Classic Sourdough Bread
About this Recipe
This hearty sourdough recipe is super adaptable. It's the perfect place to start in learning to make bread, and it has a hearty, open crumb that is suits all types of occasions!
Feed/ferment your starter
Portion your ingredients & mix
Stretch & fold your dough
Cover and ferment
Shape your dough in banneton
Preheat oven to 450 w/baker
Bake bread for 20 minutes covered
Uncover and bake for 10-20 minutes
Cool and enjoy!
Photos by Step...
Feed and ferment your sourdough starter. For the recipe, you will need 90 grams (or roughly 1/3 of a cup) of sourdough starter. Be sure to add at least 45 grams each of flour and water to your starter, mix thoroughly, and set it out on the counter until it at least doubles in volume. Depending on how warm the area is, it could take anywhere from 8-18 hours. If you aim to keep your space close to 70 degrees F, it should take 8-12 hours.
Pro tip: I like to feed my starter further ahead of time, sometimes by several days. You can feed your starter, let it ferment, then place it in the fridge for a few days to adopt a more sour or tangy flavor profile. It's a huge time-saver if you like spontaneously starting a loaf of bread, and it adds complexity to the flavor of your loaf. The best part? You don't have to do anything to prep the starter after you've fed, fermented, and cooled it. Just pour it into your dough mixture and it will ferment with the flour and water you've added to your dough!
Portion your water, starter, and salt in a medium or large mixing bowl. Combine using a dough whisk or a wooden spoon, which will make it much easier to evenly mix in your flour.
Portion and add your flour to the bowl. It will look like it's too much, but I promise it's not. Mix thoroughly until no dry flour or patches of raw starter remain. We want this to be homogenous, but we're not worried about it looking perfect or being smooth just yet. Now, cover your masterpiece-in-progress with plastic wrap or a damp towel to prevent the surface from drying out! Sometimes I write the time in marker so I don't lose track, but it's really not necessary since we're following queues rather than a specific timeline.
Let it sit (bulk fermentation/first proof, 6+ hours). That's right! Take a break, clean up, pat yourself on the back, set an alarm on your phone and scroll through your socials-- You've basically done the bulk of the work! At this point, your dough needs to hydrate, the gluten needs to activate, and the cultures need time to ferment. You have a couple of options:
Leave it totally alone and do your thing, whether that's going to bed for the night, watching tv, going to work-whatever. You have at least 8 hours to kill while your dough does its thing.
Check in on and fold your dough every 30-60 minutes for the first couple of hours. The first time you do this, you will immediately see a vast improvement in the elasticity and texture of your dough. It will stretch, hold together, and look significantly smoother with each pass. After folding to your heart's content, let it sit for a few hours until it's finished fermenting.
Stretch and Fold (optional): If you'd like to ensure that your dough will be very easy to work with, elastic in texture, and visually smooth before shaping, then you will enjoy the care put into this little process. Start by grabbing a section of dough along the edge of the bowl, pull it straight up until gravity pulls the bulk of the dough ball down a bit, and fold that stretched dough over the center of your dough ball. Rotate your bowl a quarter-turn and repeat on all four sides. Cover your bowl, wait 30-60 minutes, and repeat if desired. Regardless of whether you choose to complete this step to any extent, your bulk fermentation will last either 8-12 hours (generally) or until it passes the poke-test, showing that the dough is ready for shaping. Keep your bowl covered during this time! I've never repeated this step more than 3-4 times for a loaf, and I wouldn't recommend it because it won't make any noticeable difference in the end. I view this step as a supplemental option that makes the shaping and baking step more manageable later on.
When your dough is appropriately fermented, shape and transfer it to a banneton in preparation for baking. The poke test is a popular method for seeing whether your dough is ready to shape (or bake!). You can also eyeball it, and if the dough is roughly doubled in size and full of air, it's probably ready to shape. I usually just use visual cues, since I do the poke test at the end anyway.
To do the poke test, press a finger into the dough, one knuckle deep. Retract your hand and watch the hole you created spring back. Consider how much resistance you felt while pressing, how soft was the dough? If there was minimal resistance (it wasn't like pressing on an inflated balloon) and the hole is mostly holding its shape, your dough is ready to shape! If the hole fills back up and goes flat, it's nowhere near ready. If it feels like you just poked a hole into a hollow void, with zero resistance and no responsiveness whatsoever, your dough is likely over-proofed. Shape and bake it anyway- it may be fine. When you shape it, the air bubbles can be worked out, the gluten re-activated, and the fermentation process renewed. Worst-case scenario, your bread doesn't get very tall in the oven and turns out dense or chewy. I try not to worry too much until I've entered the final proof.
