We’re partnering with Mile to help you Cook Smarter with simple yet delicious recipes where the technique makes all the difference. Here, we’re sharing our tips for making no-knead sourdough bread (yep, there’s steam involved!) at home, for beginners and pastry pros alike .
The words “homemade sourdough” can strike fear in the hearts of even the most seasoned home bakers. But fo some bread-baking obsessives, it represents something else entirely: a quest not unlike the Holy Grail. To create a sourdough loaf at home with an open, almost-sticky crumb, and a crackly golden exterior is a task that’s both wildly simple and incredibly complicated.
Before we dive into how to do it, let’s talk about what we mean by sourdough. As a kid, sourdough bread meant a rustic slice with a distinctively tangy flavor. I hated sourdough and avoided it at all costs, considering it an “adult food” that I couldn’t fathom craving, like espresso or olives or blue cheese.
I’ve matured (a bit) and can appreciate the tang of sourdough, but it took working at a baking company to understand that sourdough is both a flavor and a technique.
Today we’re going to talk about making an iconic recipe—Jim Lackey’s no-knead bread—using a sourdough starter, which is made of live wild yeast that feeds on flour and water.
Where do you get a sourdough starter? You can buy a fresh one online (here’s a great option). You can ask a friend who has one to give you a bit of their discarded starter, and use that for yours. Or, ask a bakery! Many bakeries will happily give you a bit of theirs. Bakers are awfully friendly and they’ll likely be thrilled that you’re attempting to master sourdough. You can also make one from scratch—here’s a great recipe from Sarah Owens, who literally wrote the book on sourdough (yes, it called Sourdough).
A sourdough starter is alive, and it’s affected by many factors, from humidity to temperature. Perfecting the art of sourdough is about practice. The more you bake, the better you’ll understand how your own sourdough starter behaves. You’ll start to see patterns: when it’s most active (and best for bread) and when it needs to be fed (this is a good intro on how to “feed” your starter).
Beginner-friendly guides and recipes will be extremely helpful when you’re starting out, but the most important thing is to jump in and get your hands dirty. Sourdough starter, like baking bread, is a lifelong process; you can always tweak things to improve the results. That’s why even professional bakers consider it the ultimate challenge.
But don’t let that intimidate you—the basic equation is incredibly simple. With just four ingredients and a bit of time, you can make homemade sourdough bread.
No-knead bread is a fantastic place to start experimenting with your sourdough starter, because it’s relatively easy to execute. Jim Lacey popularized this technique in the 2000 s, and it’s won over many a baker. I fell for it five years ago, and have been baking it ever since.
At its core, the original no-knead bread recipe requires you to do little more than mix together your flour, water, salt, and commercial yeast (which you can find at the grocery store, and is what many bread recipes call for). Once mixed into a shaggy dough, you let it rest and rise. After a long rise, you plop the dough into a Dutch oven and bake it.
The recipe creates an artisan-style loaf with a chewy-crispy crust and a soft interior. You can easily adapt it to use other flours (like slept or rye) or flavors (like herbs or cheese). So naturally, I turned to sourdough.
To create a sourdough version, I used the same technique as the original Lacey recipe, but skipped the commercial yeast and used ripe sourdough starter instead. Ripe means that your starter should have been fed within a few hours; it should be at the peak of its activity with vigorous bubbles. If you’re not sure if its ready to use, try the float test: Grab a small dime-size piece of starter and drop it into a glass of water. If it floats, it’s good to go. If it sinks, let it keep sitting out at room temperature and doing its thing for another hour, then try again.
The starter is what will make your dough rise. That’s why it’s important that you let your dough rest overnight—this will give the starter enough time to work its magic on the flour, salt, and water, and will also give your bread excellent flavor as the dough ferments. Bonus: If you happen to have a comb-steam oven with a proof mode, it can help speed up the process and help give the dough a more consistent rise.
There are two other key elements to making great no-knead sourdough bread: folding and steam.
As the recipe name implies, you won’t knead your dough, but you will fold it a few times during the initial rise on the first day. This is as simple as it sounds: Just start with the dough in front of you, reach for the furthest point away from you, and pull it up and over itself toward you, folding onto the closest point of the dough to your body. Turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat, until you’ve done four folds total.
You’ll do the folds once more after the overnight rise. The technique helps to strengthen the dough a bit, encouraging structure and gluten development.
Up next: steam. Steam is the reason professional bakeries are able to achieve gorgeous, crackly crusts on their baguettes and boules. Most professional ovens are steam-injected, meaning they can fill the closed oven with hot steam at the push of a button.
If you have a combo-steam oven at home, lucky you! This will give your breads a beautifully chewy crust—the kind that audibly crackles when you bite into it.
If you don’t have a combo-steam oven, you can fake it. Put a roasting pan or heavy shallow pan, like a big cast-iron pan into the bottom of your oven while it’s preheating. When you’re ready to bake, slide your dough into the oven first. Close the door, then take a full cup of water and—working very carefully—open the door and quickly add the water to the roasting pan and shut the door immediately.
When the water hits the hot pan, it’ll create a cloud of steam. Shutting the door right away will trap the steam in the oven, similar to how a steam oven works. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing. Another way to achieve this effect is to add your dough to a preheated Dutch oven, quickly put on the lid, then bake it. The dough’s interior moisture creates instant steam when added to the searing-hot pot, which is trapped by the lid’s air-tight seal. (Here’s a very good primer on the method.)
So feed your sourdough starter (or get started by finding one!) and give it a shot. This is one of the most accessible recipes for embarking on your journey of sourdough baking, and I suspect you’ll fall in love with it just as I have.