I want to let you in on a little secret.
Sourdough bread is simple. Dead simple. It is literally just flour, water, and salt. So why can it feel so overwhelming??
The thing is, there are a million different ways to make sourdough. Truly. And that is where so many of us get hung up. You want to do it the right way, you want to succeed, it can feel really complicated and specific. I get it. But my hope is to un-complicate the matter for you. Learning to make sourdough can be a very simple matter. You CAN do it! And I’m here to cheer you on and help along the way.
I want to share with you how I make sourdough bread for my family every single week. My recipe is adapted from the beautiful book Tartine Bread, and I highly recommend it if you want to dive deeper into the specifics and art of baking sourdough bread. Plus it is a gorgeous book to have sitting on your counter. I always come away from it inspired to try something new in my kitchen.
This is more of a method than a recipe, and although it is lengthy, I hope you’ll still find it easy to follow and implement. The thing about sourdough is it is somewhat of an art. I don’t make it exactly the same every time, because my dough isn’t the same every time, because the conditions are not exactly the same every time. There are a lot of factors at play. And while I’m confident that you can achieve similar results in your own kitchen by following this method, you may need to make some adjustments to achieve your perfect loaf. I hope that instead of paralyzing you, this information allows you to relax and gives you some freedom. You don’t have to follow this recipe exactly as written, you don’t have to worry if you forget about your dough for an extra hour or need to let it sit a bit longer so you can leave the house. It is very flexible. I hope to show you what to look for so that you can observe your dough, develop your bakers intuition, and respond accordingly.
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- Food scale
- Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer with dough hook attachment OR large mixing bowl
- Bench Knife*
- Bread Lame*
- Double Dutch Oven
- High Temperature Oven Gloves*
*noted items are helpful, but optional in that you could probably think up a creative solution if you don’t have them. See this post for more information on these materials.
This recipe makes two loaves.
- 950 g warm water (divided)
- 25 g active sourdough starter
- 1100 g all-purpose flour (divided)
- 100 g whole wheat flour
- 20 g salt
- white rice flour, for dusting
Making a Leaven
- 200 g warm water
- 25 g active starter
- 200 g all-purpose flour
The night before you want to bake, you’ll need to make your leaven. You want to be sure you are using an active starter that rises and falls predictably. I always just take my starter directly out of the fridge to make my leaven, because I know that my starter is active will perform predictably. If you want to double check that your starter is active, you can give it a feed 24 hours before making your leaven. See my post about making your own sourdough starter if you want more specifics on how to feed a starter to get it to an active state.
To make your leaven, measure out 200 grams of warm water and add to it 25 grams (roughly a tablespoon) of starter. Combine the warm water and starter, then add 200 grams all purpose flour. Mix well, cover, and leave to ferment overnight on your counter.
By the morning, your leaven should be bubbly, increased in size, and it should smell pleasant, like ale or over ripe fruit.
When you’re ready to mix your dough, measure out 700 grams warm water. Then, add to it 200 grams of leaven. Mix the warm water and leaven until combined. I usually use my KitchenAid with the dough hook attachment for this whole process, but you can certainly mix by hand!
Don’t forget to save any leaven that you do not use! Simply cover and place in the fridge. This will be your starter the next time you bake. You can also use it in any recipe that calls for sourdough discard. Just remember to always keep at least a tablespoon for your next batch of bread.
Then, in a separate bowl, measure out your all purpose and whole wheat flours. Add the flours to the water and leaven mixture and mix well to combine. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes or so, and then don’t forget to come back and add the salt. I’ve forgotten this step before and trust me. Salt is important. Add the 20 grams of salt and 50 grams of additional water to dissolve the salt, then mix well to combine. Cover your bowl and let it sit on the counter for about 2 hours.
Observe how your dough changes as the day goes on. When you first mix it, it is very sticky, shaggy, and lumpy. Once the salt is incorporated, it transforms to a more cohesive, smooth dough. You’ll notice after two hours, it looses its shape and has risen slightly. This means it is time for a turn.
Turning the dough
Now, over the course of the day, you’re going to want to turn your dough a few times. I aim for about 3 turns before I bake my bread, with about two hours in between each turn.
What I mean by turning your dough is this: first you’re going to get your hand wet so the dough doesn’t stick as much. Then reach down the side to the bottom of the bowl, grab the dough on the bottom and pull it up to the top, pulling it over and across the bowl. You’ll do this a few times, going around the bowl as you do so. This creates tension in the dough, which will help it hold its shape more easily later on.
About two hours after mixing your dough, turn the dough. Cover and let rest another two hours before giving the dough a second turn. Let rest another hour or two before giving a third turn and checking for readiness to bake.
These turns are important, and a schedule of every 2 hours gives me the results I’m looking for. But don’t get hung up here if you can’t get to your bread at exactly the two hour mark. I have two little ones to love and care for, and I do not keep to a rigid schedule on this. Try to get at least three turns in at some point before baking, and you should be golden.
