NOTE: Supposedly the sourdough culture can be damaged by chloride in municipal water supplies. To prevent this, water used in any step of this protocol can be filtered through a Brita-style filter or de-gased for several hours.
- Kitchen-Aid or equivalent stand mixer (optional)
- Large bowl
- One or more of the following baking devices
- Baking sheet or stone and parchment paper
- Covered pot/bowl, a la the NY Times bread recipe
- Two 4”x8” square loaf pans
- sourdough culture
- non-chlorinated water (see note above)
- white bread flour (not all-purpose, and I have found that better flour generally makes better bread)
- oil (optional, for greasing bowls, pans)
- OPTIONAL: wheat flour, wheat germ, bran, rosemary, caraway, or other adjuncts to make fancier bread
Ideally, the ratio of flour to water should about 0.62 (by weight). I got this ratio from the Boudin sourdough factory tour in San Francisco, but after several years of making sourdough that ratio seems to be about what it takes to get a nice firm dough and good crumb after baking. However, one should adjust/experiment with it to fit their taste and success, and the water:flour ratio isn’t the only variable. The amounts for a typical recipe are listed below. In a Kitchenaid Professional 600 (6qt bowl), you can make 1.5X this (and you only need 1-2 cups of starter no matter the size of the recipe). 2 cups of water will make two large loaves, either hand-shaped or in 4×8 loaf pans. You can also make four smaller hand-shaped loaves.
For a typical recipe I use:
- 1-2 cups of sourdough culture (it should be active, ie, immediately after doing Protocol 1)
- 2 cups non-chlorinated water
- white bread flour (~1.6 lbs, or 4-5 cups)
- 1 teaspoon salt
Making sourdough is typically a 24 to 36 hour process. The basic outline is: 1) rejuvenate the culture, 2) make the sponge, 3) make the bread. Here is the protocol:
Sometime on Day 1 (morning, or early afternoon): Rejuvenate the culture
- Take the culture out of the refrigerator and mix it up if it has a layer of liquid on the top. Dump half of it out into the garbage or sink, leaving 1-2 cups left. Add approximately equal weights of flour and non-chlorinated water and mix. Cover and leave at room temperature until the evening. NOTE: If you have rejuvenated the culture recently (eg, in the past 1-2 weeks), this step can be skipped and you can go directly to the next step.
Evening of Day 1: Make the sponge
- Dump about half of the culture (1-2 cups) into the mixer bowl. Add 2 cups water and stir in enough flour to make a thick batter. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a reasonably warm place.
- Replenish the culture by adding approximately equal weights flour and water and leaving covered at room temperature overnight.
Morning of Day 2: Make the bread
- Put the culture back in the fridge.
- Add 1 teaspoon of salt to the sponge, as well as whatever optional goodies (I usually add at least some wheat germ, ~1/2 cup, to add some vitamins and stuff).
- Add some of the flour with the mixer on medium speed and continue adding until the dough is stiff and pulls away from the bowl easily. See the note above for discussion of the total water:flour ratio (including the flour used to make the sponge. If your mixer is small, you may need to finish kneading on a floured surface.
- Once the desired amount of flour has been added and kneading has been done, put the dough in an oiled or floured bowl, cover well with plastic wrap, and incubate at room temperature for 2-4 hours or until the dough as almost doubled.
- Once dough has doubled, dump it out on a floured surface and knead it for about 5 minutes to get all the air out.
- Cut it into loaves (2 large ones or 4 small ones). These can either be hand-shaped or in loaf pans. If making hand-shaped loaves, put them on parchment paper.
- Cover the loaves well (dust them with flour or cover in oiled plastic wrap), and incubate until the loaves have doubled, 3-4 hours.
- Preheat oven to 500F.
- When loaves have doubled, slash the tops with a sharp knife.
- Put the loaves in the oven for 10 minutes, then reduce temperature to 425 for another 20 minutes. (One can also bake for 40 minutes at 425F, although I think the initial high heat gives a better crust). Checking the loaves for doneness can be accomplished by taking the internal temperature of a loaf; if it’s more than 200F its done.
- Cool loaves on a cooling rack. Bread in pans should be dumped out onto a cooling rack immediately, otherwise the crust will get soggy.
- Loaves should be kept in a plastic bag (put in AFTER completely cooled), and can frozen for at least several weeks.