I absolutely love sourdough bread. It is one of my favorite types of bread to eat and probably my favorite to make from scratch at home.
Sourdough is one of the more advanced kinds of bread to make at home but if you follow the steps in this in-depth guide you will be well on your way to making fantastic homemade sourdough bread.
One thing I absolutely love about bread making, especially sourdough is that each loaf turns out a little differently. And definitely keep that in mind. Chances are your first, second, third, or even fourth attempts to make a sourdough loaf will not produce a super perfect bread. But even if it doesn’t look quite like you wanted, even if there are some super large holes in it, it will still taste great and be a good learning experience.
Let’s get started!
Before you can make sourdough bread you need a good mature, active, sourdough starter. You can easily make one at home following this sourdough starter recipe, or you can just ask someone to give you their discard after they feed theirs. You can also buy a starter online.
Ingredients and Tools
In order to make sourdough bread at home you need just a few ingredients and a handful of helpful tools and equipment:
- Flour – I like to use a combination of white bread flour and whole wheat flour. Einkorn and Spelt are also really good options to use. Or you can use all 4 of those for a multi-grain loaf.
- Water – I always use filtered water. My tap water is gross and contains chlorine which has the potential to kill the starter.
- Mature Active Starter – This provides the leaving for the bread in lieu of using something like active dry yeast or instant yeast.
- Salt – I like to use fine sea salt, table salt will work as well.
NOTE: The actual amounts are found further down in the recipe card. You can also click the “jump to recipe” at the top of this post to take you straight there although you will miss several hints and tips. I recommend reading this whole post instead of skipping to the recipe card.
- Kitchen Scale
- Glass with rubberband
- Kitchen towel
- Dough Proofer (optional)
- Bench Scraper
- Lodge Combo Cooker or Dutch Oven
- Round Banneton and Lame Kit (optional)
- Parchment paper
Feed the Starter/Mix the Levain
NOTE: This recipe makes 1 nice loaf. Double the recipe to make two loaves. If you are a beginner, I recommend just making 1 loaf at a time. Once you have the process down you can double, triple, etc. the recipe.
I want to mention sourdough breadmaking is a lengthy process. While the actual active time is around 30 minutes or so, the whole process takes roughly 24 hours from start to finish.
Begin by making the “Levain” which will be the leavening for the sourdough. I usually do this the night before around 8 to 9 pm so I can start the dough at 8 or 9 am the next morning. Which will allow me to bake the bread and eat it that same evening.
But you have some options. If you want to have fresh bread in the morning, you can start this step in the morning and then the dough will cold-proof overnight in the fridge, then you can bake it and have it in the morning, more on this later.
Add 25g of mature active starter to a glass or small container. Make sure to zero out the scale with the container/glass on it, of course.
If you need a scale, I really like this kitchen scale.
Then add the rest of the Levain ingredients, the 20g of whole wheat flour, 20g of bread flour (unbleached), and 40g of filtered water which will give us a little over 100g of complete starter.
Mix it really well with a fork or spoon, making sure to mix the starter in with the new flour and water.
Add a rubber band around the container so it matches the current height of the starter. This way you can tell how high it rises.
Cover the glass loosely with a lid or plastic wrap and set it on the counter overnight.
*NOTE: If you store your starter in the fridge, you will need to take it out about 2 days before you want to use it and feed it every 12 hours. (Discard, feed, wait 12 hours, etc.) The reason why is when the starter is stored in the fridge it kind of goes dormant, and we want to wake it up and make sure it is thriving before using it to make bread.
The next morning around 8 or 9 am you can check your starter. It should be about doubled in size and have lots of bubbles.
Next, we do what is called Autolyse. This simply means we mix only the water and the flour at first and let it rest for 45 minutes to an hour. This gives the dough a jumpstart and allows the flour to absorb the water and hydrate and helps develop the gluten.
I have skipped this step and just added all the dough ingredients together with great results, but most people that make sourdough for a living will tell you not to skip this step. I recommend you don’t skip it, it only adds a little more time to the process.
