various views of sourdough bread; dough mixed in a container, baked and halved

Sourdough Bread

20 g starter
200 g room-temperature water, divided
200 g white flour, divided

1. Feed your starter (refreshing). In the morning, three days before you plan to serve your bread (Friday morning, for example, for loaves on Sunday), pull your starter from the refrigerator and decant 20 grams of it into a clean, clear container. Return any remaining starter to the refrigerator for future use. Stir in 100 grams of room-temperature tap water until the starter is evenly dispersed, then stir in 100 grams of white flour until you have a smooth paste.

2. Cover the container and let sit at room temperature until it has at least doubled in volume and its surface teems with sudsy bubbles, 10 to 12 hours, depending on your kitchen’s temperature.

3. Feed your starter a second time. Once the starter has doubled in size (the evening of the first day), discard all but 20 grams of starter. To the 20 grams of starter, add 100 grams of water, then mix and incorporate another 100 grams of white flour. Cover and set aside at room temperature to be used in your dough the next day.

700 g white bread flour
300 g wholewheat flour
750 g water at 90F
200 g starter
20 g salt + 20 g water
50/50 mixture of white bread flour and rice flour for dusting bowls

1. Mix flour and water and let sit (autolyze). Early on the second day, weigh 700 grams of white bread flour and 300 grams of whole-wheat or whole-grain rye or spelt flour (or a blend) in a large mixing bowl. Mix to combine. Weigh out 750 grams of lukewarm tap water (about 90 degrees) and add to the flours. Mix gently with a clean hand or a flexible bench scraper until all the flours are hydrated and no dry spots remain. Cover with a damp dish towel and let sit at least 30 minutes while you wait until your starter is ready (see Step 2).

2. Combine the autolyze and starter. Add 200 grams of ripe starter to the bowl with the flour-water mixture. Pinching with your thumb, forefinger and middle finger on one hand and rotating the bowl with the other, mix until the starter is completely incorporated.

3. Assess texture and add salt. Sprinkle 20 grams salt and 20 grams of water across the dough, and pinch, as before, to incorporate. Cover with a damp towel and let sit for 10 minutes.

4. Mix the dough. Slide a wet hand down along the inside of the bowl and underneath the dough. Grasp a handful and stretch it upward until you feel resistance, then fold it back onto the dough mass. Repeat this motion continuously for 10 minutes, rotating the bowl about 90 degrees each time. As you work the dough, it will progress from very slack and sticky to smoother and more elastic.

5.Prepare for the dough’s first rise (bulk fermentation). Mark where the dough hits the side of the bowl with a piece of tape. Note the time, and the temperature of the dough. It should be 76 degrees to 80 degrees. Cover the dough with a damp towel and let sit for 60 minutes.

6. Fold the dough. Using a wet hand and the same mixing motion as Step 5, but with a gentler touch to avoid knocking out any gas, perform four folds, making a full rotation of the bowl. Cover the bowl, wait 1 hour, then perform the same series of four folds. Cover and repeat every 60 minutes, until the dough feels pillowy and filled with air, which can take at least 3 hours and as many as 7. Each time you fold the dough, it should feel lighter and sit higher in the bowl.

7. Shape dough for the first time (pre-shaping). Clear and lightly flour a work surface. Gently turn out the dough, letting its weight coax it out of the bowl and loosening the sides with the bench scraper. Divide the dough in half with the bench scraper. Using floured hands and working with one piece of dough at a time, gently pull all the edges of the dough toward the center to create a round, tidy packet. (The non-floured surface will readily stick to itself.) Use a bench scraper to turn the loose ball of dough over so it rests seam-side down. Cover with a clean towel and repeat with the second half of dough. Let both pieces of dough rest, covered, on the work surface for 20 minutes.

8. Prepare the shaping baskets. As dough rests, line two baskets or mixing bowls with clean kitchen towels. Stir together a 50/50 mixture of white bread flour and rice flour. (Rice flour will prevent sticking.) Dust the interiors of the baskets generously with the 50/50 flour mixture. Set aside.

9. Shape the dough a last time (final shaping). Uncover one piece of dough and lightly dust the top with the 50/50 flour mixture. In one decisive motion, use the bench scraper to lift and turn the dough over floured side down. Slide your fingertips beneath the dough and stretch it gently into a square shape.

Fold the left side of the dough inward toward the center, then fold the right side inward and overtop of the left fold. Starting at the end closest to you, roll the dough away from you into a bulky spiral.

Let the dough sit for a minute or two on its seam to help it seal, then use a bench scraper to lift up the dough and place it seam-side up in one of the prepared baskets. Lightly dust the exposed part of the dough with more of the 50/50 flour mixture, and cover with a kitchen towel. Repeat with the second piece of dough.

10. Let the shaped dough rise inside the baskets (proofing). Rest loaves at room temperature, checking on them periodically, until the surface of the dough has settled and the entire loaves have slightly increased in volume, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

11. Chill the dough. Once the dough passes the poke test, cover the baskets with plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator. Chill overnight and up to two days before baking. The longer the dough spends in the refrigerator, the tangier the final bread will taste.

12. Prepare the oven. About an hour before baking, arrange a rack in the lower third of your oven and place a large, uncovered Dutch oven inside. Heat the oven to 500 degrees.

13. Prepare the dough. Remove one loaf from the refrigerator and uncover. Lightly dust the exposed dough with the 50/50 flour mixture, massaging it into the surface. Place a piece of parchment paper over the basket, making sure the parchment is longer and wider than the basket by several inches. Invert the loaf onto the parchment paper. Remove the basket, then slowly peel away the towel. Dust the rounded side of the dough with more of the 50/50 flour mixture, rubbing it into the surface to coat evenly.

14. Make a slash in the dough. Use a lame or a serrated knife to make a long, slightly off-center slash about 1/4-inch deep, angling the blade toward the midline of the loaf.

15. Bake the dough. Very carefully place the heated Dutch oven on the stovetop. Taking care not to touch the sides, use the parchment paper to lower the loaf into the Dutch oven. Cover and return it to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes. Then, carefully remove the lid and reduce the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Continue to bake the loaf uncovered until the surface is deeply browned all over, another 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the Dutch oven from the oven and use tongs to help you pull out the loaf. Transfer the Dutch oven back to the oven and set the oven temperature back to 500 degrees. Repeat the process with the second loaf of bread.