If your looking for a dead-simple and easy way to bake a great sourdough loaf then this might be the method you’re looking for. This no-knead dutch oven sourdough bread method is a really easy way to get fantastic bread time after time.
Making good bread just doesn’t come easy to me. When I first got into baking with my own sourdough, I tried all kinds of ways to make good bread. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t seem to bake a good loaf of sourdough bread. I’ll be honest, patience really isn’t my strong point. Here I was, with all these great sourdough starter cultures to play with, yet I was unable to bake anything that which didn’t resemble a brick. I wondered if people had found an easier way to bake good bread. Something that someone like me could use that didn’t require all the skills and knowledge required to bake a good sourdough loaf. That’s when I stumbled across the no-knead dutch oven method.
If you have never made bread or just suck at it. This is a great way to make fantastic bread without any real bread making knowledge. It works with any kind of strong flour and sourdough starter. This recipe has been tweaked to how I like to bake my bread. However, the essentials to the technique remain the same no matter how you end up doing it. So firstly, let us look at how this works.
Kneading bread allows the gluten to form and gives you the soft, airy, chewy bread we all know and love. So how do we make good bread without kneading the dough? We cheat by allowing a long fermentation process where the sourdough will do all the work for us. We use a longer proving time and a series of stretch and folds of the dough to build the gluten.
We place our dough into a large cast-iron pot with a lid on that is suitable for high oven temperatures. These kinds of pots are referred to as dutch ovens. By cooking the dough inside the dutch oven we trap the steam from the dough, allowing it to rise better. Once risen, we remove the lid and allow the bread to brown just as you would in traditional bread making. It’s a great little cheat that allows us to bake great sourdough bread. The no-knead dutch oven sourdough bread method is so easy to do, you will wonder why you would want to make bread any other way.
For this recipe, we recommend a dutch oven with a 2.5-litre capacity or more. You can purchase one directly from us here: https://freshlyfermented.co.uk/product/2-5l-dutch-oven/
600g Bread flour (any strong flour, eg Rye, White, Wholemeal)
375g of water
150g Sourdough starter.
I simply can’t stress enough how important good flour is. With sourdough, you really want a high protein flour. Don’t cut corners with your flour! You can use any type of strong flour with this recipe. So if you want to bake with wholemeal or rye flour, the recipe is exactly the same. White flour is the easiest flour to work with though. So if this is your first time baking sourdough bread, we recommend a white loaf.
Any salt will work perfectly fine. I personally use Himalayan pink salt. A good salt really seems to add to the final bread flavour.
I personally like to use filtered water. Tap water will work fine if that’s all you have. Weigh the water on a set of kitchen scales don’t measure it out in ml.
Take 50g from your sourdough starter and add it in an airtight jar. The starter should be nice and active and already have had a couple of good feeds. Add 50g of water and 50g of strong bread flour and mix it all together. If you want to get technical, then this is making a sourdough leivan at 100% hydration.
Seal the jar and leave it somewhere warm for 4 hours (the warmer the better!). Start making the dough below while you wait for the leivan to ferment.
Add the flour and water into a suitable bowl and mix it together. Make sure you incorporate all the dry flour into the water. Wrap the bowl of dough in plastic so that is airtight. Leave it for 4 hours. If you want to get technical this is called an autolyse which allows the gluten to start to form.
After the 4 hours have passed, check on the leivan. You should see that it has risen and almost doubled in size.
Add the leivan and the salt to the flour/water mixture and fold it in. This stage can be messy and is sometimes easier with wet hands.
If you want to get technical this dough is at 66.7% hydration. This is reasonably low hydration which makes it easy to work with. Great for a beginner to get a feel for baking sourdough bread! This method will also work with higher hydration dough. High hydration dough is much harder to work with, but the result is a much more open crumb (large air bubbles in the bread). As time goes on and you gain more confidence, try increasing the hydration.
You can use this handy calculator to work out the hydration of your dough:
The No-Knead Stage
We need to wrap the bowl of dough to allow the sourdough to ferment and do its job. Wrap the bowl tightly in a plastic bag to seal it. This stops any air getting to the dough which will dry it out. If the dough drys out, you will end up with lumpy hard bits in your bread. So make sure you wrap it well. Leave the bread at room temperature to ferment. Ideally around 20c.
After 1 hour has passed, it is time to do our first series of stretch and folds. Take a section of dough, pull it up (stretching the dough) and fold it back onto itself. Turn the bowl 45 degrees and repeat. You want to do around 20 good stretch and folds. Basically, you are folding it into a ball shape. Working the dough like this helps get a much better rise on the final loaf. You are working the gluten during the folding process. It can feel like a little work but trust me, it’s still much easier than kneading the bread the traditional way. Wrap the bowl of dough in the plastic again.
Repeat the stretch and fold stage every hour for the next 3 hours. If you want to get technical this is known as the bulk fermenting stage.
Here is a video demonstrating the stretch and fold technique:
To get the depth of flavour that a loaf of good sourdough bread has, we are going to use a really easy method of proving the dough. Simply take the dough and place it into the fridge. Leave it for 12-24 hours. The longer you leave it, the more flavour it will have. If you want to get technical this is called the retarding stage.
Take the cold dough and put it onto something flat like a kitchen work surface. Cold dough is much easier to work with than warm dough. Stretch the dough out into a rectangle shape by dragging the corners out. Then fold the dough into an envelope shape by folding in each corner. Then flip the dough seam side down, using your hands rotate the dough in a circular motion so that it forms a ball shape. Don’t worry too much if it is not perfect. Shaping bread is a skill that becomes easier over time. If you want to get technical this kind of shaping is known as making a boule.
You may find this tutorial on making a boule useful:
Preheat your oven to the hottest temperature you can. Ideally 230c-250c. We are going to cook the dough cold. Cold dough will contain trapped co2 gas. Cooking the dough cold will release the gas further aiding in the bread rising in the oven. If you want to get technical this is known as the cold dough oven spring technique.
Line your dutch oven with baking paper and place your shaped dough into it. The dutch oven does not need to hot or preheated.
You need to score the bread. Ideally, you want to use a bakers lame (a worthy investment). However, if you don’t have one, you can cut it with some scissors or a really sharp knife. To keep things simple, simply cut one long line down the middle of the dough.
Put the lid on the dutch oven and place it in the oven. Cook the dough for 35 minutes. Then, remove the lid. At this point, you will see if the rise has been successful. Even if it doesn’t look well risen. Finish your bread. It will still taste great. With the lid removed, cook the dough for another 20 minutes. This is the browning stage. The total cooking time is 55 minutes. You may need to change cooking times based on your own oven. This is a good place to start though.
This is a really important part of the process and often the most difficult to do. Resist ANY temptation to eat your bread for at least 2 hours. It will still be cooking inside and cutting it early means you won’t get the nice airy bread you are aiming for. To really allow the flavour to develop, try and allow the bread to cool for 6 hours before slicing.
Rest the bread on something that allows heat to escape from all angles, even the bottom of the loaf. A griddle style stand is ideal for this. If you don’t have one, try and put it standing in between two raised platforms. Worst case a couple of upturned bowls will work.
No Knead Dutch Oven Sourdough Bread Storage
Despite being free from preservatives, an uncut sourdough bread will stay reasonably fresh for 3-7 days. Once cut, the air gets into the bread and it will usually stale within 24 hours. If you buy fresh bread from a bakery/supermarket, then you will no doubt be used to that fact. Sourdough bread freezes very well. I often make a few loaves on a weekend, after resting I slice it up and freeze it. Toasted, it tastes absolutely amazing! Enjoy your bread, you have earned it!