Sourdough Tips and Resources
There’s been a lot written about sourdough baking that makes it sound difficult.  Precise ratios of flour to water, careful “feeding” schedules, dire warnings about what will happen if you mess up. This doc is not that.

  • If this sounds brain-dead simple, that's because it is. People who didn't believe the Earth was round did this for millennia.
  • — S. John Ross

The bread delivery script that I run each week goes something like this.

  • Morning before delivery
  • Take starter out of fridge, dump it into a large mixing bowl.  
  • Add 2 cups each of white bread flour and water.
  • Whisk together.  Put a lid on the bowl.  Leave on the counter.
  • Evening before delivery
  • Refill the starter jar and return to fridge.
  • Add 1 cup of white bread flour, a dash each of of salt and olive oil, and a small handful each of sugar and chia seeds.  Mix.
  • Slowly add ~2 cups of whole wheat bread flour (mixing, then kneading when it’s too thick to mix).  Stop adding flour once the dough is no longer sticky.
  • (Time permitting) Let proof a bit, then knead some more, repeat.
  • Last thing before bed
  • Dust the proofing basket (brotform) with cornmeal.
  • Massage the dough into a nice smooth ball and plop it into the brotform. 
  • Put it under glass to keep it from drying out, leave it in the fridge.
  • Morning of delivery
  • Preheat oven with dutch oven (and lid) in it (~475 F, my oven is imprecise).
  • Dump dough from brotform onto dutch oven lid.  Score with knife.  Cover.
  • Bake 20 minutes (covered).
  • Remove cover.  Bake 20 more minutes.
  • Turn off oven.  Let bread cool on wire rack.   Bag.
  • Deliver bread to recipient.

This recipe evolved over time as I started with recipes from other sources and found ways to make them easier — for example, letting the dough rise overnight in the fridge means it requires zero attention and will never over-proof. You might find that it works better for you to have it rise fast in a warm spot (which is what most recipe books prescribe). Experiment!

Useful resources in developing your own sourdough technique follow.

Recommended reading

  • Sourdough Baking, The Basics — this is where it all started for me.  Great tips in here on how to grow a starter from scratch and what to do with it.
  • Tartine Bread — excellent resource for ways to up your game.

Recommended equipment

  • Cast Iron Double Dutch Oven — sure you could invest in a fancy bread oven with a steaming feature, but if you have a cheap oven like me, just pop your dough into one of these things. Preheated cast iron gives you nice even heat, and the cover keeps the dough from drying out too fast during baking.
  • Brotform — gives you a nice consistent loaf shape and an attractive spiral pattern.  Dust it with cornmeal (I’ve heard rice flour is good too) to keep the dough from sticking.
  • Pyrex bowls with lids — I do all my mixing and kneading in one of these so I don’t have to clean a bunch of flour mess off my counter (this is where I diverge from the Tartine book with its very meticulous dough-handling techniques; I just throw stuff into a bowl and pummel it with my fists).   If you’re at a stage where the starter or the dough wants to proof for a bit on the counter, the lids are perfect for that since they let CO2 escape.  When I’m letting dough rise I use two of the big bowls and put one upside down on top of the other to make a glass bubble that the brotform sits in; it leaves plenty of room for expansion without letting the dough dry out.  The smaller bowl (with lid) is a good place to store your starter in the fridge between uses.

Flour

You can make bread with 100% all-purpose flour, but once you try high-gluten bread flour you won’t want to go back.  Check out the bulk food section at Rainbow Grocery for a dazzling array of high quality locally milled flours at reasonable prices.  Different ratios of different types of flour will produce different textures and tastes. Have fun!