Sourdough Bread Recipe, A No Knead Method
A photo of my focaccia bread on my FaceBook page got many “likes” and several requests for the starter and recipe. So I made starters from mine and promptly gave them away. Here’s the way to make your starter from scratch, care for it, and then make whole wheat sourdough bread that almost never fails me. Yes, I fail sometimes. Only the gods are perfect. My dad taught me to fail, to admit I fail, and to learn from the failure so I don’t repeat the same mistake. Some fails take a few repeats to really get it right.
To start with, you need a sourdough starter. I’ll give you my grandpa’s recipe passed down from his youth in about 1912 as the summer cook in our family’s sheep grazing camps in Idaho’s Seven Devils Mountains. As a young man in 1927 he rescued the diamond drill bit for his mining company by mixing up a tacky dough and sticking it to the end of the drill, then lowering it down the shaft. The drill bit stuck to the dough and was easily pulled up. The mining operation was only briefly down that day. Here’s the story about the mine.
This is how Grandpa taught me to make a new starter. <!–more–> Boil a potato (we live in Idaho, right?) and save 1 cup of the boiling water. Eat the potato. Cool the water to room temperature. In a glass jar stir 1 cup flour with the 1 cup potato water. Cover it with a loosely woven towel to keep dust out but let microscopic yeast in. Leave it on the counter several days. It will ferment, get a lovely sourdough aroma and it may develop a grayish liquid hooch floating on top. Stir the hooch back in or poor it off, no matter. Here is a delightful version of the story.
The potato water has natural sugar and starch in it. Yeast lives in air, just about everywhere on Earth. It is a living organism that feeds on the protein in flour and multiplies. That’s how it expands or rises. It’s a process of fermentation. Yeast will find its food in the jar and dive in. After you’ve trapped the yeast all you have to do is keep it alive and you’ll be able to make bread that rises, no need to purchase dry or cake yeast. In 3-4 days up to a week, you’ll need to add 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup warm water to offer more food, stir it in, put a lid on the jar and store it in the refrigerator until you want to use it.
Another way to make your starter is to get some from a friend or buy a mix from a store. You can even put a cup of flour and a cup of water in a jar, cover it with a light cloth and leave it on the counter several days until it ferments. I did that in my classroom whenever we read a Jack London story.
Keep the starter thriving: You have to occasionally feed the starter to keep the yeast alive and active. For making bread and biscuits I use a much thicker starter. It rounds up on a table spoon. The theory and practice is that you start your sponge with less living yeast and more flour to feed them. They multiply better, don’t run out of food and stop reproducing, and therefore the bread and biscuits rise higher from the gas produced by the abundant lively yeast. Your bread will have nice high air bubbles in it and it won’t be a dense brick. For bread, reduce the amount of water you use when feeding your starter until you have it thick enough. Then, every 1 – 2 weeks stir in ¼ cup flour and 1/8th cup water to the starter to keep it fed. Feed more often if you are depleting the starter to less than ¼ cup. I keep only ¼-1/2 cup on hand. It only takes 1 tablespoon to make a sponge for bread so I don’t keep a large amount of starter ready.
Keep it capped in the refrigerator. Some cooks keep another jar of runny starter to use in pancakes and other recipes. If hooch (stinky liquid) forms on top, you can pour it off or stir it back in. This happens if the starter has not been fed for too long, no matter, it’s still good starter and you’ll know it wants to be fed.
Sponge for bread or biscuits: When you want to make bread you start by making a sponge, or getting the yeast excited and active. Mix a sponge the night before you plan to use it or early morning if you want to use it for dinner biscuits. I use the same 1/4 cup tool for all the measurements so instead of saying 1/2 cup, you will see 2/4 cups.
In a glass container or small crock mix gently
¾ cups flour (bread flour is best but all purpose if fine)
2/4 cups lukewarm water
1 heaping tablespoon starter (the thick starter)
Cover with light cloth or a loose fitting dish that lets a little air in. Let it stand (or sit) on the counter over night or at least 6 hours.
The sponge will increase its volume, rise higher in the crock, and then settle back down so you could see a line to where it expanded. That’s fine. It should look bubbly.
Note: If you leave the sponge too long the yeast critters will have eaten all the flour protein and start to die and lose strength for making bread rise. They will need more food so, only in this case, add 2/4 cups more flour and ¼ cup water and let it eat a couple hours longer to form enough gas needed for rising. If I added more flour in this case, I subtract it from the amount needed for my bread recipe.
The recipe for 1 big loaf of bread, no knead method. OK, so you know about the starter, how to keep it thriving, and how to make a sponge hours before making your recipe. Now, let’s make the dough.
1st evening: make the sponge (above). I use bread flour for this. 3/4 cup flour, 2/4 cup warm water (not hot), 1 table spoon starter.
Next morning: add 2/4 cups bread flour and ¼ cup lukewarm water, gently stir it in. Cover crock with a dish again and let it set out all day. Doing this really boosts the energy for making bread rise!
That afternoon: repeat the morning addition of flour and water. You now have added a total of 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water in 2 doses.
2nd evening: With the flour you added this morning and afternoon, the sponge has expanded and gas has formed bubbles like the photos above. Use the sponge now and mix dough. You want a total of about 2 cups flour. You have already added 1 cup to the sponge this morning so that counts as part of the total flour you will need. Now you need to add 1 cup to make the total 2 cups needed. You can use all white bread flour or mix with whole wheat, oat flour, or other grains. The more whole wheat and other grains you mix in, the more chance it won’t raise well. The more white bread flour, the better it will raise. I am able to get half the flour as whole wheat, after learning from many fails. Try changing your ratio of white and wheat flours if you have trouble. Try your first loaf with all white bread flour for success.
