Simple Sourdough Bread, Step by Step
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Simple sourdough bread: Yes. You. Can. There is nothing tricky about making sourdough bread: this recipe requires 25 minutes of hands-on work. Below you will find video guidance for every step of the way. Let’s do this 🍞🍞🍞
This post will show you how to make the simplest of simple sourdough breads. There is no autolyse or preferment, which means the dough itself comes together in less than five minutes.
For those intimidated by sourdough bread baking, this recipe, as well as this sourdough focaccia recipe, are the recipes I suggest making first, both for their simplicity and flavor. Another great beginner’s bread recipe to try is this overnight, refrigerator focaccia, which requires minimal effort but yields spectacular results.
This post is divided into 5 sections:
- Feeding Your Starter
- How to Make Sourdough Bread: A Video Step-by-Step Guide
- #1 Sourdough Bread Baking Tip
- Where Sourdough Goes Wrong: 4 Places
- Sourdough Baking Resources
Feeding Your Sourdough Starter
Before you can get started with sourdough bread baking, you need a sourdough starter.
What is a sourdough starter?
A sourdough starter is a fermented mix of flour and water containing wild yeast and bacteria (lactobacilli). Provided it is healthy and active, a sourdough starter is what make will make your bread rise.
You absolutely can build a sourdough starter from scratch, but I am a huge proponent of purchasing one for a few reasons, namely: when you purchase a starter, you are guaranteed to have a strong, vigorous starter from the start. In other words, you can start baking with confidence right away.
Here are three online sources for reasonably priced sourdough starters:
Ideally, you want to use your starter 4 to 12 hours after you feed it or when it doubles (or triples!) in volume after a feeding. If you need guidance on how to activate, feed, or maintain a starter, please read this post. Every time I feed my starter, I place a rubber band around the vessel it is in to mark its height. This helps me see when it has doubled in volume and is, therefore, ready to be used.
How to Make Sourdough Bread: A Video Step-by-Step Guide
Mix the dough.
Pour 375 grams water into a bowl:
Add 50 to 100 grams of sourdough starter.
Stir the two together:
Add 11 grams salt and 500 grams bread flour:
Stir to combine:
Let it Rise. (Bulk Fermentation)
Transfer the dough to a straight-sided vessel:
Perform a set of stretches and folds:
If time permits, perform four total sets of stretches and folds every 30 minutes for the first 2 hours. You should notice the dough getting stronger and more elastic with every set of stretches and folds. This is the 4th set:
After the 4th set of stretches and folds, cover the vessel — I love these Dot and Army cloth bowl covers for this — and set it aside until it increases in volume by 50% or so. This video shows the dough nearly doubling (increasing by 100%) in volume, but the more I bake sourdough, the more I realize I have better success when I stop the bulk fermentation when the dough increases by 50%.
Shaping and Proofing
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface:
Shape the dough gently into a round and let it rest for 20-40 minutes. This is called the bench rest.
Shape the round again; then place in prepared bowl for proofing. Transfer to fridge for 12 to 48 hours.
Remove bowl from fridge, and turn it out onto a sheet of parchment paper.
Transfer to preheated Dutch oven. Bake covered at 450ºF for 30 minutes; uncover, lower the temperature to 400ºF, and bake for 15 minutes more:
Remove from oven and let cool one hour before slicing.
#1 Sourdough Bread Baking Tip
The refrigerator is your friend. Use it.
The most common mistake I see people make when making sourdough bread is letting the bulk fermentation go too long. They mix the dough at night; then wake up to dough that has tripled in volume and is a sticky mess.
To prevent over fermenting your dough, use your refrigerator as needed. After you complete the 4 sets of stretches and folds, you can put your dough in the fridge at any time. If you are tired and need to go to bed, transfer the dough to the refrigerator; then pick up where you left off in the morning: remove the dough from the fridge and let it continue to rise until it increases in volume by roughly 50%.
