There are SO MANY resources out there for people just learning how to make homemade sourdough bread. But in my experience many of them are super technical and overwhelming. I put off learning how to make sourdough for a long time because I was so intimidated by it. But once I started baking sourdough, I realized that it's really not that hard. You don't need an in depth understanding of the science of bread making or fancy techniques to make delicious sourdough bread at home.
Below you'll find a step by step guide on how to:
- Make your own sourdough starter from scratch
- Maintain your sourdough starter if you don't bake everyday
- Make a delicious loaf of sourdough bread in your dutch oven
I've also included all my tips, tricks, and favorite tools that I use!
Before I started baking sourdough, I never used to weigh ingredients. Even when I first started baking sourdough, I didn't totally understand the hype. After my first 2 loaves turned out horribly, I decided to start weighing my ingredients and it made all the difference!
If you don't have a kitchen scale, I highly recommend getting one! They have tons of super affordable ones ($10-$20) on Amazon that work great! It's a very worthwhile investment if you bake a lot.
Tip: Don't believe me? Do the following experiment to see just how variable the measurement "1 cup" really is. Scoop 1 cup of flour as you normally would and weigh it. Then scoop 1 cup of flour by pushing the measuring cup into the bag and getting the measuring cup packed full of flour and weigh it. Last, use a spoon to lightly scoop flour into your measuring cup and weigh it.
When I did this, I had a difference of almost 25 grams! Just 5 grams can make a significant difference in your sourdough loaf, which is why weighing the ingredients is so important.
- Sourdough Starter - a culture of wild yeast and bacteria that leavens and flavors sourdough bread.
- Sourdough Discard - the portion of your starter that is discarded when feeding your starter (can be used in tons of recipes like sourdough discard crepes).
- Feeding - when you add flour and water to your starter.
- Ripe Starter - a starter that's ready to be used in baking. Your starter is ripe roughly 6 hours after feeding and will have doubled in size, have lots of visible bubbles, and a fresh acidic aroma.
- Room Temperature - for the purposes of this article, room temperature refers to 70-74 degrees fahrenheit.
Making your Sourdough Starter
Making your own sourdough starter typically takes about 5-7 days, but in some cases may take 10-14 days. Be patient!
All you need to get started is:
- A glass or ceramic jar with loose fitting lid
- 50 grams whole wheat or rye flour
- 50 grams lukewarm filtered water
Why whole wheat or rye flour? You want to start out using whole wheat or rye because it contains more wild yeast than all purpose flour. You can use just all purpose if necessary, but it may take longer for your starter to become active. Once your starter is active, you can use all purpose flour for regular feedings. I recommend using a bit of rye flour if you can, but it can be hard to find in stores. So whole wheat flour is a great alternative!
You can also use a combination of different flours! The beauty of sourdough is that every starter is unique and there is no perfect formula. I personally start out with a little bit of rye and whole wheat flour and then do regular feedings with all purpose flour plus a tiny bit of whole wheat.
Also, make sure you're always using unbleached flours!! The process of bleaching can kill off any natural yeast found in the flour, aka you'll have a lot of trouble getting to an active starter.
Does the water have to be filtered? Some people are picky about their water, but I've always had great luck just using the filtered water straight out of the tap. However, that is very dependent on where you live. The issue is if water has too much chlorine in it, as that can kill off the yeast. A cheap Brita filter is a great option if you don't have good tap water. My rule of thumb is if it's safe to drink, it's usually safe to use in your sourdough starter. But if you're having issues, try switching to bottled water and see if that helps.
Day 1: Combine the flour and water in a glass jar. Cover loosely and let rest at warm room temperature (70-75 degrees) for 24 hours.
Why do I loosely cover the starter and not keep it in an airtight container? Since your sourdough starter is a living organism, it needs to breathe and also allow gas from fermentation to escape. Simply place the lid on top of your container instead of sealing it or cover your jar with cheesecloth and a rubber band.
