Simple Sourdough Bread Recipe

The Easiest Sourdough Bread You’ll Ever Make and Possibly the Best…

This simple sourdough bread recipe is my go-to recipe. It’s the recipe I use when I’m making boules, baguettes, demi baguettes, and more. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on using the recipe for making a boule, or ball loaf. Shaping a boule is either than the other styles, so it makes sense to have that as the first recipe you try too.

Boules are also great because you can use the bread for so many things. It’s what I use for making French toast, sandwiches, and home-made croutons. I had a buttered slice with eggs every morning for almost a year until I made the switch to my breakfast baguette.

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A Brief History of This Recipe

I’ve mentioned in other posts and pages that my bread making journey began with pizza and then to loaves. I will forever be grateful for Ken Forkish’s books on baking, The Elements of Pizza and Flour Water Salt Yeast. They helped get me going and showed me how easy it was to make great breads. If you want to learn a little more about the history and science of pizza and bread, I couldn’t recommend those two books more.

Back to the evolution of this recipe. Initially, everything I made used instant yeast and a quicker fermentation. After a few loaves, I graduated to using a poolish, a preferment that is kind of like a levain except that it is started with a small amount of instant yeast. I stuck with that for a while, tinkering with the types of flours I used, the water percentage, and autolyzing or not autolyzing. While I was super happy with the results, I mostly stuck with it because I was too intimidated to move on to sourdough baking.

Eventually, I got over my irrational fear of natural fermentation and made my own starter. After I realized how easy that was, I went through similar iterations mentioned above (i.e., flours, water percentage, and autolyze).

What I Discovered

Messing around with the dough, I discovered a few things, including:

  • I prefer a wetter dough, both for the ease of mixing by hand and for the spongier, more custard-like crumb it creates.
  • The more whole wheat I put in the dough, the more muted the sourdough flavor. It also minimizes the oven spring, leading to a denser loaf. So, most of the time, I just go with white unbleached King Arthur flour, and I don’t really discriminate between bread and AP.
  • Autolyze is a bitch with sourdough. That is, unless you are just throwing in a small amount of the starter in the dough. For those that don’t know, autolyze is a step of hydrating the flour — so just mixing flour and water and leaving out yeast and salt. Since I use a good amount of my water in the levain, it made using an autolyze impractical. Also, when I did it with just the starter, I didn’t notice a difference in the bread. So, with the goal of keeping things simple in mind, I decided to just bag it.

A Simplified Recipe

Once I’d come to the conclusions above, I started to think about how I could make my recipe simple enough that I wouldn’t mess up the math in my head, since using the calculator on your phone is a pain in the ass when you have clumps of wet dough on your hands.

So, what I decided to do was make this dough easy percentages: 80% water and 2% salt. In addition to making a killer loaf with a crumb that I really like, the 80% hydration makes mixing by hand so much easier than if you go to 75% or 70%. In fact, as you’ll see in future recipes, I actually just recommend using a food processor when you drop into the 60’s and below. I made all the percentages whole numbers, so they are easy to scale up too.

As you’ll see, my go-to loaf is 500 grams, which makes all the math super easy and makes the recipe so easy to remember that you don’t have to keep looking back at your phone to figure out what you need to add. It’s also super easy to double, halve, or even modify for a slightly bigger or smaller loaf. Basically, it’s a great beginning recipe that gives you the freedom to play around with and make it your own, as I mention in the Notes section.

Levain Learnings and Proofing Points

From there, I played around with my levain, before deciding that the easiest way to make this bread was by using all of the levain, not just some percentage or odd number, and keeping the numbers the same and easy to remember. That’s how I ended up with a levain that is 50 grams starter and 75 grams of flour and water (an equal split of 100 grams of flour and water, which can easily be subtracted out of any dough recipe, as you will see below).

Next, I messed around with proofing methods to find a fool-proof method that also adds a little more flavor by slowing down the process. I discovered that no matter the temperature of my kitchen or how long I bulk fermented the dough, if I let it proof on the counter for about an hour, until it rose to the top of my proofing basket, and then finished the proofing in the fridge (for anywhere from 10-18 hours), the bread always turned out perfect, with a nice spring and perfectly cooked crust.

Speaking about the crust, I messed around with the baking too. However, I’ll just include my thoughts on baking in the notes, because I think that’s something you should mess around with on your own to find the baking time that yields your favorite loaf.

Now for the Recipe

Now that you’ve read more than enough about how I came to my simple sourdough bread recipe, here it is…

Simple Sourdough Bread Recipe

Recipe by Matthew SullivanCuisine: BreadDifficulty: Simple
Servings

10

servings
Cooking time

45

minutes
Calories

1500

kcal

The easiest sourdough receipe you’ll ever find. Guaranteed to make an amazing, crusty loaf of bread.

