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Sourdough Bread

  • Serves: 8
  • Prep Time: 30 min
  • Cook Time: 1 hr 30 min
  • Calories: 340
two sourdough bread boules show on a white linen

Your sourdough starter is finally ready! Let’s bake some sourdough bread!

Before You Begin: Is Your Sourdough Starter Ready to Bake With?

Because the sourdough starter is the yeast, the leavening agent, in this sourdough bread recipe—no commercial yeast needed!—you’ll need a very healthy, active sourdough starter before you set out to make sourdough bread. We’ve got a great recipe for making one at home here, but you can also ask your favorite bakery if they’ll give you some of theirs—they’ll often gladly share. So, before you begin to make bread, you’ve got to confirm that your starter is healthy and active. How do you do that? Well, if you’ve been feeding it regularly, you’ll know that your starter is ready to bake with when it reliably doubles in size within eight hours of feeding. This proves that the wild yeasts are active and happy, and that the starter has the strength to make your bread rise.

sourdough preferment shown in a plastic bucket

Step 1: Cultivate Those Wild Yeasts!

Your sourdough starter is bubbly and ready. Now, the bread-baking journey begins! We’re going to mix some flour and water into your sourdough starter—just as you do when you feed it, but in slightly different proportions—to make a sticky dough sometimes referred to as a “leaven” a “ pre-ferment” or “levain” depending on what cookbook you’re looking at. Confusing, right? Let’s just call it a pre-ferment, for the sake of simplicity and hope that the bread police don’t come looking for us! Our sourdough bread recipe takes two-to-three days, start-to-finish, and you’ll mix this flour + water + starter mixture on the evening of the first night. Taking this step means that you’ll only need a very small amount of that precious starter to make your sourdough bread dough rise. Be prepared to be amazed when you see how quickly the wild yeasts multiply, making a bubbly, happy, active leavener for your homemade bread!

sourdough in autolyse phase in a food grade bucket
salt on top of sourdough after autolyse phase

Step 2: Autolyse

If you’ve ever read about sourdough bread before, you’ve probably come across the term “autolyse”. It sounds a little exotic and very mysterious, but don’t fret! We’re here to demystify everything about sourdough bread and that includes all of the confusing vocabulary words that bakers throw around. Alright, so what is autolyse? Autolyse means “to undergo autolysis” and autolysis is “the destruction of cells or tissues by their own enzymes, especially those released by lysosomes.”. OK, moving on!

Just kidding. You’re still confused, right? So the autolyse is a rest period—a lot of recipes begin with a combination of just flour and water, and let those two ingredients rest together for a bit (usually about an hour) before proceeding to allow autolysis to occuse. We’re going to have you mix the pre-ferment (the super-starter you made on Day 1) into the flour and water before the autolyse—the initial rest period. This rest period allows the flour to hydrate more thoroughly, and will ultimately mean that you don’t have to do as much kneading as you would for a sourdough bread that skipped this step. Phew! OK, so autolyse=rest period. Got it?

After an hour, you’ll mix in the salt. Some recipes tell you to dissolve the salt in a little warm water, but we find that extra step to be unnecessary. Just sprinkle the salt on the top of the dough and gently fold it in. By adding it in later we are making room for more activity during the “rest period”.

hand stretching and folding sourdough dough

Step 3: Folding the Dough

During this step we are strengthening the dough. Folding the dough onto itself a few times over the course of Day 2 serves two purposes! It distributes the yeast, and develops gluten. The first few (100+ times) we made this recipe, we were stretching the dough too much before folding it over onto itself. There’s no need to have a heavy hand here—gentle folding will do the job. Using wet fingertips—to avoid them sticking to the dough—reach into the bowl and grab one section of the dough from underneath, lift it up and let gravity do the work then fold the dough over itself toward its center. Rotate the bowl and grab the next section and repeat the fold. Rotate, fold, repeat. Do this about ten times, cover the bowl, and go do something else for about 30 minutes. Repeat. You’ll do this whole process, every 30 minutes, about 10 times throughout the day. Each time you handle the dough, you’ll find it’s smoother and stronger. Towards the end of your folding you’ll want to be more gentle then you were and first to avoid tearing the dough you’ve made so strong.

sourdough bread dough in a banaton proofing basket

Step 4: Shaping the Dough

Despite its relative simplicity, shaping the dough seems to be a challenge for some. It may be that a little performance anxiety comes into play—we all want our loaves to look picture-perfect! But try not to stress. Just work slowly and have a light hand if you can. By shaping the dough, letting it rest, and shaping it again, we’re giving one last little bit of strength to the dough to help it achieve a really great “oven spring”, or height.