Place a large bowl on your scale and zero it out. Then measure 325g of filtered water, zero it out, then add 50g of whole wheat flour and 450g of white bread flour. This gives us 500g of flour and will result in a 70% hydration dough, which is great for beginners.
It is easier to work with, and although some more advanced recipes have 80% to 85% hydration, that dough is harder to work with.
Start mixing first with a spoon then switch to clean hands and mix until all the flour is incorporated and you are left with a firm somewhat sticky dough.
Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let it rest for 45 minutes to an hour. The ideal room temp is 78 to 80F (25 to 26C). But don’t worry if your home is on the cooler side it will just take a little longer for this process.
I always use my dough proofer, it works amazing and I can completely control the temps. They are fairly expensive but if you make bread or yeast-based doughs all the time it is worth the investment. Especially in cooler climates or really dry climates.
That completes the Autolyse phase.
Mixing the Sourdough Bread Dough
Next, we do the mixing step. If you skip the Autolyse step you will just mix everything together (all the flour, water, salt, and 100g of mature active starter).
Measure out 25g of filtered water and 10g of salt. Mix those together.
NOTE: As mentioned above, I always use filtered water because my tap water is gross. Also, chlorine found it lots of tap water can kill your starter.
Check your starter. If you want a full-proof method for identifying when the starter is ready, scoop a little of it into some water, if it floats it is ready to go! This is called the “float test.”
Remove the towel from your bowl of dough. If you pinch and pull a little bit of the dough you can see how stretchy it already is. The Autolyse step worked great and did its job starting the structure of the dough.
Add 100g of your mature active starter, which in this case will be pretty much all of the starter or “Levain.”
Also, pour in your saltwater solution.
Start mixing with your hands. Push down and pinch with your fingers, fold it over onto itself, knead it a little, and repeat a combination of all of those things until the dough really comes together. This will take 2 to 4 minutes. It is important that it is evenly and completely mixed. You could certainly use a stand mixer with a dough hook if desired. Shape it into a fat disc or oblong shape then cover and let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
Again, I put my dough in my proofer box.
Once you introduced the starter to the dough and mix it in. This begins the Bulk Fermentation Phase sometimes called the bulk rise.
Sourdough Bread Bulk Fermentation
Stretch and Fold (Turn) 1
After the dough has rested it is time to do a series of stretches and folds or turns which is part of the bulk fermentation phase.
Grab the side of the dough and gently pull it up and stretch it, you should be able to go 8 to 10 inches.
Then fold it over onto the dough. Turn the bowl a quarter turn and repeat the stretch and fold. Do this 4 to 6 times until the dough tightens up and it is harder to stretch. This step only takes 30 seconds to a minute.
Cover the dough and let it rest for 30 minutes. Again, I put the dough in my proofer box.
Stretch and Fold (Turn) 2
Now repeat that same step a second time, stretch fold turn, etc. Then cover and rest for 30 minutes.
Stretch and Fold (Turn) 3
Now repeat that same step a third time, stretch fold turn, etc. Then cover and rest for 30 minutes.
Stretch and Fold (Turn) 4
And finally, repeat that same step a fourth time, stretch fold turn, etc. Then cover and rest for 30 minutes.
At this point and during this whole bulk fermentation process you will probably start to notice little bubbles on the surface of the dough, this is perfect.
Sourdough Bread Bulk Fermentation continued – Coil Folds
Coil Fold 1
Next, we will do a series of “coil folds” This is gentler on the dough, now that we have gained some volume and structure already.
Gently pull the dough from the center and let it sag down, then lay it down on itself so it is folded. Turn the bowl a quarter turn and repeat. You only need to do this twice.
Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
Coil Fold 2
Now repeat the above coil fold step and then cover the dough and let it rest 90 minutes to 2 hours this time.
This will conclude the bulk fermentation. This total time will be around 4 to 4.5 hours.
Is Bulk Fermenting Sourdough necessary?
