This is an easy sourdough bread recipe for bread made with sourdough starter. It’s perfect for a beginner baker.
There’s a bit to understand about sourdough bread. This is an easy sourdough bread recipe but the basics should still be read through.
Once you’ve done that, you’ll understand how to make sourdough bread and create a perfect homemade loaf every time.
If you are having issues with your breads, check out my Sourdough Bread Troubleshooting Guide.
The Sourdough Starter
Before you learn how to make sourdough bread with starter, you’ll need an active sourdough starter. I keep mine at 100% hydration. I ensure it has a low acid content and is used before it collapses.
If you’ve ever made sourdough and found the dough becomes sloppy and unworkable during the folding and shaping stages, check your starter. It’s likely too acidic.
Keeping your starter refreshed regularly, using a small amount of seed starter each time can keep the acid load low.
I feed my starter either 1:2:2 (1 part starter, 2 parts flour and 2 parts water) or 1:3:3 depending on when I want to use it. That’s all measured in weight.
A starter fed at 1:2:2 should double or triple within 6 hours when kept at a room temperature between 21-25 °C (or 69-77°F).
A starter fed at 1:3:3 will take longer, and this is usually what I feed my starter if I want it to rise overnight. This slows down the rise.
If used after its peak, when the starter is exhausted and begins to collapse, the acid content is quite high in the starter and the results aren’t as good. If you find your dough not holding its shape and becoming runny during the sourdough process, an overly acidic starter may be the culprit.
The Bread Flour
A strong flour can be helpful to create a nice sturdy loaf, like an unbleached high-grade flour, with a protein level of at least 11.5%. They have a higher protein level than plain flour. If you’re in NZ, all our flour is unbleached.
Most wholemeal flour will have a high protein level too but using more wholemeal flour will give you a denser bread and more water can be added to the dough.
If you start with strong white flour for the first few breads and get used to the texture and feel of the dough you can feel if water needs to be added when adding wholemeal.
I will include an example of timings in these steps. These are only a guide.
Step 1 – Feed Your Starter (8am)
Take your sourdough starter and feed it in a fresh jar at a ratio of 1:2:2. Eg, 40g starter, 80g flour and 80g water.
Leave it to rise in a warm place for 4-6 hours to double or triple (but not collapse). A temperature between 21-25 °C (or 69-77°F) is ideal.
If your starter is active enough it should easily double or triple within 6 hours. However don’t let it go too far to the point of collapse. A starter that has passed its peak is quite acidic and can make the dough sloppy and hard to work with.
The remaining starter you have left over can be fed at 1:2:2 and placed in the refrigerator for the next time.
Step 2- Autolyse
Start this at least 30 minutes before your starter is ready to use, but up to a few hours in advance. A long autolyse hydrates the gluten and makes the dough lovely and elastic. It’s not imperative that it’s done but it makes such a difference in my opinion.
In a large bowl, combine the water and the flour to start the autolyse stage. Simply mixing the flour with the water and allowing it to sit for a while will help develop the glutens in the flour.
Use wet hands to mix it into a rough dough. No kneading is needed but ensure all the dough is wet through.
Then cover the bowl with a plate to stop it drying out.
If you’re wanting to add any seeds, they can be added at this point too. I like adding ground turmeric, pumpkin seeds, linseeds or poppy seeds to my bread for some variation
Step 3: Add In The Doubled Starter and Salt (2pm)
Now it’s time to add in the salt and the doubled starter. Use wet hands to mix this in well and form a sticky mound of dough.
Tip the dough into a flat glass or ceramic tray and let it rest for 30 minutes before moving on to step 3. It will flatten out a bit.
Step 4: Start Coil Folds (2pm – 5pm)
I use a stretch and fold method to work my dough, in the form of a coil fold. You’ll need to fold your dough every 30 minutes for three hours to develop the gluten in the dough.
Using wet hands, gently coax the sides up with your fingers and lift it up from the middle and back onto itself. Turn your tray and repeat on all sides, until it forms a ball. If the dough sticks too much to your hands, wet them again.
