Thursday, February 25, 2010

How to Make Sourdough Bread

First, I want to address a question that arose when I was making bread: what the heck is the difference between cake flour, bread flour, and all purpose flour?? Does it matter which one I use?

After doing some research, I found this:

"The primary difference between different types of flour are the quantity of the wheat germ and bran that are milled with the flour, and the type of wheat used for the flour, and the relative protein content of that wheat...Additionally, different varieties of wheat contain different amounts of protein, and the more protein is contained in the flour, the higher gluten it has.

Gluten are the strands of amino acid proteins that bind together in a bread dough after the mixture of water, and the creation of longer and stronger chains of gluten through mechanical mixing (kneading). The higher the protein content, the more gluten can be developed. These chains of gluten are important for bread, as they are what allow the dough to capture the created gasses during the cooking and leavening processes, and expand from dense to light. High gluten is not considered an asset when making pastries, pie crusts, biscuits etc, as the gluten can make these tough and chewy.

The protein contents are approximately:

Cake flour:7-8%

Southern all purpose flour:7.5-9.5%

Northern all purpose flour:11-12%

Bread flour:12-13%

There is a difference between all purpose flour from the southern climates, and that from more northern climates, and the more northerly grown the wheat, the higher the gluten content."

(courtesy of

I also read that for the most part, all purpose flour (as long as it's from northern climates) is perfectly fine for making bread. Bread flour and all purpose flour are close enough in protein content for all purpose flour to work for making bread.

So, with all purpose flour in hand, here is the recipe I followed:

Basic Sourdough Bread

First, you have to make a starter. From what I understand, if you keep maintaining the starter, it can last forever...or somewhere close.

Here’s a timeline so you know how long this endeavor will take (it’s not time consuming, but the bread sits several times before baking):

Making Starter: 10 minutes
Starting Sits: 8-12 hours
Mixing Dough: 10 minutes
Dough Sits: 1-1½ hours
Knead Dough: 5 minutes
Dough Sits…again: 1 hours
Dough Bakes: 1 hour
Bread Cools: 30 minutes

Bread Starter:


3 cups warm water (110 degrees F—in other words, it shouldn’t be cold, but it shouldn’t burn your hands to touch)
1 ½ tablespoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour (for this, bread flour is not specified)

1. In large bowl, combine water, yeast, and sugar. Mix together and let sit for about five minutes until it is foamy on the top. If it doesn’t foam, it means the yeast isn’t going to work—so grab some more yeast and start again.

2. Then, add the flour and mix really well. Cover it with a dish towel and let it sit in a warm place for 8-12 hours. Yes, hours. I left the bowl on top of my stove near the pilot light. You could also put it in an oven that’s off, or just on the counter if your kitchen is really warm. Don’t put it in a sealed container of any sort—the yeast releases gases (which makes it foamy) and if the mixture is in a closed container, the gases will build up and could cause the container to burst!

3. After 8-12 hours, your starter should be very bubbly. Use it right away, or cover it loosely with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge.

Preserving/Caring for your starter:

Each time you remove a portion of the starter for a recipe, reserve at least 1/4 cup and replace the amount you have taken out with equal amounts of flour and water. Does a recipe call for 1 cup of your starter? Take out a cup of starter for your recipe, and then mix 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water into the original starter. Combine, but don’t mix until it’s completely smooth, recover with plastic, and keep it in the fridge.

Also, the starter must be maintained by feeding it every few days (sounds kind of like a gremlin). Refresh by removing 1 cup of the starter (give to a friend or discard it) and adding 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of warm water. Stir until blended but not smooth. Cover loosely and return to the fridge.

Okay, so you have your starter. Now for the bread.

Sourdough Bread


2 cups bread flour (or all-purpose)
1 ½ cups sourdough starter
¾ teaspoon salt

1. Combine flour, starter and salt. An electric mixer with a dough hook is handy, but I just kneaded it with my hand. (see pictures and description following the recipe if you don't know how to knead) Warning: The dough will be VERY dry. This is when I had my “uh-oh” moment. It will, however, all come together after a bit of kneading.

2. Next, spray your bowl with some cooking spray and put the dough into the bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for 1 to 1 ½ hours until it has doubled in size. Again, it should be in a warm place.

3. Then, sprinkle some flour onto a flat surface. Knead the dough again to remove large air bubbles.

4. Shape the dough into a tight ball. The dough won’t come together all the way, so pinch the open part together to create a seam and put it on a baking sheet seam down. Cover with a dish towel and let it rise another hour. Towards the end of its rising, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.

5. After your dough has risen, cut an “x” into the top of the dough.

6. Spray the top of your dough with some cooking spray and bake until golden brown, about 60 minutes.

7. Let bread cool for about 30 minutes before eating.

How to Knead:

Take ball of dough. Stretch out the dough slightly. Fold it over. Press down with the palm of your hand. Turn. Repeat.


  1. I REALLY like how you mention the different time frames for how long it will take to sit and wait for various steps...

    It helps you plan how long you'll have to kick it with your friends, or do hw in-between the other steps.

  2. Very informative post. Nicely done! I feel like you discuss everything one would need to know, and more, in order to make a tasty loaf of sourdough bread!


  3. joel and joe stole what I was going to say - loving the personal insight and insider tips! great job