Now that I’ve gotten my starter up and running, I am baking all kinds of sourdough goodness with it and specifically this easy overnight rustic sourdough bread! I literally can’t think of something I would rather add to my table than freshly baked bread! I mean, it’s perfect on its own with butter. But, it’s also glorious sliced and toasted up, served alongside a kick ass charcuterie board (click here for the ultimate guide). Or hollowed out and filled with spinach artichoke dip. It’s also perfect for your holiday stuffing! Homemade bread crumbs for mac n cheese. The most glorious avocado toast. Divine Croutons. And. And. I could go on with all the things that this bread is great for, but just make it. You’ll see.
Don’t let the idea of bread making freak you out. Especially breads like these, because they are the easiest. While they seem time consuming, in reality it’s little bits of work spread out over hours. Which means you get to look like the badass baking all the homemade breads with very little effort on your part. This is my go-to bread recipe and I love it so much. This recipe couldn’t be easier and below you’ll find some notes and videos (!) on making your loaves the best they can be. Happy baking!
HOW TO BAKE EASY OVERNIGHT SOURDOUGH BREAD
What exactly is levain? Some say that it’s simply the French word for starter, some refer to it as a “sourdough sponge”, but ultimately, it’s the leavening needed for our bread to rise. In this case, our levain is our sourdough starter. Regardless of the name, it’s known as a preferment: a mixture of flour, water, and yeast (or a leavening agent) that is a head start for our bread. Preferments can be made with commercial yeast or wild bacteria/yeast (as is the case in sourdough). Preferments also add flavor to our bread which is why this recipe is made over many hours, we need to give the sourdough flavor time to develop. When I refer to levain in this recipe, it is our sourdough starter plus some more flour and water to get it super active for baking. Our levain is made about 8 hours prior to making our bread dough so that it has plenty of time to rise and get going. I’ll have a proposed timing schedule below, so check it out!
Well, if that’s levain, then what exactly is a sourdough starter? A sourdough starter is a preferment where the leavening agent is ambient wild yeast or bacteria. A sourdough starter is created by mixing flour and water, and then allowing the microorganisms — wild yeasts and bacteria — that live in the flour and air to thrive and multiply. Over time, a stable population of these microorganisms develops. When used in bread, the microorganisms perform fermentation reactions, producing the gas that makes the dough rise and the molecules that give it flavor. These flavor molecules are different than those produced by commercial yeast, as I’m sure anyone who has eaten sourdough vs french bread can attest. If you want more info on the science of starters and preferments, the Kitchn has a great article here. Are you interested in making your own sourdough starter if you don’t have one? Here’s a great tutorial from Lion’s Bread.
What tools do I need to make sourdough?
Great question! The answer is not much. As long as you have a large bowl, a kitchen scale, and some elbow grease, anyone can make great bread. A dutch oven is a great tool and I highly recommend using one, but bread can be baked in a cast iron skillet or even on a pizza stone. This recipe used a dutch oven, so if you don’t have one, I love this affordable Lodge cast iron dutch oven.
Kitchen scale: why is this necessary? Let me tell you, baking is a science. The difference between your loaf turning out great, or becoming a mess, is honestly a couple of grams. This recipe is written in grams because it’s the most exact form of measurement, so quit bitching and buy yourself an inexpensive kitchen scale here.
Flexible scraper: Is this necessary? No, absolutely not. Does it make your life easier? YES. Sourdough is a sticky dough when you begin to work with it and having a flexible scraper to get it out of your bowl and into your work surface makes such a difference.
Banneton proofing baskets: these aren’t strictly necessary but my god do they make a difference. You could alternately proof your dough in a bowl or loaf pan with a floured kitchen towel but the basket really helps the dough hold it’s shape. You can find an affordable one here (it comes with a flexible scraper!).
Obviously when a recipe only requires 4 ingredients, the flour is a pretty damn important part. Make sure you are using a high quality flour. My favorite brand is King Arthur, but Bob’s Red Mill, Central Milling, and Flourist are all great brands to purchase from. I use 10% whole wheat in this recipe (you can elect to do all white flour) so I usually buy from the same brands for my whole wheat flour needs.
