Everyone’s food decisions during what will someday be known as The Pandemic of 2020 are wildly different. While some are doing takeout and delivery, others are trying to make as much from scratch as possible.
We fall into the latter camp. Partly because it’s cheaper and we’re currently a one-income family and partly because the fewer hands that touch our food on its way to our mouths is what makes us feel the most comfortable. One of the biggest changes we’ve made is baking all of our own bread products — including making bread without yeast, courtesy of my new fascination with sourdough.
Sourdough Dutch oven bread has been our go-to loaf of choice ever since I inherited some sourdough starter. For the taste, texture and nutrition value, sourdough “levain bread” is hard to beat. There are, literally, hundreds of thousands of pages on Google that will extol the virtues of its health-factor (just search “is sourdough bread healthy” and enjoy the rabbit hole) but if you’ve only had mass-market sourdough bread, it’s most likely you’ve tried a hybrid version that’s made, at least partially, with commercial yeast. This recipe makes REAL sourdough bread!
But when yeast is scarce or you just want to create your own science experiment at home, making bread without yeast is where it’s at. And I’ve tried a few different baking methods now and there’s just nothing easier or tastier than Dutch oven sourdough bread.
That said, the sourdough bread-making process is wrought with complexity that’s been a challenge for this novice baker. Especially since I didn’t own a scale until two days ago. I’ve followed recipes that take days — plural — to produce. I’ve made notes and read endlessly to better understand which parts of these recipes are merely the cherry on top of what is, at its root, a pretty basic output: bread. It should be simple, but making bread without yeast is, as I’ve learned, anything but simple when you’re first learning.
This post assumes you don’t have a scale, that you’ve watched at least a dozen YouTube videos to understand terms like “stretch and fold” and read enough sourdough blogs to understand what to use for proofing if you don’t have a Banneton basket on-hand (your mixing bowl and a thin tea towel really will work!). I’m not a sourdough expert — at all. But I’ve done a lot of experimentation to break down a sourdough Dutch oven bread recipe to make it easy-to-follow and help it fit into most people’s lives, including those who work outside of the home every day.
Making bread without yeast: things you’ll need
If you don’t have a sourdough starter that’s doing well and reliably doubling (or more) within about 4-6 hours after a feeding, you’ll need to bookmark this post and come back to it once you have that established. I wrote a post that walks you through how to feed sourdough starter step-by-step; this is a good place to start if you’ve been lucky enough to inherit starter or buy one that just needs to be kept alive.
This Dutch oven sourdough bread recipe is good for one boule. I was tired of making two all the time, even though they stay fresh on the counter wayyy longer than “normal” bread. So I played with this a few times to get it just right for a single loaf, big enough to feed a family of four for a day or two.
Here’s what to have handy:
- happy, bubbly sourdough starter that’s at least doubled since you fed it and passes the float test
- whatever flour you’d like to use (I use a mix of grocery-store all-purpose unbleached flour and a blend I created at home using flour from my local mill that incorporates organic hard white bread flour, organic whole wheat flour, organic spelt and some dark bread flour I have from Bulk Barn)
- room-temperature water (if it’s out of the tap, just be sure you’ve left it on the counter for a good hour so the chlorine has evaporated)
- good salt (I like Kosher salt or pink Himalayan sea salt)
- mixing bowl
- tea towel or proofing cloth
- Saran Wrap / cling film
- flour-dusted Banneton basket (or bowl lined with a tea towel and dusted with flour — I’ve been using rice flour because that seems to be the overwhelming direction in everything I read, but I’m sure any flour will work if you don’t happen to have rice flour)
- Dutch oven (we have the largest one from Le Creuset, a purchase I was initially loathe to make but have since used a million times)
- parchment paper
- bread lame or a knife with a very, VERY sharp tip to score the dough (I can tell you that after using a lame I ordered this week, there is NO comparison — but sharp, clean scissors do a better job than any knife I own)
Sourdough Dutch oven bread: an overnight recipe
One of the things I struggled with most in the long, drawn-out sourdough bread recipes I’ve tried is that many of them required someone to be home providing tender loving care to a lump of dough all damn day. In real life, for many of us, this is simply not an option. And since I’d like to try to keep this new-found tradition going in post-COVID days, I needed to take the best parts of all of the different recipes I’d tried and distill them into a process that works and consistently produces Insta-worthy sourdough bread that my kids beg me to make again.
I’m going to time-stamp this so you can adjust it for your own schedule — maybe you’re a shift-worker or a night owl and want to push this into the wee hours, for example. I’ve tried and succeeded many times now following the same “time formula” no matter what time of day I kick it off.
This is sourdough bread for beginners. To be clear, I still know very little about Baker’s Math, hydration percentages and all that other fancy sourdough jargon. I just know what works for me. I recommend you read through all of these directions at least a couple of hours before you plan to get started just to be sure you have everything you need and are familiar with the terms I use in the directions below.