The picture below is of 2 of the folds in the second round of coil folds, where the dough is already quite elastic.
Repeat this every 30 minutes for three hours. (Watch the video below for a demonstration.)
Initially the dough will be very sticky and wet but after a few folds it will hold together more and become elastic.
If your starter was in optimum condition , you should easily feel the improvement in elasticity as your folds go on.
This video is the coil folding in my Rustic Honey Oat Sourdough. It’s a much wetter dough than this basic recipe so more folds were needed for it to form a ball.
Step 5: Bulk Ferment (5pm – 7/8pm)
After all your folds are done, leave the dough to sit and bulk ferment.
How long this takes depends on the warmth of your room. If my kitchen is too cold I place my bread in the oven that is off but has the light on.
Your dough should bulk out by 50%. That does not mean it doubles, but it has to bulk out by half the amount.
Take a photo of your dough at the start and end of the bulk ferment to see the difference.
Under fermented and over fermented dough
Bulk fermenting here is super important!
An under-fermented bread will be dense, it may seem undercooked, or have a very thick and chewy crust. Both lack of bulk fermentation and a not optimal starter can be the cause of an under fermented dough.
At the opposite end, if your dough starts rising too much you risk over-proofing and it will weaken the gluten structure you’ve built up. This will result in a collapsed dough.
Bulk ferment timing can really vary depending on the warmth of your room. An average bulk ferment for me (after the folding of the dough) is at least 3 hours , but in the depths of winter it can be 6 hours long.
Watch the dough and not the clock.
It is normal for your dough to stretch back out and fill the dish again, but it should feel bouncier and fuller.
Step 6: Shaping And Cold Proof– 8pm til morning or longer (up to 20 hours).
Now it’s time for the shaping of the dough and the slow, cool ferment which is when your dough will proof in the refrigerator for anywhere between 8-20 hours.
You’ll need some sort of basket or bowl for the dough to hold its shape while it proofs. I use a traditional banneton basket lined with a floured towel.
Whatever you use, flour it well so the dough doesn’t stick.
Tip your dough out carefully on a very lightly floured work surface and gently form it into a rectangle. Take care at this shaping stage to not squash the dough too much and lose all the gases that have been forming.
You can flour your hands too for this step, so the doesn’t stick or tear too much.
Here is a video of my shaping.
The ‘Stitching’ part, where I grab little bits of dough from each side to create a seam, and the rolling of the dough towards me on the bench help to create surface tension in the dough.
Place the dough in your basket with the smooth side facing down. Place it in the refrigerator, covered with a tea towel.
Step 7: Baking Day
Fast forward at least 8 hours later and it’s time to get baking!
Preheat your oven to about 230 C fan-bake /446°F (or 250°C/482°F if using a convection oven), as well preheating a pot with a lid. If you have a cast iron dutch oven, that’s perfect to use. I use this Cast Iron Lodge Pan Combo Cooker.
If you have no pot with a lid, you can simply use a preheated oven tray and add a ramekin of water or ice cubes along to the bake, to create some steam.
You want to bake your dough straight from the fridge so wait until the oven is at temperature before removing the dough from the fridge.
Slashing the dough
Tip your dough out onto some baking paper if you’re lowering it into a large pot (so you don’t burn your hands!) or flour the hot cast iron pan well and tip your dough into that.
Now slash it. It doesn’t really matter how you slash or score it, your bread just needs somewhere for air to escape. I use a razor blade for this job.
Baking the bread
Then place the bread in the oven, with the lid on for 20-35 minutes for its covered bake. Capturing the steam inside the pot is helps the bread rise to its full potential before the crust sets.
If you’re using a cast iron dutch oven, it traps the heat well so it will only need a 20 minute covered bake.
After the covered bake is done, remove the lid and place back in the oven for 15-20 minutes to brown up the crust.
Now here’s the hardest part: let the sourdough cool before cutting it. The reason for this is because if you cut a sourdough too early it has a tendency of being a little ‘gluey’ in texture. The steam needs time to escape the bread first. It will make it a lot easier to cut too.