Why do we do these stretch and folds and coil folds? Well, it develops structure, volume, and flavor in the dough. This is in lieu of the classic kneading of dough that has used active dry or instant yeast. It is indeed necessary to make good sourdough bread. With that said there are a few other methods that can be used like the “slap and fold” method which I don’t show in this guide.
First Sourdough loaf shaping and Bench Rest
Add a little bit of flour to your counter.
Then place the dough on the counter and gently spread it out into a square or rectangle.
Fold the closest side of the dough toward the middle. Then grab the other side and fold it over, like an envelope.
Turn the dough a quarter turn. Grab the end and stretch slightly and then roll it up.
Now push away any excess flour from the counter. Either use your fingers and hands or a bench scraper and shape the dough.
This takes a little practice. The result of this is creating tension in the dough which helps it keep its shape. The idea is the bottom of the dough is a little sticky and as you pull and rotate the dough toward you it tightens and adds tension to the top smoothing it out.
It is a little easier to see in this step-by-step sourdough bread video.
This is called the first shaping.
Add some flour to the top of the dough and then add the towel. Or you can use plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes. This is called bench rest.
Final Shaping and Final Rise
We are getting closer to baking our sourdough bread I promise!
After the bench rest, we can do the final shaping of the dough and do the final rise.
When you look at the dough it should have spread out a little bit but not too much. It should also be mounded still and not flat like a fat disc. If it is flat, you will want to do another shaping and rest. It just needs more time.
This one looks perfect. Dust the top with a little bit of flour then use your bench scraper to go under the dough and flip it over flour side down. Notice we did not flour the counter.
The final shape is similar to the first shape. I am going to make a Boule which is the classic round loaf. You could shape it into a batard as well which is the more oval-shaped loaf, but I don’t show that shape here.
Stretch the dough gently and form a square. Fold the closest end to you to the middle of the dough. Then grab the end furthest for you and gently pull and stretch and fold it over creating that envelope. It should stick together.
Rotate a quarter turn and then roll it up. Now you can stretch the ends over if you like which will make it look better when baked.
Use your bench scraper and then turn the dough and pull it towards you again creating a bit of tension in the dough. You only need to do this a few times. You can also use your fingers.
Now flour your banneton with rice flour generously. I really like the bannetons I have which came in a kit.
Rice flour works better than normal flour. We don’t want the dough to stick. Or you can just put a kitchen towel in a bowl and flour that generously. I prefer using the bannetons. You can easily make homemade rice flour if you can’t find it at the store.
Then add some rice flour on top of your dough. Go under the dough with the bench scraper and pick it up and then flip it over into the banneton (or towel-lined bowl) flour side down. Add more rice flour around the edges and on top of the dough.
Cover and let rise for 3 to 4 hours at room temp or in a proofer box. OR place it in the fridge and let it cold rise for 12 to 16 hours.
This final rise adds more flavor to the dough. The longer you let it proof the more sour the flavor of the dough. If you like it mildly sour I recommend doing the 3 to 4-hour room temp rise.
But the cold rise works super well for people who ran out of time in the day or if they want to bake bread in the morning.
Chill Sourdough Loaf and Heat Dutch Oven or Combo Cooker
After the final rise check your dough. When you gently press on it with a finger, the indentation should slowly come back but not all the way. This is a good indication of a properly risen and fermented dough.
Cover the dough and place it in the freezer. Or if you were doing the cold rise in the fridge, keep the dough in the fridge.
Set the timer for 30 minutes. This will give the oven itself enough time to preheat as well as the Dutch oven time to heat up.
Score and Bake the Sourdough Bread
Now the time has finally come to bake that bread. Phew! We got there.
Remove your dough from the freezer or fridge and then lay out a piece of parchment paper. Sprinkle on a bit of rice flour or semolina flour then flip the banneton over and place the dough in the center of the parchment paper.
Using a lame or just a razor blade or sharp knife cut a slit about 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep starting at the bottom and going over the top. Do this twice creating a classic X or + sign in the dough. You can also do a single slice and many decorative slices. Many ways in which to score the dough.
