Bread is emblematic as a sustainer of life. Christ chose his words for a reason when he called himself “the Bread of Life.” Many throughout the ages have survived on bread and little else. But today, bread has gained a reputation as an empty food, or even as an enemy to our health. Why is that? You might say culture has changed, but I’d argue that more than that, our bread has changed. The bread sold at grocery stores and bakeries today – even what you make from scratch at home – is not the same bread that has been consumed for most of human history. It wasn’t more than 150 years ago that commercial yeast came onto the scene (following Louis Pasteur’s discoveries), allowing for the quick mass production of bread. This concentrated form of yeast creates a shortcut that unfortunately bypasses the age-old process that makes sourdough deeply nutritious. Sourdough’s fermentation process involves the work of not only yeast, but also of lactobacillus bacteria (the same type of beneficial bacteria you find in yogurt and other fermented foods), which break down phytates and gluten, increasing digestibility and bioavailability of nutrients in the grain. The fermentation process even lowers the glycemic index of the bread, which means less of a blood sugar spike. The difference between modern bread and sourdough is radical, and the health implications substantial. You can read more and learn how to get started in my post, Sourdough Baking, Why and How.
If you are already well motivated to switch to sourdough but overwhelmed by the task of making it yourself, I don’t blame you. If you have looked into baking instructions at all, you may have come by some of these major kill-joys: precisely measuring your ingredients by weight, kneading your dough for 20 minutes, preferably by hand, planning for multiple rounds of fermentation, and returning to “punch down” your rising dough several times throughout the day. If you’re like me, the complicated instructions will make you want to quit before you even start.
But don’t quit, please don’t. Because that’s where I’m going with this post. I want to share with you my easy way of baking sourdough. It is my aim in all the information I share to remove obstacles to growing, preparing and eating simple, good food, and I promise you, these instructions for making sourdough bread do just that. Low time, low effort, no measuring, no fussing – go by feel and get consistent, delicious results.
The instructions below are largely in pictures, because, as I said, there will be no exact measuring. Please feel free to leave any questions about the process in the comment section below.
You will need:
- Active (bubbly) sourdough starter (about two cups)
- Flour (I maintain my starter with organic whole wheat flour and typically add organic white wheat flour to make the bread – it’s about 50% whole wheat in the end)
- Water (filtered water or spring water works best because it is free of chlorine, which inhibits fermentation, but tap will work!)
- Olive oil
1- Start with a couple cups of active sourdough starter in a large bowl. Here is mine, ready for ingredients to be added right on top.
2- Scoop a bunch of flour on top of your starter – however much starter you have, add about two or three times that much flour (in volume). You can freely add more or less depending on how large a loaf of bread you’d like to have. On top of your flour, throw on a teaspoon or so of salt. Also feel free to add a splash of olive oil for flavor.
Start to mix the ingredients together (I typically start with a wooden spoon). Add water and continue to mix until you achieve a sloppy, sticky consistency. I like to use my hands to work the ingredients together – a minute of this is the closest I ever come to kneading. The first time around, you will probably want to add the water a little bit at a time – but after you do this once or twice, you’ll have a feel for how much to add and will be able to do it all at once. Don’t worry, if you make it too thin just add more flour.
3- You can see below that my final consistency is very wet and sticky. When I lift it out of the bowl, it does hold together, but just barely. The moment after I took the picture, the dough plopped back into the bowl.
4- Gather up your dough and place it into a well oiled bread pan or stoneware bowl. Plan enough room in the vessel you choose for the dough to double in size as it rises (you can see below that the dough doesn’t fill my pan, but it will!). Cover your pan with plastic wrap or an inverted bowl or pan. I have a plastic mixing bowl that fits perfectly over my stoneware baking dish. The point is simply to prevent your dough from drying out as it rises.
5- Allow the dough to ferment at room temperature for 8-12 hours. (*Temperature plays a big role here. I developed this method in the winter when my kitchen was about 68 degrees F all night. Warmer temps may mean less fermentation time is needed. You can try to slow down the ferment by adding less starter or making the mixture thicker, so that you can still leave it overnight with out it starting to fall again, which may leave you with a flatter, denser loaf*) You will not need to tend to it at all during this time, so letting it go overnight works great. Below is my dough the morning after I prepared it – you can see that it has roughly doubled in size.
6- Set your oven for 350 F and pop your pan in – no need to let your oven pre-heat. Bake for 45 minutes. (You may find that a slightly shorter or longer bake time works for your pan and oven.) Here’s the result:
The wet dough we used makes for an airy, downright moist crumb. The high ratio of starter we used makes for loaves that tend to be less sour because the overall fermentation time is reduced – the pleasant sourness is there, but not overwhelming. Those who don’t really care for the sourdough flavor will hardly notice it if they top it with something sweet like jam or honey. Below is the first piece, with a ragged edge because I cut it with a steak knife while it was still warm 🙂
A better look at the consistency of the bread. It is an excellent sandwich bread – it will slice even thinner than shown below without falling apart. Also, because of the lactic acid produced during fermentation, sourdough stores extremely well – you won’t have to worry about it molding before you can finish it.
The total hands-on time for making this bread is just minutes. It is so easy that I now make it two to three times a week – it’s a nutritious staple that I try to have on hand at all times. Knowing that sourdough isn’t “empty carbs,” “hard on the gut,” or any of the other negative associations we have with bread, I don’t hesitate at all to depend on it as a breakfast, snack or a building block for lunch or dinner. You know how deep down we all JUST WANT BREAD?! Why fight it? Sourdough is your friend. Enjoy 🙂