To shape and transfer your dough to your banneton, first flour your banneton with the liner in it. I prefer rice flour, but any flour is fine! Be liberal, you don't want your dough to stick when you're ready to bake! Set your banneton beside your bowl of dough. Place each hand under either side of your ball of dough in the center. Lift your dough straight up, so the two unsupported ends hang down and stretch as much as possible. In this process, we're working out some excess gas from the fermentation process and giving the dough an opportunity to form newer, stronger air pockets. Fold one of your "dough flaps" under, and tuck the other "flap" over so you have a handful of dough, tightly folded into thirds. Place this shaped dough into your banneton, sprinkle some extra flour over top, and cover for its final proof!
In the past, I wouldn't think so hard about shaping, and it was fine! I would turn the bowl out into my wet hand and just manipulate the dough until it resembled something that looked like a loaf. I wouldn't worry about how much gas I was working out, and regardless of how I did, the loaf would turn out gorgeous. The take-away here: don't get discouraged trying to perfect this step. It's honestly a matter of personal preference! As long as your timing is good, you will end up with delicious bread.
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F for one hour with your clay baker already inside. This part is important! If you take extra care in completing any step properly, let it be this one! We really want our oven and our baker (whether it's an enclosed baker, stone slab or otherwise) to be totally ready when we start to bake our dough. The clay can take a while to heat up, and the dough will need to slapped in the face by the heat when it goes in. This will encourage your bread to spring in the oven, become nice and tall, expand in every direction, and give you a consistent, even bake. That being said, this step should immediately follow shaping your dough and starting its final proof. If you're in a pinch and can't commit to baking or waiting around, pop your banneton in the fridge, encapsulated in a grocery bag or towel, and come back when you can to finish this step.
Bake your bread! Test your shaped dough by poking it once more, and if you're convinced it's ready to bake, remove your baker from the oven. Transfer your dough from the banneton to the baker, either by simply turning the basket over with a quick *plop* or by turning the dough out into your hands and placing it in with care. The heat from the banneton should already be forming a crust on your dough, so take care not to nudge it unless you must. Using your lame, score your bread across the center of its length, pulling the blade along roughly one-inch deep. This will allow the bread to expand without compromising the shape or texture of your crust. You can make several more decorative cuts along the sides if you like, or leave it as it is now. The point is to allow expansion, so mission accomplished! Place the lid back on your baker and put it back to bake in the oven at 450 F for 20 minutes. Remove the lid to the baker (the crust should be a pretty, yellow-golden color now) and bake for another 10-15 minutes, or until the crust is as deep golden-brown as you prefer! Remove the baker from the oven, carefully transfer your bread (it's hot!) to a cooling rack, and let it sit for at least one hour before slicing. YOU'RE DONE!!!! Seriously, if you've made it to the end, I'm so proud of you!
When you're ready to slice your bread, grab your favorite bread knife and dig in. There are a number of ways to slice your sourdough, depending on how you're eating it. I like to slice the end off, then make sandwich slices. Bask in the glory of the gorgeous, open crumb you've created and the fact that you can now proclaim, "I'VE MADE AN ARTISAN LOAF OF SOURDOUGH!"
More about this recipe
How do I time this process so I can still have a life?
You may see the length of this process, specifically the idle time, and think it sounds like an impossible feat. How can you still have time for groceries, meals, sleep, or anything else?? Well, there is actually a multitude of ways you can schedule this process so it doesn't interfere with any other things you need to give attention to. Allow me to explain some of these methods.
You can start your bulk fermentation in the evening, before bed.
If you start mixing your dough in the evening, you can opt to stretch and fold in the hours before bed or even skip the stretching process entirely. This is the longest portion of idle time, so it almost feels like you're able to skip the first proof altogether. The process may also seem quite a bit simpler when you break the steps up into two chunks over two days. Just make sure you're able to check on your dough and proceed with shaping in the following 8-12 hours!
You can refrigerate your fermenting dough until you're ready to proceed.
Alternatively, if you've already started your bulk fermentation and it has a ways to go, but you need to step away and don't want to be anxious about it, just pop your bowl in the fridge! You can do this at just about any point, and it has never failed me. You don't have to alter any aspect of the recipe, other than the fermentation time when you retard the proofing process.
