We all love a loaf of delicious, hand-crafted real bread, and it only gets better when it can be baked at home.
We are big on fermented foods and over the last couple of years, rice and rotis have been replaced most of the time with dosa and idli. It was only natural for me to get inclined to having sourdough bread to replace the regular bread. I have mentioned earlier how I have endeavoured the sourdough baking journey to introduce it to my daughter who is gluten intolerant. I slowly tried to customise it to make Indian dishes like roti, paratha as well with sourdough.
Sourdough bread is made by the fermentation of the dough with naturally occurring wild yeast and lactobacilli without adding any commercial or baker’s yeast. The lactic acid produced by lactobacilli gives it the sour taste. The sourdough bread has a chewy texture with a crisp crust. The flavour of the bread can range from mild to strong depending on the starter and how long the dough has been fermented. With just three ingredients – flour, water, and salt – this is about as natural it gets when it comes to baking bread. Sourdough bread is obviously healthier than regular bread which uses commercial yeast. The long fermentation of the grains during the process making the sourdough bread breaks down the phytic acid of the grains making it healthier and easily digestible. And the taste – once you fall in love with sourdough bread, you will never want to have a slice of bread that is not sourdough!
Baking a perfect loaf of sourdough bread comes with practice. The more you bake, the better it gets. I have researched, tried, and tested many ways of baking it, using several techniques over the last several months. This recipe here is something that works best for me. It is a no-knead recipe where the initial dough is mixed, stretched and folded, left to ferment over the counter first and then in the fridge, and then is baked.
We have put in so much love and care to build our starter and finally, it is active and bubbly. It’s time to put it to good use and get baking.
If you have not created your starter, you can find the recipe here. All the troubleshooting while creating the starter can be found here.
The first step of baking sourdough bread is to have a super active starter. Click here to see how to prepare your starter for baking.
Baking a sourdough bread takes time – you have to give time to the dough to ferment. So, having a baking timeline that fits your schedule is the best way to achieve the perfect loaf of sourdough bread.
My schedule is this:
FRIDAY NIGHT: Take the starter from the fridge and feed it with flour and water. Leave it in a warm temperature overnight.
SATURDAY MORNING: Mix dough, stretch, and fold, bulk fermentation.
SATURDAY NIGHT: Cold fermentation in the fridge.
SUNDAY/MONDAY MORNING: Bake day.
Stretch and fold is a technique where you let the gluten of the dough develop. The sourdough dough has higher hydration when compared to regular bread dough and this technique works really well with this dough. As you do the stretch and fold on your dough, you will see how a sticky and sluggish dough turns into a well-formed dough. I perform a total of 6 stretches and folds spread 30 minutes apart.
Bulk fermentation is the first rise where you let the dough rise until it is almost double. I prefer not to do a bulk fermentation overnight as this may risk over-fermenting the dough. You can leave the dough to bulk ferment for 4-6 hours depending on how warm or cold it is. But I highly recommend going by the feel of the dough rather than the time when it comes to bulk fermentation. The dough should be roughly about doubled and will have a bubbly appearance. On warmer days, it takes less time and on cooler days, it will take more time. At the end of the bulk fermentation, your dough should be smooth, slightly bubbly and risen to about double.
SHAPING THE LOAF AND COLD FERMENTATION
Once the dough is bulk fermented, it needs to be shaped and put in the refrigerator for cold fermentation or cold retard. It is during this process that the sourdough bread gets the sour taste. You can either choose to let it cold ferment overnight or do a long cold ferment. Longer cold fermentation improves the taste, flavour, and texture of the bread to a great extent. I have left my dough in the refrigerator for as long as 4 days to cold ferment. Cold fermentation is also a great way to schedule your baking time according to your convenience. Always remember to take your dough out of the fridge after the oven and dutch oven is preheated. Score the cold dough and put it into a hot dutch oven creating steam. This will give it the best oven spring.
While a banneton is used to place the shaped dough, it is not essential. You can dust rice flour on a tea towel, place it in a bowl, and place the shaped dough into it. However, it is important to dust the banneton/tea towel well before placing the dough. Using rice flour for dusting works best for this.
