Artisan Sourdough Bread made with a stiff starter

This bread has it all: great sourdough flavor, an open crumb, and a wonderfully crisp crust. Before you make this bread, you need to create a slightly different starter from your existing sourdough starter; please read our Stiff Sourdough Starter recipe for the information you need.

Prep
15 mins
Bake
40 to 50 mins
Total
20 hrs 52 mins
Yield
1 large loaf
Artisan Sourdough Bread made with a stiff starter

Instructions

  1. Pour the water into a large mixing bowl. Add the ripe starter to the water by ripping it into small pieces.

  2. Add the flour and salt, and stir the ingredients (a dough scraper works well here) until the dough becomes shaggy.

  3. Scrape the dough out of the bowl and smear the dough with the heel of your hand, so that all the flour hydrates and the starter begins to break down. This should only take 1 to 2 minutes. Make sure there are no remaining dry pockets of flour. Return the dough to the bowl. To use a stand mixer, simply mix 1 minute on lowest speed, scraping down the bowl to be sure all the flour is hydrated

  4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to sit for 30 minutes.

  5. Knead the dough by hand for 2 minutes (1 minute on speed 2 using a stand mixer), then place it in an oiled bowl and cover it with plastic wrap.

  6. Let the dough rise for 1 hour at warm room temperature; 76°F is ideal. If your room is cooler, let it rise for 75 to 90 minutes.

  7. Gently deflate the risen dough by folding it; please watch our video on how to deflate yeast dough for details. Place it folded side down in the bowl, and let it rise for another hour.

  8. Fold the dough one more time, and let it rise for 90 minutes. The dough should feel light and airy. If it still feels stiff and cool, give it another fold and one more hour of rising time.

  9. Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Cut off 8 ounces (about 1 cup, lightly packed), round it up, and place it in a lightly oiled, covered container. Keep it in your refrigerator for up to a week; feed as directed in our Stiff Sourdough Starter recipe when you want to bake bread again. Don't want to maintain another starter in the fridge? See "tips," below.

  10. To preshape the loaf, give the dough a light fold. Place the loaf fold side up on a floured surface, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rest for 20 minutes.

  11. Now you'll shape the dough into a large round. First, make sure your work surface is clean and free of flour. Cup your hands loosely on either side of the dough. Gently move the dough in a circular motion; think of how your hands move when making a U-turn in your car. The dough will stick just slightly to the work surface with each turn; this tackiness gradually helps shape it into a smooth round. Once you've shaped your round, let it sit on the table for a minute or two, seam-side down, to seal the bottom seam.  

  12. Place the loaf seam-side up in a floured brotform or in a bowl lined with a well-floured dishtowel or cloth napkin.

  13. Refrigerate the loaf, covered with plastic wrap, overnight or for up to 24 hours. About 16 to 18 hours of refrigeration is ideal.

  14. The next day, preheat the oven to 450°F. If baking in a Dutch oven or other covered baker, gently turn the loaf into the prepared pot, replace the lid, and allow the loaf to rest at room temperature for at least 45 minutes before baking. Loaves baked on a stone or on a baking sheet can be loaded into the oven directly from the refrigerator.

  15. Just before baking, brush or spray the loaf with water, and sprinkle it with artisan bread topping or the seeds of your choice, if desired. Use a lame or a very sharp knife to score the bread several times across the top.

  16. Bake the bread for 30 minutes. Remove the lid (if baking in a covered baker), and continue to bake for 20 minutes, or until the loaf is a rich golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. A loaf baked on a stone or baking sheet will be done in approximately 40 to 45 minutes.

  17. Remove the bread from the oven and allow it to cool on a rack before slicing.

Tips from our Bakers

  • Covered bakers and Dutch ovens vary quite a bit, and consequently baking times will also vary. This recipe was tested with our Staub Dutch oven, which bakes relatively quickly. If you're using a ceramic baker you may need to bake the bread longer than the recipe indicates.

  • For a more mildly flavored sourdough, allow the shaped loaf to rise for 2 to 3 hours, then bake, skipping the overnight refrigeration.
  • Steam will help your sourdough loaf achieve the rich, golden crackly crust you've been dreaming about. Luckily there are lots of ways home bakers can add steam to their bread baking, including pouring boiling water into a preheated cast iron skillet set on the lowest rack of your oven just after loading the loaf.
  • If you're a baker who prefers the "cold start" method: Place the loaf and lidded pot in the center of the cold oven and turn the oven on to 450°F. Remove the lid after 35 minutes. Set the timer for 20 minutes and check the loaf periodically after that until it's a rich, golden brown.
  • A half and half mixture of brown rice flour and all-purpose flour works well for sprinkling on the bottom of your oiled pot to help prevent sticking, and is also a good flour mixture to rub into the liner of your brotform, or the cloth that lines your bowl. Make up a batch of this mixture and keep it in the freezer in a freezer bag, so it's fresh and ready when you want to bake bread. Remember to take it out beforehand so it comes to room temperature.
  • If you don't wish to maintain a stiff starter in the fridge by removing 8 ounces of dough when it comes time to shape your loaves, simply make one large loaf or two smaller loaves. Baking times will be a bit longer or shorter, depending on the size of the loaves.