I’ve been baking for quite a while and have lots and lots of recipes I’ve developed for lots and lots of baked goods, but this is my most BASIC recipe for sourdough bread–the one I use now most often. I developed this recipe by trial and error over a number of years. Note that I have given the measurements in grams. Bread baking is pretty precise, and I’ve found that measuring by weight, in grams, is best. You can purchase a good digital kitchen scale quite cheaply. If you don’t have a digital scale yet, I’ve provided rough equivalents using standard measurements. Note that differing ingredients weigh more or less than one another per teaspoon or cup, so a conversion for water will not be the same as a conversion for flour is.
Water, 143 grams (a tad more than 2/3rds of a cup)
Yeast, 7 grams (2 1/4 teaspoons, or one package)
Sugar, 4 grams (a little more than a teaspoon)
Salt, 11 grams (about 2 teaspoons; I like a lot of salt. If you want, cut this down.)
Sourdough starter, 231 grams (about 1 cup)
Don’t have a sourdough starter? Make one. It’s really easy to do. Here’s how: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/2020/03/30/a-starter-is-born-making-your-own-sourdough-starter-from-scratch/
Bread flour, 340 grams (divided into 2)
Optional Day-Before Activity to Get Your Starter Pumped for the Big Game
Take your starter out of the fridge, feed him or her, and leave him or her sit out on the counter overnight.
Activating the Yeast
Combine water, yeast, sugar, and sourdough starter. Let sit about 15 minutes, until a little bubbly.
Creating the Sponge
Add 170 grams of the bread flour. Stir to combine, about 1 minute. Let sit for 15 minutes. For a more sour-doughy bread, let sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Creating the Dough and Autolyzing
Add the other 170 grams of bread flour. Knead for 2 minutes in stand mixer on setting 3, using dough hook. You can do this kneading by hand, but it will take five times as long. Let sit for 20 minutes for the flour to soak up the water and start forming gluten strands. This autolyzing step will vastly improve your final product.
Knead on setting 3 for 8 minutes. I usually do this for 4, turn the mixer off to let it cool, wait a few minutes, and then do 4 more. This will prolong the life of the mixer. Again, if kneading by hand, work for five times as long. Your dough should be quite wet and sticky. To handle it, you will have to flour your hands and the surface you are working the dough on, if doing the kneading by hand. Wetter (highly hydrated) dough will produce a more open crumb, which is desirable.
Flour a bowl or pan small enough to fit into your microwave oven. Flour your hands. Lift the dough, form it into a ball by folding it under, until the top of the ball is quite tight. Transfer the dough into your floured pan. Cover with a tea towel. Place pan in microwave oven with a tall glass or mug of VERY hot water. What you are doing is creating a make-shift proofing box. Do not turn on the microwave, ofc. Let the dough rise in the microwave, with the hot water, to heat the air in the microwave, until doubled, about 40 minutes.
Second Rise, If You Are Making a Boule
Flour your hands. Transfer the dough to a floured baking dish (a large cast iron skillet or a Dutch oven works very well). Punch down slightly. Allow to rise, covered with a tea towel, for 40 minutes. For the second half of the rising time, place the skillet on the top of your stove as you preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
Second rise, If You Are Making French Bread or Sandwich Loaves
Flour your hands. Transfer dough to a cutting board. Cut into two pieces with a dough scraper or a very large chef’s knife. If you are making French Bread, tuck the ends of the two pieces under. Then roll each piece out to create a log-like shape, about 1 ¼ inches in diameter. If you are making sandwich loaves, simply tuck each end under and shape into a loaf shape. If making French bread, place the two dough logs on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper. If you are making sandwich loaves, place the two dough loaves into greased loaf pans. Allow to rise, covered with a tea towel, for 40 minutes. For the second half of the rising time, place the sheet pan or the loaf pans on the top of your stove as you preheat your oven to 350 degrees. The warmth of the stove will assist the rising.
Place a cast iron skillet or a cake pan, filled with water, into the oven, lower rack. Place your boule on the upper rack. Slash the top of the bread with a lame or a very sharp knife, about 1/4-inch deep. The pattern is up to you–a cross, radial lines, or parallel slashes are common. A couple of these slashes will do. Lightly sift a little flour on top, creating a snowflake effect. This will make the bread look quite nice when its done. Bake for 30 minutes at 450 degrees. Lower temperature to 325 degrees, remove the water pan, and bake until center of bread, measured with a thermometer, reaches 195 degrees.
Baking: French Bread or Sandwich Loaves
Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Check temperature to see if center has reached 195 degrees. If not, continue baking, checking every few minutes to see if it has.
Halfway through baking, remove bread from oven, spray the top with olive oil, and sprinkle top with sesame seeds or everything bagel seasoning mix. The oil will make the seeds or mix stick.
Yummy Option 2
Sprinkle semolina onto the bottom of the baking dish or pan before placing dough on it for the second rise. The semolina will give the bottom of the bread a nice added crunch.