BAKING IN DUTCH OVEN
Sourdough bread needs to be baked with some steam. Dutch ovens are the best to create the steam needed for baking sourdough bread. It is important to preheat your dutch oven before placing the dough into it. Cold dough straight from the refrigerator into a super-hot dutch oven creates the steam needed to give the best oven spring and colour. If you don’t have a dutch oven, you can place some water in an oven-safe pan and place it underneath the baking tray – although I have never tried this technique.
I have also seen that curing the bread in the oven once it is turned off helps in creating great crumbs. To do this, once the baking is done, turn off the oven, open the oven door and let the bread sit in it for 15-20 minutes. Also, remember to wait until the loaf cools down before cutting it. It is best to cut it after a couple of hours before cutting it.
Good fermentation, strong dough, the correct amount of bulk fermentation, good proofing are the steps needed to get a great loaf of sourdough bread. This may sound complex, but as you practice more and develop an understanding of how to execute these steps, you will taste the difference in every slice of bread.
Active sourdough starter – 100 grams
Bread flour – 500 grams
Filtered water – 350 grams
Salt – 5 grams (1 tsp)
Rice flour for dusting the banneton.
MAKING THE DOUGH
Make sure the starter is fully active before starting.
Mix water and starter together.
Slowly add flour and salt. Combine well making sure there are no dry bits of flour. The dough will be quite wet at this stage.
Cover with a tea towel and let it sit at room temperature for 1 to 1.5 hours. This stage is called the autolyse.
STRETCH & FOLD
After autolyse, we need to perform stretch and fold. I aim to perform six sets of stretching and folding at an interval of 20 to 30 minutes. To perform stretch and hold, wet your hands. Gently loosen the dough from all sides of the bowl. Grab a portion of the dough and slowly stretch it taking care not to break it and fold it towards the center over the dough. Keep turning the bowl and repeat the process until all parts of the dough are covered. Carefully flip the dough and round it up. Cover and let it rest until it is time for the next set of stretch and fold. Pinch out any air bubbles that are formed during this process. You can see the dough develop structure and strength as you continue the stretch and fold. The messy and shaggy dough will slowly turn into a well-developed dough.
See the pictures below or the video here to see the technique.
You can either do the stretch and fold in the bowl itself or put the dough onto the bench to perform the stretch and fold. If you are putting the dough onto the bench, make sure you mist it with water first. It is important to always wet your hands before handling the dough and handle the dough gently.
After the stretch and fold, let the dough sit for bulk fermentation. As mentioned earlier, the time for bulk fermentation depends on the ambient temperature of the place where the dough sits. The bulk fermentation is done when the dough is almost double and has bubbles on top. Gently pull the dough from a corner and see if it has fairly large bubbles underneath.
SHAPING THE DOUGH
The next step after bulk fermentation is shaping the dough. To shape the dough, firstly dust the banneton or tea towel well with rice flour.
Dust the bench lightly with flour and turn the dough onto it. The dough should gently pull itself down to the bench.
Pick one side of the dough and fold it to the center. Pick the other side and fold it to the center.
Now hold the dough gently and tuck it to form a log.
Carefully place the dough seam-side up on the banneton. Gently lift the sides of the dough and dust some more rice flour.
Take care to be very gentle with the dough and handle the dough as less as possible.
Cover the dough loosely with a clean shower cap or place a cling wrap loosely.
Place in the refrigerator overnight or up to 24 hours.
BAKING THE SOURDOUGH BREAD
Place the dutch oven with the lid on in the oven and preheat it at 230 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes.
Score the dough with a razor blade or sharp knife. Make the cut approximately ¼ inch deep across the bread. You can score the dough to create designs/patterns you like.
Once the oven is preheated, take the dough out of the fridge. Gently flip it onto a baking sheet.
Take the dutch oven out of the oven and open the lid.
Carefully place the dough in the dutch oven and cover with the lid.
Place the dutch oven back into the oven and bake for 25 minutes.
Take the lid off and bake for a further 20 minutes.
Turn off the oven and open the oven door. Let the bread sit in the turned-off oven for 15 minutes for curing.
Take the bread out once cured and place on a wire rack to cool down completely.
Slice and serve.