Sourdough White Loaves

Basic White Sourdough Bread

This is an easy basic sourdough recipe that I use to make two large loaves weighing a little over two pounds each. Around 1:00 - 2:00p.m. in the afternoon-use a mixer or mixing bowl and add : This will make 4 pounds 2.3 oz of dough at 63.5 % hydration, which is a moderately wet dough.
NOTE about salt and autolysing:I like to autolyse my dough. To autolyse dough means to leave the salt out of the dough until after it has been mixed and allowed to set for a while. This resting time allows the gluten strands to absorb water and the enzymes to go to work to condition the dough.
Autolysis will produce a better, more open crumb. If you want to autolyse try leaving the salt out until the dough has rested 20 minutes. It is also easier to incorporate the salt to the dough if you leave the last cup of flour out and add it at the same time as the salt, that way you can adjust the flour amount if the dough seems too dry.
  1. Once you have the ingredients in the bowl,mix on medium speed, or get your hands in the bowl, if you are mixing by hand, and mix the dough for about 2 - 3 minutes. Using your spatula, push dough down if it tries to crawl out of the bowl(turn the mixer off first!), and keep adding the bread flour until at least 7 cups of flour are incorporated.
    If you have weighed the ingredients, the dough should be at 63.7% hydration. If you have not weighed, you must feel the dough to see if you have added enough flour or too much, it is better to hold back the flour and add a little at a time until the dough “feels” right than to have to add water to bring it back, but it can be done. The dough should feel slightly sticky, but not stick to your finger like glue when you push it into the side of the dough. The dough should have pulled away from the sides of the bowl and feel nice and springy. It should have taken 2 – 3 minutes to mix the dough so far.
  2. At this point, turn off the mixer and allow the dough to autolyse (or rest) for about 15 – 20 minutes. This is to allow the gluten time to absorb the liquid - the process of gluten development has begun! Pull at the dough at this stage of beginning autolyse and you see almost no gluten development.
    At this stage the dough is sticky and pulls apart easily. After the autolyse is over, feel the dough again and pull at it. You will already see a change in the dough. It has a smoother, stretchier feel and you can see the gluten strands already bonding to each other and developing.
  3. Now mix the dough for about one more minute (The total mixing time should never be more than five minutes). Now let the dough bulk ferment (this is the term used for the first raising of the dough while it is still in it’s bulk form). Bulk fermentation is variable depending on what your sourdough starter’s proof is.
    If your sourdough starter takes 6 hours to peak when you test it at 100% hydration, then your starter has a 6 hour proofing time. Some starters take only three hours others can take 6 or 8 or 11 hours. It is quite variable. However, if you know what your starter is capable of, you can adjust the bulk ferment to exactly what you need.
    The average starter takes around 6 hours. This is also variable depending on the temperature of the dough and the room temperature and what ingredients are used(rich doughs with sugars,fats and nuts take longer). Allowing the dough to bulk ferment or proof too long will cause the gluten to start breaking down and the dough to get "gluey". When you bake overfermented dough it will spread apart, have a ghostly whitish color and look glazed like porcelain, it will also be dense.
  4. During bulk fermentation I stir the dough down two or three times, around 90 minutes apart.
    To stir down the dough, just turn the mixer on low and allow the hook to make two revolutions around the bowl. It is just enough to knock down the dough and line up the gluten so as to strengthen it.This is similar to folding the dough which is used in other methods to strengthen the dough.
  5. When the dough is completely done bulk fermenting, Push the dough down in the bowl until it is deflated, then pour the dough out on the table, which has been sprinkled lightly with flour, and knead it just enough to gather into a ball. Then divide the dough in half or thirds,and shape each one into the the general form you wish it to be- (boule,batard,baguette,etc).
Pane Teresa Sourdough Bread with large holes
"Pane Teresa" bread baked by Gary T. of New Brighton, MN

