The first documented recipe for sourdough bread dates back to 2300-2400 B.C. in Egypt. However, humans began making bread more than 10,000 years ago with the advent of agriculture. Wheat, as we know it, is very different from the wild distant relative of wheat that began to be domesticated and consumed at the time. First breads that were baked were probably unleavened, or flat breads. But humans soon discovered how to use wild yeast to bake delicious leavened breads.
A brief history of bread-making
Greeks learned the art of bread making from Egyptians and then passed it on to Romans, who introduced a lot of innovation to the technique. Bread making relies on a process called fermentation. In this process, micro-organisms, such as yeasts or bacteria, utilize energy from carbohydrates and water to release carbon dioxide and alcohol. Carbon dioxide when trapped in the gluten-structure of the dough helps the dough rise and gives bread a spring-like texture. The micro-organisms exist around us naturally and take some time to build. If we mix flour and water and let the mixture sit, these organisms will naturally develop in the dough. The process may take a few days. Before commercial yeast was first developed by America around World War II to be able to quickly bake bread for soldiers, bread was baked using naturally occurring yeasts and was a time consuming process.
So, let’s take a look at how we can use this ancient process to bake bread without commercial yeast, with only 2 ingredients. We are going to use flour, water and salt. You can choose to use a store-bought starter or make your own. However, it is very easy to make your own sourdough starter. Learn how to make an easy sourdough starter from scratch, using only flour and water.
Getting sourdough starter ready for bread baking
If you have successfully made a starter, you can use it directly in the bread recipe. If you have some sourdough starter in the refrigerator, here is how to proceed.
- Bring your sourdough starter to room temperature.
- Take 1/4th cup of sourdough starter in a clean jar.
- Mix in 1/4th cup warm water and 1/4th cup bread flour or all purpose flour.
- Cover with a loose lid or a plate and let it sit in a warm place for 12 hours.
- Once the starter doubles in volume and you see lot of bubbles on the side, your starter should be ready for baking.
- You will only need 1/3rd cup starter for the recipe and the rest can be refrigerated for future recipes.
- To confirm that your starter is ready, scoop a spoonful of starter gently on top of water in a bowl. If the starter floats, it means that the starter has enough micro-organisms and is ready to bake into bread.
We have included volume measurements (cup, teaspoons, etc.) in the recipe. However, we highly recommend that you use a kitchen scale. We use one by Etekcity and it is not very expensive. We have provided volume measurements as a last resort if you can’t obtain a kitchen scale. However, for bread baking, volumes are not very reliable. The weight of your ingredients will change based on how tightly you pack them in the measuring cups. This is especially true for flour.
Detailed recipe for making your no-knead sourdough
- Mixing the dough
- Take 100 grams or 1/3rd cup sourdough starter in a mixing bowl.
- Add 300 grams or 1+ 1/3rd cups of warm water and mix well.
- Stir in 10 grams or 1+1/2 tsp of salt and mix.
- Add 500 grams (or 3.5 cups) of bread flour or all purpose flour. Please use a kitchen scale and not cups. We can’t stress this enough. Use a cup only as a last resort.
- Mix together. There is no need to knead into a dough. Use hands to get all the ingredients together into a shaggy mass.
- Bulk fermentation
- Cover the mixed dough with a plastic film or a plate.
- Set the bowl aside for 8 hours in a warm place.
- Shaping the dough
- If your starter was potent, your dough will have risen.
- Use a finger to poke the dough. If the dough regains its shape slowly, it is ready to be baked into bread.
- Gently transfer the dough to a floured working surface. We use a marble pastry board. Make sure you don’t deflate the dough.
- Gently pull on all sides and fold onto the top of the dough to for a round shape.
- Flip the dough ball so that the smooth surface is on top.
- Using your hands, gently push and pull the sides to form a boule. See the embedded video for clearer instructions. A bench scraper may come handy for this.
- Proofing the boule
- You can use a banneton or proofing basket for the final proof. We use a simple wooden bowl lined with a cheesecloth for the final proof.
- Remember to use generous amount of flour to sprinkle your banneton or kitchen towel or cheesecloth.
- Gently transfer the dough, smooth side down into the cloth lined bowl. Pat a little flour on top.
- Cover with a cling-film and set aside for 3 hours in a warm place for the final proof.
- After three hours, poke the dough gently with a finger. If the dough regains shape slowly, your dough is ready to bake.
- Scoring the dough
- Turn the bowl onto a parchment paper. Sprinkle generous amount of flour on top and spread it with your hands.
- Use a blade or lam or even a sharp knife to gently cut the top of the dough (see video). Use only the tip of the blade or knife to make the cut.
- Scoring is important to allow some room for bread to expand during baking. This is called oven spring. If scoring is not done, the bread will probably split from the side and not look very good. It will still taste delicious though.
- Baking the bread
- Preheat your oven to 450° F or 232° C. You can start the oven about 2 and a half hours into your final proof. The preheating time varies with the make of your oven.
- Transfer the boule to dutch oven and close the lid. The dutch oven will help contain steam while baking.
- If you don’t have a dutch oven, you can transfer the boule to a pizza stone or a regular baking sheet or baking dish. If not using a dutch oven, place a large oven proof bowl filled with water next to your dough in the oven. This is to generate steam and mimic what can be achieved through a dutch oven.
- Bake for 20 minutes with lid closed.
- After 20 minutes, open the open door and remove the dutch oven lid to let steam escape. But be very careful as the lid will be very hot.
- Turn down the temperature to 410° F or 210° C. Close the oven door and bake for an additional 25-30 minutes.
- Take the dutch oven out from the oven and cool the bread on a cooling rack.
- If you tap on the bread crust, you should be able to hear a hollow sound. The crust will be crisp and golden.
- Cool the bread for 1-2 hours before slicing.
- Enjoy fresh sourdough bread with butter or soup. We love fresh guacamole with our bread.
List of tools
These tools come very handy if you are looking to bake bread regularly. We are providing affiliate links to some of our favorites. These are not necessary but are quite useful. The dutch oven is great. You can use it for making a variety of recipes. The best part is that the lid can also be used as a skillet.
Detailed instructional video
Try our super easy no-knead recipe for sourdough bread and let us know how it turned out. We want to hear your experience. Also, do let us know if you have any questions.