This standard recipe makes a large loaf and is very versatile. Experiment with different flour mixtures to find a combination that you like. Keep in mind that the texture and degree of lightness will change depending on what types of flour you choose. Also take into account baking time and temperature variations, as some flours may cook cook at different rates.
• 350 grams (1 1⁄2 to 1 3⁄4 cups) tepid water, unchlorinated
• 500 grams flour (about 4 cups, depending on type of flour) (I recommend at least 20 percent unbleached bread flour)
• 150 to 200 grams (scant 3⁄4 cup to scant 1 cup) starter or pre-ferment
• 10 grams (scant 2 teaspoons) sea salt
1. Refresh starter or make pre-ferment 8 to 12 hours ahead.
2. In large bowl, mix together water and flour. Let stand for at least 20 minutes. This hydrates the grain and starts the process of gluten formation, making hand-kneading easier.
3. Add starter or pre-ferment and salt. No need to mix it all in, kneading will take care of that.
4. Knead dough. I leave the dough in the mixing bowl, turn the bowl with my left hand, while kneading with my right. I dip my kneading hand in cool water whenever the dough starts sticking to my hand. I knead for a total of 15 minutes, like so: knead 5 minutes, let dough rest for 10 minutes. Knead 5, rest 10, knead 5, and you’re done.
5. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, or put dough in a straight-sided, clear 2-quart container with a lid. I love the 2-quart dough-rising bucket from King Arthur Flour; this batch of dough pretty much fills the container when it doubles, making it so easy to know when the dough is fermented and ready to shape.
6. Ferment dough 8 to 12 hours in a cool spot. Keep an eye on it until you get used to how the dough behaves in your conditions. For best flavor (and easiest schedule), it should take at least 8 hours to fill the container, or double in volume. If it is rising much faster than that, put it in the fridge for a while to slow it down.
7. Preheat oven to 475 F. Preheat baking stone, and shape and proof the loaf. A thick baking stone like mine takes a solid hour to get good and hot, so I turn the oven on, then I shape the loaf. I like to use inexpensive willow baskets (bannetons) for proofing. In my cool kitchen, the hour that the oven is heating is the perfect amount of time to proof that loaf.
Note: The dough will not double in volume again. It won’t rise a lot during proofing, but you should see a little movement.
8. Turn loaf onto pizza peel or rimless cookie sheet for transferring to the baking stone. I prefer to use a sheet of parchment paper on the peel to transfer the dough to the oven. Slash loaf about 1⁄4 inch deep, and immediately slide it, still on the parchment paper, onto the hot baking stone. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool for about an hour before cutting.
Learn more about baking sourdough bread in Simple Sourdough Bread.