In the popularity stakes, anything small-batch, artisanal and handmade is enjoying a resurgence. And with good reason because whether it’s bread, biscuits, pickles, preserves, sauces or sausages, nothing compares to food that is made the old-fashioned way.
We know what you’re thinking. It’s a tragedy you didn’t listen when your grandmother tried to show you how to bake bread or pickled onions. Why were you so hell-bent on avoiding family sauce-making weekends?
The good news is, it doesn’t matter. It’s never too late to learn and master the art of DIY delicacies such as sourdough, preserves, cheeses and sausages. It’s time to start a family tradition of your own and what better way to start than with your own bread.
Want to become the hero of the household? Start by baking your own sourdough.
Its chewy texture, crisp crust and distinct flavour make it a crowd favourite. Enjoy it fresh in sandwiches, toasted and smothered with butter or topped with smashed avocado. Nothing is quite like a house filled with the happy aroma of freshly baked bread.
Unlike other bread, sourdough doesn’t rely on commercial yeast as a raising agent. Instead, the magic happens thanks to something called a starter.
Step 1: Make your own starter
Baking your own bread at home can seem daunting, but when you break it down, there are very few ingredients and the process is quite straightforward, especially if you have some simple equipment. But it does take time and patience.
The quality of your finished sourdough will be determined by the quality of your starter.
The starter is basically just a culture of flour and water that in turn yields wild yeast and good bacteria. Those things not only cause the bread to rise, but they also create a sour flavour.
It takes about five days to make a proper starter. Begin by mixing flour and water in a batter and let it rest overnight at room temperature, this encourages wild yeast growth.
After the first day, the mixture needs to be fed with more flour and water.
The process is repeated until the mixture becomes very bubbly and smells sour.
The starter can be fed and used continuously. Once you’ve created it, you never need to repeat the process as long as you look after it and feed it regularly.
Step 2: Leaven
When the starter is ready, its finally time to move on to the next step and what you are about to make is called leaven.
Mix a tablespoon of the starter with more bread and water and let the mixture sit for 30 minutes to four hours. There’s a lot going on during this step, even though it probably doesn’t seem like it on face value. Next, it’s time to mix in the salt.
Step 3: Mix
There are many schools of thought on the best way to mix sourdough. Some people prefer kneading, others folding. It’s a good idea to google this subject to learn more. The short story is, folding is less labour intensive and lots of people think it delivers the best results.
Once the mixing is done, it is time to let the dough rest, yet again.
Step 4: The Proof is in the Pudding
The next part of the process is fun and exciting because here you will shape your final loaf.
The dough goes into a nifty piece of equipment called a proofing basket. The basket is specially designed to encourage the dough to rise in the shape of a loaf.
Step 5: Bake
Finally, it is time to bake the dough and any home baker worth their salt will tell you a Dutch oven is the best place to do that. Dutch ovens hold the heat and keep it at an even temperature, seal well to allow the bread to steam which in turn creates the perfect crust and interior and they’re a great shape.
Easy Sourdough Bread Recipe
For the starter
- 100g white bread flour
- 100ml water (slightly warmer than room temperature)
- 200-300g white bread flour
- 200-300ml water (slightly warmer than room temperature)
For the dough
- 500g white bread flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 240ml water (slightly warmer than room temperature)
To make the starter
- Combine water and flour in a large mixing bowl. Cover with a damp cloth and leave on the bench for two days, keeping the cloth moist.
- After 48 hours, the mix should be bubbly with a slightly milky smell. If not, wait a little longer. At this point, you can feed it. If the mix is mouldy or smells bad you will have to throw it away and start again.
- To feed the starter, stir 100g flour and water into the starter to make a soft, paste-like dough.
- Cover the bowl as before and leave for another 24 hours. At this point, the starter will look very active and bubbly. Stir well and throw away half the mix.
- Repeat the process, stirring another 100g flour and 100ml tepid water into the starter until fully mixed. Cover again and leave for another 12 hours.
- If the starter looks very bubbly and lively, it is ready to use. If it’s only slightly bubbly, give it one more feed of 100g flour and tepid water and wait 6 hours. Note: You should always have about 400g of starter on hand—200g to make the bread, and 200g to save for another batch.
To make the dough
- Combine flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Put 200g of the starter into a separate bowl and mix it with the tepid water, then pour it into the well in the flour. Gradually work in the flour to make a soft dough.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead or fold (we recommend googling for more info on this process) for about 10 minutes or until very pliable and elastic. Clean the bowl and grease it lightly with oil or cooking spray.
- Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 3–8 hours or until doubled in size. Rising time depends on the room temperature and on the strength of your starter. Turn out the risen dough onto a floured work surface and knock it back with your knuckles to its original size. Shape the dough into a ball and put it in the proving basket lined with a heavily floured tea towel. Cover with a damp cloth and leave to rise for 2–6 hours or until doubled in size.
- Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 220C. Place the dough in a greased Dutch oven, lid on. Bake for about 20 minutes and then remove the lid and cook for a further 15 minutes or until the bread sounds hollow when removed from the tray and tapped on the base.
- Transfer the bread to a wire rack and leave to cool.