Working with sourdough makes many things possible as a home baker. For one, you get that delicious depth of flavor provided by sourdough that simply cannot be mimicked with commercial yeast. This stems from a longer fermentation and the complex nature of a sourdough starter which holds not only yeast but bacteria and acids as well.
The other perk of sourdough is that it is not as volatile as commercial yeast. This buys me time in the kitchen. With a commercial yeast bread I might only have a couple of hours between mixing the bread and baking. This can create a high-pressure situation in which I must be very attentive and available during this small window of time for punching down and shaping and baking.
Sourdough, on the other hand, gives me a larger window of time between the mixing and shaping stages and the final proof and baking. This is a real blessing to the busy home baker. You can plan these 4-12 hour stretches around other meals, time away from home, and sleeping patterns. And if that isn’t handy enough, use Erin’s tip for delayed fermentation in the refrigerator to buy you even more time.
If that isn’t reason enough to work with sourdough, maybe this chewy, crusty-bottomed Italian bread will help.
Make this loaf as-is or stir in chopped garlic and herbs for a delicious addition to any meal.
- 1 cup active sourdough starter, at its peak
- 4 1/2 cup bread flour, plus more for kneading
- 1 1/2 cup water
- 1 Tbsp. honey
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 1/2 tsp. salt
- Mix all ingredients except salt in a large bowl, being sure that all of the ingredients are hydrated. The dough should be shaggy and wet. Cover and allow to sit, or autolyse, for 30 minutes.
- Sprinkle the salt over the dough and mix it in, stretching and folding the dough over itself as you go. The dough will be sticky but less so as the salt mixes in. Flour a clean work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Sprinkle the dough lightly with flour and knead gently for 5-8 minutes, adding more flour as needed. The dough should be tacky but not so sticky that it isn’t workable.
- Once the dough is soft and pliable, form it into a ball. Oil the mixing bowl you started with and place dough in, rough side up. Move the ball of dough around in the bowl so that the smooth portion is coated in oil. Flip it over and cover tightly with a lid or plastic wrap. Set aside to ferment for 8-12 hours, or overnight.
- In the morning, slice the dough in half while still in the bowl, being careful not to deflate it too much. Oil a baking sheet generously or line it with parchment paper. Sprinkle the oiled pan or parchment paper generously with flour or a coarse semolina or cornmeal. Flour your hands and scoop out one of the portions of dough. It will be fairly wet and sticky. Shape it roughly into a torpedo loaf, approximately 12″ long, pushing the dough together to make it as high and thin as you can. Place it on one side of the sheet pan. Repeat with the other dough.
- Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and allow to proof for 1.5 – 2 hours or until it is puffy. It won’t double in size but should spring up nicely in the oven.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove the plastic wrap from the loaves, slash as desired with a very sharp knife, and place in hot oven. Bake for 15 minutes, rotate sheet pan, and bake an additional 10-15 minutes or until it makes a hollow sound when the bottom is thumped or it reaches an internal temperature of 190 degrees.
- Move to a cooling rack. Serve warm, torn and dipped in olive oil or spread with butter. Or, cool completely and use for garlic bread or sub sandwiches.