I jumped on the sourdough train along with everyone else during the lockdown, and after a few months, I think I’ve developed the ideal recipe.
Witness the beauty!
(Recipe adapted from The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, a brilliant book by Jeffrey Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, but with many changes based on my Googling and experimentation.)
The best things about this lazy sourdough recipe:
- No stand mixer or hand-kneading required. Just dump all ingredients in a large bowl/container and stir with a wooden spoon.
- One rise at room temperature, then stick it in the fridge and bake anytime. You don’t have to plan your day around when the bread needs to be baked!
- A mix of wild yeast and commercial yeast means you get the right sourdough taste and texture, even if your starter is weak. I’m sure it’s satisfying to bake “pure” sourdough bread (using only the wild yeast in your sourdough starter), but my sourdough starter wouldn’t get bubbly enough and I was tired of trying to fix it. Helping it along with a bit of packaged yeast results in perfect sourdough bread every time!
- 100 g sourdough starter (see note at end)
- 680 g cool/lukewarm water (not warm or hot)
- 2 tsp active dry yeast
- 1 Tbsp kosher salt
- 910 g all-purpose flour
- ~2 cups of old dough*
*You won’t have this for your first batch, of course, but the idea is that every time you bake bread, you leave a bit of dough in the bucket to mix in with the next batch. I just eyeball it, measurement-wise.
1. Add starter to the old dough in the the bucket, pour in water, and let stand until soupy. You can leave it in the fridge for a day or two at this stage, if you want. (Mine never really gets “soupy” as in homogeneous, but I break up any large chunks of dough with my fingers.)
2. Add yeast and salt and stir to distribute evenly in the water. Or don’t stir for 10 minutes and wait to see if your yeast gets a bit bubbly looking, if you want to check that your commercial yeast is alive before potentially wasting flour with the next step.
3. Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. You want to stir until the dough comes together; it will be very shaggy and wet. You can use your fingers to mix if you want, but stop once it comes together, don’t knead.
4. Cover loosely and let rise at room temperature for 2 to 8 hours. Mine takes 8 hours, in a kitchen with the thermostat set to 22 C in winter. Yours might rise in as little as 2 hours if your kitchen is warm and your starter is super active.
5. Refrigerate, still loosely covered, for at least 5 days and up to two weeks. It’s ready to be refrigerated when it has doubled in size and the top “dome” of the dough has flattened out and is just starting to collapse. (Mine always looks like it has more than doubled, and is threatening to spill over the top of the bucket.) I find it really needs five days in the fridge to develop the sourdough flavor, although you could bake it immediately if you want. After two weeks, the dough will start to collapse and lose springiness, so you really want to bake or freeze it before then.
On baking day
1. Sprinkle the top of the dough in the bucket with flour, pull up a cantaloupe-sized piece, and snip it off with kitchen scissors.
2. Dust the surface of your dough and your hands liberally with flour.
(I keep a bowl of “bread-dusting flour” nearby for this purpose, so I don’t contaminate my flour container with my doughy fingers.)
3. Shape dough into a ball. This step is hard to explain in words—I only got it by watching the video below—but you want to grip a corner of the dough and pull and stretch it over, pulling the dough over on itself four times, until you have formed a dough ball with a tight “gluten cloak.”
This gluten cloak forms a thick crunchy crackly crust while the bread is baking, and is key to maintaining its round shape and fluffy interior. (Without it, the dough will bake into a sad flat lump.)
4. Let rise at room temperature on a sheet of parchment paper, loosely covered with plastic wrap or an upturned bowl, for 35 min. Then place a lidded 6-quart Dutch oven* in the oven and preheat at 450 °F for 35 more min. Your dough ball is getting a total 70-minute rise time here. Up to 90 minutes is fine if you want. The longer the rise, the bigger the air bubbles in the final baked loaf—just don’t leave it too long or the bread will collapse and go sad and flat again. (Don’t worry if your dough ball flattens out a bit at this stage, though, or never doubles in size.)
5. Slash dough. When the rise time is up, dust the surface of your dough ball again with flour and slash across the top with a sharp knife (or you could use a razor blade, if you happen to have one of those and all your knives are dull).
I just use a chef’s knife and make two slashes in a cross shape, but here’s a fancy clamshell pattern:
The slash lets steam escape so your bread can rise up nice and springy. Otherwise it would, again, be a sad flat lump.
5. Carefully place dough ball, still on the parchment paper, into the hot Dutch oven. Replace lid and bake at 450 °F for 28 to 35 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for 10 to 20 more minutes.
(Check the bread after 28 minutes. You want to leave the lid on until the outer crust is getting golden-blond. If you remove the lid too soon, the outer crust will cook and it will look done, but the inside will be mushy. Once the bread reaches the light-gold crust stage and the lid comes off, you can check it every 5-10 minutes until it looks dark enough to your liking.)
6. Remove bread and allow to cool on a wire rack. If you don’t have a wire cooling rack, take one of the racks out of your oven. This is key to getting a crispy crust. You’ll hear the bread crackling as it cools!
*Check that your Dutch oven lid is safe at this temperature. I recommend the Bed Bath & Beyond Artisanal Kitchen Supply brand for this reason. (Le Creuset, for instance, features black knobs on the lids that are only oven-safe to 375 °F, despite this cookware costing hundreds of dollars more!) Alternatively, the ABin5 method uses a baking stone plus broiler tray filled with boiling water to create steam, but I find it way easier to use a Dutch oven. Plus, a Dutch oven was a better buy for me, since I can also cook soups, stews, and pot roasts in it, whereas a baking stone can only be used for bread, pizza, and other things I shouldn’t eat so much of 😛
How to make sourdough starter
I don’t have a good method for making sourdough starter, obviously, which is why I came up with this recipe hack. This Cook’s Illustrated version looks straightforward, though, and it’s probably the method I would try next if I wasn’t already satisfied with my weak starter + commercial yeast combination.
Tip for what to do with your sourdough starter discard: Heat up a few tablespoons of olive oil in a non-stick pan, pour the starter discard directly in the pan, and sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Flip when bubbles appear in the middle (like for pancakes).
I am way too lazy to mix up a whole separate recipe just to use up my starter discard; this way I can just pour the starter directly in the pan and eat it immediately! This idea comes from Pro Home Cooks, see video below.
I don’t bother with the scallions, because they would definitely go bad in my fridge before I ever got around to using up all of them. Don’t skip the sesame seeds, though. They’re key for flavor and crunch.
My shorthand version
I know this all sounds complicated, but that’s because I tried to explain the purpose of each step. Here’s the recipe I keep posted on my fridge (for 4-5 loaves, double the quantities listed above):
After 5-10 days, when ready to bake, I just shape the dough and let rise on parchment for 35 min, preheat the Dutch oven at 450 °F for 35 more min, slash the dough, and bake for ~35 min lid on, 15 min lid off. Couldn’t be easier!