Sourdough Bread is My Favorite Type of Bread
Over the past twenty years I've made dozens of loaves of bread. Quick breads, yeast breads and sourdough breads. Not all breads have turned out perfectly. Yet, the process of making bread is always enjoyable.
As the name suggests, quick breads do not require time to rise. Generally you add baking soda or baking powder to the recipe so your baked goods will rise in the oven. Sometimes you need to add an acidic agent, such as buttermilk or yogurt, to help the baking soda work properly.
Yeast breads use either dry yeast or cake yeast to encourage the dough to rise. When using yeast, the rising time will not be very long. Usually one or two hours for each rise. Even less time for each rise if you use instant dry yeast.
My favorite type of bread, however, is sourdough bread made from a sourdough starter. Learn how to create, maintain and use sourdough starter with A Basic Sourdough Starter Guide. Sourdough bread requires more care and patience, yet does not take more active time than quick or yeast breads. Like for yeast breads, sourdough bread requires you to mix and knead the dough before letting it rise once or twice. The dough nevertheless needs more time to ferment. During this fermentation time the sourdough starter will turn the flour and water into a mouth-watering delight. You can meanwhile go about your other business.
See A Guide For Making Bread at Home for a useful description of the bread-making process. This guide will lead you through the various steps of making bread as well as familiarize you with some of the vocabulary used. It will definitely supplement the information you will find in this post.
Finding a Trustworthy Sourdough Bread Recipe
The past few months I've tried several recipes for sourdough bread. For example, I followed a couple recipes from Nancy Silverton's legendary book Breads from the La Brea Bakery as well as another recipe from Moro: The Cookbook by Sam and Sam Clark.
Through these experiences, I have developed this trustworthy fail-proof recipe for you. It skips some of the steps mentioned in other recipes for shaping and proofing. Yet, you will not notice the difference and will be pleased to save the effort.
Ingredients of Sourdough Bread
This Sourdough Bread recipe calls for 75% organic hard unbleached wheat flour (aka bread flour) and 25% organic high extraction wheat flour (aka brown flour), along with the sourdough starter, water and salt. That's it! No fat or sugar added. Five main ingredients for a bread whose flavor is the right amount of tangy, especially when toasted. This bread is also fairly light and airy while having a medium density.
Definition of flours
Do not be intimidated by the name for the flours used. Hard unbleached wheat flour is made from hard red winter wheat, which is great for bread recipes as it's higher in gluten. It is basically a bread flour that has not been bleached white. Bread flour, like other white flours, are usually made from whole wheat grain, yet have been processed to remove the bran and wheat germ. Whole wheat flour is also made from the whole wheat grain, but keeps the bran and wheat germ. As a result, whole wheat flour is higher in fiber, thus more nutritious and heavy than white flour.
Between whole wheat flour (which contains all the bran and germ) and white flour (which has sifted out the bran and germ) lie several types of brown flour. Each type indicates the level of ash that remains in the flour after being processed. The ash in flour comes mainly from the bran, with some coming from the germ or even the endosperm. Whereas Type 50 flour (white flour) contains about 0.5 % ash, Type 150 (whole wheat flour) contains between 1.5% and 2% ash. The number given to each type expresses the level of ash remaining in the flour.
The term high extraction refers to a higher level of ash remaining in the flour after being processed. I've been using Type 85 flour, which is considered to be high extraction flour lying somewhere between white and whole wheat flour (Type 150). It retains much of the nutritional value of whole wheat flour, yet contains less bran. Consequently, products made with Type 85 flour will be lighter than products made with Type 150.
Buying Bread Flour
Most supermarkets carry bread flour in their baking goods section. Popular brands, such as King Arthur Flour and Bob's Red Mills sell bread flour at stores across the United States as well as via their websites. I love Central Milling's Organic Artisan Bakers Craft Plus, which is malted hard unbleached wheat flour. The slight addition of malted barley enhances the taste of my homemade sourdough bread and helps the dough rise even better. Central Milling offers a wide selection of flours and grains via their online store and at specialty stores nationwide. I've purchased the flour directly from Central Milling as well as at my favorite neighborhood butcher shop, McCalls Meat and Fish Company. The price ends up being the same.
Substituting flour made from other grains
The higher the extraction your flour is, the more dense your bread will be because of the extra fiber from the bran and wheat germ. However, substituting some oat or spelt flour for up to one-fourth of the bread flour (hard unbleached wheat flour) will give the sourdough bread a different texture. Oat and spelt flours, for instance, tend to make the bread more soft and tender while giving it nutty overtones.
Likewise, substituting some of the Type 85 flour with flour milled from other grains, such as rye flour or buckwheat flour, will influence your bread's taste. Personally I enjoy substituting about one-fourth of the Type 85 flour with rye and/or buckwheat flour to give my bread a flavor that has more depth.
While buckwheat and oat flours are gluten free, spelt and rye flours contain some gluten, yet less than in wheat flour. As flours containing no or little gluten reduce the rise and elasticity of your bread, I recommend substituting only up to one-fourth of the total wheat flour indicated in the recipe with flour made from other grains.
Use this recipe as a starting point to practice your bread-making skills. Later, maintain the same general proportions when substituting in other flours to try new combinations. You might need a little more or less flour than indicated in the recipe, depending on the humidity in the room and in the flour. After making bread a couple times, you'll develop an instinct to know how hydrated you want your dough.
Time and Patience will Improve Your Sourdough Bread
Waiting patiently during the entire bread-making process will probably be your hardest task. This recipe requires between 24 and 36 hours from start to finish. However, you will only need to work about 30 to 40 minutes of this time to produce a full-flavored and super tasty sourdough bread. You might want to skip steps or shorten the time needed for fermentation or a rise, but please resist.
The longer the dough ferments, the more complex and sour your bread's flavor will be. Be careful though not to let the dough ferment or proof too much time. Otherwise your bread might become flat when baked, as it won't have the spring necessary to rise a last time in the oven. In short, as long as your dough is hungry it will continue to ferment and grow in flavor and size. When it stops feeding, it will become less active and more lethargic. There is, therefore, a limit on how long your dough can ferment or proof without needing to be fed more flour and water. Remember your dough is alive and will only stop its activity when baked in the oven.
If you start making sourdough bread on a regular basis, you will not even think about the time it takes. For instance, you will create your sponge (the first mixing of the sourdough starter with water and flour) before going to bed. Then you will knead in more flour and salt in the morning before leaving the newly formed dough to rise for the bulk fermentation (first rise). Later in the afternoon or early evening you will shape and proof your bread (second rise) a couple hours before putting your dough in the refrigerator to ferment slowly overnight. The next morning you will bake your dough in the oven.
Below is a timetable for the entire sourdough bread-making process.
Enjoy the warmth and comforting smells while your bread bakes (between 45 and 60 minutes, depending on its size). Let it then cool for an hour before tasting it. Below you will see some ways I've enjoyed my sourdough bread.
Once you try your sourdough bread, you will be hooked! You will immediately start planning your next loaf!