Day 2: Discard all but 50 grams of starter and feed with 50 grams of whole wheat flour and 50 grams of lukewarm water. Cover and let rest for 24 hours.
Why do I have to discard most of my starter everyday? Since during feedings we use equal weights of starter, flour, and water, discarding excess starter helps keep the volume from getting out of control. But you don't have to throw your discard away! There are lots of recipes that use discard (more on that below).
Day 3: By now you should be starting to see some little air bubbles and there should be a faint sour smell. You can now switch to feeding with all purpose flour (if there are no bubbles, continue feeding with rye or whole wheat flour). Discard all but 50 grams of starter and feed with 50 grams of all purpose flour and 50 grams of lukewarm water. Cover and rest for 24 hours.
Day 4: By now there should be more bubbles and the starter should have nearly doubled in size. Repeat day 3's instructions.
Day 5: Your starter should be active with lots of bubbles and a strong sour smell. If so, you're ready to start using it! If not, keep repeating day 3's instructions for a few more days.
If you aren't seeing any bubbles after 5 days, don't get discouraged!! It can take up to two weeks to start seeing any activity with your starter.
My favorite jars to use for sourdough starter are the Le Parfait French Jars. I have several that I use for all sorts of things. They're great for sourdough starter because they have a nice wide mouth and the seal is removable. I keep my starter in a Le Parfait jar exactly as it's pictured below. The seal is removed and the lid is resting on top but not latched. That's how I store it both on the counter and in the fridge.
Tip: Weigh your jar while it's empty and mark the outside of the jar with the weight. When it comes time to weigh your starter for feedings, this will make your life much easier.
Maintaining your Starter
Once you have an active starter, you can move into the maintenance phase! If you're only baking sourdough once or twice a week, you'll want to maintain a small amount of your starter in the fridge so that you don't have to feed it everyday. So when it comes time to bake, you'll need to build up a larger volume of starter to bake with.
Maintain in the Fridge
After feeding your active starter, cover and let rest at room temperature for 2 hours. Then place in the fridge. Make sure your lid is still loosely fitted so that the starter is still getting some air flow.
At least once a week, remove your starter from the fridge to feed. Discard all but 50 grams of starter and feed with 50 grams of all purpose flour and 50 grams of lukewarm water. Cover and let rest for 2 hours, then place back in the fridge. The starter that you discard can be used to start building up to bake with.
Building Your Starter
If your starter has been hanging out in the fridge, you want to feed it at least 2-3 times before using it to bake with.
Remove your starter from the fridge, weigh out 50 grams of starter, and feed with 50 grams of all purpose flour and 50 grams of lukewarm water. Cover and let rest at room temperature for 12-24 hours.
Discard all but 100 grams of starter and feed with 100 grams of all purpose flour and 100 grams of lukewarm water. Cover and let rest for 4-8 hours or until your starter is ripe.
Use your ripe starter to make bread!
How do I know when my starter is ripe? Your starter is ripe and ready to use when it passes the float test. Simply drop a small piece of starter into a glass of water and if it floats, it's ready! Starter is typically ripe 4-8 hours after feeding.
What to do with discarded starter?
Not only is homemade sourdough bread the best, but you can use your sourdough starter/discard for so many fun recipes! I'm obsessed! You can click on the link to check out all my other Sourdough Recipes!
If you're only discarding a little bit of starter each day, you might not have enough for a full recipe. You can store your discard in a separate glass jar in the fridge and add to it until you have enough to use! Sourdough discard will keep in the fridge for 1-2 weeks. But it won't last forever since it isn't getting regular feedings anymore.