To accurately gauge when your dough has risen to roughly 50% in volume, I highly recommend investing in a straight-sided vessel such as this 4-qt Cambro (or this one, which is BPA-free!). When dough rises in a bowl, judging when it has risen sufficiently is tricky. There’s no question with a straight-sided vessel.
Where Sourdough Goes Wrong? 4 Places
If you have ever had trouble baking sourdough bread, your issues likely stem from one of four places:
- Using a weak starter or not using starter at its peak.
- Using too much water relative to the flour.
- Over fermentation: letting the bulk fermentation (first rise) go too long.
- Using too much whole wheat flour, rye flour, or freshly milled flour.
I address each of these issues in this post: Why is my sourdough so sticky? 4 Common Mistakes, so please give it a read if you’ve had trouble with sourdough bread baking.
Sourdough Baking Resources
- Sourdough Troubleshooting: This post addresses 4 common mistakes people make when baking sourdough bread and answers many FAQ’s as well.
- Feeding Your Sourdough Starter
- If you are just getting started with sourdough, you might want to start here: sourdough focaccia, a simple recipe which requires no tricky shaping or scoring, no preheated Dutch ovens, etc.
- If you’re ready to dive in, you may want to pick up some equipment: Essential Equipment For Sourdough Bread Baking
- Here’s my favorite recipe: Favorite Sourdough Bread (Lots of video guidance and notes in this post)
- If you love pizza, this simple sourdough pizza recipe is a must-try.
- This is a great shape for sandwiches or toast: Simple Sourdough Sandwich (or Toasting) Bread
- Here’s a fast recipe you make with either bubbling active starter or discard: Sourdough Flour Tortillas and you can use discard in this Irish Soda Bread Recipe as well.
- Finally: A tip for getting a more open crumb? Shape a batard as opposed to a round:
If you are new to sourdough, watch the step-by-step video here: Simple Sourdough Bread or in the post above.
Troubleshooting: If you have issues with your dough being too sticky, please read this post: Why is my sourdough so sticky? The 4 common mistakes.
If you’re looking to get a more open crumb, try shaping a batard (as opposed to a round). Watch this video for guidance.
- You need an active sourdough starter. I have had success activating starters from:
- As always, I highly recommend investing in a digital scale before beginning any bread baking adventure.
- This is the Dutch oven I use for sourdough breads.
- Flour sack towels are a great investment because they ensure your dough will not stick while it is proofing.
- I love using rice flour for dusting (as opposed to ap or bread flour) because it doesn’t burn.
- Find all of my sourdough essentials here: Essential Equipment For Sourdough Bread Baking
How much Sourdough Starter to Use?
- Because my kitchen is cold for much of the year, I like using 100 g (1/2 cup) of starter as opposed to 50 g (1/4 cup). When determining how much starter to use, consider a few things: If you live in a warm, humid environment, 50 g should suffice. If you plan on doing an overnight rise, 50 g also should suffice. If you want to speed things up or if you live in a cold environment, consider using 100 g starter. Note: If you use 100 g of starter, your dough may rise more quickly, so keep an eye on it. As always, rely on the visual cues (increasing in volume by 50%) when determining when the bulk fermentation is done.
- A straight-sided vessel makes monitoring the bulk fermentation especially easy because it allows you to see when your dough has truly doubled.
- 50 – 100 g (1⁄4 – 1/2 cup) bubbly, active starter, see notes above
- 375 g (1 1/2 cups plus 1 tbsp) warm water
- 500 g (4 cups plus 2 tbsp) bread flour
- 9 to 11 g (1.5 – 2 teaspoons) fine sea salt, see notes above
- Make the dough: Whisk the starter and water together in a large bowl with a fork or spatula. Add the flour and salt. Mix to combine, finishing by hand if necessary to form a rough dough. Cover with a damp towel and let rest for 30 minutes.
