How to make your own sourdough

Baking sourdough can be challenging at first, but the end result is a delicious homemade bread of which you can be incredibly proud. Here is everything you need to know to bake sourdough bread and never look back.

Ingredients

Leaven

  • 1 tbsp active sourdough starter
  • 75g (1/2 cup) all-purpose flour or bread flour
  • 75g (1/3 cup) water

Dough

  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 525g (2 1/2 cups) water
  • 700g (5 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour or bread flour

Method

  1. Prepare the culture: Make sure your sourdough culture is active: If your sourdough has been in the fridge ensure you have taken it out two to three days before you make the bread and feed it daily to ensure it is strong and active.
  2. Make the leaven overnight: The night before you plan to make the dough, combine a tablespoon of active sourdough culture with the flour and water for the leaven. Mix thoroughly to form a thick batter. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight for about 12 hours.
  3. Test to see if the leaven is ready: Usually, if the leaven is bubbly on the surface this indicates that it is ready to be used for the bread. To make sure, drop a teaspoon of the leaven in a cup of water. If it floats it is ready.
  4. Dissolve the salt: Combine the salt and 50 grams (about ¼ cup) of the water for the dough in a small bowl. Set aside, stirring every so often to make sure the salt is properly dissolved.
  5. Mix the leaven and the water: Combine the leaven and the remaining 475 grams (2 cups) of water for the dough in a large mixing bowl. Stir to break up the leaven in the water.
  6. Add the flour: Stir the flour into the water and leaven with a spatula until you see no more visible dry flour and you’ve formed a shaggy dough.
  7. Begin folding the dough: To fold the dough, grab the dough at one side, lift it up, and fold it over on top of itself. Fold the dough four times, moving clockwise from the top of the bowl. Let the dough rest 30 minutes, then repeat. Do this a total of 6 times, every half hour for a total of 2 1/2 hours. The dough will start out shaggy and very loose, but will gradually smooth out and become tighter as you continue folding.
  8. Let the dough rise undisturbed: Once you’ve finished the folds, let the dough rise undisturbed for 30 to 60 minutes until it looks slightly puffed. Remember, unlike regular bread, sourdough is dense and will not double in size like regular bread.
  9. Split the dough in half: Sprinkle some flour on your counter and turn the dough out on top. Work gently to avoid deflating the dough. Use a pastry scraper to divide the dough in half.
  10. Shape the dough into loose rounds: Sprinkle a little flour over each piece of dough. Use your pastry scraper to shape each one into loose rounds — this isn’t the final shaping, just a preliminary shaping to prep the dough for further shaping. Shape them into rounds by slipping your pastry scraper under the edge of the dough and then scraping it around the curve of the dough, like turning left when driving. Do this a few times to build the surface tension in the dough. Flour your pastry scraper as needed to keep it from sticking to the dough.
  11. Rest the dough: Once both pieces of dough are shaped, let them rest for 20 to 30 minutes to relax the gluten again before final shaping.
  12. Prepare two mixing bowls: Line two mixing bowls with clean dishtowels. Dust them heavily with flour, rubbing the flour into the cloth on the bottom and up the sides with your fingers. Use more flour than you think you’ll need — it should form a thin layer over the surface of the towel.
  13. Shape the loaves: Dust the top of one of the balls of dough with flour. Flip it over with a pastry scraper so that the floured side is against the board and the un-floured, sticky surface is up. Grab the lip of the dough at the bottom, pull it gently up, then fold it over onto the centre of the dough. Repeat with the right and left side of the dough. Repeat with the top of the dough, but once you’ve folded it downward, use your thumb to grab the bottom lip again and gently roll the dough right-side up. If it’s not quite round or doesn’t seem taut to you, cup your palms around the dough and rotate it against the counter to shape it up. Repeat with the second ball of dough.
  14. Let the dough rise: Cover the dough loosely with plastic, or place inside clean plastic bags. Let them rise at room temperature until they look billowy and poofy, 3 to 4 hours. Alternatively, place the covered basket in the refrigerator and let them rise slowly overnight for 12 to 15 hours. If rising overnight, bake the loaves straight from the fridge; no need to warm before baking.
  15. Transfer the loaves to the warmed dutch ovens: Preheat the oven to 260 degrees Celsius with the Dutch ovens or heavy bottomed pots with lids in the oven. Carefully remove one of the Dutch ovens from the oven and remove the lid. Tip the loaf into the pot so the seam-side is down. Repeat with the second loaf.
  16. Score the top of the loaf: Use a knife to quickly score the surface of the loaves. Try to score at a slight angle, so you’re cutting almost parallel to the surface of the loaf; this gives the loaves the distinctive “shelf” along the score line.
  17. Bake the loaves: Cover the pots and place them in the oven to bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 230 degrees and bake another 10 minutes. Resist the temptation to check the loaves at this point; just reduce the oven temperature. Remove the lids and continue baking 15 to 25 minutes. After 30 minutes of baking, remove the lids from the pots to release any remaining steam. At this point, the loaves should have “sprung” up, have a dry surface, and be just beginning to show golden colour. Place the pots back in the oven, uncovered. Bake another 15 to 25 minutes. Continue baking until the crust is deeply browned; aim for just short of burnt. It might feel a bit unnatural to bake loaves this fully, but this is where a lot of the flavour and texture of the crust comes in.
  18. Cool the loaves: When done, lift the loaves out of the pots using a spatula. Transfer them to cooling racks to cool completely. Wait until they have cooled to room temperature before slicing.