Scoring is essential. This provides a place for the dough to expand. If you don’t score the dough, it will most likely expand in places you don’t want, misshaping the dough.
Now USE OVEN MITTS and remove the Dutch oven or combo cooker from the oven.
Pick up the dough from the parchment paper and place it in the center of the Dutch oven. This is why I like the combo cooker because the bottom is so shallow. But I have used my Dutch oven too many times.
Now grab the other part of the combo cooker and place it on top ensuring it sits properly and closes. Or if using a Dutch oven, place the lid on top.
Now put it in the oven and turn the heat down to 450F/232C. Bake the bread for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, open the oven door and remove the lid or top part of the combo cooker. The bread should have risen and expanded nicely. This is called an “oven spring.”
Close the oven door and further bake the bread for 20 to 30 minutes until you reach your desired color. I like mine fairly dark.
Remove the bread from the oven and grab the parchment paper and remove it from the Dutch oven.
Place the loaf on a wire rack and let it cool for 1 hour.
Do not cut into the homemade sourdough bread right away, if you do, the inside crumb will get a little gummy. So just relax and smell that wonderful bread before cutting into it.
Slice and Serve that Sourdough!
Finally, it is time to eat the bread. Slice the loaf in half and check out how it looks on the inside.
A properly fermented and proofed sourdough will have several smaller holes spread out, instead of 2 or 3 really large holes, or just a bunch of tiny holes.
I really enjoy taking a slice of sourdough and toasting it, then spreading butter on it and sprinkling on a bit of sea salt or strawberry jam. OR I love making sandwiches with it.
It also tastes yummy just eating it plain.
Store the leftovers in a brown paper sack for the next few days before putting them in something like a plastic bag or Tupperware. I don’t recommend storing it in the fridge.
Enjoy your homemade sourdough!
Sourdough Troubleshooting Tips:
Here are a few tips to help you on your sourdough bread-baking journey. I have personally encountered all of these issues and figured out ways how to fix them, hopefully, you will have success as well. Just keep in mind, sourdough making is a process and there is more room for error than a classic homemade white bread. But while challenging, you can still get amazing results with practice.
Why did my sourdough go flat when baked?
This is an often problem dealing which stems from a variety of factors. Here are some common ones:
- 1 – The type of flour used. What kind of flour did you use? The type of flour plays a big role. Try and stick to bread flour with a 12% or higher protein and whole wheat, einkorn, or Spelt. Or a combination of those. While you can use unbleached all-purpose flour, the results are iffy, and you need to adjust the recipe a bit, like reducing the hydration.
- 2 – Not using an active mature starter. Make sure your starter has doubled, is bubbly, and floats in water before using it.
- 3 – Underproofed or over-proofed dough. Sourdough requires two rises. Don’t rush the bulk fermentation (first rise) stage. Do the stretch and folds, etc. And then let it continue to rise for at least 90 minutes to 2 hours after the last coil fold. If your room temp is cooler, it will take a few hours longer. As long as the dough is noticeably bigger after like 30 to 40% it is ready. Also, make sure the final rise (second rise) is at least 3 to 4 hours or cold-risen overnight. Again it should look 30 to 40% bigger after that. Use the poke test. A fast return of the indentation after poking the dough means the sourdough isn’t ready yet. If the dough bounces back slowly that is great. If it never bounces back, it has been over-proofed.
- 4 – Shaping issues. There wasn’t sufficient tension built when shaping the dough, or it wasn’t shaped properly.
- 5 – Scoring. Did you score the dough? Make sure to score it where you want the dough to rise and “burst”.
How can I make the sourdough bread sourer or tangier?
If you would like to make the sourdough have a more prominent sour or tangy flavor there are a few things you can do.
- 1 – Try reducing the amount of white bread flour and then add more whole wheat, or add some rye, or einkorn flour. Try 400g of white bread flour, 75g whole wheat, and 25g of rye or einkorn.
