Sourdough starter : Using your starter after its peak will ensure your bread rises sufficiently. Make sure your starter is healthy, hungry, and strong, able to double in size 4-8 hours after feeding. If you store your starter in the fridge and last fed it over a week ago, make sure to feed the morning before making bread. If it has only been 3-7 days since last feeding (and you keep it in the fridge), it is OK to make bread without feeding. Use a 1/3 cup starter for your bread dough and place the remaining back in the fridge and feed a week after the last feeding. BUT if it has been a week after your last feeding, pull it out of the fridge, discard (or save for pancakes, waffles, or give away) all but 1/2 cup. Feed it. Let it metabolize the flour 4-8 hours before mixing up the bread dough. Use a 1/3 cup of starter (90 grams) for the bread, place the remaining back in the fridge, and feed in a week. For a more “sour” flavor, use starter that has been in the fridge 4-6 days. Do not feed before using it. The sourdough starter is the sourest the longer it goes without feeding.
Dutch Oven or Bread Baker: Make sure your dutch oven or bread baker can handle a 500F oven. If not, 450F will suffice, and bake 25 minutes before removing the lid. Aim for an internal bread temp of 200F when removing lid- before baking it uncovered. Take notes and adjust the next time!
NO DUTCH OVEN? If you don’t have a dutch oven, you can try baking your bread on a sheet pan, covered with a large metal bowl or pyrex bowl to keep the steam in. It will yield a flatter loaf but it does work. Bake 25-30 minutes covered, remove the bowl, bake until golden 10-15 more minutes until golden, and be sure to check internal temp with a thermometer. It may take a few practices tries to perfect this.
Smaller Loaves: If you would like to create two smaller loaves bake each at 450F for 18 minutes (or until internal temp is 200F) uncover, lower heat to 425F and bake until golden and internal temp is 204-208F. You may have to fiddle with this timing.
LOAF PAN: Yes you can bake this in a loaf pan. Shape and place it in an oiled loaf pan ( or line with parchment) for the last hour in the fridge, while oven preheats. Bake uncovered at 450 for 15 minutes, lower heat to 425 and bake another 25-ish minutes or until internal temp reaches 204-208F. You may need to play with this according to your oven. Place on middle or lower rack.
PRACTICE: As you practice making your loaves (yes, it is a fun practice) you’ll get a feel for the dough and you’ll begin to notices how changes in seasons (changes in temperature) affect the loaves and their proofing time. I suggest making the exact same loaf repeatedly several times. Warmer temps will call for shorter proofing, cooler temps, longer proofing. You can also change the proofing time by adjusting the sourdough starter amount. For a faster rise, you can add a little more starter, for example, a 1/2 or 2/3 cup. For a longer cooler rise, say in the fridge for 36-48 hours, you can reduce the starter amount to 1/4 cup or even 3 tablespoons. You can play with ratios to get the proofing time just how you want it. Take notes! You can also adjust the hydration for an airier loaf, either reducing flour or increasing water. So many variables!!! *Remember your starter and your dough are actual living “creatures” that are affected by your particular environment. The most important advice I can give you is to pay close attention to your particular “creature”, observe it carefully, and look for signs- it is communicating with you. Pay attention. 🙂 Work with it, not against it. Be patient, respond thoughtfully.
Perfecting bread is a lifelong process, and I’m still learning too. 😉