Apr 8, 2013

Basic Sourdough Loaf

The sourdough bread method is the traditional way to bake bread which our ancestors did for thousands of years, basically since the cultivation of grain, which dates back to Cain in the Bible (see Genesis 4:2).

The sourdough starter has become known exclusively for use with round, crusty, tangy, sourdough loaves, and perhaps to some, sourdough biscuits. But if you examine the usage of sourdough starter in history, you'll find that the starter would better be known as liquid yeast (referred to simply as "yeast" before baker's yeast was isolated and packaged) and can be used in just about any kind of bread recipe with very little, or no sour taste.

From my research on traditional foods and the nutritional wisdom of our ancestors, I have determined that the sourdough bread method is the most nutritious way to consume bread. You can read more about the science behind that in my post where I began my series on sourdough bread;  Getting Started with Your Starter. Here you'll also find the recipe for the sourdough starter along with instructions on the its care.

But as the practical and frugal modern day cook, the main reason I've chosen the sourdough bread method is because it's doable. It's affordable, does not need lots of unusual and expensive flours, and involves very little time. My basic loaf doesn't even require any kneading!

Most of what I have learned about sourdough bread came from The Vintage Remedies Guide to Bread, which I outlined in my book review here. I highly recommend purchasing and reading this book if you are interested in beginning the sourdough bread method.

A few notes about my sourdough bread method:

1. This is my personal recipe that I've created from my research and trial and error. In general I don't have a problem with folks copying my recipes to their blogs. But in this case please link back to my blog for the actual recipe.

2. You will notice I have some white flour in the bread. Historically people actually ate white flour (they sifted it through sheets), even as far back as biblical times. (According to Jesse Hawkins of The Vintage Remedies Guide to Bread). Because of this I have chosen to use some white flour in my recipe. If our ancestors did not always eat whole grains, then I don't feel like I have to consume whole grains exclusively. Also, considering the high cost of whole grain flours, this is a way to save money. Feel free to experiment with this recipe by adding more whole grains, or all whole grain flour. However, the reason I have not included an option for a completely whole grain loaf is because I have experimented with this and the recipe needs to be altered in order for it to turn out right.  I am successful with this I will post the recipe here on the blog. If you follow the recipe exactly your bread should turn out. If you are looking for a 100% whole grain sourdough loaf, you might try a different recipe. (If you grind your own wheat and use soft  winter wheat, a 100% whole grain loaf should probably turn out from what I know of that kind of wheat.)

3. I use oats in the recipe. These are important for a lower gluten content a oats are naturally gluten-free, though they are sometimes contaminated during processing. Historically wheat had a lower gluten content than the varieties we consume today contain, so adding a gluten-free grain to your recipe will yield a loaf that is more comparable to the traditional bread our great-grandparents consumed. You could also use barley, but oats are considerably cheaper and easier to find, especially if you purchase them from Aldi.

4. Honey, maple syrup, or sucanat are good in this recipe, but I personally always use white sugar and this is why; I don't feel this tiny amount of refined sugar is any kind of compromise considering the quantity of other ingredients. I would rather use my expensive raw honey and grade B maple syrup for a healthy dessert recipe.

5. With proper care of your starter, your bread should not have much of a sour taste. This is a normal bread loaf and not meant to be like San Franscisco-ish sourdough bread.

Basic Sourdough Loaf
1 1/3 cup purified or distilled water (chlorine will inhibit the action of the yeast and good bacteria)
2/3 cup starter
2 Tablespoons real maple syrup, or honey, sucanat (whole cane sugar), or regular sugar
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or melted coconut oil
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup quick oats (I use quick cooking since the pieces are smaller)
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

About 1 tablespoon thick natural fat such as butter or palm shortening to grease the pan.
In a large glass or ceramic bowl (or high quality plastic), whisk together the first 7 ingredients. Stir in white flour with a wooden spoon until evenly incorporated. For a finer crumb, you can need the bread at this point as you would normal bread. A friend of mine modified my recipe to include kneading and she likes it better this way.

Wet a dish towel and cover the bowl with the cloth. Set on the counter overnight or up to 12 hours (might be able to go longer - haven't tried it yet). Check the dish towel in the morning to see if you need to rewet it. (If it is not wet the dough will get crusty and dry out).
When ready to put your loaf in a pan, very liberally grease a standard 9x5 bread pan, or a small casserole dish with high sides. I used palm shortening for the grease. It should be very thick or else the bread will stick really bad.
On a very clean counter, splash some water. Wet your hands. Reach into the bowl and mash the risen dough into a ball. The water will help your hands to not stick. Place the dough on the counter and mash into a large circle. 

Wet hands as needed to prevent them from sticking to the bread. (I rinse my hands off about 4 times during the whole process to keep them from sticking). Fold the dough in on itself like an envelope. Check the counter; make sure it is still good and wet. Mash the dough into a circle again (you will notice it is getting tighter). Fold it up like an envelope again. (Some sourdough recipes suggest folding it more than 2 times, but when I did it 3 times the dough sort of "broke" and got mushy and didn't bake right...strange.)

Place your lump of dough into the bread pan. You might need to stretch it out a bit with your hands to make it fit better. Cover with a wet dish towel. Let rise until the top of the dough is rounding over the top of the pan. This took my yeast only 4 1/2 hours, but my kitchen is warm. It could take up to 8 hours depending on your local yeast and the temperature and humidity of your house.

Just set in the pan and ready to bake.

Do not let it over rise or it will start falling over the edge of the pan. This loaf was perfect. I found that if I let it rise too long on the counter it would not rise well in the oven while baking and the texture was not right.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and bake for another 35-40 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown. The bread should have risen very tall while in the oven.  Remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack. Cool for 5-10 minutes before slicing (if you can wait that long!)

Let me know if you have any questions or need help getting started with the sourdough method!


  1. Okay, I am sold! I just made my sourdough loaf the other day and it was super dense, don't think my sourdough starter survived the winter. So I am trying your sourdough starter and bread recipe this week. I will let you know next week how it turns out :) Question, can I use something in place of the oats?

    1. Thanks for your comment Halle! I think the secret to it not being dense is the unbleached all-purpose flour. Because of the fermentation process, the flour is not bad for you like it is in conventional bread recipes.

      Yes, you can use something in place of the oats. Jesse Hawkins (author of The Vintage Remedies Guide to Bread) recommends barley. Based on what I know of my recipe, you should be able to use any other kind of whole grain (wheat, spelt, buckwheat, etc). If you want to make gluten-free sourdough bread, I suggest getting the book. She has lots of recipes using gluten-free flours, which I won't be experimenting with because we do not have the need.

  2. Have you ever made this into rolls or pizza crust? Or anything else?