There is one trick to making sourdough bread insanely tasty and flavorful, mimicking the way it used to be baked in wood-fired ovens. It is the dark, slightly charred crust. I achieve it by baking my bread with the oven door cracked-open for 25 minutes. It makes a huge difference. My grandparents had a wood-fired oven in which they baked bread from time to time. I loved the taste of that bread, but more so, I loved the crust. It was dark, crunchy, thick and chewy, with dark chocolate flavor and a slightly bitter taste.
The contrast created between this crust and the soft, slightly sweet crumb is mind-blowing. There was so much flavor in that bread that I would just break pieces off and eat it like that. Ok, maybe I’d add a little butter, but nothing else. This kind of bread is a meal on its own.
Another trick to making your bread irresistibly good is to add a sweetener. Sure, you can make great sourdough bread with just flour, water, sourdough starter and salt, but if you add just a little bit of honey, your bread will be transformed.
I add honey to my French baguettes and people rave about them. They taste insanely good! Who cares if a traditional French baguette has no sugar or honey in it? If it tastes good then I will be adding it.
And guess what, a bit of honey makes sourdough bread light years better too. It’s like adding some sugar to dark chocolate. Now you have the slight sweetness contrast the bitter chocolate notes. This creates so much drama and excitement that you’ll want to savor every bite. And if you substitute in a little bit of rye flour, the bread will be even better. That’s another trick I use to make really tasty bread. Rye flour adds a lot of flavor and a touch of sweetness.
How to make rustic sourdough bread
Since this is one of the breads that I make quite often, I keep things very simple. This helps me easily integrate bread-making into my daily routine, making it a trivial extension of anything else I do. There is no fuss or stress about it.
Step 1 – mixing dough
Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl. That’s it. No need to autolyze, add salt later or do any other fancy stuff. Just mix and let the flour hydrate for one hour.
Step 2 – stretch and folds
After one hour passes, start performing stretch and folds. This helps the dough develop gluten and become strong. Strong dough means bigger holes, airy crumb and explosive oven spring. Each stretch and fold is where you will pull each of the four corners of the dough up, stretching the dough, then fold it onto itself. After all four corners are done, lift the dough up, gather the corners and flip upside down. Then repeat the process 2 more times every 30 minutes. If you forget and do it a bit later, that’s totally fine.
Step 3 – bulk fermentation
After you’ve done three sets of stretch and folds, shape the dough in a ball, put in the bowl seam-side down, and let sit at room temperature for as long as it needs to double in volume. This usually takes about 2-4 hours, depending on the room temperature. If you want to expedite the process, stick it in the oven and turn the light on.
Step 4 – shaping the dough
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Fold the corners as would an envelope, making sure they overlap. Bring the seams together and pinch. Flip and let rest for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes have passed, flip the dough again, gather the corners and bring them over each other, pinching the seams. Transfer the dough, seam side up, into a generously floured 9-inch proofing basket. Use rice flour to dust the basket to prevent sticking.
Step 5 – proofing
Cover and proof for 2-4 hours, depending on room temperature until the dough has increased in volume by about 40%-50%.
Step 6 – cold retarding
Place in the dough in the fridge and refrigerate for 12-16 hours. This will help the dough develop really good flavors.
Step 7 – preheating the oven
Preheat oven to 500F.
Step 8 – scoring and baking bread
Once the oven is preheated, turn the dough over onto a piece of parchment paper place over a pizza shovel.
Using a bread lame or a blade/knife, make a score to allow bread spring up in the oven.
load the bread in, drop the temperature to 485F and bake with steam for 25 minutes. My favorite way to bake this bread is in a bread cloche, but you can also use a cast-iron combo cooker or bake on a baking stone with a water pan to create steam. When using a bread cloche or a combo cooker, there is no need to steam the oven.
After that, drop the temperature to 450F and bake for another 25-30 minutes without steam. I keep the oven door cracked-open during the second part of the baking, the helps to dry out the crust and darken it.
- 350 g bread flour or all-purpose flour; or 300 g AP and 50 g high gluten (type 00) flour
- 50 g rye flour
- 270 g water room temperature
- 200 g sourdough starter use active, mature sourdough starter that has about tripled in volume after feeding
- 25 g honey
- 10 g kosher salt or sea salt
- In a large bowl, dissolve sourdough starter and honey in water, add the rest of the ingredients and mix, squeezing the dough between fingers. Cover and let rest for one hour.
- After one hour passes, perform three stretch and folds every 30 minutes or so.
- After you've done three sets of stretch and folds, let the dough ferment at room temperature for as long as it needs to double in volume, about 2-4 hours. To expedite the process, stick the dough in the oven and turn the light on.
- Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Fold the corners as would an envelope, making sure they overlap. Bring the seams together and pinch together. Flip and let rest for 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes have passed, flip the dough again - it will now be smooth side down and seam side up. Bring the corners together, overlapping each other, and pinch. Transfer the dough, seam side up, into a proofing basket generously floured with rice flour.
- Proof for 2-4 hours, depending on room temperature, until the dough has increased in volume by about 40%-50%.
- Place in the dough in the fridge and refrigerate for 12-16 hours.
- Preheat oven to 500F. Once the oven is preheated, turn the dough onto a piece of parchment paper and make a score using a bread lame or a serrated knife.
- Load the bread in, with the parchment paper, drop the temperature to 485F and bake with steam for 25 minutes. Then bake for another 25-30 minutes without steam at 450F, keeping oven door cracked-open (using a wooden spatula).
- Remove bread from the oven and let rest for one hour before slicing.