- 2 – A simple step is just to add additional time to the cold fermentation. If you did only the 4-hour room temp final rise step, instead put the dough in the fridge for 16 to 48 hours, before baking. That will have a huge impact on the flavor. But this has the potential to overproof the dough which can lead to a “flatter” sourdough.
- 3 – You could try adding a little bit of citric acid to the dough when you add the salt. Just use a small amount like 1/4 tsp.
- 4 – Use a starter that has been fed and maintained at room temperature for at least a week.
Why are there large holes in my sourdough?
This is one of the most common things I see. You have gone through all the hard work making the dough and then baking the bread. After 20 minutes you open the oven door and notice an amazing oven spring to the dough. You finish baking it and then let the dough rest.
Finally, you cut into it only to see huge holes near the top of the bread just under the crust. This is very common and is referred to as “tunneling” and happens to all of us. Don’t be alarmed if and when it happens to you. The cause is the gasses released from the yeast when it feeds on the sugar and starches in the dough. But of course, we need that to happen to make the dough rise, but the uneven gas spread is not desirable because of the large holes. How to prevent it? A few things can cause this:
- 1 – You may have used too much extra flour when doing the final shaping. Try to use very little flour, and use your hands and bench scraper to shape the dough.
- 2 – The dough was under-proofed. Just like the issue of flattened dough, make sure to not skip any time when doing the bulk fermentation and final rise. Don’t skip any of those stretches and folds!
- 3 – Scoring issues – You didn’t score the dough deep enough or didn’t score the dough at all.
- 4 – Check your oven temp and make sure it is really hot. Start at 500F/260C and let it heat up for at least 30 minutes with the combo cooker or Dutch oven in it. Reduce the heat to 450F/232C Then bake the bread.
- 5 – The type of flour and hydration level can have an effect on the dough as well. Lower hydration will result in smaller holes. Although this particular recipe is 70% hydration which is great for beginners. You can reduce the water by 25g if you like. But I don’t recommend reducing it much more than that.
How long does homemade sourdough bread last?
This bread definitely tastes the best when eaten within 24 hours of making it. As mentioned above store any leftovers in a paper bag at room temp. For up to 3 to 4 days. Do not place the bread in the fridge. Store the cut side down which will help prevent it from drying out.
Here are other bread recipes you may like:
Sourdough Bread Recipe | In Depth Guide
- Glass with rubberband
- Kitchen towel
- parchment paper
- 25 g Mature Active Sourdough starter
- 20 g of whole wheat flour
- 20 g of unbleached bread flour of all-purpose/plain
- 40 g of filtered warm water 85F/29C
- 325 g of filtered warm water 85F/29C
- 450 g of unbleached bread flour or all-purpose/plain
- 50 g of whole wheat flour
- 25 g of filtered warm water 85g/29C
- 10 g of fine sea salt or another salt
- Begin by mixing the Levain. Combine 25g of active sourdough starter with 20g of whole wheat flour, 20g of white bread flour, and 40g of filtered water and mix thoroughly. Put a lid or plastic wrap on the top and let sit at room temp overnight. (8 to 12 hours)
- Check the starter the next morning, it should have doubled in size and have lots of bubbles. Spoon a little into a bowl of water, if it floats it is ready.
- In a large bowl measure 325g of filtered water and 450g of unbleached white bread flour and 50g of whole wheat flour. Mix and knead until well combined and you are left with a firm sticky dough.
- Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let rest for 45 minutes to an hour. I place mine in my dough proofer set to 80F (26C)
- Combine 25g of filtered water and 10g of salt and mix.
- Add 100g of the Levain which should be pretty much all of it to the dough along with the saltwater.
- Mix the dough with your hands by pinching and folding, and kneading until everything is combined, it will take 2 to 3 minutes.
- Cover and let the dough rest for 30 minutes. I put it in my dough-proofer box.