Step 5: The Slow Rise

Wild yeasts—the kind that you cultivated in your sourdough starter and the kind that, therefore, will make this loaf of bread rise—work more slowly than commercial yeast. So you’ll need to give this loaf a lot of time to rise. Now you’ve got a choice to make. Once you’ve moved your prepared loaf to it’s proofing basket or towel-lined colander, you’ll need to decide if you want to let it rise at room temperature for a couple of hours and bake it today, or let it rise slowly in the fridge for 12-24 hours and bake it tomorrow.

The long, slow fermentation in the fridge is our preferred method. You’ll let the shaped dough rest for an hour at room temperature, and then place it in the refrigerator overnight. There are a few reasons we prefer this. First, it’ll give the finished loaf of bread a more sour taste, because you’re giving the bacteria and wild yeasts in your bread dough that much more time to develop flavor-giving lactic and acetic acids. Secondly, it allows the gluten to break down more, creating a more digestible bread. Lastly, it is much easier to handle and score when preparing it for the oven. However, if you’re in a rush, you can bake the bread (after a few hours at room temperature) on the same day you make the dough.

hands scoring sourdough bread dough using a bread lame

Step 6: Baking Your Bread in a Dutch Oven

Before you even ask, yes, you will need a Dutch oven and no, there is no good alternative. There are lots of inexpensive options out there that will do the job like this Lodge one, but if you have the extra cash, we love our Le Creuset. In order to get a good rise out of your sourdough bread loaf in those first few minutes in the oven, you need a hot and humid environment. Because we are working with home ovens here, the Dutch oven with a lid helps us create that commercial oven vibe by trapping the moisture with its heavy lid. After the first half of your bake is, over you remove the lid to get your loaf that nice caramel colored crust we all love so much.

sourdough bread cut in half showing crumb

Step 7: Wait For The Sourdough Loaf to Cool (The Hard Part)

Congratulations, you’ve just made your first loaf of bread! Your house smells amazing and you’re so proud of what your homemade sourdough starter has given you! However, don’t cut into it too fast! The loaf needs to cool outside of the Dutch oven for at least 30 minutes, and ideally more like two hours. When you pull the bread out of the oven, it is still baking inside. Cutting into a loaf too early will stop this process and result in a very gummy loaf. Just wait. Trust us. We speak from (very sad) experience.

two sourdough bread boules show on a white linen

Credit Where Credit’s Due!

The measurements in this recipe come from the Josey Baker Bread Cookbook. The book was recommended by a friend who helped set Natalie off on her sourdough journey. While the measurements are the same, the method is our own. Our sourdough bread baking method comes from years of trial and error, and a lot of question asking. While this method makes sense for us and has resulted in many, many perfect loaves, your first loaf may not be totally perfect and that is OK! There is a learning curve to baking sourdough bread. Just stick with it. You’ve got this.

scale, bread lame, bench scraper and proofing basket

Tools You’ll Need to Make a Loaf of Sourdough Bread:

OK, this looks like a long list. But using the right tools will help ensure that your sourdough bread baking adventure is a success, and after three days of hard work—and much longer if you make your own sourdough starter—you don’t want to take any risks! Here’s what you’ll need to make sourdough bread from scratch:

A Helpful Sourdough Bread-Making Timeline

Wrapping your head around the timing of bread-making can be a surprising challenge. Making sourdough bread is pretty easy in that there isn’t a lot of active time, but you are required to do something—even if it’s just to give the dough a quick turn-and-fold—every few hours. So we’ve put together a suggested timeline to help you tackle this recipe! Here’s how we usually make this loaf:

Day 1
8:00 am : Feed your starter, to make sure it’s happy and active.
8:00 pm : Make the pre-ferment.

Day 2
8:00 am : Mix the bread dough
2:00 pm : Shape your dough. Now you have two options! You can let the dough rest and rise at room temperature for two hours, and then bake it. OR You could pop the dough in the fridge to rise overnight. If you select option 2, then you’ll bake the dough on....

Day 3
7:00am : You’ll want to refrigerate the dough for 12-24 hours, so assuming you popped your dough in the fridge around 2pm on Day 2, you can bake your bread anytime after you wake up on Day 3.

Sourdough Bread

  • Serves: 8
  • Prep Time: 30 min
  • Cook Time: 1 hr 30 min
  • Calories: 340

Ingredients

Pre-ferment: 1 Loaf

Pre-ferment: 2 Loaves

Pre-ferment: 4 Loaves

  • 60g Active sourdough starter
  • 480g Lukewarm waater
  • 420g Whole wheat or all-purpose flour

Sourdough Bread: 1 Loaf

  • 240g Lukewarm water
  • 375g All-purpose or bread flour
  • 12g Fine sea salt

Sourdough Bread: 2 Loaves

  • 480g Lukewarm water
  • 750g All-purpose or bread flour
  • 24g Fine sea salt

Sourdough Bread: 4 Loaves

  • 960g Lukewarm water
  • 1500g All-purpose or bread flour
  • 48g Fine sea salt

Method

MAKE THE PREFERMENT:

  1. Grab your bubbly starter, and add the lukewarm water. Mix them together thoroughly. Next, add the flour, and mix it in for about another minute or two. It will be very shaggy. Cover the dough with plastic wrap sit at room temperature for about 12 hours.

