This post has all the key information to help you learn how to make sourdough bread at home from scratch.
This simple formula transforms three basic elements—flour, water, and salt—into an incredible bread for everyday occasions. No matter how many times I make it, I am always amazed at how such a sticky mixture transforms over the course of fermentation, shaping, and baking into a classic bread that is soft and chewy inside with a crunchy bronze crust on the outside.
The simple bread that goes perfect with everything
It can go with any meal and makes a great contribution to gatherings. It has become a house staple for breakfasts, sandwiches, and other meals. Once you have a sourdough starter, you can make this bread with ingredients and tools you most likely already have in your kitchen.
Begin with starter
Before you jump in to making sourdough bread, you must have a good understanding of sourdough starter basics like what it is and how to care for it.
If you want to learn more about that, please see this post with the essential details and a video that explains these concepts.
And you must have an established starter.
You can make one from scratch, I have step by step directions on this page. Or get one from a friend or an online retailer, including my dehydrated starter.
Prepare your starter
It is important to start this recipe with an active sourdough starter.
You can learn about how to recognize that stage in the previously mentioned post.
Here is a photo of the active sourdough starter added to a bowl of water to begin the recipe:
Mix your dough and begin the bulk ferment
When I mix my sourdough bread dough, I try to avoid overmixing.
You want to keep mixing minimal. Only enough to make sure all flour is absorbed by liquid, as well as the salt. And to make sure the salt is well incorporated throughout the dough.
You can mix by hand to avoid this. And that is also a good way to get a feel for your dough and assess how it feels.
If you use a stand mixer and dough hook, you’ll want to keep your speed low and stay nearby to watch and avoid letting it go too long. I prefer to add the salt by hand even when I use the stand mixer.
Why stretch and fold sourdough?
To incorporate more oxygen for better and more even fermentation, you’ll want to stretch and fold your dough during the bulk ferment.
It is also a wetter dough which is why kneading isn’t helpful for this wet type of dough.
Do this at least once, but up to 4 times at 30 minute intervals in the first part of your bulk fermentation.
When is the sourdough bulk ferment done?
Bulk ferment is the part of the bread baking process when the dough is not shaped yet and is sitting covered in a bowl or dough bin.
During this stage the dough volume should double. It can be done at room temperature or in the fridge.
Room temperature fermentation should be 4-7 hours. The time range depends on how warm your kitchen is.
Cold fermentation in the fridge will take 24-48 hours. And can be left in the fridge for up to 72 hours.
This post explains more about what to look for when your dough is done fermenting.
Shaping your sourdough boule
The shaping process has two parts: pre shape and the final shaping.
In between there is a bench rest. This is actually more important than you might assume.
It allows the dough to regain strength and elasticity after being removed from the bowl or bin in preparation to create the final shape.
Here’s a video that comes from my Intro. to Sourdough online course:
When is the proofing done?
While your sourdough bread proofs it is still fermenting, which means that there is still activity happening that will help your bread become more digestible and rise.
I recommend proofing this bread 1-2 hours at room temperature or 8-12 hours in the fridge.
The dough will grow at least 1.5 to 2 times larger in volume. If you are using a 8-inch or 9-inch wide proofing bowl, it will grow to nearly the top of the bowl.
You can also use a poke test for my proofing bread. Dip a finger in water and poke the dough to test proofing readiness.
Perfectly proofed dough will leave an indentation in the dough that slightly rises back but you can still see where you poked the dough. The dough should feel soft.
Underproofed dough will feel stiff and after the poke test, the indentation doesn’t remain.
Overproofed dough looks deflated and a poke test will sink in with no springback.
Steam is key for bread baking.
Without steam in the first half of the bake, the crust will form too quickly and early which won’t allow your bread to expand during the bake leading to a dense, small loaf.
Trap steam by using a Dutch oven or use a manual steam method like a pan filled with 1-2 inches of water that preheats in the oven and stays until the midway point of the bake.
See this video for learning about how to bake sourdough bread and the importance of steam!
Enjoy the process
The recipe below has photos for nearly every step as well as a shaping video to guide you through the process.
Remember that at the end of the day it’s just bread! If you make a mistake, it’s part of the learning process. And even the most “perfect” loaf will eventually go stale.
Ready to learn?
If you haven’t attempted sourdough yet or still feel confused on how to use it, I’ve created user friendly sourdough courses and resources that have helped hundreds of new sourdough bakers here: Intro. to Sourdough online course
If you need other support in your sourdough baking journey, see these resources!