Bulk Fermentation – Stretch and Folds/Turns
- Stretch and Fold (Turn) 1: Grab the dough and pull it up about 6 to 10 inches then fold it over the dough. Turn the bowl a quarter turn and repeat the stretch and fold. Do this 5 to 6 times until the dough tightens. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.
- Stretch and folds 2 through 4. Repeat the above step 3 more times for a total of 4 stretches and folds. Which will be over a period of 2 hours. With 30 minutes resting in between. You will probably notice small bubbles in the dough which is perfect.
Bulk Fermentation Continued: Coil Folds
- Next, do a series of coil folds. Lift the dough up at the center allowing the ends to sag down, then lay it into itself. Turn the bowl a quarter turn and repeat. Let the dough rest covered for 30 minutes, then repeat this coil fold method 1 more time.
- Cover the dough and allow the dough to rest for 90 minutes to 2 hours.
First Shaping and Bench Rest
- Add a little bit of flour to the counter. Then take the dough out of the bowl and place it on the counter. Spread the dough out into a rectangle.
- Fold the edge closest to you to the middle and then the edge further away on top creating an envelope.
- Turn the dough a quarter turn and then roll it up. Push away the excess flour on the counter. Shape the dough into a round loaf by cupping in and dragging it along the counter which will create tension. A bench scraper works great for this. Do this a few times until it is well-shaped and smooth on top.
- Add some flour to the top of the dough and then cover it with the cloth. Allow it to rest for 30 minutes. "Bench Rest"
Final Shaping and Final Rise
- Dust the top with flour and then pick it up with the bench scraper and flip it over with the flour side down on the counter. Form into a rectangle.
- Shape it as you did before. Fold the closest edge to the middle, then the further edge back over the top. It should stick together.
- Turn the dough a quarter turn then roll the furthest end towards you. The seem side will be down. Then you can stretch the ends down a bit to cover the roll.
- Use the bench scraper as before or your hands and fingers to turn and rotate the dough while pulling it toward you to create tension. You only need to do that a few times to create the final shape of the dough.
- Flour a banneton with rice flour. Then pick up the dough with the dough scraper or bench scraper and flip it into the banneton floured side down.
- Add some more rice flour on the edges and top of the dough. Cover and let it rise at room temp or in a proofer box for 4 hours. Or place it in the fridge to rise overnight for 8 to 16 hours.
Chill Dough and Heat Dutch Oven
- Place the dough covered in the freezer unless you did the cold-rise in the fridge, then just keep it in the fridge. Leave there for 30 minutes while you heat the combo cooker or Dutch oven.
- Set the oven to 500F/260C. Place the Dutch oven or combo cooker in the oven and allow it to heat for 30 minutes.
Score and Bake the Sourdough Bread
- Remove the dough from the freezer or fridge.
- Add a large piece of parchment paper to the counter and add some rice flour on top.
- Use a lame, or just a razor blade, or a sharp knife and cut a slit 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch deep from one edge over the top to the other. Then repeat on the other side creating an X or Plus sign in the dough.
- Using oven mitts remove the hot combo cooker or Dutch oven from the oven. Pick up the parchment paper with the dough and set it in the shallow half of the combo cooker or right in the Dutch Oven pot. Be careful!!
- Place it in the oven. Turn the heat down to 450F/232C and bake the loaf for 20 minutes.
- Open the door and remove the top of the cooker. Close the door to the oven and continue baking the bread for 15 to 30 minutes until you get your desired color on top. I like it pretty dark so I always do 25 to 30 minutes.
- Once baked remove the bread from the oven. Pick the dough up by the parchment paper and set it on a wire rack and allow the bread to cool for 1 hour.
Slice and Serve
- Now you can slice the bread and serve it however you like. I love putting butter and salt on a slice or jam or making a sandwich with it. Enjoy!
Do you like this homemade sourdough bread recipe? Please give it a rating and comment down below, I really appreciate it. Save the Pin to Pinterest! If you make it tag me on Instagram @inthekitchenwithmatt. Also, sign up for the newsletter so you won’t miss out on any of my new posts and recipes.