My bread is usually ready to bake after about 5-7 hours. But this is an area where you have a lot of freedom. There are a lot of factors at play. If your home is warmer, your dough will ferment more quickly. If it’s winter and your kitchen is cool, it might take longer. I suggest starting with 3 turns, two hours apart (6 hours total bulk fermentation) before shaping your loaves. But ultimately you’ll need to watch your dough to decide when it is ready.
Some clues that your dough is ready to bake:
- It should have roughly doubled in size
- It should be light, fluffy, and aerated with lots of bubbles
- It should be less sticky and more stretchy
- It should smell ripe, sharp, and sour
- It should have tension, meaning the surface stays smooth, round, and taut after turning the dough
Once you see these signs, your dough is at the peak of fermentation. The main thing you want to guard against is over-fermentation. Just like your starter, your dough will rise to its peak, and then it will begin to fall. If you wait to bake your bread until it is on the downward side of that slope, it is not likely to have a good rise in the oven. It will still be edible, but it won’t have the light, airy texture you expect from a sourdough loaf.
Here is a side-by-side comparison of my dough when it was first mixed, compared to when it was ready for baking. At first it felt dense, sticky, and hard to stretch. In the second picture is is light, fluffy, airy, and stretchy.
If you need to slow the process for any reason, or if you prefer a more sour tasting dough, you can pop your dough or shaped loaves into the refrigerator until you are ready to bake. This will slow the fermentation process considerably, but it will not stop it completely. I suggest bringing your dough about to room temperature before resuming the baking process.
Shaping the loaves
Once your dough is looking ready, it is time to shape your loaves for their final rise. Start with a clean counter top or a large cutting board. Empty your dough onto the counter, and dust the top with white rice flour. Then, divide into two with your bench knife. Using your bench knife, flip each loaf over so that the floured side now faces down. Starting at the bottom, stretch one side of your loaf down and out, and then fold up onto the rest of the loaf. Repeat, moving all around your loaf until you have a nice, round bundle. Flip over again and you should have a smooth, rounded dome facing upwards, with the creases facing down on the cutting board or counter. To build even more tension in the dough, I like to go all around the loaf again, this time pulling the loaf towards me before turning it to do the same on all sides.
Once your loaves are shaped and taut, use your bench knife to transfer them to the bannetons for baking. You want the smooth side facing down, with the seam facing upwards. Cover with a kitchen towel.
Now, you need to get your oven and double dutch oven nice and hot. Place your double dutch oven inside your oven and preheat both to 450 degrees. Once your oven is preheated, your loaves are ready to bake.
Once pre-heated, (carefully!) take out the shallower, bottom pan and gently tip one loaf in, so that the seam side is down and the rounded side is up. Use your lame to score the dough, then cover with the deeper, top pan.
Bake in your preheated double dutch oven for 20 minutes with the lid on, remove the lid, and bake for 20 minutes with the lid off.
Remember to let it cool as much as you can possibly stand it before slicing! At least 30 minutes is best. A sharp, sturdy bread knife makes a big difference.
Voila! You’ve made a beautiful loaf of sourdough in your home kitchen. Give yourself a pat on the back. See, it wasn’t that hard, was it??
Here is the rough timeline I typically follow.
The night before:
Somewhere between 7 PM and 10 PM – Make leaven
The next day:
9 AM (roughly 12 hours after making leaven) – mix dough
9:20 – add salt and additional water
11:00 – turn dough
1:00 – turn dough
3:00 – turn dough and start checking for readiness to bake
3:30 (or whenever dough is ready) – Shape loaves, preheat oven & dutch oven
4:00 – Bake 20 minutes with lid on
4:20 – take lid off, bake additional 20 minutes
5:00 – slice and enjoy!
If you want to bake in the morning, and have a longer fermentation overall, here is an alternate timeline you can follow
7:00 AM – make leaven
7:00 PM (or whenever leaven looks ready) – mix dough
9:00 PM – turn dough at least once before covering and placing in the refrigerator.
The next day:
7:00 AM – remove from the fridge when you wake up in the morning. Allow it to come about to room temperature. Give it another turn, and check for readiness to bake. The time it will take will vary. When it is showing signs of readiness, shape your loaves, pre-heat the oven, and bake as usual.
Printable Recipe Card
I’ve made a simple recipe card outlining the method I’ve just gone over. It is an abbreviated version, and meant to be used as a guide to help you go through the process, not an in-depth explanation. Please refer to this blog post if you have any questions.
I am so excited to see the beautiful bread you bake in your own kitchen! Follow me over on Instagram for tips, tricks, and troubleshooting. If you have a question or are having trouble with your sourdough, feel free to send me a message or email. I’d love to help if I am able!