This guide will teach you step-by-step how to plan your Christmas sourdough baking schedule and get the best results. From planning to make a basic loaf of bread to an enriched sourdough bread recipe, this guide will cover how to time plan any type of sourdough bread.
Timing in sourdough baking can be challenging, and you have a busy life so it’s a good thing you found this guide! This guide will help you confidently bake fresh bread to serve your friends and family right when you want it ready.
Read the following tips and strategies to get started on some amazing holiday sourdough baking!
Why is time planning for sourdough challenging?
Sourdough time planning is challenging for two major reasons:
- Sourdough breads take longer to make due to the natural fermentation activity compared to breads made with commercial yeast.
- Rise times and fermentation timelines vary depending on whether you are baking in warm weather or cold weather.
These time ranges and fluctuations can be frustrating for new sourdough bakers, especially if its your first time making sourdough bread or taking on a special sourdough holiday bread recipe.
Strategic time planning is key for how to plan your Christmas sourdough baking schedule.
Holiday bakes tend to put the pressure on and can feel more stressful for home bakers because there are lots of expectations to meet from your family and from yourself! These time planning strategies will help you take a deep breath during holiday baking so you can enjoy the process of creating your sourdough holiday masterpiece!
What is time planning in sourdough holiday baking?
Time planning is creating a schedule or plan backwards from the time you want to serve your holiday guests to the starting point.
So you may want your cinnamon rolls, sugar cookie platter, dinner rolls, or sourdough loaves ready for a specific meal like breakfast or dinner.
How do you plan your Christmas sourdough baking schedule?
From that time of serving let’s pick a holiday breakfast time like 9am on Christmas morning, then go backwards through the recipe.
Below I will walk through these steps for our fictional example. Or watch this video:
Cooling your sourdough bread
The last step of most recipes is cooling time. Say its 30 minutes for the bread to rest on a cooling rack until its ready to serve. That brings us to the time the bread must be out of the oven. 8:30am
Bake time for your sourdough recipe
From that time out of the oven, we need to back find the beginning bake time which. Most bakes have a time range, use the longer end of the time range for planning so that you don’t shortcut your time planning. For our example, if the sourdough recipe says 30-40 minutes, we’ll back up 40 minutes to the step before baking. 7:50am
Note: For most sourdough bread dough recipes, the step before baking is proofing but some recipes might have an egg wash step or other prebake step that you’ll need to plan into your schedule.
Oven preheat and preparation
Many recipes won’t tell you the time needed to preheat the oven, but for time planning we have to factor this time in. Most ovens take 20-30 minutes to properly preheat. For many sourdough country breads, some recommend preheating the oven for longer like an hour in order to have a properly preheated Dutch oven.
Our bread dough will also be cold so it needs to rest at room temperature before baking for 30-60 minutes.
These steps can overlap into an hour. Which will give you your time for when you need to be in the kitchen on the morning of a holiday like Christmas. 6:50am
Proofing your sourdough recipe
Because proofing timelines can vary by recipe based on whether a dough has a lot of butter in the dough, eggs, or other rich ingredients as well as seasonal and weather factors, this final rise can feel challenging to plan around. But my strategy of using the refrigerator will help you get around this challenge which is basically like a make-ahead option.
The shaped final dough will rest in the fridge overnight after it proofs on the day before the holiday. The time it goes into the fridge can be evening or even late at night. The cold temperatures of the refrigerator will slow down the fermentation so that your bread doesn’t overproof.
So back up 1 to 4 hours as a rule of thumb (this usually fits all sourdough recipes) to find the beginning of your proofing time which is when your dough should be in its final shape. This time will probably be in late afternoon or early evening based on our proofing window. Approximately 3:00pm
As a side note, you will need to plan to be home in this window just to check on your dough rise while it proofs. Once it is 1.5 to 2 times larger in volume, check to make sure it is well covered with plastic wrap and put it into the refrigerator.
For more information on proofing, to know how to get a great rise on your bread, recognize the signs of readyness, and a simple test, see this article.
Shaping your dough
Recipes don’t usually give a timeline for the final shaping. For a classic sourdough boule or sandwich loaf, the final shaping to get that just right surface tension and then move the dough into the proofing basket or sandwich pan takes about 5 to 10 minutes.
Shaping for more complicated breads like a babka, filled bread, star bread, or cinnamon roll recipe might take up to 30 minutes. 2:30pm for enriched recipes
Preshape, dough rest, and/or dividing
For classic sourdough country breads like boules or sandwich loaves, they have a preshape step when the dough is shaped into an almost perfect circle and then sits for a 20-minute rest known as a bench rest. The total time for those steps is 25 to 30 minutes.