Baking Sourdough Bread
This recipe is for one loaf of sourdough. You'll need:
- 227 grams ripe sourdough starter
- 301 grams all purpose flour
- 45 grams whole wheat flour
- 201 grams lukewarm water
- 7 grams kosher salt
Does it matter what kind of flour I use? Technically no, but I recommend using higher quality flour if you can. The flour is what gives bread it's flavor, so the higher quality flour, the more flavorful the bread. I almost exclusively use King Arthur Flour for all my baking needs. Their flour is top notch, affordable, and available in most grocery stores (and online). They're also a great US employee owned company that I love supporting.
Making the Dough
My rough timeline for baking sourdough is as follows:
- 7am - feed starter
- 12pm - mix dough
- 1pm - knead dough then bulk ferment
- 1:30pm - first stretch and fold
- 2pm - second stretch and fold
- 2:30pm - third stretch and fold
- 3pm - shape and proof dough
- 5pm - score and bake
- 6pm - homemade sourdough bread with dinner!
Feed your starter about 4-6 hours before you want to make the dough.
Mix together the starter, flours, and water either by hand or with a Dough Whisk until the dough comes together in a cohesive mass. The dough should be soft and tacky.
Cover the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour at room temperature. This first resting period is called the autolyse. Letting the flour hydrate before adding in the salt helps kickstart gluten development.
After the autolyse, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, add in the salt, and knead the dough until it's smooth and supple. This typically takes about 5 minutes to do by hand. You can use a stand mixer with a dough hook, but you're more likely to over knead the dough that way.
My go-to kneading method is the "slap and fold" because it's easy and effective. The dough will start out sticky and shaggy, but by the end its smooth, supple, and springs back when pressed.
- Pick the dough up and slap the end down onto the counter so that it sticks slightly.
- Stretch the end that you are holding towards your body, then quickly fold it over onto the side that is stuck to the counter.
- Keep slapping and folding the dough, rotating the dough 90 degrees each time so that the dough is kneaded evenly.
Place the dough back in the bowl, cover, and let the dough rise at room temperature for 2 hours.
While the dough is rising do a set of stretches and folds every 30 minutes (3 total).
This is the bulk fermentation phase. Bulk fermentation is when the gluten is developed and strengthened by doing sets of stretches and folds. To do one set, you'll do one stretch and fold north to south, and one east to west.
- Grab the top edge of the dough and stretch upwards as far as you can without the dough breaking.
- Then fold it over on the bottom.
- Repeat the same motion from side to side.
After the dough has been rising for about 2 hours, you can do the window pane test to see if the dough is sufficiently strong. Grab the edge of your dough and gently stretch it with your fingers. You should be able to stretch a thin membrane without the dough breaking. If the dough still isn't strong enough to pass this test, do one more set of stretches and folds and then let the dough rise for another 30 minutes to an hour.
Shaping a Sourdough Boule
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a tight boule.
Boule is just a fancy way to say round loaf. There are several ways to shape sourdough, but I find the boule is the easiest. I don't ever bake batards (oval loaves) because I don't have a batard proofing basket and I only have a round 4qt dutch oven. Boule's are also great because you don't even need a dedicated proofing basket, you can just use a bowl!
Shaping the dough is important as it creates tension on the surface of the dough which will help develop a nice taut skin.
- On a lightly floured surface, grab a section of the dough and fold it into the middle.
- Grab the next section of dough and fold it into the middle as well.
- Keeping going until the dough is gathered into a nice round.
- Flip the dough over so that the seam side is now down.
- Using both hands, cup the dough and gently drag across the counter towards you.
- Rotate the dough slightly and repeat the same dragging motion.
- Continue rotating and dragging the dough until the surface is taut and the dough is uniformly round.
Proof and Score the Dough
Place your shaped boule seam side up in a lightly floured Proofing Basket.
If you don't have a proofing basket, you can lightly flour a tea towel and place it in a 9 inch bowl.
Cover the basket and let the dough rise at room temperature.
Let the dough rise until light, puffy, and nearly doubled in size (about 2 hours).
Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit prior to scoring your bread. You want it to go into the oven as soon as possible after scoring so that it doesn't deflate too much.