Can you use all-purpose? No. I mean, sure, you can, but don’t expect the same results. The reason we use strong bread flour for the bulk of the flour needed in this recipe is because it has a higher protein percentage than all-purpose flour. The protein content speaks to the strength of the gluten and the stronger the gluten, the better that it traps the gases in the bread yielding a beautiful, open crumb. All-purpose will likely yield a much tighter crumb, so if that’s what you have on hand and you’re okay with that, full steam ahead.
Ultimately when we make and mix our dough, we are trying to create a strong spider web of gluten strands within our bread, capable of capturing and holding the gases released by the fermentation process. Those trapped gas bubbles are the holes we find in our bread. If our dough’s gluten strands are not strong enough, your bread will not rise and you will have a tight, dense crumb. The bread will still taste fantastic, but we want to get to the point where we’re baking bakery quality loaves.
Applying lamination and folds
Now we are really getting into the meat of baking, the methods in which we work to create those super strong gluten strands. Perhaps you’ve heard the term lamination before in regards to baking. Laminated doughs, like croissants and puff pastry, are essentially lots of folds applied to a dough so that you create layers. This type of lamination is a much simpler version of that, but helps to create tensile strength in our gluten early on.
In sourdough baking, lamination is essentially stretching the dough like a sheet until it is very thin and then folding it back up into a blob. It’s as simple as that. It is an optional step in this recipe, but one I hope you will take. It’s the perfect opportunity to add some mix-ins to your dough (think seeds, herbs, cheese, seasonings, etc.) and adds so much to the final product. You can find a quick video of me laminating the dough below! Notice, at this time I wasn’t using a flexible scraper and I struggled getting all the dough out of the bowl. Word to the wise, use a scraper! And for those of you wondering, I added everything bagel spice and it’s amazing!
So what do I mean when I refer to folds? This dough isn’t kneaded in the traditional sense because we don’t want to de-gas the dough when we’ve worked so hard to build it up. Folding is taking one corner of the dough, stretching it upward and then folding it over the dough, and then rotating the dough so that you grab from a different area and repeating. This allows us to build up gluten strength in the dough without losing all the gas bubbles that we’ve built up. Here’s a quick video of me applying folds to the dough, which we do 3 times in this recipe.
Through folding, we’re also helping to regulate dough temperature throughout the entire bulk mass. This ensures the dough’s temperature is relatively even throughout — no cool or warm spots at the top or bottom.
What is bulk fermentation? Well, it’s happening right now as you bake! Bulk fermentation, also referred to as the ‘first rise’ or ‘primary fermentation’, is one of the most important steps of yeast bread baking. It begins right when mixing ends and lasts until the dough is divided (if you’re making two loaves) and shaped. The name signifies exactly what it is: the step when the dough is fermenting in a large, single mass. Even as we laminate and apply folds to our dough, it’s fermenting right before our eyes! The yeast in our starter is feeding on the flour and water and releasing CO2 in the process. You should notice that every time you return to your dough to apply a fold, it’s starting to rise and bubble.
The bulk fermentation stage usually lasts between 4-6 hours. After we mix our dough, there’s the lamination, 3 sets of folds, and then allowing the dough to rise before shaping. All this falls under bulk fermentation.
Shaping and proofing
Shaping our dough is an important part of getting a great finished product. We are ultimately trying to create surface tension on the top of our loaf so that it holds all the gasses in, while rising upward instead of outward. You want to be very gentle when shaping the dough, again, so that we don’t let out all the gas we’ve built up in our first proof. If you are doubling this recipe, this is also where we would be dividing the dough.
Please keep in mind, as with all things bread related, while this is a simple task it requires practice. I can’t tell you how many loaves I have shaped and been unhappy with how they turned out aesthetically. Keep practicing! It’s the only way to really develop your skills.
Once you have your dough turned out on your floured work surface, I gently stretch just slightly into a rectangle shape. You’re going to fold one side to the middle, and then fold the other side over that. Then, with a rolling motion, you’re going to roll the dough up into a log without pressing too hard on the dough. With each roll try to avoid compressing the center with too much pressure. In other words, when you pick up the top and fold it over-exaggerate the motion of picking up and rolling down: less like rolling up a tight towel and more like rolling up a big ball.
