Making the Sourdough Bread
Making good bread is an art that you
will master by experiment, trial, and error. To start out,
you'll want to use recipes and follow the guidelines of proven
breads. But the sooner you learn the feel and look of a good
bread, the better.
There are plenty of great recipes for
sourdough bread. You can add all kinds of things to the dough
before baking, to make just about any kind of bread you might
imagine. Below is the most basic method for a sourdough loaf.
I don't add oil or butter or shortening to my basic bread. I
do sometimes use milk instead of water when making the dough.
A Basic Sourdough Bread
This is not so much a recipe as a method. I use measurements
only as a guide, when I make bread. To make a sourdough bread, you will need
to mix enough starter and flour together to make a good ball of
Your looking for a good consistency.
The dough should be moist and sticky enough that you need to flour
your hands in order to work with it. It should barely hold its
shape as a ball when you shape it.
For a couple of small loaves of bread, you will want a total
of about five cups of dough. Depending on the humidity of
your region, you will probably want to mix
About 1 cup of water (or milk)
3 to 4 cups of flour
Add enough starter to make the dough
You may find it
convenient to place your flour in a pile in a bowl or on a clean table and pour
your starter into it, working the two together to form a nice ball
of dough. I always start out in a bowl, stirring with a spoon.
After mixing, place the dough in a
lightly greased bowl – large enough to hold twice the size of the ball
you've made. Cover the surface of the dough with wax paper, plastic wrap or a
towel. Allow the bread dough to double in size.
Delaying the Rise
If I don't plan to bake until the next
day, I'll sometime place the dough at this stage in the refrigerator
overnight. Temperature is everything. If you place it in
the fridge, you'll need to allow it hours to warm up again before
it'll even start to rise. If the room is cool enough, you can
allow the dough to sit on the counter for a day, or even over night.
When I keep the dough in the refrigerator, I take it out the next
day and allow it to sit just about all day, while I go and do other
The Normal Method
If you're ready to bake bread right
away, then it's
good at the mixing stage to already have the oven preheating to about 400-450° F.
You'll want the kitchen area to be warm, about 75-80° — but don't place the
container with the dough directly on the stove where it might get too hot on bottom.
Too much direct heat (say, anything above 100 degrees) will kill the
yeast that makes the bread rise.
Prepare your baking pan(s). If
you're using bread pans, double check to make sure they're clean,
then lightly grease them with shortening or spray them with Pam or
another cooking spray. You don't want a lot of heavy grease,
but you want all the inside covered. If you're going to bake
on a flat sheet or on a stone, then you can sprinkle the surface
with corn meal to keep the bread from sticking.
I like to use glass baking pans so that I can see the bottom
as well as the sides and top. Bake the bread until you
get a good brown color.
When the dough has doubled in size,
take it from the bowl and kneed it well but briefly. You're
basically pushing the air back out of the dough and limbering things
up for the final rise. I do the kneeding on a well-floured
surface, taking care to keep my hands floured, as well. If the
dough is a little too wet, you'll mix some of the excess flour into
it while kneeding, but watch that you don't mix in too much and make
it too dry and hard.
the bread into an oblong (for bread pans), and place it in two bread pans (or onto a baking
sheet or baking stone).
Cover it again and allow it to rise. Again, there should
be plenty of room for the dough to at least double in size.
When it has reached the proper size, place it into a hot oven (between
400° and 450°) to bake for about
20 to 30 minutes.
Be sure to allow the bread to breathe all over while cooling.
Never try to seal your bread in a plastic bag or any air tight
container for at least 4 to 6 hours after baking.
Make sure both the top and bottom is brown and that the loaf
gives off a hollow sound when you thump the bottom. Set on cooling
racks or prop it so that bottom is able to cool without sweating.
Allow the bread to cool for two hours before cutting. This last is important,
since the bread isn't really "made" or finished until it cools
inside. Cut the bread with a good bread knife and enjoy with
butter, jam or your favorite spread.
©2006 Jim Sutton