One of the biggest hurdles to transitioning from baking the occasional loaf of no-knead bread to making true sourdough is time management. While maintaining a sourdough starter takes less work than keeping a goldfish alive, using it to actually make bread is like bringing a new puppy into your household. A goldfish lives on your schedule; sourdough bread does not. If you don’t time the whole process carefully, you find yourself caring for your pet at all hours of the day and night.
This is probably why so many home baking journeys—ours included—happen in fits and starts. But we found a happy middle ground that lets us bake excellent sourdough bread on our schedule.
Most sourdough recipes call for making a preferment, in which you feed a dormant starter several times over the course of a day (this is also called building a levain). Normally, this step brings the starter to life and helps develop the sourdough flavor. Inspired by other recipes that eschew a preferment (especially King Arthur Flour’s pain de campagne), our recipe jumps right to the “bulk fermentation” (or “bulk proof”) stage, in which the levain is mixed with the remaining dough ingredients and allowed to ferment at room temperature for a period of time. As with our No.8 No-Knead Bread recipe, we use a longer fermentation to do most of the work in developing both gluten and flavor.
Not only does this tweak remove a day’s worth of work, it allows you to pull unfed starter (aka discard) from the refrigerator any time you like, mix up some dough, and be on your way to bakery-quality bread. The entire process takes 2 or 3 days (depending if you start in the morning or at night), and about 15 total minutes of active labor. And as with other bread recipes, baking the dough in a Field No.8 Dutch Oven ensures a round, gorgeously browned loaf.
After trying all manner of sourdough recipes and techniques, this is the one we return to again and again. When you’re ready to take the next step on your own bread journey, we hope you’ll give it a try.
This recipe assumes you’re using a 100% hydration starter (that is, one fed with equal parts flour and water), and that it’s been fed anytime within the last week. You can add your starter straight from the fridge.
Our recipe calls for all-purpose or bread flour, but you can swap in up to 50 percent whole-wheat flour, or play around with other whole-grain flours.
This recipe can be scaled up to make two loaves: Simply double the recipe, then divide the dough in half before you begin Step 4.
It’s best to store your bread at room temperature, wrapped in a paper or plastic bag. To freeze your loaf, wrap it tightly in aluminum foil, then plastic wrap. Defrost by removing the plastic and baking in a 200°F oven.
No.8 Simple Sourdough Bread
600 grams (4¾ cups) all-purpose or bread flour (substitute up to 50 percent whole-wheat flour)
9 grams salt (1½ teaspoons fine sea salt or 1 tablespoon plus ¼ teaspoon kosher salt)
420 grams (1¾ cups) water (about 80°F)
50 grams unfed sourdough starter (see Field Notes)
Mixing and Bulk Fermentation: We recommend making the dough at night or first thing in the morning, as it will need about 12 hours to complete its fermentation. In a large mixing bowl or plastic container (we use a 6-quart Cambro), whisk together the flour and salt. Add the water and starter and stir with a wooden spoon or nonstick spatula until you can’t see any dry flour; the dough will be sticky and somewhat lumpy. Cover the bowl with plastic (or the container with its lid) and let rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.
Wet one of your hands and grab one side of the dough, holding the bowl steady in your other hand. Lift and fold it over the middle, then press it down firmly. Rotate the bowl a quarter turn and repeat, making a total of four folds. Cover the bowl and let rest for 15 minutes. Repeat this step two more times, letting the dough rest 15 minutes between each fold. When you’re finished, the dough should be relatively smooth and springy.
After your third and final fold, cover the bowl tightly with plastic and let it rest at room temperature (around 70°F to 75°F) for 10 to 14 hours. As it proofs, the dough should become bubbly and roughly double in size (to track its progress, you can mark the bowl or take a photo at the beginning of the process). If your kitchen is cold, bulk fermentation might take an hour or two longer.
Shaping: The next morning, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Fold one side of the dough over the middle, then repeat with the opposite side (like you’re folding a letter). Rotate the dough a quarter turn and repeat. Generously flour a clean kitchen towel and drape it over the dough ball. Let rest for 15 minutes, then repeat the fold.
Flour your hands, then fold the sides of the dough under to form it into a ball (the top of the ball will be stretched and tight, with the seam underneath).
Proofing: Use the floured towel to line the inside of a round proofing basket (aka fermenting basket or banneton) or mixing bowl. Dust the towel with a bit more flour. Transfer the dough ball, seam side up, into the basket or bowl. Cover with plastic (or slide the bowl into a large, food-safe plastic bag) and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake, at least 8 hours, and up to 24 hours.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 450°F and position a rack in the lower third of the oven (usually the second rung from the bottom), and place a covered No.8 Dutch Oven on the rack. If you have a baking stone or steel, place it on the lowest oven rack. Let the oven preheat for at least 45 minutes (this is a great time to apply a layer of seasoning oil to your Dutch oven, following the Field Method).
Scoring and Baking: When the oven is preheated, place a square of parchment paper next to the dough and transfer the dough on top, seam side down. Cut the parchment into a circle around the dough, leaving about 3 inches of space on all sides. Using a bread lame, razor blade or very sharp knife, score the top of the dough with ½-inch-deep slashes; you can either make a criss-cross or square pattern.
Set the preheated Dutch oven next to the dough, grab two sides of the parchment paper with kitchen towels or potholders (to protect your hands!), and gently drop the dough into the Dutch oven. If the dough looks off center, give the pot a wiggle.
Cover the Dutch oven and transfer to the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and continue baking until the crust is deeply browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads 200°F to 210°F, about 30 minutes longer.
Remove the loaf from the Dutch oven and transfer to a wire rack. Let the bread cool for at least 30 minutes, and ideally 2 hours or longer, before serving.