MAKE THE DOUGH:

  1. Grab your bubbly pre-ferment, and add the lukewarm water. Use your hands to mix them together thoroughly. Next, add the all-purpose flour, and mix it in for about another minute or two. The dough will be very shaggy and may stick to your hands a lot. Use a bench scraper or silicone spatula to scrape off all dough. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a tea towel and let it sit for an hour. This rest period is called the autolyse.
  2. After an hour, sprinkle the salt over the dough. Use wet hands to grab and pinch the dough until the salt is mostly mixed in.

THE FOLD-AND-STRETCH:

  1. Now we begin folding. Wet hands to keep the dough from sticking to your fingers and palms. Reach down the side of the bowl and grab a corner of the dough. Pull it up and push it down on top of the dough. Rotate the bowl a bit and do it again. Repeat this stretch-fold-rotate process 15-20 times, then cover the dough and let it rest for 30 minutes. NOTE: Be careful not to stretch the dough too far. You’re building strength here, and want to avoid tearing the dough.
  2. Every 30 minutes, for about three hours, you’ll repeat this stretch-and-fold process, until you’ve done it 6 times. With each stretch and fold your dough will get easier to handle. As your dough gets stronger, be more and more careful with your stretching. You’ll notice your dough will begin to rise a little throughout this process. That’s a good thing. Once you’ve finished your final fold-and-stretch, cover the dough and let it sit for 30-45 minutes.

SHAPING THE DOUGH:

  1. Now, it’s time to pre-shape your sourdough loaf. Turn the dough out onto a a lightly-floured surface gently so as to avoid losing any air bubbles. NOTE: If you’re making more than one loaf, divide the dough accordingly. Use a scale to make sure all your loaves are the same size.
  2. Cover your hands with flour, to avoid sticking. Carefully pull the corners into the center of the dough, create a loose circle. Using a bench scraper, flip the dough over so the seam is down and allow it to rest for 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare your proofing basket by dusting it with a generous amount of rice flour or all-purpose flour or a combination of both. If you don’t have a proofing basket, lay a tea towel flat and sprinkle it with flour. Use your hands to spread the flour into the entire surface of the towel and transfer it to a colander or medium-sized mixing bowl.
  4. After 30 minutes, dust the top of your loaf with flour. Flip it over with a bench scraper so that the floured side is against your work surface and the sticky side is up. Grab the edge of the dough at the bottom, pull it gently up allowing gravity to stretch it a bit, then fold it over onto the center of the dough, pressing it down stick to the center of the dough. Repeat with the right and left side of the dough. Lastly, grab the edge of the top of the dough and press it into the center and carefully roll the dough over so the seam is now down and the smooth side is up. If it's not quite a round, cup your palms around the dough and rotate it against the counter to shape it into a round loaf. This next step is best shown visually—you can watch a video of it in our IG story highlights! Rotate the dough around using the side of your hand to tighten the surface as you go. If you’re feeling wobbly, don’t fret! There are also so many great YouTube videos that demonstrate how to do this. Just search “shaping sourdough”.
  5. Once you’ve shaped your loaf, use a bench scraper to carefully flip the dough, seam-side up into the prepared proofing basket or towel-lined colander. Sprinkle the top with flour and cover with a tea towel or by folding the corners of the towel that lines your colander over the dough.

TO BAKE THE LOAF THE NEXT DAY: Let the loaf sit at room temperature for 30-40 minutes and then move it to the refrigerator for 12 - 24 hours.

TO BAKE THE LOAF RIGHT AWAY: If baking today let your loaf rise for about 2-3 hours, until the dough has doubled in size.

BAKE YOUR SOURDOUGH BREAD:

  1. Preheat oven to 475°F. Some say to preheat your Dutch oven in the oven. We’ve tried it both ways and find that there really is no difference.
  2. Arrange a parchment paper square on a flat surface. Carefully transfer the dough, seam side down, onto the parchment. Using a lame, sharp knife or razor, quickly give your loaf a good slash across the top. Immediately lift the parchment corners and set the loaf in the Dutch oven. Cover, and place in the oven. NOTE: If you wait too long to put your dough in the oven after slashing, it will lose air and you won’t be happy with the results.
  3. Bake for 25 minutes, covered. After 25 minutes, remove the lid and bake, uncovered, for another 25 or 30 depending on how dark you want your loaf.
  4. Once done, remove the bread from the Dutch oven and allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting. Don’t rush this process or you won’t be happy with your results!

NOTE: Loaves straight from the fridge are easiest to work with. If baking more than one loaf, keep the other loaves in the refrigerator until ready to use.