No-knead sourdough bread, with crisp crust and its ballooning airy pockets in the crumb, is our favorite bread. And, recently, I’ve taken the time to return to the kitchen and my roots within traditional foods by embracing the pleasure breads, grains and pulses bring to the kitchen table in addition to all those lovely fats, heirloom vegetables, raw dairy, wild-caught fish and grass-fed meats.
Traditional sourdough baking is a slow process, but there’s lessons to be learned in that, too: the lesson of delayed gratification, the lesson of patience and anticipation of good things to come.
Of course, there’s a bit of a learning curve to preparing wholesome sourdough breads at home, which is why this no-knead sourdough bread has become our favorite. So many sourdoughs can turn out dense and even brick-like from too much flour, too much handling.
Recently, I attended a class on bread baking taught by a friend and local artisan baker. While I always had moderate success with sourdoughs (like my sourdough focaccia with grapes and rosemary and sourdough challah), learning from Chris proved immeasurably helpful and now, I can pass on what I learned to you. Chris bakes exclusively with sourdoughs, and primarily with freshly ground local wheat.
Use good quality well-sifted flour
The quality of flour greatly impacts the quality of the bread. Nutrients and food enzymes begin to break down once you grind grain into flour. The longer the flour sits, the fewer vitamins (and food enzymes) it offers. Using freshly ground flour enhances not only the flavor of your bread, but also its nutrients as well. I use a Nutrimill grain grinder (you can find them online) at home.
If you don’t have access to freshly milled flour or don’t have a grain grinder yet, consider purchasing sprouted flour (get it here) which is richer in vitamins than plain whole wheat flours; however, both plain whole wheat and even unbleached bread flour will work for this recipe.
Lastly, take the time to sift your flour. Sifting helps to lighten the flour, removing stray bits of excessive bran that can be a source of the antinutrient phytic acid which is reduced during fermentation. Sifting the flour also helps to produce a lightened loaf, with larger air pockets and this traditional method of sifting flour prior to souring was widely used by traditional bread bakers in Europe and in central Asia.
Allow for a long, slow rise
A long, slow rise effects three goals: flavor, texture and nutrition. As is the case with all fermented foods, time brings flavor. This no-knead sourdough bread is allowed to rest and rise and rise again for a total of about 16 to 20 hours, during which it develops that rich and varied flavor characteristic of artisan-quality breads.
A long, slow rise also improves the texture of your no-knead sourdough bread; that is, during this period of 16 to 20 hours, gluten is developed on its own, without kneading which tightens grain’s protein structure. A result of a slow rise is that, with very little active effort, your bread will produce large and airy holes
Lastly, a slow rise activates food enzymes still remaining in your flour like phytase which reduces the naturally-occurring antinutrient phytic acid. Phytic acid binds minerals in the grain, preventing their full absorption; however, with a long and slow rise, the enzyme phytase has the chance to do its work – deactivating phytic acid and rendering the grain’s full array of minerals available to your body. Further, the process of fermentation by sourdough starter enhances the B vitamin content of your bread – particularly folate, while also reducing the bread’s glycemic load.
Handle the dough as little as possible
A long slow rise also eliminates the need for kneading your sourdough bread. In essence, you allow time and the wild yeasts and bacteria in your sourdough starter to do the work for you. The more you handle the dough by kneading or shaping the bread too roughly, the more likely the bread’s protein structure is to contract. Less handling and more gently handling results in a lighter and airier loaf.
Bake hot and allow for steam
Lastly, creating steam in the oven gives the crust of the bread a chance to crisp and flake. Some home bakers create steam by baking in a Dutch oven; however, I like to shape my own loaves and bake them on a preheated baking stone (like this). I create steam in my oven by filling a preheated cast iron pan