For an enriched sourdough bread or specialty shaped sourdough bread recipe, the dividing and rest step will take 15 to 30 minutes for most recipes. 2:00pm
Bulk Fermentation of your sourdough bread
Depending on your beginning dough temperature based on factors like flour and water temperature (or other liquid) and environmental factors like cold weather or room temperature, the first rise of your dough can vary. The typical range for this stage is 4 to 7 hours which fluctuates based on how warm those beginning factors are.
Ingredients in the dough like butter, eggs, oil, or other fats can significantly slow down the fermentation. A sourdough brioche will take almost the entire length of the 4 to 7 hour time frame.
This stage is important to make a judgment call as home bakers to determine an estimate for the bulk fermentation timing. In warm weather with a lean bread, dough will take 4 to 5 hours. In colder weather with dough with a higher butter content, the dough will take 6 to 7 hours. A moderately enriched sourdough bread made with scalded milk or melted butter will give you a warmer beginning dough will take 4 to 6 hours. So, we’ll call the beginning time of the bulk fermentation 8:00am.
For my bulk ferment, I like to put my dough into an airtight container. I use a 4-qt. Cambro container and lid set which also has measurement lines to gauge the volume growth.
For more information on bulk fermentation, check out this article and video to learn about this stage as well as the signs that bulk fermentation is done.
Mixing and Kneading your dough
A classic sourdough country bread isn’t mixed vigorously but does include a dough rest called autolyse. From preparing the dough, 20-minute autolyse, and final mix, these types of recipes will take 30 to 40 minutes to give you your beginning time to begin your dough with the active sourdough starter you prepared the night before.
An enriched sourdough bread often needs scalded milk or significant kneading time which will take 20 to 40 minutes. 7:20am is the beginning time for preparing the sourdough bread dough with your active sourdough starter.
Preparing the starter or levain for your sourdough bread
Two days before the holiday when you’ll be serving your sourdough bread, you’ll prepare your sourdough starter or levain in the evening by 7 or 8pm.
That is our starting time for beginning our special sourdough recipe! All that’s left to do before that is make sure you have all your ingredients and tools on hand.
Your next successful Christmas sourdough bake
Hopefully, now that I have walked you through how to plan your Christmas sourdough baking schedule with this example, you can have more confidence and peace in your sourdough baking.
When you successfully time plan your sourdough bakes, you can relax, enjoy the holiday, and focus on other important preparations in the waiting times in between the different stages of making your sourdough bread.
Sourdough Time Planning Worksheets
If creating your own timeline is too daunting, you can also use a premade sourdough time planning worksheet to simplify how to plan your Christmas sourdough baking schedule.
I have a full Sourdough Time Planning Workbook with 8 templates ready to fill in and a baking journal. The 8 templates include 4 different ways to make classic sourdough country breads, 3 time planning worksheets for enriched sourdough bread depending on serving time target, and a blank template. The baking journal goes over baker’s percentages and how to take notes on your sourdough bakes.
Or you can try a free sample of content from the workbook with 4 classic sourdough country bread time planning versions.
Best breads for sourdough holiday baking
Here are some of my favorite sourdough bread recipes for holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and others:
- Sourdough Cinnamon Twist Wreath Bread (this is the best sourdough recipe that works for any occasion!)
- Sourdough Jam-Filled Star Bread
- Sourdough Christmas Tree Pull-Apart Rolls
- Sourdough Hot Cross Wreath Bread
- Sourdough Pan Dulce Conchas
- Sourdough Easter Egg Bread
- Pumpkin Shaped Sourdough Bread Boules
- Sourdough Challah Bread
- Sourdough Pumpkin Rolls (sweet)
- Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls
Need more sourdough help?
A competent guide is the big difference from floundering in sourdough with information overwhelm to having confidence and ease in your sourdough baking.
If you are just getting started in sourdough, I’d love to support you with my books or online courses.
My Intro. to Sourdough online course is comprehensive with video tutorials for each stage of the process to help new or aspiring sourdough home bakers gain a solid foundation for sourdough, the traditional way, to learn all the basics, language, techniques, and the process from start to finish to make sourdough bread. My teaching is straight forward and makes the whole process seem simple. I have helped launch hundreds of eager sourdough bakers onto their own inspiring sourdough journeys.
I also have a Once-a-Week No Knead Sourdough online course, which is my strategy for busy weeks to have sourdough on hand ready to make into country bread, sandwich loaves, English muffins, pizza, bagels, and more! This course is great for absolute sourdough beginners to just get familiarity with sourdough or for veteran sourdough bakers who need to simplify their baking schedule.
If you are just starting on your sourdough journey, you can get my free Quick Start Sourdough Guide to begin learning some of the key terms and concepts in sourdough. Learn the difference between the sourdough stages of active sourdough starter and sourdough discard as well as how to care for a starter.
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4-qt. Cambro container and lid set (perfect for 1 batch of dough)
6-qt. Cambro container and lid set (this size works for double or triple batches of dough)
Rounded dough scraper or spatula
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