Since publishing the Isaiah Diet, whose centerpiece is sourdough bread, I have wanted to answer this question for our readers.
Bread making using natural fermentation is nearly a lost art, yet for thousands of years, it was the only way people leavened their bread. Most store bread is made with sweeteners, oils, and fast-acting dry yeast. While this pleases most taste buds it cheats the gut.
Sourdough bread has three perfect ingredients whole wheat, water and a bit of salt mixed with live yeast cultures. It is this living culture that gives the bread a tangier flavor that we call sourdough. It was part of the diet of every ancient Hebrew household.
Using such simple ingredients provides several benefits. First, this bread stays fresh much long after baking than commercial loaves of bread, which require extra preservatives to keep it mold free. Second, like other fermented foods (pickles, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, etc) this bread uses lactobacillus cultures (a probiotic, bacteria that benefits your gut), and while baking kills the bacteria, beneficial lactic acid is left behind which improves digestion.
OK, okay, the ancients didn’t know all that, but it’s true. What they did know was that when they were in a hurry they could make flatbread with water and flour (barley, rye, or wheat) and when they had the time they preferred leavened bread. No one knows when the first baker mixed water and flour and let it sit around absorbing natural yeast for two weeks, but that is how you start sourdough. I know it sounds disgusting, but it is honestly good for you.
There are many places you can buy a dehydrated sourdough starter but why bother when you can make your own with flour and water. In a glass, crock, stainless steel, or food-grade plastic container mix a half cup of water and flour (preferably whole wheat or rye, wince these grow natural yeast better). Mix well, loosely cover, and set aside in a room temperature location for a day to begin developing the starter.
The next day, discard half the start (if you do not discard daily you will have a huge unmanagable start in the end, plus the yeast needs just a small amount of flour to grow). Then add one-third cup of flour and water and mix again and set aside in a room temperature location. Repeat this daily for a week or until it begins to double in size every 4–6 hours.
On the final day, fill a bowl with 2 cups of water and drop a dollop of start into the bowl to see if it floats. If it does, you are ready to use it, if not continue feeding a few more days. (you may use this test dollop to begin making your first loaf).
Making Your First Loaf
First take a half cup of starter out, then feed the remainder. You can put this in your fridge until you need it next. Just remember to feed it when you take it back out and let it warm for 4 hours before using.
Put two cups of tepid water into a bowl, add a tablespoon of salt and stir to dissolve. Then add the half cup of starter and stir. Then mix in 4 cups of flour until it is well combined and sticky.
Set this mixture aside for 30 minutes then pester the dough with wet hands by digging into one side and pulling the dough over itself in a fold. Turn the bowl and repeat three times.
Repeat this pestering every 30 minutes for a total of three more times. Then set the dough aside, covered, for 8–12 hours until doubled in bulk.
When doubled, dump the dough onto a floured surface to rest 30 more minutes. Then flour your hands to shape the dough, but in both cases, less is best when using flour at this point.
To shape the boule grab one end and stretch the dough long. Then, use both hands roll it up like a jelly roll but loosely. Then turn it and roll it again. Do this a total of four times.
Then when the dough is gathered the last time, turn it seam down on your bench. Using both hands turn and shape the dough into a ball of sorts.
Then place the dough in a container with a cover for the final rise. This may take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.
Once the loaf is double in size, slash the surface with a sharp knife (this helps control the bread’s tendency to pop its top), spay it lightly with water if baking outdoors. Otherwise, If you are baking indoors preheat the oven to 465°, which may actually take some time, and slide in a bake-proof dish filled with water.
To control outdoor baking I use charcoal briquettes when I can and follow the heat guide from the Dutch-Oven Dude. However, I mostly bake indoors using an earthenware bowl (pictured in the header above).
In either case, cast iron or earthenware, the container needs to be hot when you place the bread into it to bake, which takes only 30 minutes. After the 30 minutes is up leave the bread to cool in the container for 2 hours. This finishes the baking and sets the bread for better slicing.
This may seem hard but is the easiest bread I ever make. Folks I serve it to, love it and I like making it way it was made for thousands of years.