An Easy Sourdough Recipe
- 460 grams strong white flour with a protein level of at least 11.5%
- 330 ml water
- 8-10 grams salt
- 150 grams activer starter See notes on starter below
- To make the starter for this bread, measure out 40g seed starter, 80g flour and 80g water and mix this well in a clean jar. Leave it to rise in a warm place. If your starter is active enough it should double within 4-6 hours and then it's ready to use. This makes approximately 200g starter. The remaining starter can be fed fresh flour and water and placed back in the refrigerator ready for the next bake.Use your starter before it has peaked and fallen, when it is still thick and airy, not runny. An exhausted or overly acidic starter, or one that takes too long to double can result in a sloppy and hard to work with dough that loses its structure during folding. Read more about starter activity and acid content in starters here.If you want to start your starter the evening before so you can start folding earlier the next day, feed your starter at 1:3:3 or 1:4:4 before you go to bed. Cover the jar with a tea towel and keep it in a warm place overnight. For example, 30g seed starter, 90 g flour and 90g water, or 20g seed starter, 80g flour and 80g water. The more flour fed, the longer the rise will take.
- In a large bowl, combine the 460g flour and the 330g water to start the autolyse stage. Simply mixing the flour with the water and allowing it to sit for a while will help develop the glutens in the flour. Use wet hands to mix it into a shaggy dough ball, then cover the bowl with a plate and leave it to sit on the bench.Start this step at least 30 minutes before the starter has finished rising.
- Add the doubled sourdough starter and the salt to the autolysed dough and combine together using wet hands. It will form a sticky dough. Place it in a flatter glass or ceramic dish.
- Over the next three hours, stretch and fold this dough every 30 minutes, using a coil fold (see video.) Always use wet hands. It is normal for your dough to stretch back out after each fold.
- Now leave the dough on the bench to sit for until it has bulked out by 50%. It should feel much bouncier and fuller. This can take anywhere from 2-6 hours depending on the room temperature. Cover the dish with a plate to stop the dough drying out. This step is very important, and you need to watch your dough and not the clock to ensure it has bulked enough. A baked bread that was underproofed will seem a little undercooked, be dense and have a few big and randomly spaced holes.
- Line a banneton basket (or other bowl) with a towel and flour it well.
- Tip your dough out carefully on a very lightly floured work surface and gently form it into a rectangle. Take care at this shaping stage to not squash the dough too much and lose all the gases that have been forming. Watch the short video above on shaping to see how to shape as written instructions are very hard to decipher. I have tried to explain them here: Take the bottom third of the dough and fold it up so it meets the middle. Take the right bottom side of the dough and fold it to meet the middle. Then take the left bottom side of the dough and fold it to meet the middle. Then take the top third of the dough and bring it down to meet the bottom. Now you have a sort of ball shape. Stitch this ball together by grabbing a little bit of dough from the top left and a little from the top right and bring them together to meet in the middle. Carry on doing this down the length of the dough. When you get the bottom, grab a flap of dough and carry it up over top of the stitched dough to meet at the top. This will again create a sort of ball. Now gently grab this ball and roll it gently towards you on the bench. This will create some surface tension. All the while, take care not to de-gas your dough too much. Place in the floured bowl or basket, smooth side down.
- Cover with a floured tea towel and place in the refrigerator for 8-20 hours.
- Preheat oven and cast iron pot at 230 C fan-bake /446°F (or 250°C/482°F if using a convection oven).
- Once the oven and the pot are at temperature, flour the bottom of the pot well or use baking paper. Take the dough from the fridge and carefully flip the dough out of the basket and brush with flour (this flour is optional). Score the dough using a razor blade or very sharp knife.
- Bake in the pot covered with the lid for 20- 35 minutes.I find that cast iron pots hold the heat very well and don’t need quite as long as a stainless steel pot. Remove the lid and bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes more depending on your preference.
- Let the sourdough cool before slicing.