Directions

  1. Day 1: Feeding and Making the Levain

    Feed your sourdough starter in the morning so it is fully activated and bubbly in the evening, about 6 to 8 hours prior. Depending on how active your starter already is and the temperature and humidity of your house, you may need to feed it twice before making the levain in the evening.

    In the evening, combine 1 tablespoon active starter culture with 100 grams flour and 100 grams warm water in a medium bowl. Cover and let sit at room temperature overnight.

  2. Day 2: Baking Day

    In the morning, test the levain by dropping a dollop in a cup of water—it will float if it’s ready to use. Whisk the flours in a large bowl so they are well-blended. Add 150 grams of the bubbly, active levain to the flours, along with 800 grams of warm water (not too hot, or it will kill the levain).

  3. Mix with a wooden spoon or stand mixer until the flour is incorporated. You will have a wet, shaggy dough. Let it rest in the bowl (called the autolyse step) for at least 30 minutes or up to to 2 hours. The starches will absorb some of the water and start to break down, and the gluten will begin to develop.

  4. Bulk Fermentation: Add the salt and remaining 50 grams of warm water. Mix until fully incorporated. Every 30 minutes for the next 3 to 4 hours, stretch and fold the dough over itself in the bowl, once or twice on each side. This will help develop the gluten like kneading would, but without having to do it all at once, and it allows for a longer fermentation. As it starts to build volume, be careful not to deflate the dough too much during the last few folds.

  5. Initial Shaping and Bench Rest: Once the bread has doubled in volume, has a lighter, airy quality and has become less sticky, turn the dough out onto an un-floured work surface. Cut the dough into two pieces using a bench scraper or sharp knife.

  6. Sprinkle a small amount of flour on top of the dough, then using the bench scraper, flip it over to have the flour side down. Form each piece into a tight ball, shaping to create adequate surface tension on the outside so it holds its shape. (It may be helpful to find online tutorials or refer to Tartine Bread for visual shaping instructions.) Cover with a cloth to prevent drying out and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes. This is called the bench rest.

  7. Final Shaping and Rise: Lightly flour the top of one dough ball, then gently flip over so the floured side is down. Stretch and fold all four sides of the ball to create an envelope-like shape that will be tight and wellformed. Repeat with the other piece of dough.

  8. Flour two cloth-lined proofing baskets (I use a tea towel but you could use flax cloth specifically for bread making), and transfer the dough into the baskets, seam side up. Cover with the edges of the cloth and let sit at room temperature for 2 to 4 hours, until it increases in volume by about one-third. When ready to bake, a finger poke into the dough will hold its indentation.

    (Alternately, you can let the dough ferment and do its final rise more slowly by placing in the refrigerator for 6 to 12 hours. This will develop a more sour flavor and let you bake to fit your schedule.)

  9. Baking: Preheat oven to 500 degrees, with a Dutch oven or combo cooker in the oven to heat as well.

  10. When the oven is hot—do this part extremely carefully to prevent burning yourself!—lightly flour the dough on the top (seam side) and turn out onto the shallow side of the preheated combo cooker, or into the pot of the Dutch oven. Score four lines in a square shape (or another scoring pattern) on the dough, about a quarter-inch deep. Cover with the deep half of the combo cooker or the lid of the Dutch oven and return to the oven quickly. This will allow the bread to steam in a regular home oven, keeping it soft and moist on the inside like you would find in a commercial steam-injected oven.

  11. Reduce the temperature to 450 degrees and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the lid, being careful to avoid steam burns, and return the loaf to the oven for 20 to 25 minutes. When done, it should have a golden crust, will feel quite light when picked up, and will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

  12. Carefully transfer to a cooling rack. Return both sides of the combo cooker or Dutch oven to the oven and return heat to 500 degrees. Repeat all steps with the second loaf.

  13. Cool loaves completely before slicing. They will keep for several days at room temperature, or you can freeze one of the loaves if you don’t go through bread quickly.

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A round sourdough loaf on a black background.