Welcome to the second part of my sourdough baking series. This is the part where you make and bake amazing, nibble-worthy loaves of bread.
Yesterday, I made the sponge for my bread using my sourdough starter. I let it sit overnight, covered, to develop flavor. Today, I used that sponge to bake dense and chewy loaves of sourdough bread.
The method couldn’t be simpler. Basically, I added a little salt and more flour the the sponge, then kneaded it into a stiff dough and formed it into loaves. The dough pretty much does the rest all on its own.
Start this early in the day, when you don’t mind hanging around the house for a while. Sourdough can take its time to rise. The results, however, are well worth the wait.
Homemade Sourdough Bread
2 cups flour
2 tsps. kosher salt
How to Make Sourdough Bread, Part 2: Use the sponge to make the dough
So when last we left our sponge, it was sitting on the counter, covered in plastic wrap.
After 12-24 hours, it will have a thin layer of liquid on its surface. This means that the sourdough starter has been hard at work all night, and the alcohol you see on the top of the sponge is the evidence.
Your sponge should be dappled with little air holes, like this:
Turn the sponge out into a large mixing bowl.
It should be smooth and creamy.
When you give it a sniff, it should have a pleasant, sour aroma.
Toss in the flour.
Mix the flour into the sponge with a wooden spoon to form a dough.
When most of the flour is incorporated and it’s getting hard to mix with a spoon, finish kneading it together with your hands in the bowl.
When all of the flour is incorporated, keep kneading the dough in the bowl until it’s smooth and elastic. It should be tacky, but not overly sticky.
Round the dough up into a plump little ball in the bowl.
How to Make Sourdough Bread, Part 2: Set the dough aside for its first rise
Cover the bowl with a damp dishcloth or a few papertowels. Set it aside in a warm spot to rise until it’s doubled in size.
Depending on your particular starter and the temperature in your house, this could take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours. Be patient. It’s developing marvelous flavor.
When it’s about doubled in size, it should look like this:
How to Make Sourdough Bread, Part 2: Form the loaves and let them rise
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Sprinkle it with a little coarse cornmeal if you like. Set it aside while you deal with the dough.
Punch the dough down to smoosh the air out of it. Knead it a few times, then round it up into a smooth ball. Put the ball on a board. (Your dough should be tacky, but not sticky. If you do find that it’s sticking, toss a little flour underneath it.)
You’re ready to form your loaves. I made two long, French-style loaves of bread. If you prefer a different shape, you could totally make a large rustic boule, small rolls, sandwich bread, etc. You’ll just have to fidget around a little with your baking time and temperature to account for the shape you choose.
Divide the dough in half and round each piece up into a ball.
Stretch one piece of dough out to start to elongate it.
With your hands, work it into a long tube. When you have a basic tube shape, fold the dough over on itself a few times to firm up your loaf.
Do the same thing with the other ball of dough. Place both loaves onto your prepared sheet pan.
Set the pan in a warm place and let the loaves rise until they’ve about doubled in size. This took about 2 hours for me.
How to Make Sourdough Bread, Part 2: Bake the bread
When the loaves have about doubled in size, they may still be a little flat. Don’t worry about that. They’ll puff up in the oven.
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Fill an ovenproof pan half full with water and set it on the bottom rack of your oven. This will release steam and help improve your crust.
Right before you slide your loaves into the oven, brush their tops with cold water (again to help improve the crust). If you like, you can also cut a few diagonal slashes in the dough with a razor blade, for that signature french-loaf look.
Bake at 450 degrees for 25 minutes or so, until the bread is golden brown. When you tap the crust with a finger, it will be very hard (don’t worry…it will soften up after you remove it from the oven).
When it’s done, take your pan out of the oven, and slide the loaves onto a rack to cool.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, which will conclude my sourdough bread series with an ooey-gooey bang.