After the final tuck with your fingers, the dough should be smooth on the outside with a firm surface. Remember, this dough will now undergo a long proof time, and it needs to be shaped with enough strength to make it to the oven without spreading outward excessively. Transfer your shaped dough, seam side up, to a well-floured 10″ batard banneton. I like to knit the seam a little tighter when it’s in the basket to help create just a bit more tension. You can watch the video of me shaping the dough below!
Once the dough is shaped and in the basket, it gets wrapped with plastic wrap and heads in to the fridge for it’s final proof. Because your refrigerator is cold, it slows the yeast activity down for a slow and controlled rise. You will see the bread rise a little in the fridge, but it’s mostly working to develop flavor. The longer the cold proof, the stronger the flavor. My bread usually proofs in the fridge for anywhere from 12-16 hours.
Scoring and baking
Let me say, scoring the dough isn’t strictly necessary. However, it plays a large role in the aesthetics of the loaf. Rather than letting the bread decide where it’s going to break open, you’re creating a pathway for its rise as it bakes. If you were to leave the bread unscored, it would simply find it’s weakest points of surface tension and break through in unpredictable ways. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if you want to keep the shape of your batard intact, scoring is the way to go.
To score effectively, you will need a bread lame or a sharp knife. You will make one smooth and decisive cut, aiming to cut about 1/4″ deep, from the top of the loaf to the bottom. You can watch the video below and see me score a batard with a bread lame.
Now is the time to bake! I start my oven at 475 degrees F with my dutch oven in the oven and allow it to preheat for 1 hour. This allows the cast iron to heat all the way through and will create a consistent bake.
Why do we bake in a dutch oven? The enclosed space creates steam! As the dough bakes, water is released from the dough creating steam and allowing the dough to remain flexible and rise as it bakes. The amount your dough rises as it bakes is referred to oven spring and it’s important in the first stage of baking, hence why we start with the lid on and then finish with the lid off.
Can you bake without a dutch oven? Absolutely. You will simple have to create steam in the oven by adding a small pan of cold water to the bottom of your oven for the first half of the baking process. You would preheat a cast iron skillet or a pizza stone/steel in the oven for the same amount of time and then place the scored loaf directly on the stone or in the skillet with a pan of water on the bottom of the oven. After the first 25 minutes of baking, remove the pan with the water, lower the temp and bake for another 20 minutes. Allow the bread to cool on a wire rack for at least 2 hours before slicing.
If you want fresh bread on Sunday morning, here is a rough timeline to follow.
Friday 9:00 pm: before you go to bed on Friday, mix your levain. Leave it in a relatively warm location, covered loosely with plastic wrap. By the time you wake up, it should be bubbly and active.
Saturday 8:00 am: Mix your dough.
Saturday 9:00 am: Add your salt and mix well.
Saturday 10:00 am: laminate your dough (see above video). Add any seasonings, herbs, seeds, etc. that you may want to at this time. After laminating, transfer your dough to a lightly greased container and cover tightly with a lid or plastic wrap. If you are not laminating your dough (seriously, consider doing it), apply your first set of folds.
Saturday 10:45 am: Apply your first set of folds (or your second if you didn’t laminate).
Saturday 11:30 am: Apply your second set of folds (or your third if you didn’t laminate).
Saturday 12:15 pm: Apply your third set of folds.
Saturday 2:30 pm: Shape your dough and transfer to a banneton basket. Wrap with plastic wrap and transfer to the fridge for cold proofing.
Sunday 7:00 am: Preheat your oven and dutch oven/cast iron/pizza stone
Sunday 8:00 am: Score and bake your loaf.
Sunday 10:00 am: Enjoy!
Take your time. Sourdough is a slow bread. Because the yeast isn’t as robust as dried yeast, the bread takes time to rise and work, especially if your home is cooler. Find the warmest spot in the house, and allow your dough to rise there.
Have fun! Bread baking should be fun, not stressful. Go with the flow and know that it takes practice to get your breads where you want them to be, but they’ll be tasty no matter what!
- Progress, not perfection. Baking is a science and like all sciences, it requires research and practice to find out what works for you! This is a loose recipe that I have developed but that does not mean that I yield a perfect loaf every single time. We are dealing with a living organism and as such it has a mind of its own. Control what you can, practice a bunch, and let nature do its thing. Regardless of it being a perfect loaf every time, it’s still a miracle and your own creation! Plus, it tastes great regardless of how it looks!