- Stretch and fold: After 30 minutes, grab a corner of the dough and pull it up and into the center. Repeat until you’ve performed this series of folds 4 to 5 times with the dough. Let dough rest for another 30 minutes and repeat the stretching and folding action. If you have the time: do this twice more for a total of 4 times in 2 hours. Note: Even if you can only perform one series of stretches and folds, your dough will benefit. So don’t worry if you have to run off shortly after you mix the dough.
- Bulk Fermentation (first rise): Cover the bowl with a towel and let rise at room temperature, about 8 to 10 hours at 70°F (21°C) or even less if you live in a warm environment. The dough is ready when it has increased by 50% in volume, has a few bubbles on the surface, and jiggles when you move the bowl from side to side. (UPDATE: In the past I have recommended letting the dough rise until it doubles in volume. If you’ve had success with this, continue to let the dough double. Recently, I have been stopping the bulk fermentation when the dough increases by 50% in volume, and I feel I am actually getting better oven spring in the end.) (Note regarding timing: If you are using 100 g of starter, the bulk fermentation may take less than 8 to 10 hours. If you live in a warm, humid environment, the bulk fermentation may take even less time. In the late spring/early summer, for example, my kitchen is 78ºF and the bulk fermentation takes 6 hours. It is best to rely on visual cues (increase in volume by roughly 50%) as opposed to time to determine when the bulk fermentation is done. A straight-sided vessel makes monitoring the bulk fermentation especially easy because it allows you to see when your dough has truly increased in volume by 50%.)
- Shape: Coax the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Gently shape it into a round: fold the top down to the center, turn the dough, fold the top down to the center, turn the dough; repeat until you’ve come full circle. If you have a bench scraper, use it to push and pull the dough to create tension.
- Rest: Let the dough rest seam side up rest for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, line an 8-inch (20-cm) bowl or proofing basket with a towel (flour sack towels are ideal) and dust with flour (preferably rice flour, which doesn’t burn the way all-purpose flour does). Using a bench scraper or your hands, shape it again as described in step 4. Place the round into your lined bowl, seam side up.
- Proof (second rise): Cover the dough and refrigerate for 1 hour or for as long as 48 hours. (Note: I prefer to let this dough proof for at least 24 hours prior to baking. See video for the difference in the crumb of a loaf that has proofed for 6 hours vs one that has proofed for 24 hours. The original recipe calls for a 1-hour rise, and if you have had success doing that, by all means, keep doing it.)
- Place a Dutch oven in your oven, and preheat your oven to 550°F (290°C). Cut a piece of parchment to fit the size of your baking pot.
- Score: Place the parchment over the dough and invert the bowl to release. Using the tip of a small knife or a razor blade, score the dough however you wish — a simple “X” is nice. Use the parchment to carefully transfer the dough into the preheated baking pot.
- Bake: Lower the oven to temperature to 450ºF (230ºC). Carefully cover the pot. Bake the dough for 30 minutes, covered. Remove the lid, lower the temperature to 400ºF (200ºC) and continue to bake for 10 – 15 minutes more. If necessary, lift the loaf out of the pot, and bake directly on the oven rack for the last 5 to 10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 1 hour before slicing.
- This loaf will stay fresh up to 3 days stored at room temperature in an airtight plastic bag or container. It freezes beautifully, too.
- This recipe has been adapted from Artisan Sourdough Made Simple. Changes I have made to the original recipe include:
- Using 11 g salt as opposed to 9 g.
- Performing 4 stretch and folds during the first 2 hours of the bulk fermentation, which build strength in the dough.
- Doing a cold proof for at least 24 hours before baking, which produces a lighter airier crumb. In the video, you can see the difference between the crumb of a loaf that has proofed for only 6 hours vs a loaf that has proofed for 24 hours.
- Finally, I like preheating my Dutch oven, which makes a crisper crust.
- Category: Bread
- Method: Oven
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: sourdough starter, bread flour, Dutch oven, sourdough, bread