Ingredients

Directions

  • Using 50 grams of your starter, 75 grams of flour, and 75 grams of water, make your levain.
  • Once your levain is ready (about 6-12 hours later), use a 6-Qt Food Tub or similar plastic container to mix 400 grams of flour and 300 grams of water with the 200 grams of levain and 10 grams of salt.
  • Use the pincer and fold method to make sure all of the flour and water are incorporated and then let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
  • After the dough has rested for 30 minutes, use the stretch and fold method to develop the gluten in the dough. And then let it rest for another 20-30 minutes until the dough has relaxed and spread out to the sides of the container.
  • Repeat step 4 a minimum of two more times. Note: I usually do an average of 4 folds. I stop when I see the dough is nice and smooth and really starting to rise.
  • Let the dough continue to ferment until it has nearly tripled. If using the clear Cambro tub, I like to let it go to at least the 2L line and sometimes closer to 3 or 4L.
  • Flour the inside of your proofing basket or towel-line Pryex bowl, and lightly flour a two-feet by two-feet area of your countertop.
  • Gently remove dough from tub onto lightly floured countertop. Be sure to not degas the dough. It helps to use a plastic bench scraper.
  • Fold the dough into a tight ball, place into proofing basket (seam-side down), and cover with a dish towel to proof.
  • After about an hour, when the bread has risen and completely fills the basket, place the bread and basket into a plastic grocery bag and put in the fridge.
  • 10 to 18 hours later, whenever is best for you, it’s time to bake!
  • Baking Directions
  • Put your baking rack one to two spots below the middle (make sure it’s low enough that you can remove the Dutch oven lid without hitting the top of your celiing) and set your oven for 475 F to preheat for an hour.
  • Lay a piece of parchment paper, either precut or about 16 inches long, on the counterop. Remove proofing basket from fridge and discard the bag. Use your hand to go around the edges of the basket to loosen the dough and then carefully flip the dough onto the center of the paper. (You should not need to score the bread. See the Notes below for an explanation.)
  • Remove the preheated Dutch oven from the oven and take off the lid. Grabbing oppposite sides of the parchment paper, lift and lower the dough into the Dutch oven. Be careful not to burn yourself.
  • Put the lid back on Dutch oven and place it back in oven to bake for 35 minutes.
  • After 35 minutes, remove the lid from the Dutch oven and leave the open pot to bake for another 10 minutes.
  • Remove Dutch oven. Place bread on to a cooling rack and let it rest for at least 20 minutes before cutting.
  • Share with your friends and let the compliments come rolling in.

Notes

  • For any recipe that has a total flour of 750 grams or less, I like to use the 6-Qt tub. Anything above 750, I move up to the 12-Qt tub, so that the dough has enough room to rise.
  • This bread can last a while. I’ve had loaves last for almost a week on the counter. Took keep them from drying out, wrap the cut side in foil (don’t wrap the whole loaf) and store cut side down. If the bread dries out, just use it to make your own breadcrumbs or crutons.
  • With the 500 gram loaf, it’s really easy to play around with this recipe and make it your own. If you want to start making a white/wheat combo, all you have to do is subtract from the white flour what you add in wheat. I’d recommend starting with 10% (50 grams wheat) and then adding 5 or 10% to each loaf to keep the math simple. From there you can adjust the baking to get it exactly how you like it.
  • Speaking of baking, my instructions are more guidelines. That makes my favorite loaf with my oven. Your oven and altitude might be different, ans so migh be your preference for the doneness of the crust. I don’t like my crust too dark, because then it can over power the sourdough flavor. It’s a balancing act, and you have to figure out your oven and what you like best.
  • One tip, if you are ever having prolems with your bread burning on the bottom is to move your rack up a level. If that doesn’t work, reduce the preheating time by 10 minute increments until the bottom stops burning.
  • Maybe you noticed that I didn’t mention socring the bread, or maybe you don’t know what that is. A lot of bakers proof with the seam-side up and bake seam-side down. That gives them a smooth top that they can score with pretty designs. While I think it’s incredible what they can do, I’ve never really been interested in that and my tongue can’t tell the difference. That’s why I like to proof down and bake up. It allows for natural cracks to develop in the bread and make each loaf unique on it’s own. Having said that, if you don’t see cracks forming on their own after moving the dough to the parchment paper, feel free to give the top a few slices with a serrated knife to help open it up.
  • I’d love to see the loaf of bread you make. If you post it on Instagram or Facebook, be sure to tag me. And if you ever have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out.

2 Comments

  1. So, you do not need to shape/roll the dough along the counter surface (to get a stronger gluten layer on the outside) with this bread?

    • I never roll it out because I don’t want to deflate it. But I have shaped on the counter. I only really do that when I proof seam side up and want to do some scoring. Otherwise, going straight into the basket works great.

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