- 50 g active sourdough starter (100 percent hydration)
- 25 g whole wheat or bread flour
- 25 g tepid water
- all the levain from above
- 50 g whole wheat flour
- 450 g strong bread flour
- 375 g slightly warm water
- 10 g fine sea salt
- To make the levain: Mix together the starter, flour and water in a small jar or container until a paste forms. Cover and allow to ripen at room temperature for 6-8 hours. Usually I do this in the morning, and by the time I come home from work, the levain is ready. The levain will be very bubbly and will have tripled in size.
- In a large mixing bowl, mix together the levain, water and flours until a shaggy dough forms. Using your hands, continue to knead and pinch the dough until all the flour is incorporated. Cover and let the mixture sit for 1 hour. This is an important step as it allows the flour to be completely hydrated by the water, known as the autolyse.
- Sprinkle the salt over the top of the autolysed dough and use wet hands to incorporate the salt by gently kneading. Cover the dough and allow it to rest for 45 minutes.
- The next step is lamination and this is a totally optional step, but it adds tensile strength to our dough which is important for yielding a nice, open crumb and it’s the perfect opportunity to add any mix-ins. Lightly spray your counter or a large cutting board or pastry board with water. Using a flexible scraper, scrape your dough into a mound in the middle of the area you’ve spritzed with water. Lightly wet your hands and stretch the dough on all sides into a large thin sheet. If the dough fights you, give it a minute, but it should stretch easily (see above video). Once the dough has been stretched thin into a large rectangle, sprinkle in any add ints (fresh herbs, seeds, seasoning, cheese, etc. just try not to add anything with too much moisture). Working from the bottom of the rectangle, fold 1/3 of the dough up to the middle and then fold the top third down (like a letter fold). Fold the dough over itself into a small square and place the dough into a lightly greased 6 qt cambro or bowl and cover with a lid or plastic wrap.
- Rather than kneading the dough, we are going to apply folds to the bread. To fold the dough, grab the dough at one side, lift it up, and fold it over on top of itself. Fold the dough four times, moving clockwise from the top of the bowl (or giving the bowl a quarter turn in between folds). Let the dough rest 30 minutes, then repeat. Do this a total of 3 times, every 45 minutes.
- Once you’ve finished the folds, cover and let the dough rise undisturbed in a room temperature location for about 2 hours. I like to mark the outside of the container with a piece of tape so I know how far the dough has risen, but you’re looking for it to be puffy with visible bubbles.
- Line a bread proofing basket (I use a batard shape vs a circle), colander, or a clean mixing bowl with clean kitchen towels. Dust them heavily with flour, rubbing the flour into the cloth on the bottom and up the sides with your fingers. Use more flour than you think you’ll need — it should form a thin layer over the surface of the towel. You can lightly spray the towel with water before dusting it with flour, it’ll help the flour stick.
- Lightly dust your work surface with flour. Gently turn your dough out onto the counter. Gently stretch the dough into a small rectangle. Fold one short side over the other, and roll the dough up into a log (see above video) and pinch together the seam on the sides and top. Again, you don’t want to deflate the gases you’ve built up in the dough, but you do want there to be tension across the top of the dough. Transfer the log to your prepared basket, seam side up. Gently knit the seam together a little tighter (see above video). Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge to slowly proof overnight.
- Preheat your oven to 475 degrees F. Place a dutch oven with a lid in the oven to preheat for 40 minutes. Remove dough from the fridge. Cut a piece of parchment paper to about 15×15″ and dust with flour. Gently turn the dough onto the parchment square, seam side down. Score the top of the loaf, if desired. Remove the dutch oven from the oven, CAREFULLY, and remove the lid. Using the parchment paper, lower the loaf into the dutch oven and cover. Return the pot to the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Uncover, lower the temperature to 450 degrees F and bake for another 20 minutes, until the loaf is a deep golden brown color. Remove from the pot. Let the loaf cool for at least 2 hours before slicing. The bread can be wrapped tightly in plastic and frozen for 1 month.
You don’t need to use whole wheat flour if you don’t have any. Just adjust your bread flour to be 500 grams vs 450.
If you haven’t used your starter in a bit, be sure to feed it for a day or two on the counter so that it becomes active before using it for baking.
This recipe can be very easily doubled to make two loaves.