Overnight sourdough bread for beginners
While the time it takes to make the bread – start to finish – averages 20-30 minutes of actual physical work, such as measuring, mixing, folding and shaping, the preparation of the starter, bulk fermentation and rest takes about 36 hours, so for you to bake your overnight bread on Sunday morning, you need to start by feeding your starter on Friday evening. Here is the example timeline I follow when making bread:
- Friday, between 18:00 and 20:00 – feed the starter
- Saturday, between 9:00 and 11:00 – mix the dough
- Saturday, between 17:00 and 19:00 – shape your dough and place in the fridge to rest till the morning or leave out to rest after shaping and bake once the dough feels nice and puffy.
- Sunday, between 8:00 – 18:00 – bake your bread
FEEDING THE STARTER
Remove your starter from the fridge 12 hours prior to baking, discard all but what remains on the bottom and sides of the container, then mix in equal amounts of water and flour to make a total of 250 grams of starter.
Leave it out on a counter overnight, to allow the yeast to populate the mix. The starter should double in size and be bubbly and live with yeast in the morning.
Once you’ve used the starter to mix your dough, your container should be almost empty, except for what’s left on the bottom and sides. This is good, because the more starter you have left, the more hungry yeast is in it and the quicker it will eat through the flour you are going to feed it with. I don’t like wasting, so I keep my yeast alive with only 3 spoons of water and 3 spoons of flour, while keeping it in the fridge, in between baking. This is sufficient to keep it alive for 5 days. If you bake less often, on day 5, empty the container and mix in 3/3 spoon of water and flour again and put it back in the fridge.
Yeast are sensitive to temperature, and the time it takes for your starter to become bubbly and full of robust culture, will depend on the health of your culture before the feed and the temperature of the environment it’s been left in to grow.
The more time passes from the time of the last feed of your starter, the more sour smelling the starter will get. If this is a flavor you like, keep some of the sour smelling starter when feeding it before making your bread and it will have more of the sourdough flavor.
- 250 grams of bubbly sourdough stater
- 650 to 750 grams of body temperature water
- 1 kg of strong white flour or mix of flours of your choice, i usually use 70% of white to 30% wholemeal, rye, spelt or other.
- 25 grams of salt
The amount of water you can use in the bread recipe is flexible. I wrote down 650 to 750 grams, and it’s up to you how much water you want to use. The more water you use, the stickier your dough will be to handle and shape, but also the lighter and more airy your bread will be. You can start by using 650 grams of water and increase the amount as your experience and confidence in shaping grows.
When it comes to flour you can use any proportions of white to whole wheat you like. I like using ratios of 70% white flour to 30% whole wheat, rye or spelt, but I have also used 60/40 ratios or 50/50 ratios.
Whole wheat flour absorbs more water than white flour, thus if you are using more than 40% of whole wheat flour, you should up your water amount by 20% or your dough will feel more dry.
MIXING THE DOUGH
Mix 250 grams of bubbly sour dough starter in a body temperature water, add your flour and mix thoroughly. Cover with tea towel and leave in a warm place to rest.
1 hour later – sprinkle the salt on the surface of your dough, wet your hand and using your fingers, gently press the salt into the dough, about 1-2cm in.
Fold the dough by gently sliding your hand below the dough, grabbing about a ¼ of it with the palm of your hand, stretching it up and folding over. Repeat the folding technique about once every hour for the total of 4 times during the whole fermentation process. Using a wet hand will make it easier to handle the dough.
Pay attention to the changes in your dough’s texture, elasticity and size. Your dough will be ready for shaping when it doubles in size comparing to your starting point. It will also feel light, puffy and really fun to handle.
The timeline for that depends on the conditions of the environment: the temperature of the water you used for mixing and the temperature of the space where the dough is left to ferment. Generally, I mix my dough between 10:00 and 11:00 and shape the bread between 18:00-19:00.
SHAPING THE LOAVES
To shape, sprinkle some flour on the inside edges of the bowl containing your dough, and using your scraper, gently ease the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface. The small ring of flour you sprinkled around your bowl will make getting sticky, high hydration dough easier to remove without it sticking to the edges.
To cut the dough into two equal portions, sprinkle some flour at the cutting line and using a dough cutter, firmly and confidentially cut through the dough. Make sure to press the cutter firmly all the way till you feel the surface of your counter and then push it away from where you cut it, to separate the two pieces. If you don’t cut it all the way through, the dough will smear when you attempt to separate the two pieces so this is an easy way to do it nice and clean.
Now pick a dough you want to shape and gently stretch its sides and then fold the top, bottom and the edges into the center to make a nice and tight parcel of dough. The part where all the folds meet is “the seam” and the part directly underneath it is “the top”.
Flip it so that the seam is on the bottom and the top is facing you. Now place the palms of your hands around the top of your dough so that you pinkies are touching and the sides of your palms are firmly placed on the surface. Keeping your pinkies together, slide your palms towards you until you feel the dough roll into itself, creating a nice and firm top on your dough. Turn it by 45 degrees and roll it again until your dough has the firmness and shape you are happy with.
Scoop it onto your hands and gently place top side down into a banneton basket lined with a floured lining or a paper napkin. Pull a plastic bag (or a shower cap) over it to prevent moisture loss and place in a fridge to rest for at least 12 hours. Alternatively, you can also bake your bread the same evening, in which case leave it out to raise again and bake it, once it reached the size you are happy with. It should feel nice and puffy to touch.
I link below a video demonstration by Ken Forkish the author of the famous bread baking book “Flour Water Yeast Salt”, explaining how to shape your bread.
BAKING THE BREAD
Pop your Cast Iron pan into the oven and heat it up to 250 C (15 minutes for gas ovens and 30 for electrical ovens). Once the pan is hot, gently flip your bread onto a baking sheet and place in the pan. If your bread is firm enough to handle you can skip the baking sheet and place it in the cast iron pan by hand. Generally I prefer to handle the dough as little as possible before baking, not to destroy any of the nice bubbles it has been developing while resting in the fridge, and I find using baking sheet a good option for softer, high hydration loaves.
Bake it for 30 minutes, then remove the lid (and the baking paper if you are using one) and bake another 15 to 20 minutes until the crust is the colour you like.
Let your bread cool off on a wire rack or rest it on its side against something, as leaving it hot on its bottom will make the bottom soggy.
Cut a slice and enjoy! I like to eat my bread while still warm, with butter, freshly chopped garlic and some salt.. yup… it makes you smell like garlic but the taste is amazing.