At some point, maybe when I finally get my taxes done, I’ll create a video that walks through this process with visuals. Stay tuned.
- 1-1/4 cups + 2 tbsp of all-purpose flour
- 1 cup of alternate flour or flour blend
- 1 cup room-temperature water
- 1 cup fed/active starter (your “wild yeast”)
- 1.5 tsp salt
Directions, Day 1:
- 5 p.m. — feed your starter (this assumes you have a reliable starter that will double within 4 hours)
- 8:15 p.m. — in a large mixing bowl, stir together the flours and water; this is going to feel quite dry and you may need to get your hands into it to bring it together, but it will come together. Leave this to “autolyse” (which just means let it sit by itself as if it’s in a time-out) for 45 minutes
- 9 pm. — add starter and salt. There are lots of videos that show various ways of mixing these guys together; I’ve tried quite a few and, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really seem to matter as long as you finally get everything mixed. The dough is pretty goopy at this stage but don’t stop smushing it together (repeated folds start to work really well in my experience) until every last drop of that starter is absorbed into your flour/water mixture. Your hands WILL GET MESSY so you probably want to remove any jewelry first. Once you have a cohesive ball of dough, resist the temptation to knead it and just cover it with Saran Wrap and a tea towel or proofing cloth and leave it alone for 30 minutes but don’t go too far or get engrossed in much except maybe some reality TV
- 9:30 p.m. — stretch & fold #1 in the bowl (I watched like 20 YouTube videos on stretch & fold technique before trying it and now it feels like second-nature); re-cover and set aside
- 9:50 p.m. — stretch & fold #2 in the bowl; re-cover and set aside
- 10:10 p.m. — stretch & fold #3 in the bowl; re-cover and set aside
- 10:30 p.m. — stretch & fold #4 in the bowl; re-cover and set aside
- 10:45 p.m. — remove dough from bowl onto a lightly floured surface (or, better still, onto a clean quartz or granite countertop); now pre-shape the dough — please watch some videos ahead of time if you don’t know what that is yet — and leave it on your counter, covered with the tea towel, for 20 minutes. This is a good time to dust your Banneton or proofing bowl
- 11:05 p.m. — do your final shaping and place seam side up in your basket/bowl. If you want to add “toppings” like sesame seeds or oatmeal, do that before it goes into your basket or bowl for the final resting phase. Cover your Banneton/bowl and leave on your countertop for about an hour
- Midnight — pop the whole thing (including the cover) into your fridge and go get some sleep
Directions, Day 2:
I’ve read that your dough can stay in a fridge for up to 24 hours, but the most I’ve tried so far is 14. Every extra bit of time you give it in the fridge simply adds more “tang” to your Dutch oven sourdough bread — and I am here for that tang, people. So when you can give it more time, do.
However, trust me — no one in my house is complaining when it’s only been in the fridge for a quick overnight stint. No one.
You can start the baking process as early as 6 a.m. but if you can push it longer to match up with these time-stamps, it’ll turn out some pretty phenomenal bread:
- 8 a.m. — leave your dough in the fridge and pre-heat your oven to 450F with your Dutch oven and its lid inside!
- 8:40 a.m. — remove your dough from the fridge and carefully turn it out onto a piece of parchment paper, seam side down; brush away any extra flour that falls down onto the paper
- 8:44 a.m. — score your bread (there are a zillion ways to do this and a zillion more reasons why, but a simple slash in a single line across the top is just fine) — it should go about half an inch into the top layer of the dough
- 8:45 a.m. — remove your Dutch oven from the oven and take the lid off; now, lift the sides of the parchment paper and carefully place it into the middle of your piping hot Dutch oven and replace the lid. Put the whole thing back into the oven and set a timer for 30 minutes
- 9:15 a.m. — remove the lid quickly and close the oven door; set a timer for 10 minutes
- 9:25 a.m. — provided your loaf has some really nice colour, turn off your oven and crack the door open; let your loaf sit in the warm oven with the door ajar for another 5 minutes
- 9:30 a.m. — remove the Dutch oven sourdough bread and place on a wire cooling rack for at least 45 minutes and let it cool properly (you’ll be tempted to cut into it, but you have to give it this last bit of time — I know, I know…SO MUCH TIME!)
You can let this sit unattended all day (if your tastebuds can handle the patience it’ll take to do so) and have it with lunch or dinner. It will also keep on the countertop for days and days and maintain its freshness. But there’s little chance it’ll last that long.
Yes, this is all still a bit of a process and much more hands-on than any yeasted bread recipe I’ve tried, but there’s no better bread I’ve tried in my long, carb-loving life.
Finally, if you’re making bread without yeast and looking for recipes using sourdough starter discard, these two posts are ones you’ll want to check out:
- Sourdough discard recipes
- How to feed sourdough starter — more than just instructions, it also has a bunch of great recipes we’ve tried
And if you’re on the hunt for kid-friendly recipes, my easy family meals post has oodles of ideas.
DISCLAIMER: there isn’t one.