This is a beginner's sourdough bread recipe, perfect for starting your sourdough journey.
In this post, I will show you step by step how to make this sourdough bread recipe. The process is spread out over two days. So the main thing you need is time.
There’s a bit to understand about sourdough bread. This is a basic sourdough bread recipe but the fundamentals should still be read through. Once you’ve done that, you’ll understand how to make sourdough bread and create the perfect loaf every time.
If you are having issues with your bread, check out my Sourdough Bread Troubleshooting Guide.
See my whole Sourdough Bread Process on Youtube
What is sourdough bread?
Sourdough bread is one that rises without the need for commercial. Instead, it uses a collection of wild yeasts. When the bread is baked the yeast will be responsible for the rise of the bread as it releases carbon dioxide.
Alongside the wild yeast, bacteria are also at work. Sourdough bread is often easier to digest than other bread types because it undergoes a fermentation period.
The bacteria which is the lactobacillus strain is also responsible for the sour tang in sourdough bread. This is due to the lactic and acetic acid they produce.
See how to make a sourdough starter here.
Before you learn how to make sourdough bread with a 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.
When feeding sourdough starter I use a ratio of 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 21-26 °C (or 69-78°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 that your sourdough dough is runny during the sourdough process, an overly acidic starter may be the culprit.
Strong bread flour is helpful to create a nice sturdy loaf. Look for unbleached white flour with a protein level of at least 11%.
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 loaves and get used to the texture and feel of the dough you can feel if water needs to be added when adding wholemeal.
I use a cast-iron combo cooker which is fantastic. It works as a dutch oven, trapping in steam. Mine is from Lodge Cast Iron though there are other brands out there that make similar cookers.
Baking sourdough in a dutch oven is one of the most important pieces of equipment as the steam it traps during the baking stage allows the sourdough to rise to its full potential before the crust forms.
Alternatively, a large pot with a lid can be used, but it won’t give the same results as cast iron which holds the heat so well.
Other equipment I use -
- A kitchen scale
- Banneton basket
- Dough scraper
Baker’s schedule (overview)
This is a high-level overview and example of the timing of what goes into the process of the Sourdough bread Schedule. These exact times of day can be adjusted to suit your schedule.
Further down are more detailed instructions.
- 8 am – Feed your starter
- 12 pm – Autolyse
- 1 pm- Add in starter
- 1.30- 4:30pm - Fold every 30mins for 3 hours (6 total) - See video
- 4:30- Bulk Ferment
- 8 pm - Shaping. Put in the fridge overnight
- The next morning - preheat the oven and the combo cooker.
- Transfer dough into the combo cooker pan and score it.
- Bake it, first covered with the lid, then uncovered.
- Leave to rest for 2 hours before slicing.
I will include an example of timings in these steps. These are only a guide.
Step 1 – Feed Your Starter (8 am)
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 21-26 °C (or 69-78°F) is good.
If you have an active sourdough starter 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 leftover can be fed at 1:2:2 and placed in the refrigerator for the next time.
Step 2- Autolyse
An autolyze is when flour and water are mixed together and the flour is left for a period of time to hydrate. An autolyze hydrates the gluten and helps to create an elastic dough. Start this at least 30 minutes before your starter is ready to use, but up to a few hours in advance. 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 autolyze dough. Simply mix the flour with the water and allow it to sit for a while. This will help develop the glutens in the flour.
Use wet hands to mix it into a rough dough. No kneading is required, but ensure all the dough is wet through.
Then cover the bowl with a plate to stop it from 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 Starter and Salt (1 pm)
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: Coil Folds (1:30pm – 4:30pm)
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 pictures below are of folds, in the second round of coil folds, where the dough is already quite elastic. Repeat this every 30 minutes for three hours.
Initially, the dough will be very sticky and wet but after a few folds, it will hold together more and become elastic.
Step 5: Bulk Fermentation (4:30 pm – 8:30 pm or longer)
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 around 50%. That does not mean it doubles, but it has to bulk out by around 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, may seem undercooked, or have a very thick and chewy crust. Both a lack of bulk fermentation and a not optimal starter can be the cause of an under-fermented dough.
On 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 3-4 hours, but in the depths of winter, it can be 6-7 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-Proofing– 8:30 pm 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.
Watch the short video below on shaping to see how to shape as written instructions are very hard to decipher. I have written the shaping steps in the recipe card.
Here is a video of how I shape my sourdough
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 regular oven), as well as preheating a cast iron combo cooker or a pot with a lid.
If you have no combo cooker or pot with a lid, you could 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.
Scoring 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 the 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 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 it 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 that 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.
See the whole Sourdough Bread Process on Youtube
- 460 grams strong white flour, with a protein level of at least 11.5%
- 330 grams water
- 150 grams activer starter, See notes on starter below
- 8-10 grams salt
- 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 the video in the post above.) 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 3-7 hours depending on the room temperature. Cover the dish with a plate to stop the dough from 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 under proofed will seem a little undercooked, be dense and have a few big and randomly spaced holes.
- Line a banneton basket 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 in the post above on shaping to see how to shape as written instructions are very hard to decipher. I have tried to explain them.
- Take the bottom third of the dough and fold it up so it meets the middle. Take the right side of the dough and fold it to meet the middle.
- Then take the left 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 to the bottom, grab a flap of dough and carry it up over the 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 the oven and cast iron pot at 230 C fan-bake /446°F (or 250°C/482°F if using a regular 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 a 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 other dutch ovens. Remove the lid and bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes more depending on your preference.
- Let the sourdough cool for at least two hours before slicing.
Are you having issues with your sourdough bread? Check out my Sourdough Bread Troubleshooting Guide.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1 grams
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 243Total Fat: 0.7gSaturated Fat: 0.1gUnsaturated Fat: 0gSodium: 292mgCarbohydrates: 51gFiber: 1.8gSugar: 0.2gProtein: 6.9g