If you've already completed your bulk fermentation and have shaped your dough (but don't have time to wait and bake), the exact same rule applies! This is the route I typically take when I need a pause. Remember to utilize the poke test when you're ready to move forward.
You can shorten or lengthen the proofing time by changing the temperature in the room.
Proofing can be confusing when you're new to making sourdough bread, especially when you're trying to predict how much time your dough will need to get where it needs to be. In all fairness, "8-18 hours" is a HUGE window, and I wouldn't blame anyone for disapproving and going another direction.
That said, it's more predictable than it sounds! If your kitchen is fairly warm (72+ degrees), the proofing time will be minimal. The warmer it is, the faster the process moves. Adversely, if your kitchen is chilly (62-68 degrees), the process will move much more slowly. This is why the fridge is such a priceless tool in buying yourself some time! I aim to keep my kitchen between 68-72 degrees F, and my dough typically finishes its bulk fermentation within 10-12 hours.
Generally, baking bread is time-consuming. There is a reason we pay as much as we do for the manufactured, shelf-stable stuff at the store. It boils down to the time and effort invested in having a tasty, consistent outcome--whether you're going after a pre-made loaf or an artisanal creation. You can schedule the different steps and manipulate the environment only so much, but you will still be actively taking part in the process for at least a collective couple of hours. I promise it's worth it!
My dough is really wet (or dry), and nearly impossible to work with. What now?
Especially in the case where measuring cups are favored over kitchen scales, inconsistent results can take us by surprise. Humidity can even play a role, as well as the brand of flour you use or how soft/hard your water might be. My number one piece of advise: invest in a kitchen scale. Nothing beats weighed-out ingredients when it comes to consistency batch-to-batch. If you currently cannot afford a scale, are unsure whether you'll stick with this hobby, or if you simply aren't willing to spend the extra cash, you're not alone! This just means you may need to put extra effort into assessing whether your dough feels right. If it feels too loose, add more flour. If it's too stiff and difficult to stretch, add more water. In any case, you want to make these adjustments earlier rather than later to ensure you don't disrupt the fermentation process too much.
How will I know whether my dough is too wet, too dry, or just right?
There is no objective "perfect saturation" for sourdough bread, it all boils down to personal preference. As long as your dough is moist enough to be ablet to hold together and be pliable and stretchable, but not so wet that it ceases to be a solid, workable lump of dough, you should be fine. The wild yeast cultures in your starter combined with the extra flour and water should yield a wonderful loaf, whether the saturation is on the high or low end of the moisture spectrum. You may find that you prefer a more moist loaf, or perhaps you'd rather have a drier loaf-- the world is your oyster! This is a great base-recipe to build from, whether you decide to add seeds and nuts, whole wheat flour, rye flour, more or less moisture, etc., it's incredibly adaptable and forgiving.
More resources to learn all about making sourdough bread
I must give credit where credit is due, and this is definitely no exception! If you're not feeling confident yet, or if you're like me and enjoy comparing multiple recipes and schools of thought, click away below to see my sources of inspiration!
Firstly, here is the very first recipe I followed with any degree of success-- Chef John's Sourdough Bread. He includes a very insightful video and comes across as an everyday guy, just like us. This was my launching point in bread baking.
Next up, a very detailed recipe page from Feasting at Home. I don't know if Sylvia is the sole author of all the recipes listed on this site, but MAN, is her site impressive if that's the case! She has several videos as you read through this recipe to help you along the process, and is very thorough in explaining all the elements involved. It's definitely worth a look! I love that she references Breadtopia in her explanation of folding techniques-- It makes me feel all the more proud to have physically been working with them previously!
Breadtopia is an amazing resource for all things bread, flour, and starter! They sell some really great products, mill much of their own flour, and are run by a single family and a small team of locals in the midwest. The article I'm referencing glosses over the (un)importance of stretching and folding your dough before shaping to bake.
Little Spoon Farm is a website that specifically focuses on sourdough (and some other stuff), as the site owner is self-taught and passionate about sharing her knowledge. She has a bunch of sourdough recipes from loaves, to english muffins, to bagels and more. I'll definitely be swinging by her site in the future!
King Arthur Flour is always a winner, loaded with recipes, educational information, and supplies you can purchase (and reasonably priced, too). You'd think this is an affiliate link by the way I describe them, but it's not! I typically buy their flour at the store because I know it will be consistent every time.