Baking the Loaf

  1. Now let the partially shaped dough set for about 5-10 minutes which is called benching or resting. Then shape them into their final form and put them upside down with their seam facing upward in a banneton,lined basket, couche or whatever you will use to hold the dough while it is going through proofing.
    Proofing means the final rise of the dough just before baking.I dust the bannetons or cloth lined baskets with Semolina flour, rice flour or cornmeal. Sometimes Whole Wheat flour is used for flavor and how it looks on some breads.
  2. Let the loaves rest for a while, about half an hour, and then put a plastic grocery bag over each,basket and all and pop it into the refrigerator overnight. If your dough has been very active during the bulk ferment then skip the half hour rest and just put the dough into the refrigerator right away.
  3. Next morning, take out your loaves of dough,one at a time spaced about 25-30 minutes apart and take off the plastic bag.
    Uncover the loaf and let it set however long it is necessary to allow it to to final proof(finish raising). This ususally takes one to two hours or until the bread feels like it is springy and bubbly and when you press your finger into the side of the dough, the indentation fills in slowly. If the indentatin bounces right back, it is not done proofing, if it doesn't fill back in or the dough slumps and sighs, it is overproofed(The time varies because of how active the yeast is or how warm the house or refrigerator is). If your dough is very active, don't leave it out for the half hour before putting it into the refrigerator, and check first thing in the morning, because the loaves could be ready first thing. Proofing is when the dough is around one and a half times the original dough size.
  4. You can lay your hand on the loaves as they warm up to room temperature and rise, until you get the feel of when the bread is ready to bake. Check carefully and soon you will be an expert in knowing the perfect amount of raising before baking.
    The dough will feel springy and bubbly instead of a dense and cold feeling. If you let it over raise, it will deflate in the oven or when you try to move it onto the baking stone. It is better to slightly underproof than to overproof.
  5. When there is about an hour until the dough is done proofing, turn your oven on to 450F degrees and put your baking stone in to preheat. The stone needs to be heated all the way through. If your baking stone is thin you may not need a whole hour for the oven and stone to be preheated. Have your roasting lid or bottom ready to be preheated about five minutes before your first loaf goes in.
  6. When the loaf is ready,(make sure you put the roasting lid in to preheat) sprinkle Semolina flour on the top (which is really the bottom)of the loaf as it sits in the basket, take a peel or flat baking sheet and turn it upsidedown over the basket with the dough in it.
    Then turn the dough loaf over onto the peel,(put the peel or baking sheet on top of the loaf and turn it upside down!).
  7. Slash the top of the dough, and move the loaf onto a hot, preheated baking stone in a preheated 450 degree oven.
    This takes courage the first few times, but support the front of the loaf with one hand and heft it onto the baking stone with a quick thrusting movement with the hand holding the pan.
  8. Working quickly, spray water all over the top of the loaf once and place a roasting lid(which was also preheating in the oven with the stone) over the dough, sealing in the steam. This has been the easiest, most successful way to steam the bread that I have found yet, for a home oven. Bake for 20 minutes at 450 degrees.

  9. After 20 minutes take off the lid and leave it off for the remainder of the bake. You'll be surprised at how beautiful your loaf looks so far. Turn the oven down to 425 and bake around 10-15 minutes more, turning the loaf halfway to evenly brown. Take out your beautiful sourdough loaf and put it on a rack to cool.
  10. Next turn the the oven back to 450 degrees and put the roasting lid back in, then when it is ready, pop in the next loaf and repeat the baking instructions. Wait until the bread is completely cool before slicing to develop flavor and avoid the crumbly doughy syndrome which happens if the bread is cut while it is too hot. You had better have a good bread knife or sharp serrated knife or you will have a very hard time slicing this bread! Enjoy with fresh, real butter!
    This is an updated version of the baking instructions, some of the recipes may still have the older directions for spraying water during the first five minutes, but discontinue that if you have a deep roasting lid or something that will substitute.

A roasting pan lid is used for holding the steam against the dough during beginning of the bake. Here is a roasting pan setup, you can use either the top or the bottom to put over the baking dough and hold in the steam:

Roasting Pan

For a video on the Roasting Pan Lid Method of Steaming Bread go to: Video Page