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Simple Sourdough Country Bread

This is the bread I make several times a week. We eat it with jam for breakfast, topped with avocado and cheese for lunch, soaking up soups and sauces for dinner. I often make it exactly this way, with no extras. Sometimes I add seeds, nuts, olives, oat porridge, sprouted grains, or anything else I can imagine. When I say ‘bread,’ I usually mean this bread.

Making country bread never gets old. I’m always tweaking things; how I treat the starter, how much water I add, how to mix. It’s amazing how something that is just flour, water and salt has such endless secrets and possibilities.

I’ve stripped this recipe down so that it is really clean and straightforward. In the interest of making it easier to follow I’m not giving you a lot of deep explanation or detail. If you want to deepen your knowledge, more info can be found in Bread Book, in my tutorials, or in my book Baking Bread with Kids. I almost always blend in some whole wheat (for instance, use 750 grams of bread flour and 250 grams of whole wheat) but I wanted to write the absolute most basic version of the recipe here.

*I refer to the culture of yeast and bacteria that you feed to keep it going as a starter. When you’re preparing it specifically to make bread, I call it the leaven.

Makes two boules, roughly one kilo each

For the Leaven:

200 grams warm filtered water

200 grams bread flour

  1. Roughly three hours before you want to mix the dough, prepare the leaven. To do so, add the warm water to a small bowl or jar. Add the ripe starter. Add the flour.

  2. Mix together by hand until well combined. Scrape any leaven that clings to your fingers back into the jar with a plastic dough scraper or a spoon.

  3. Keep in a warm place to mature. The leaven is ripe and ready to use when it has risen a bit, is bubbly and smells slightly sour, like yoghurt.

*this leaves you a few grams leftover to feed you starter with.

For the Dough:

750 grams warm filtered water

180 grams ripe leaven (from above)

1000 grams bread flour

22 grams kosher sea salt

50 grams additional warm filtered water (optional)

  1. In a large mixing bowl, measure the warm filtered water, the leaven and the flour (not the salt yet.)

  2. Mix by hand until all of the flour in incorporated and there are no dry bits.

  3. Cover the bowl and let sit in a warm place for 30 minutes.

  4. After 30 minutes, remove the cover. Mix the dough by hand for about 3-5 minutes, lifting the dough up with one hand, stretching it, and folding it over itself, as if you are kneading it in the bowl.

  5. Add the salt. If you feel that your dough is stiff and you want to add a little extra water do so now. (This is dependent on what kind of flour you are using and whether you feel confident with a wetter dough. If you’ve never made sourdough before, don’t add any extra water this time.) If you elect to add water, do so about 10 grams at a time until the dough feels supple but strong.

  6. Mix in the salt and any extra water by hand, squeezing and folding until you can’t feel the granules any longer and the dough is a cohesive mass, another 3-5 minutes.

  7. Cover the dough and let rest in a warm place for a total of 3-5 hours, until the dough has risen by about a third of its volume, has visible air bubbles in the surface and appears domed in the bowl. During this rest, fold the dough over itself once or twice to even out the temperature and help it ferment evenly.

  8. After the dough has risen, scoop it out of the bowl onto a work surface. Divide in roughly in half. Each half will be one loaf.

  9. Pre-shape the loaves. To do so, use your bench scraper or two hands to round the dough on the table. Allow to rest for 30 minutes.

  10. After 30 minutes, shape the loaves (watch me do it here). To do so, flour the top of the dough rounds. Use your bench knife to loosen one dough round from the table and flip it over so that the floured side is on the table and the sticky side is up.

  11. Fold the bottom half of the loaf up about two thirds of the way over the round. Stretch the dough as much as it will allow to do this.

  12. Fold the left third of the dough over the middle. Fold the right third of the dough over that.

  13. You now have a rough rectangle, with the short sides on the top and bottom and the long sides perpendicular to you. Pull a little bit of the top side over the middle, just about a third of the way down.

  14. Pinch a few small pieces of the sides together in the middle, starting from the top and working your way down, a total of 3-4 times.

  15. Grab the top part of the loaf and roll it over itself, towards you, rolling up the whole thing into a ball shape.

  16. Let that rest on the table for a minute. Repeat with the other loaf.

  17. Line your basket with clean linen if it’s unlined. Dust well with flour (I like semolina for this, lots of people use rice, but if you don’t have any just use whatever you have.) Use your bench knife to loosen a loaf from the table. Place the loaf upside-down in the basket. The sticky part that was on the table will now be up. This will become the bottom of the loaf. Repeat with the other loaf. Let rest 30 minutes to and hour, until the dough springs back very slowly when gently poked.

  18. Place the two loaves in a large cooler with two large ice packs. Let rest overnight. Alternatively, put them in a refrigerator, well-covered.

  19. To bake, pre-heat an oven with a baking steel or stone or a dutch oven or bread cloche to 500F/260C. This usually takes at least 30 minutes.

  20. Dust the tops of the loaves with a little bit of semolina or other flour. To prepare for baking, tip the loaf out of the basket onto the baking surface or into the Dutch oven or bread cloche. If you have Dutch oven that you can use upside down, place the loaf in the shallow lid and use the deep body as a dome to cover. If you are placing the loaf in the deep part of the Dutch oven, place the loaf on a piece of parchment and use the parchment to lower the loaf into the oven after scoring.

  21. Score the loaf. To do so, use a razor, a sharp knife or some scissors to make a few slits the in the top of the dough.

  22. Place the loaf in the oven. If you’re using a Dutch oven or cloche, those are self-steaming. If you’re using a steel or stone, you’ll need to introduce some steam. To do so, use a spray bottle to generously spray the sides and bottom of the oven (not the loaves themselves.)

  23. Bake for twenty minutes. Remove the cover of the Dutch oven or cloche, if using. Whichever way you’re baking, lower the oven temperature to 460F/232C.

  24. Bake ten to fifteen minutes more, until dark golden-brown on the sides and along the edges of the scores. The insides of the scores should still be lighter blonde.

  25. Place flat on a cooling rack. Allow to cool to the touch before slicing. Keeps well for 4-5 days.

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