Living Bread Baker posts mentioned
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Sourdough Rustic Bread Master Recipe
- Food Scale
- Mixing Bowl
- Dough Scraper
- Parchment Paper
- Round Proofing Bowl (aka Banneton basket)
- Large Dutch Oven (see recipe for modifications)
- Bread Lame (or serrated bread knife)
- Cooling Rack
For the starter
- 15 grams starter (1 tablespoon)
- 60 grams all-purpose or bread flour (7 tablespoons )
- 60 grams water (¼ cup)
For the dough
- 370 grams water, divided (1 ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon)
- 100 grams active starter (about 1 cup)
- 100 grams whole-wheat flour (2/3 cup)
- 400 grams Bread flour (all-purpose is okay) (2 2/3 cups)
- 10 grams sea salt (1 ½ teaspoons)
For dusting the proofing bowl
- Rice flour or cornmeal
- Refresh the starter: 6 to 10 hours before mixing your dough, take your sourdough starter out of the refrigerator and place 15 grams of the starter into a clean, empty jar. Discard any starter left in the original jar. Add the 60 grams of flour and 60 grams of water to the jar and stir well. Leave the refreshed starter out at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours until it doubles in volume and becomes bubbly. (After using what’s needed for the recipe, keep the remainder for your next refresh.)
- Scale: Place a mixing bowl on the scale, tare the weight of the scale, and pour in 360 grams of water. Add 100 grams of the active starter and the whole-wheat and all-purpose flour. (When using the scale to measure ingredients, use the tare function to remove the weight of the mixing bowl and other previous ingredients so you can weigh each individual ingredient easily as you add each one to the bowl.)
- Mix: Using a spoon, mix the ingredients together (if you have a stand mixer and a dough hook, mix until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl) and knead for about 5 minutes. There should be no dry spots of flour. After the initial mixing, it can be helpful to mix the dough with your hands or with a plastic dough scraper to make sure that all the water is incorporated into the flour. Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl so no dry pieces of dough stick to it.
- Autolyse: Cover the bowl and rest the dough for at least 20 minutes and up to 60 minutes.
- Add salt: Tare the mixture and add the 10 grams of salt and the final 10 grams of water to dissolve the salt. Continue folding the dough, rotating and folding it to make sure it is fully mixed, at least 5 minutes.
- Rest: Cover the bowl and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Stretch and fold: To further strengthen dough, pull up one quarter of the dough and fold it over the middle. Repeat this process with the other three quarters of the dough. Recover the dough. This step can be done up to 4 times for maximum development of dough strength during the bulk fermentation.
- Bulk fermentation: Let the dough ferment at room temperature for 4-7 hours until the dough is 2 times its original size and has a smooth texture. (Note: you can also do a long, cold ferment for 24-48 hours in the fridge instead)
- Preshape and bench rest: Transfer the dough from the bowl onto an unfloured clean work surface. Quickly push the dough scraper under one half of the dough fold the dough over itself. Push the scraper under one side of the dough and rotate it in a circle 3 to 5 times until it forms a rough ball. Leave the dough to rest for 20 minutes.
- Prepare the proofing bowl: Dust a proofing bowl or an 8-inch-wide colander lined with a kitchen towel generously with rice flour or cornmeal so that the sides and bottom have a thick, even coating.
- Final Shape: Lightly flour the work surface and the top of the preshaped dough round. Using the dough scraper, push under the entire piece of dough and, using your opposite hand to guide the dough, lift it off the work surface, and flip it onto its floured side. The sticky, unfloured side of the dough should be facing up. Take two opposite edges of dough and gently pull them up creating some length without tearing the dough (if the dough tears, stop stretching and continue with the steps). Fold the edges into the middle of the dough, one on top of the other, using the sticky edges to help them adhere to each other. The dough will look a bit like a burrito. Taking the end of the dough below the seam, gently lengthen with a slight stretching motion and roll the dough onto itself in a spiral until it seals at the opposite end. The floured side of the dough should be facing up and from the side the rolled dough should look like a baby’s bottom. The dough has structure but still needs tension. Using a bench scraper, pull the dough across the work surface or rotate it in a circle, without flipping the dough over, until it tightens into a taut ball. Quickly push the scraper under the dough, lift it off the work surface, guiding it with the opposite hand, and flip the dough upside down into the prepared proofing bowl. The floured side should be down.
- Proof: Cover the dough and proof for 1 to 2 hours at room temperature, until a finger lightly pressed into the dough slowly rises back.
- Preheat: 30 to 60 minutes before the proofing is done, preheat the oven to 500º Place a Dutch oven or cloche inside the oven on the center rack to preheat. If you don’t have a Dutch oven or cloche, place a metal pan of water on the lowest rack to steam during preheat and the first half of the bake.
- Bake: Cut a large piece of parchment paper that is approximately twice as wide as the dough. Center the parchment paper over the proofing bowl and flip the bowl upside down to release the dough onto the paper. Using a serrated bread knife or a bread lame, cut a slit all the way across the top of the dough, about ¼-inch deep. Carefully transfer the dough from the parchment paper into the preheated Dutch oven or cloche (or onto a cookie sheet, if using the manual steam method) and cover it with the lid. Place the bread in the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 460º F and bake for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the bread from the Dutch oven and place it directly onto the oven rack (remove the steam tray if using manual steam). Reduce the heat to 450º F and bake for an additional 20 minutes to create a golden-brown crust.
- Cool: Transfer the bread to a cooling rack and allow it to cool for at least 60 minutes before slicing.