Place a piece of parchment paper on top of your proofing basket. Flip over and gently lift the basket off of your boule.
What's the purpose of scoring the dough? Scoring the dough controls the direction that the bread expands during baking. If you don't score the dough, the bread will crack in unexpected places to allow air to escape.
You can keep it simple by just slashing a big X in the top of the dough with a sharp knife or Bread Lame or you can add more detailed designs using small cuts.
To score designs in your bread, lightly dust the top with all purpose flour (or white rice flour) and make quick, light cuts with your lame.
You can also use a cheese wire, unflavored dental floss, or a toothpick to draw guidelines on the surface prior to scoring.
You can make scoring as simple or as intricate as you like!
Dutch Oven Baking
Baking bread in a dutch oven is one of the best ways to replicate bakery quality bread at home.
The secret to bread baking is steam. During the first few minutes of baking, the dough rises rapidly (oven spring) and then the crust hardens. Introducing steam during those crucial minutes where the dough is rising allows the crust to stay soft enough to rise fully. Once the bread is done rising, the steam evaporates and you're left with a beautiful, crunchy, golden crust.
Commercial baking ovens have steam injectors, but trying to replicate a steam injector in your home oven is much more difficult. There are several methods out there (that are varying degrees of complicated), but overall the easiest way to effectively steam bread at home is with a dutch oven.
A dutch oven with a tight fitting lid traps the moisture escaping from the bread and beautifully steams your bread!
Bake covered at 450 degrees for 17 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for another 20-25 minutes or until the crust is deep golden brown.
Dutch Ovens for Every Price Point
- I am obsessed with my Staub dutch oven! The 4qt cocotte is one of my favorite purchases ever. Best of all, it routinely goes on sale for just $99! It's a high quality piece that will last you forever. I promise you it's worth every penny!
- You also can't go wrong with the Le Creuset 4.5qt dutch oven but it does come at a much higher price point. They average around $200.
- A cheaper alternative that is still great quality is the Lodge 4qt dutch oven at just $45. I have several Lodge pieces that I also love!
Keep Sourdough Fresh
One of the great things about homemade sourdough bread is that it keeps great! The higher acidity of naturally fermented bread means that your bread will stay fresh and free of mold much longer than what you get at the store.
Another one of my favorite purchases is my Wesco Bread Box. Really? Yes really. Bread boxes are designed to allow just the right amount of air flow so that your bread stays soft and fresh and doesn't dry out, but not enough air flow so that your bread molds quickly. I highly recommend getting a bread box if you'll be baking a lot of bread.
More Sourdough Recipes
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Homemade Sourdough Bread
- 227 grams ripe sourdough starter
- 301 grams all purpose flour
- 45 grams whole wheat flour
- 201 grams lukewarm water
- 7 grams kosher salt
- Feed your starter about 6 hours before you want to make the dough and let rest at room temperature (70-74°F). Depending on the activity of your starter and the temperature of your house, it should ripen 4-8 hours after feeding. Your starter is ripe when it passes the float test. Drop a small piece of starter into a glass of water and if it floats, it's ready to use!
- Mix together all of the ingredients except the salt (by hand or with a dough whisk), cover, and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- Add the salt and knead the dough until smooth and supple.Place back in the bowl, cover, and let rise at room temperature for 2 hours. While the dough is rising do a set of stretches and folds every 30 minutes (3 total).
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a tight boule.Place in a lightly floured proofing basket, cover, and let rise at room temperature until the dough is light, puffy, and doubled in size (about 2-3 hours).
- Preheat oven to 450°F.
- Turn dough out onto parchment paper and slash an X in the top with a sharp knife or lame (and score some fun designs if you want). Carefully place into your dutch oven using the parchment paper and cover with tight fitting lid.
- Bake covered for 17 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for another 20-25 minutes or until the crust is deep golden brown.
- Remove from the dutch oven and let cool on wire rack.
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