In a large glass bowl, mix dry ingredients.
1 cup flour of your choice as noted above
½ heaping tsp. baking soda (makes it form nice big gas bubbles)
½ tsp salt
optional Add up to 1/4 cup wheat or oat bran or other grain and 1 T. flax seed. The more I add, the less rise I get. Start with a tablespoon or two and experiment to see what works for you.
Mix wet ingredients into the sponge in its crock, gently. First, I start with the water in a glass measuring cup with a pour spout, and add the oil next into the water. Oil coats the spoon so molasses slides off easily. Add the molasses then stir with measuring spoon. Then pour it all into the sponge in the crock and mix gently. It doesn’t all mix in and that’s fine. The sponge will deflate a little when you stir it.
½ cup lukewarm water
1T. olive oil (omit for better rise. French bread uses no olive oil, Italian bread uses it.)
1T. molasses (optional but I like its color and flavor and I feel it helps feed yeast.)
Add wet mixture to dry ingredients in the bowl, stir to mix it, no kneading unless only slightly if the color is not mixing into the dough. The color doesn’t all have to mix in; it will eventually mix and come out fine. Dough will be quite wet and sticky, that’s a good thing. Cover the bowl with a dish or lid. I use a dish as the lid to my big Pyrex mixing bowl. A plastic grocery bag works well, too. Lid doesn’t have to fit tight. Leave it on the counter overnight. You can put it in the fridge a couple days for a slower rise and more sourdough flavor. If you do that, just take it out and let it warm to room temp slowly before the next step.
Stir just enough to mix. It will look uneven but it all mixes and rises overnight.
Next morning: Stretch, don’t knead the dough. This is the French “slap and fold” method. Links to videos are below the next photo. Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured or oiled counter or board. Oil is easier to clean up later than flour that sticks to board. Yes, it’s wet and may be kind of runny. Sort of scoop it up in a pile and invert the bow over it. Set your timer for 20 min.. Go drink your coffee, watch birds, or do yoga and let it rest. In 20 min. lift off the bowl and stretch the dough gently on one side, then the opposite side, then one end, then its opposite end. Flour it and flour your hands as needed so you can handle it. If you oiled the board just wet your hands and it’s easy to handle. Dough doesn’t stick to wet hands well so try that. It will resemble pizza dough. Fold one side onto the middle part of the dough. Fold its opposite side onto it forming a long pile. Then fold each end up the same way into a heap, turn it over onto the floured or oiled board, cover with the bowl again and let it rest 15-20 min. again. You can look at some video examples below. Try not to let it tear, you are stretching the dough to let it form gas, those nice big bubbles we like in sourdough bread. If it tears a little it’s firming up. Do this for a total of 3 rests and stretches after the initial rest. After the last stretch, let it rest up to 20 min. before forming the loaf.
Scrape out of bowl, cover with bowl, rest 20 min.
Stretch, cover with bowl, rest 15-20 min.
Stretch, cover with bowl, rest 15-20 min.
Stretch, cover with bowl, rest 20 min.
You might like this video demonstration. This baker puts the dough back in the bowl between stretches and waits longer. I like my method better but I stretch the dough the same way. Each time I stretch it, the dough gets thicker and higher until it’s ready to form the loaf. Here is another video demonstration for stretching dough. His dough is as wet as mine often is, he uses a scraper, but he only stretches dough once for a different effect. Again, he starts with very small amount of starter. You really don’t need much.
Form the loaf: Shape the loaf and then put in into an oiled loaf pan or on an oiled baking sheet, and let it rise at least an hour or until double which may take a half day or longer. Whole wheat takes longer to rise. I use my 3 qt. cast iron sauce pan, oiled on bottom and sides all the way up. It usually rises higher than the sides of this pan. Or I use my clay bread loaf pan. Or I form a long baguette or Italian loaf or ciabatta rolls and put them on a baking sheet. Usually it’s the cast iron sauce pan, no lid. Cover with light cloth to rise. To avoid drafts I let it rise in the oven. No heat in summer oven but in cool seasons I heat my oven to 110 degrees, or as cool as I can, turn it off and let bread raise in the slightly warm oven. If the oven is too warm it kills the yeast so be careful. 110 is just right. My new gas oven has a handy “bread proof” setting and it rises quicker in it. Don’t rush this fermenting process, it’s forming gas bubbles and rising.
Baking: Remove bread from oven while preheating to 450. You can leave it in during preheating if you like but I don’t. Bread will have an “oven spring” usually, rising even more. Bake 20 – 25 min.. It should be nicely browned and sound solid when you thump it with your fingers. Remove bread from pan and cool on rack. Mine usually pops out of the pan without too much work. I run a butter knife around the edge to be sure it’s loose. “Completely cool it before cutting as it will keep cooking while it cools.” That rule never works at my house! We eat it warm, turned on its side to cut, with butter and honey. A round loaf gives you lots of chances for crusty heals. But truly, if you let it cool you get more air pockets and a better result.
I’ll post my recipe for focaccia bread in a future post. Remember, if your bread turns out flat you can always call it flat bread, slice it horizontally like ciabatta for sandwiches or use it for dipping bread or serve thin crusts with spreads. When bread gets dry I make croutons or grind it for panko.
My favorite sourdough recipes are here. I’ve reworked and modified his recipe for 5 loaves to make the 1 loaf recipe you just read. The biscuits on his site are the best! Scroll down to find them in the link. I also like his waffles made with home grown eggs. Hamburger buns are good, too, but the crust came off when I froze them so fresh is better.
Have fun and let me know how it works out for you!
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