Andrea is a home baker who loves to perfect challenging cakes, breads, and the like. She is on a quest to find the perfect flavor combos.
Basil, Garlic, and Mozzarella Sourdough Bread
My recipe has an attractive appearance because it includes a deep score of the loaf, separating it into eight slices. The rustic bread is tearable and great for dipping into soup. It's packed with flavor: there is enough basil and garlic that the dough turns greenish before it's baked. The tangy notes from sourdough beautifully complement the herbs.
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11 hours 45 min
Sourdough bread recipes often take a really long time. This recipe is fairly manageable; the bulk of the long prep time has to do with two rises.
- Making the dough: 30-45 minutes
- First rise: 5 hours
- Reshaping and dusting: 20 minutes
- Second rise: 4 hours
- Baking time: 45-50 minutes
You need to plan accordingly so you can pull off the rise times. Keep in mind that when it comes to sourdough recipes, rise times are suggestions. Proving may take longer, especially if you live in a colder area. It's best to start making the dough in the morning or early afternoon (if you can handle a late night).
Sourdough is automatically challenging. Sourdough can be finicky, and for whatever reason, it especially likes to be moody when it comes to bread.
You need a sourdough starter that's had enough time to age—at a minimum, a week. The sourdough starter also needs to be active. Make sure you've fed it plenty of new flour and water before trying to make a dough.
On the plus side, this recipe isn't that complicated. The ingredients are simple. You can buy pre-chopped basil and garlic to speed things up. You can let the dough hook do most of the kneading for you, and it's not the thickest or hardest dough to mold.
However, on the problematic side, you do need to be sensitive to the loaf: you need to know when to add water and how to tell when it is done rising. Ultimately, you have to be comfortable with time management.
I give this three out of five stars on the baking difficulty scale. (One star is for something a child could make or a cake box mix . . . and five stars is for a homemade tiramisu that's restaurant-worthy.)
- 2 3/4 cups strong white bread flour, extra for dusting
- 1 cup + 2 tablespoons sourdough starter, active
- 3/4 cup tepid water, between 60°F-100°F, more water if the dough doesn't congeal
- 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 3/4 cup basil, chopped
- 1/4 cup garlic, chopped (5-10 cloves)
- 1/2 cup mozzarella, shredded
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- olive oil, for oiling
- semolina flour, for dusting
- Combine the flour, sourdough starter, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Use the dough hook attachment.
- Slowly add water to the mixture. The amount of water will vary according to the flour you use and your starter. Add a little bit of water at a time. When there is enough water, the dough should form into a ball. If you add too much water, the dough will break apart and turn into a soggy mess (at that point, add more flour).
- When the dough is cohesive and soft, mix in the basil, garlic, and mozzarella. Continue kneading with the dough hook for 10-15 minutes. 30 seconds before you stop the unit, add some olive oil.
- Turn off the mixer and remove the dough. On a clean work surface, knead the dough by hand for about 5-15 minutes. The dough is ready to be stored for its first rise when it is soft, smooth, and elastic. The dough should be stretchy when you pull it. Shape the dough into an orb.
- Lightly oil a clean bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and turn it on its sides to spread the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic or a clean kitchen towel. Let it rise for 5 hours. It should double in size and/or spring back slowly when you touch the surface. The ideal temperature for rising is 71-75°F. Don't leave it in a space where the temperature drops below 60°F or goes above 77°F.
- Mix about an 1/8th cup of flour and an 1/8th cup of semolina flour together. It will be used for dusting. Scatter it on a work surface. Place the risen dough in the flour. Push the dough down with your hands, use your knuckles and the heels of your hands. Use your fingers to push out air that's trapped in the dough. Fold the dough several times to strengthen it. Roll it in the flour.
- Flatten the dough with a rolling pin. Fold the two shorter ends toward the center. Mash the dough into a square shape. Flip the dough over so the seam is underneath. Shape the dough into an orb. It should have a smooth exterior.
- Heavily dust a deep baking tray with equal parts white flour and semolina flour. Place the shaped loaf on the tray. Dust the loaf with flour. Don't cake on the flour. If you have big chunks of flour, scrape them off!
- Take a knife and deeply cut into the top of the loaf. Make a cross sign with the knife and then into eighths. You may want to take the knife and gently nudge the slash openings to be a little wider. This will make for a nice design and easy tear-off spots.
- Place the tray inside a large, roomy plastic bag. I use a clean trash bag. You want enough space so the plastic doesn't touch the dough as it rises. Let the dough rise for 4 hours or until it has doubled in size. The dough is ready to be baked when it springs back when you touch it.
- Heat your oven to 430°F. Place a bread loaf pan half full of water on the bottom shelf. This will help create steam in the oven, which helps create a crust.
- Bake the loaf for 30 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 395°F and bake for another 15-20 minutes. Your bread should be golden brown. Pierce a toothpick into the bread; it should come out clean.
- Transfer the bread to a wire rack and let it cool completely before eating it. I recommend waiting 45 minutes.
Here are some details to keep in mind about this recipe.
How do I know the dough is mixing correctly in the stand mixer?
The dough should form into a ball while in the mixer. You may have to turn the unit off and adjust the dough if it's making an oblong or weird shape. The dough should come altogether; it shouldn't be sticking to the sides of the bowl. You shouldn't have to scrape down the sides because the dough wants to stick together.
It's important that you add water slowly to the forming dough. After you've baked a few breads, you'll have a good idea of when you've added enough water. You can tell the composition looks right, and it might even sound right to you.
When kneading the dough by hand, you may need to wet your hands a little. Add a pinch of flour (or more) if the dough is too wet or gooey.
What happens if I shorten the rise times?
Don't rush the proving. Just don't. It's an important stage for developing the flavor and structure of the bread. If you rush things, you won't be happy with the end result.
How can I tell the bread is done baking?
There are a few different ways. It should have a changed exterior, a golden brown shade, and a distinctive crust. This might be hard to tell because of the dusting that was done to the pre-baked loaf.
Other ways to test that it is done:
- Take a toothpick and shove it into the bread. Pull it out and inspect the toothpick. Did it pull out any crumbs or (worse) dough? The toothpick should come out clean. Place the bread back in the oven.
- You can tap it on the sides and underneath to test whether it has a hollow sound. This isn't the easiest method if you're not used to telling what a hollow sound is for bread.
- The internal temperature of finished sourdough bread is close to 208°F.
How should I store my bread?
I think it's best to let the bread sit out unprotected for the first 24 hours. If you still have some bread after that, place it in a storage container. You could place it in the fridge, but it will make it stiff and you may want to thaw it out before eating.
What should I pair it with?
This bread is excellent with Italian meals, especially ones with dipping sauce. The bread is delightfully appropriate for a bath of butter. It also pairs well with more mozzarella or other cheeses and apples. It's great with lunch or dinner or as a snack.
How should the bread taste?
The garlic and basil should be noticeable. I think only a really intuitive person could figure out the exact cheese. The bread is a hint spicy, maybe a 1 out of 10 on the spice scale.
The bread has rich and tangy flavors from the sourdough. The longer you've nurtured a sourdough starter, the better.
Can I substitute white bread flour with all-purpose flour?
You can, but it will most likely affect the rise. All-purpose flour can make your sourdough loaf flat, dense, and gummy. It will still be tasty, but its composition will be off.
All-purpose flour absorbs water in a different way than bread flour, so it can make things sticky. All-purpose flour has a lower protein content than bread flour, so it won't develop as strong of a gluten network.
© 2022 Andrea Lawrence