Updated: Jul 23
For some people who are just starting to experiment with bread making, commercial yeast can be scary enough to handle. But what about wild yeast? The yeast in the air? The yeast you breathe? People have been consuming naturally leavened sourdough bread for hundreds of years. Unfortunately, a lot of people decide to pass on making sourdough because they’re intimidated by the “starter” (sometimes called “The Mother”). They hear “she” has to be fed on a regular schedule like a baby, and they decide it’s not worth it.
But honestly, it’s not nearly as difficult as you think. Sometimes it’s ok to ignore her for literally weeks on end! When you finally give her some love in the form of all-purpose flour, water, warmth, and time, with some patience you will be able to watch her come to life. Your “Mother” will be ready to work, and then you can give her a job, whether it be bread, pancakes, muffins, waffles, pizza crust, etc. If you don’t have starter already, check with your local bakery. They may be happy to share with you. Otherwise, I’d be happy to share mine with you if you’re willing to pay for shipping.
Always make sure you have very bubbly, strong, healthy sourdough starter. I personally keep my “Mother” in the refrigerator and feed her once a week. When I’m ready to make sourdough bread, I typically feed my starter a day or two before I’m ready to bake. I leave her out on the counter and check on her once a day (usually in the morning) to see if she’s ready to work. Sometimes she’s so eager to get started that she even tries to escape from the jar!
Once the starter is ready I start prepping the rest of the ingredients. This bread freezes well, so don’t be afraid to double the recipe if you have a big family and want to make it only once a week or so.
Unfortunately there is no such thing as exact timing when it comes to wild bread. We all live in different areas, so the yeast in our kitchens is different. We also deal with different humidity levels and room temperatures. All these factors impact the timing. Even the brand of flour you buy can make a difference!
Yield: 2 loaves
Author: Inna of Innichkachef.com
1⅓ cup sourdough starter (ripe and active)
2 cups water or whey, room temperature
1¾ cups whole wheat flour
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sea salt
1. Mix the dough for 2 minutes on medium speed with the hook attachment, then let the dough rest for about 20 minutes, then mix again for 2 minutes. At this point, you should be able to check if the dough is done and ready to finally rest by doing a simple test called “The Window Test.” If the gluten is developed then the structure of the dough should be like fabric: very strong but still having some elasticity. Take a piece of dough and try to pull it apart. If the dough stretches and doesn’t break, see if you can look through “The Window.” If you can see through the dough easily, then you’re done kneading! If you can’t, try mixing again for 2 minutes (repeat 2 minutes mixing with 20 minutes resting as needed, but it shouldn’t take many cycles). When it's ready, cover the dough with a kitchen towel, and let it rest for 3-4 hours. It should double in size during that time.
2. Divide the dough into two pieces with dough cutter. Reshape each one into a ball by pulling the outside of the dough to form the ball instead of rolling it. One side should look smooth, and the other side should look like it was pinched. You’re trying not to break the interior structure of the dough, so be very careful with this. If the interior structure breaks, the end result will be a very flat, dense, not ideal loaf of sourdough bread. Place the loaves in two separate bowls with the “pinched” side up.
3. At this point the gluten should be developed in your dough, so the structure should be strong enough to cover and refrigerate overnight. That’s what I usually end up doing. Alternatively, you can cover the dough and let it sit for 3-4 hours on the counter. In either case, the dough should be doubled in size again by the time you’re ready to move on to the next step. If you refrigerated the dough, let it relax and reach room temperature before continuing.
4. When you're ready to bake the bread, preheat the oven to 450F.
5. Gently flip the dough into baking dishes lined with baking paper. If you don’t want to use a baking dish, you can put the baking paper on a cooking sheet or a hot pizza stone (my favorite option).
6. For an artisan look, sift a thin layer of flour atop the loaves.
7. Make a few deep slashes in each loaf. If you have a lame (a super sharp knife that was designed to make slashes in bread), use it. If not, use a serrated knife. Those slashes are called the “baker’s signature,” so come up with your own design! Even though they can look artistic, these slashes are absolutely necessary because bread expands quickly in the oven, and this helps to not break the surface.
8. Bake for 30 minutes, then check the temperature with a thermometer. Once the bread reaches 200F, remove it from the oven and cool it on a rack. The bread should be dark brown.
If you like crunchy crust like I do, you need to create steam. This option isn’t available in most house ovens unless you have a really fancy one. So what can you do? Simply place an empty baking tray on the bottom rack of your oven before you preheat the oven. When you are ready to put the loaves in the oven, pour cold water into the empty hot tray. It will immediately start steaming. Close the oven door, and let your sourdough bread bake to crunchy perfection.
You can store the bread for a few days wrapped loosely in plastic, or you can freeze it for longer storage.
P.S. I love making sourdough so much. While preparing to make this recipe, I went back through some of my old photos and wanted to share a couple more photos and a short bonus video with you. Listen to how the bread crunches when cut, and watch how the steam is released!
I hope you'll make this recipe soon. If you do, please tag me #innichka_chef on Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest.