Wild Fermented Sourdough Bread

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I recently got THE best birthday present everr! My sweet, sweet friend Eliza (who does all the baking and desserts for both A Tavola and The Huguenot in New Paltz, NY) taught me how to bake a damned good loaf of bread. I finally feel I can die an accomplished woman. And it’s not just any loaf, but a wild fermented, completely homemade, no knead, follow-the-recipe-and-you-shall-never-fail sourdough loaf. Across many cultures the world over, bread is the sustenance of life. It’s even sparked entire revolutions. It’s about time I learned how to make it!

To get a light, fluffy loaf with those delicious holes butter loves to melt down into, you need yeast. It makes the dough rise by transforming carbohydrates into bubbles of carbon dioxide and alcohol, which is cooked off when the bread is baked. This recipe harks back to the traditional way of making bread prior to the commercial production of yeast that occurred in the late 19th century. (You couldn’t always walk into a supermarket and snag a few packets of Fleischmann’s dry active yeast!) Here we will harness the naturally occurring, biodiverse forms of wild yeast that surround us constantly in the air we breathe. It’s everywhere, and so anyone can make this bread. All you need is flour, water and salt. It’s that simple!

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Wild fermented sourdough bread is much healthier and easier to assimilate than most other breads. As my guru Sandor Katz says in his famed book Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition & Craft of Live-Culture Foods, “Wild fermentation gives the dough a chance to really ferment, breaking down hard-to-digest gluten into more easily absorbed nutrients, and adding B-vitamins.” Personally, I feel my body digests it very easily, where as most commercial breads weigh me down big time.

To begin, you need starter.  This is simply a reserve of yeasty batter, comprised solely of flour and water. A starter can last a lifetime and be passed on for generations, all the while contained in the same unwashed vessel.

Here’s how to make your own starter (adapted from Sandor Katz’s method):

1.Vigorously stir together 2 cups each of flour and non-chlorinated water (fresh spring water is best) in a large glass or ceramic jar or bowl. Feel free to add organic unwashed grapes, plums or berries to lend their chalky film of yeast (aka “bloom”) to speed up the process.

2. Cover with a cheesecloth or dishtowel to allow airflow while guarding from fruit flies and critters.

3. Store your batter in a warm spot, ideally 70° – 80° F, with good air circulation. Stir your batter at least once a day with a wooden spoon to distribute the yeast evenly.

4. Once you notice tiny bubbles surfacing on your batter (not ones caused by stirring), usually after 3 or 4 days, you’re ready to start the feeding process. If this is not the case, try moving it to a warmer spot or adding a teeny bit of packaged yeast.

5. Strain out any fruit and add 1 – 2 tablespoons more flour to the batter every day for 3 days, always stirring vigorously. This will thicken your starter. You want it to have a pancake batter consistency, so add more flour or water as necessary.

6. Your starter is ready to use when it’s nice and bubbly and active. If you’re an avid baker, you can leave your starter out on the counter so long as you feed it a tablespoon or 2 of flour twice a day. For the rest of us non-commitment types, store it in an airtight glass or ceramic jar in your refrigerator. This will dramatically slow the yeast’s activity so it only requires feeding once a week. And if you’re planning a trip, you can keep your starter unfed in the fridge for a couple weeks, or in the freezer for longer.

7. Make sure to always replenish your starter after each use! To do so, simply stir in flour and water equal to the amount you poured out. SO, let’s say you used 1 cup starter to bake a loaf. You should then replenish your starter batter with 1 cup flour and 1 cup water, stirring vigorously. If you like a strong sourdough flavor, you can leave your replenished starter out to ferment for 4 – 8 hours after each feeding before refrigerating. Otherwise, simply replenish and refrigerate!

“If you neglect your sourdough, it may get very acidic, then eventually putrid. Up to a point, sourdoughs can be easily revived by feeding them fresh flour. Other organisms dominate after the yeast has consumed all its nutrients. But the yeasts remain present and can usually return to dominance when nourished.” -Katz, Wild Fermentation

If you’re worried that your starter is in desperate need of reviving, pour off most of its contents and replenish with plenty of fresh flour and water. What remains of the original starter on the sides of the jar is usually enough to get it going again, but a little extra dollop couldn’t hurt.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Wild Fermented Sourdough Bread Recipe

wild-fermented-sandor-katz-no-knead-easy-to-bake-breadOnce your starter is ready, it’s time to bake. Follow the below recipe for a fool-proof loaf, each and every time!

INGREDIENTS
1/3 – 1/2 cup starter
11 oz. luke warm water (not hot!!)
3 cups organic unbleached flour,
1.5 – 3 teaspoons sea salt (whatever your preference, I recommend all 3 tsp)

Bread flour is of course your best option, but all purpose flour is great too! I personally love King Arthur Organic Bread Flour, and sometimes substitute 1 cup of the unbleached flour for 1 cup organic sprouted whole wheat flour. 

1. Pour starter into a large glass or ceramic mixing bowl. Add water and salt and stir. Dump in all your flour and stir until well combined. Consistency should be thick and porridgey.

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2. Let your batter sit in its bowl covered with a dish towel (so no flies get in) overnight or for at least 8 hours. This is the first ferment. TIP: If the air in your home is hot & dry, try dampening the dish towel.

3. Time to shape your loaf! (This is the best point to add in any additional ingredients to flavor your loaf, such as roasted garlic, rosemary, olives, melted butter, or any other herb and spice combinations you can dream up, so add them in while shaping.) Scoop your batter out onto a floured surface and shape it by pulling the edges in towards the middle of your loaf, constantly rotating. If it’s easier for you, simply roll between your palms (while still on the counter) into a ball.* There is no need to knead this bread!

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4. Now you’re ready for the second round of fermentation. You can either grease your glass or ceramic bowl with olive or coconut oil, butter, or any preferred fat, and sprinkle with cornmeal, then plop in your shaped loaf, or simply line your bowl with a lightly floured dishtowel and let it rest on top (see below photo for latter method).

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Cover your bowl with a lid or plate and let it sit out on your counter for 4 – 8 hours if you’re available to bake it immediately. Otherwise, put it in the fridge until you’re ready, for up to 2 weeks but at least for 9 hours.

5. Let’s bake! Your loaf should have about doubled in size by the time you’re ready to bake. Preheat your oven to 500°. Grease your dutch oven (I use cast iron, but enamelware works wonderfully as well) and preheat it for 20 minutes with the lid on to heat through.

6. Once it’s preheated, carefully remove the lid (there should be plenty of steam escaping) and generously sprinkle the pan with either cornmeal or flour. Gently flip your shaped loaf into the dutch oven. Now’s the time to quickly score the top or pinch and swirl the middle to create a little nubbin if you’d like. I usually just leave mine be. Quickly now! You want to put the lid back on ASAP to trap all that precious heat and steam!

7. Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on.

8. Reduce heat to 350° and bake for another 15- 18 minutes (less time = a moister loaf) without the lid. I usually pull the loaf out after 16 or 17 minutes. Just keep an eye on that top crust.

9. Let the loaf rest for at least 15 minutes before cutting into it.

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Your loaf should have a deliciously crusty crust and soft, moist, fluffy interior filled with gorgeous holes aplenty. Smear it with butter or coconut oil and sea salt, and use it for sandwiches, toast, and dipping.

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Last 2 photos captured by the ever talented Juliana Blizzard. All other photos are my own.

How did your no-knead naturally fermented whole wheat sourdough loaf turn out?! Let me know below! Did you do something differently, or have a question about one of the steps? I’d love to chat about my latest obsession with you! xo bea

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29 thoughts on “Wild Fermented Sourdough Bread

  1. Bea, Jackie told me about this. I want to run home right now and make this bread. My boss what boss. Will let you know how it goes. My mom baked bread all the time I was growing up but not sourdough. love to you Retta (jackie mama)

    • Lovely Retta!! Thanks so much for reading my blog! How’d the bread turn out? The thing about naturally fermented foods is that they are ever evolving and always affected by their environment, so no 2 loaves will ever be the same. I know the process is a lengthy & sometimes confusing one, so please feel free to email me with ANY questions! (bam327@nyu.edu) xoxox bea

  2. I’m going to try this tonight. I neglected a starter ( for some time …) but was able to revive it even tho it was dry. After a day of watering and feeding, there were no bubbles, so I added a pinch ( very little pinch) to the mix and it bubbled up after a few hours. Smelled great. I thought I should taste for sour (told my husband if I might need an ambulance if the well aged starter poisoned me.. ) and it was bland. SO I warmed up some more of the dry starter, with the warm water, now it’s ready. I’ve tried sourdough in the past and it’s always been so sticky that I gave up. Should I expect a sticky-ish dough or more like a regular dough?

  3. I am letting it cool now ( didn’t start til early this AM) and it looks gorgeous but browned without the extra 20 minutes, lid and all instructions. It stuck to the bottom with instructions followed. Could it be that baking it in a propane stove was just too hot? I bake bread in both stove and/or bread machine. Perhaps I’ll try the bread machine 🙂

  4. Hey, Cindy! Thanks so much for your feedback! You know, there are so many environmental factors (humidity, altitude, available yeast) involved in the process that my bread always varies just a bit- sometimes it’s stickier than others, so I just add a bit more flour. Sometimes it cooks a little faster, so I prematurely removed it from the oven (though never more than 4 minutes earlier than the normal cook time). Surprised to hear yours cooked so quickly! How was the inside? Did it cook through thoroughly? What sort of dutch oven did you use (ceramic, cast iron, etc.)? And did you grease the dutch oven well and sprinkle cornmeal before putting your dough in? Does food have a tendency to stick to the pan you used? I always use the same well seasoned cast iron dutch oven, am very generous with my coconut oil or butter, and only cook in a gas stove. Thankfully I’ve never had a problem! Let me know how it turned out once it’s cooled! I hope it’s delicious!!

  5. Pingback: The Healing Magic of Ghee. | Yogi in the Nook

  6. I’m fermenting my starter and I’m on day three and it’s starting to smell less like sourdough and more like bile…
    I am feeding it water and flour every day and it is bubbling but I’m concerned about its smell.
    My husband assures me it is just the good bacteria killing the bad bacteria since I let it do the wild yeast option.
    How many days do I let it sit out and stay stinky?
    I read it needs to do this for a week but I’m worried I’m doing something wrong.
    We live in hot and humid hawaii if that makes a difference.
    Thanks !

    • Hi Leah! So sorry I’m just seeing this now. If you’re in a hot and humid climate, a few days would probably be all you need. It sounds like your started is nice and active & ready for use! I hope it turned out well. Thanks for your comment!

  7. I loved this recipe, thank you! I don’t have a dutch oven so I used my cast iron. Took it out early and it ended up undercooked, but I have faith I can get it right. Used 1 cup white, 1 cup whole wheat, and 1 cup rye. Bread was flavorful with great texture! About to start my next loaf. Thanks again.

    • Thanks so much for your feedback! If you have 2 cast irons you can put on upside down on top of the other to create a dutch oven. In fact, I believe that’s Chad Robertson’s, co-owner of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, preferred method! Best of luck with the cooking time. Let me know if I can try & offer an insight!

  8. I’m super excited! I haven’t made real bread ever. Well, once I tried to make bagels and they turned out really well one out of three times but that was 20 years ago. So . . . I am at the first stage. Have my porridge dough raising under a cloth. I’ll update tomorrow to see if I actually was successful. I made the starter just as you suggested. My daughter is studying the Oregon Trail in school right now so this is such fun!

  9. My husband has to avoid wheat because of diverticulitis:( is there any alternative to make a fermented bread like this without wheat? Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. I just watched “cooked” on Netflix and I need to start making us breads! The right way 🙂

    • Thanks so much for reaching out! I have been obsessed with “Cooked!” What an incredibly inspiring series. I’ve never looked into wheat free alternatives so I’ll have to get back to you. Great question though! Thanks for posting!

  10. Thanks so much for the awesome post. My bread just came out of the oven and it looks delicious. I will post an update after the family eats it. BTW – my starter took a week, but otherwise everything worked as you said.

    • AMAZING!!! Thanks so much for sharing! Have you been baking since? And I’m curious where you live being that your starter took a week. How did it turn out?! So happy to be able to share this gift with others 🤗

  11. Question: if I’m at step 4 of the bread recipe (have shaped dough) but I can’t bake right now – do I put in fridge?
    If so, when I take it out do I let it set out for the 4-8 hours before I bake – I’m confused.

    Thank- you for your time

    • YES, exactly right! Pop ‘er in the fridge for up to 2 weeks if you’re not ready to bake. When you are ready, let the dough rest for a few hours on your counter beforehand. You want to give the dough some time to rise and reactivate before you bake. The longer you let it sit out, the more sour & complex in flavor it will become. Let me know if you have any other questions. A pleasure chatting with you!

  12. Hello! I am very new to bread-making but have been eager to start for ages. I recently acquired a bit of starter from a friend and have used your wonderful recipe to make 3 loaves so far! It is going well, but I need to do a bit of troubleshooting.
    After the second fermentation, when I plop the shaped loaf into the pre-heated dutch oven, I notice that the loaf doesn’t have a whole lot of shape, and when flipped into the dutch oven, it spreads out right away. The resulting loaf is very large and flat. The texture is great and fluffy and the crust is great though. Do you know what I should do differently? Should I be spending more time shaping it? Does it need more flour to make it stiffer?
    Thank you so much for your help. This recipe is amazing. 🙂

    • Hi Brit! So happy to hear you’ve been busy baking away! It sounds like you need to add a bit more flour. The loaf should hold its shape pretty well when you flip it in. This is especially true if you’re using a less dense flour, like all purpose. Sometimes when I purchase flour from a different source I end up putting more in than usual for the same reason, and sometimes the opposite occurs where I’ll need to add more water. There are a couple other things you can try- 1. Try to avoid putting the shaped loaf into the fridge before baking if possible. This will require you to bake it the same day you shape it, so you’ll have to factor that in to your schedule. Instead of putting it in the fridge overnight leave it out on your counter with just a dishtowel laid over the top. Check it periodically after it’s been sitting out for a few hours. When you see it’s almost doubled in size, get ready to bake! 2. Quickly spritz the loaf with a little water just after you flip it into the dutch oven, and be sure to put the lid on and get it in the oven as quickly as possible to retain the heat, as that’s what helps it to rise. I hope these few tips help. Let me know how your next loaf turns out!

  13. Hi there. Where does the steam come from in step 6 of the bread recipe section? There was no mention of any water in the preheating of the dutch oven. Thank you!

    • Hey Peter! Thanks for your question. Now that I think about it, steam is the wrong word- I should have said smoke. Thanks for catching that! I believe the smoke is produced from the fat heating to such high temperatures in the lidded dutch oven. Nothing to worry about, it’s completely normal, and confirmation that your pan is hot and ready for baking!

  14. I’m new to making fermented breads and I have a large family and need to make many loaves I at one time. Can the dough be put into regular bread pans instead of the Dutch oven? I imagine the baking time and temp would be different? Thank you for any advice you could give.

    • Hi Heather! Yes, it absolutely can, though I have yet to venture into that territory. I’m basically a one trick pony when it comes to bread 😉 I’ve consulted my friend whom I consider a master baker, & will let you know as soon as I hear back. And please keep me posted on your progress!

  15. Hello! My girls and I, who I am teaching the ways of the kitchen, are giving this bread a go today! Seems good so far may have to add more flour because I used all purpose flour to make the bread. As far as the dutch oven, mine is oven safe to 450 degrees and the lid for some reason is only to be used to 350 degrees. Any suggestions on how I can bake this in the Dutch oven I have or in some other way? I am going to invest in a cast iron one I think very soo.

    • Hi Rebecca! Hmmm interesting about the Dutch oven temperature limit. May I ask what kind/brand you have? I’d say you could make it work at 450 degrees, but it would have to be with the lid on to trap that heat & steam necessary to make the loaf rise. If you have a cast iron skillet that’s large enough, you can rest it over the dutch oven in place of the lid and it should do the trick. Or maybe you have another lid you can use from a different pot? Otherwise, your bread probably won’t rise very much. If you have to go sans lid, try adding an ice cube to the bottom of the oven to create a little extra steam and bake at about 475 degrees. I’m unsure of the amount of time, so really keep an eye on it to monitor it’s progress. Please let me know how you end up maneuvering the situation and how the bread turns out! Happy baking 🙂

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