no time at all you should get a ball, like in the next picture. By using the delayed salt method, we have assisted the formation of gluten strands. By kneading, these strands become sheets of gluten, separated by water - which are all the better to play with and make shapes!

Don't worry about trying to get it perfect - as long as the salt is not all over the outside of the dough, it'll be fine. Once it starts to come together, you can use both hands. Now you'll find the dough is easy to remove from your hands too, because gluten has begun to form. 

First (bulk) Proofing: 

 Leave the dough to rest in the box with the lid on for about 5 to 8 hours (If your sourdough starter is not active, this may take longer - sometimes after twelve hours there isn't much action). You would like the dough to have doubled in size during this time, but this is not always possible. It will have filled out quite a lot, and will be very 'slack' if you poke it. It will need to be quite soft when it comes time to cut the dough.

Second (cut) Proofing: 

When it's ready, take it out of the box and divide it in two. This is where the stainless steel dough scraper comes in handy. You can get this roughly correct by eye, and just use your scales to adjust, cutting small pieces of dough from the bigger ball and putting them on the smaller one.

Take each piece and round it by hand with the seam at the bottom. Place at either end of the plastic box so they don't merge in the 'intermediate prooving' stage (this is the baker's term for what you're currently setting up). It's a good idea to wet the surface of each ball of dough before putting it back in the box. This helps it to come apart later.

Put the lid back on and leave the rounded balls of dough to recover.

In warm weather, this will only take about half an hour. If it's cooler, this could take an hour. Just enough to feel soft.

Now take them out of the box and place them on the bench, still with the seam at the bottom. Take one, turn it over, and flatten it out a bit, till it's about an inch thick. Now roll it into a cyclider, remembering to keep the seam heading into the middle of the dough. At this point I put them back into their box for a quick rest while I'm preparing the tins for them to go into.

This will create a nice smooth outer surface. Once you have a cylinder, do the next one in the same way. Always return them to the bench with the seam you've created on the bottom, so you can't see it.

Spray or wipe some water on the moulded cylinders, take your sieve and scoop some flour into it, and dust lightly over the top. Now put a few parallel diagonal slashes into the dough - quite deep. Pick up from underneath and place in your oiled tins.

If your tins are the right size, the dough should occupy about three quarters of the space. This will allow them to eventually rise above the top of the tins, making a very pleasing looking loaf.

Final (shaped) Proofing:

Put the tins somewhere sealed or moist and warm. If your dough box is large enough, you can place it back in that, and put the lid on.

Once inside this container, you've prevented the formed and tinned dough from skinning, and you've also created a mini proofer, which will prevent the dough from crusting and thus proove more quickly. 

Baking your White Sourdough Loaf:

Once the loaves have risen to fully fill the tin or baking sheet, turn on your oven. My default setting is between 180 and 220 degrees centigrade for two loaves. This depends on the type of oven you have, and the volume you want to bake in it. You might want to lower this by about 10 degrees for a fan forced oven. At this point check out the article on Domestic Ovens, and also in Oven Techniques for a bit more information.

Depending on how successfully you've been able to set up your oven from the article above, these loaves should bake in about an hour or less. I go for a light golden crust, though you may want to go for 'thickness' of crust. If this is the case, wind your oven down by ten degrees and bake for an extra fifteen minutes. The longer the baking time, the thicker the crust. 

A sharp tap on the side of the loaf with your finger will indicate whether it's baked - a hollow sound will be produced if it is - whereupon remove the tin and place the bread on a rack to cool. If it isn't baked, a sort of thud will sound, and another 10 or 15 minutes in the oven will get you there. So that's it - the Basic White Sourdough Recipe.

Want to learn more in a workshop setting, with other home bakers like you? Check out our School of Sourdough workshops, held monthly in the Lower Hunter Valley of NSW. Follow the link for more details.

If you need fresh sourdough starter, you can purchase some of mine by following this link. Freight within Australia is free. We are unable to ship overseas due to various international regulations.