Bread is something my family loves. And sourdough is the healthiest way of making your bread (and it’s honestly pretty easy, too).
When you ferment the grains and water as a sourdough starter, it breaks down phytic acid in the wheat, which makes it more digestible. Some people with sensitivities to wheat or gluten (not true celiac, but sensitivity) can eat sourdough bread when they can’t eat regular wheat. The fermentation process also makes key minerals more bio-available.
One of the problems with regular wheat is that it binds with zinc, magnesium, and other minerals in your gut, which can leave you deficient. Sourdough doesn’t have that problem. That’s why it’s so good for you.
Of course, sourdough is also yummy! And versatile. Sourdough starters can be used to bake loaves of bread, make pitas and other flatbreads, pancakes, muffins, and even cakes. No, it doesn’t always have to be sour.
But! Today we’re going to focus on a very basic loaf of bread. A loaf that is soft on the inside and crusty on the outside. A loaf that is incredibly simple, delicious, and frugal. I’ve been making them three at a time, every couple of days. They freeze well, so it’s my goal to freeze at least two and let them eat the other — believe me, it doesn’t last long.
Before you can make this recipe, you will need a healthy, active sourdough starter. You really need to get yourself a quality starter culture to get it going. Ask a friend, look online for people who will share for free or the cost of shipping, or buy through Cultures for Health. I failed at creating a successful starter more than half a dozen times. Finally, I broke down and got a starter culture. Since then, I’ve been baking with it successfully for more than a year.
The two biggest mistakes that people make with their sourdough starter are not feeding often enough, and keeping the starter too thin.
Your starter works because the live, wild yeast in it are eating the grains and breaking them down (and in the process, creating gases that are trapped air bubbles, causing the rise). If you do not feed the yeast often enough, they start to die. They are not healthy.
When you’re baking actively, your starter should be fed twice a day (morning and evening). Feeding once a day will maintain the starter so that it doesn’t die, but it won’t have the power to raise bread. You could still use this starter for flatbreads or other projects that don’t need to rise much, but don’t try a loaf of “real” bread or you’ll be disappointed.
Thickness matters because your starter needs to trap the gases that are being produced — that’s how it rises. If the starter is too thin, the gases will escape and the starter will not rise. I like to make mine almost like a soft dough, not a batter. The thicker it is, the better it rises.
If you’re struggling with your starter, follow these steps for success: DIY: How to Make a Sourdough Starter
Perfect Sourdough Bread
The most basic sourdough bread contains only three ingredients: flour, water, and salt. That’s why it’s so frugal. Many breads use milk, butter, sugar or honey, eggs — these ingredients drive up the cost significantly. Flour, water, and salt are cheap.
Yet, because the grains have been consumed by the yeast in the sourdough starter, the resulting loaf is still tender and soft. It’s completely different than a bread baked with commercial yeast. But I promise it is simple.
You will need:
- 3/4 c. sourdough starter
- 1 c. water
- 2 tsp. sea salt
- 3 – 4 cups flour
These are the amounts for 1 loaf. I typically triple this. It just barely fits in my 6-qt. Kitchen Aid.
Step 1: In a stand mixer (ideally), add your starter, water, and sea salt. If you don’t have one, you can do this by hand, but you will want to either grease or flour your hands because this is going to get sticky. Start with a spoon for now.
Step 2: Begin adding your flour, about 1/2 c. at a time, with the mixer running on low. Or, stir the flour in by hand.
Step 3: The dough has enough flour when it comes together in a ball and is being kneaded rather than “stirred.” You’ll see it pull away from the sides and stay together. At this point, you will need to use your hands to knead the bread.
Unlike commercial yeast breads, sourdough won’t be smooth and elastic. It will still be sticky even when it is done. This is perfectly fine…but messy to work with. I do actually prefer to do commercial yeast breads by hand even though I have a mixer, but I choose to use the mixer for sourdough.
Step 4: Knead the bread for about 10 minutes — slightly less with the machine and maybe a bit more by hand.
Step 5: Shape the bread into a loaf and put it into a well-greased loaf pan. Cut a slit about 1/2″ deep down the center to tell the bread where to expand.
Step 6: Allow the bread to rise at room temperature for 8 – 12 hours. I sometimes start it around breakfast time and bake just before dinner. Or, I’ll start it before I go to bed and bake in the morning. This is a good project to do overnight (and if you turn the oven on first thing in the morning then go get dressed you could have fresh bread for breakfast…even if you have to go to work), or it can rise all day while you are at work and you get fresh baked bread for dinner. Unlike commercial yeast, it’s not going to finish in an hour or two and then start deflating. And it doesn’t need a second rise. It’s great for busy people.
Step 7: Bake at 350 for about an hour. Sometimes I preheat the oven, sometimes not. It’s pretty forgiving. I actually think it came out with a better texture and browner crust when I put the bread into a cold oven and then turned it on. (You could let it rise in the oven, uncovered, and then simply turn the oven on without disturbing the bread at all. So easy.)
Step 8: Allow the bread to cool for 15 – 20 minutes, then slice. It will fall apart a bit if you slice it while hot, but once cool it slices beautifully and holds together. If your pan was well-greased it should pop right out. I often don’t even wash my loaf pans if I’m going to bake again within a day, because the pan is already mostly clean.
That’s it! Then serve. Or, cool completely, slice, and freeze. Make sure it is well-wrapped for the freezer. Since the ends of the bread tend to be a bit hard (and I now have a kid who doesn’t like crust — weird kid), I sometimes turn them into bread crumbs, and also save the crumbs that happen as I slice the loaf. I keep these in a bag in the freezer for meatloaf or other projects. Healthy, natural breadcrumbs!