Simple Sourdough Bread

Sourdough doesn’t have to be complicated. Make delicious homemade bread with these easy-to-follow instructions.

| January/February 2018

  • It doesn't get much better than a fresh loaf of homemade sourdough bread.
    Photo by Erika Mitchell
  • Use different kneading techniques to find one that suits you best.
    Photo by Rachel Abernathy
  • Check for bubbling or dimpling on the surface of your starter to indicate that it's active. A new starter will become active more quickly at room temperature.
    Photo by Rachel Abernathy
  • A quality food scale will make measuring ingredients easier.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Alena Yakusheva
  • Bannetons — also known as "brotforms" or "proofing baskets" — are used to hold dough during proofing, which allows the dough to rise without losing its shape.
    Photo by Victoria Redhed Miller
  • A pizza peel or rimless cookie sheet works well for transferring dough to a preheated baking stone.
    Photo by Getty Images/waitingtofly
  • 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.
    Photo by Victoria Redhed Miller
  • Sourdough is easy to make with just a few simple ingredients.
    Illustration by Brad Anderson Illustration

Get the bread recipe here

I’ve often wondered how it is that bread, which is so basic to most of the world’s food cultures, has turned into something that we are intimidated to make ourselves. Homemade bread is often much more nutritious, and certainly less expensive, than so-called “artisan” breads available commercially. As farmers, homesteaders, or sustainability-minded city dwellers, we not only want to learn to do more for ourselves, we want to be more economical in our use of resources. In other words, we don’t want to waste time, money, or effort.

If you’ve been to one of my presentations at the Mother Earth News Fair recently, you’ve heard the story of how I used to get up at 2 a.m. to shape and proof bread dough. Being naturally thick-headed, it took me more than a few rounds of this to figure out that I was, frankly, out of my mind. For goodness’ sake, I’m not a professional baker! Plus, I never slept well after those nocturnal trips to the kitchen. Interrupting a night’s sleep like that, all for the sake of one loaf of bread, simply didn’t make sense. So when this finally occurred to me, I set about learning how to control my bread-making routine, rather than having the process control me and my schedule.

Slow down

Why do people shy away from making their own bread? The main reasons I hear are that it seems mysterious, complicated, and inaccessible (especially sourdough), or they don’t have time for bread-making. I get it, but I’m going to change your mind about it.

Bread is simple: flour, salt, yeast, and water. Bread made with commercial yeast ferments fairly rapidly; the entire process takes around four hours from mixing to taking it out of the oven. This speeding up of the process — originally designed to benefit commercial bakers — actually makes yeast bread more challenging to find time to make. Between mixing and baking, several processes happen, and transitions happen quickly, so over those four hours, your attention is required almost constantly.

In the case of sourdough, a sour culture (starter) populated with wild yeast takes the place of commercial yeast. Wild yeast multiplies more slowly than commercial yeast, so the whole process slows down as a result. Slowing down the fermentation not only results in better-tasting, longer-lasting bread, it also allows for much more flexibility in your schedule.

These days, my normal weekly baking routine covers about 24 hours. Here’s how it works:

12/9/2017 8:02:11 AM

Victoria, your articles are always filled with experienced advice. I have not tried sour dough but have baked yeast bread many years ago. Life has a way of changing what happens in the food area. I'd like to get back to baking bread. My kids, who are now in their middle 40s used to stand in front of the oven and watch the timer when I was baking bread. I had to bake five loaves at a time to last more than a couple days. The first two loaves were consumed right out of the oven after a little bit of cooling. At that point, chunks were just pulled off the loaf as cutting was not feasible. Real butter or honey was allowed to ooze down in all the crevasses to make for the best dining delight ever. The memories make me want to do it again. Have a great bread baking day. Nebraska Dave

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