This post has been a long time in the works but I finally have a complete step-by-step guide to the process of baking sourdough bread ready to share!
A few notes before we get started…
- Don’t be intimidated! My dad encouraged me for years to bake my own sourdough bread but the process just seemed overwhelming and out of reach. He would send me home from Florida with two loaves of sourdough every time I visited and I’d ration them out until my next visit. I’m so glad he finally sent me home with starter instead of fresh bread and all the info I needed to try it myself. While the process is rather long, I promise it’s simple and straightforward. I’m going to do everything I can to help you.
- Be sure to check out my post on must have and nice to have sourdough bread tools before you start. I have outlined everything you need to bake bread.
- Reminder…you must have a kitchen/food scale. I will not be providing standard measurements.
- This guide will walk you through every step of the process without getting too technical or scientific. I like to think of it as the “guide to sourdough for home hobby bakers.” I’m not going to be getting in to dough hydration levels here or percentages of protein in flour or anything like that. I’m just going to show you in a very real and unedited way how I bake sourdough bread at home that tastes amazing. I seriously don’t know if I can ever go back to store bought.
Let’s get started! I’m going to walk you through with photos, videos and descriptions in a step-by-step guide fashion. I’ll most likely go in later and actually type this all out in more of a recipe format and add it to the bottom of the post.
Sourdough Bread: A Step-By-Step Guide for Home Bakers
It all starts with your starter. You’ll want to take your starter out of the fridge a couple days before you want to bake. When you take it out of the fridge it will appear flat and dormant and there may be some liquid pooled on top of it. I recommend stirring that back into your starter. Let it come to room temperature and then start to feed it about every 12 hours. The point of feeding your starter is a) to get it active and ready for baking and b) to build it so that you have enough to bake. You only need an ounce or two of starter to begin the process.
This is an awesome image from King Arthur that shows the starter feeding process from out of the fridge to ready to bake. Check out their blog post about the process here.
So, for the feeding…I like to work in fours so I measure out 4 ounces of starter (and trash the rest of my fridge stash, you’ll have more starter at the end of the process) and feed it 4 ounces of spring water and 4 ounces of unbleached all-purpose flour. After a few good feeds, your starter will really begin to come to life. You’re going to need 405 grams of starter for the bread so make sure you have at least that plus enough leftover to go back in the fridge for next time.
You’ll know your starter is ready to go when you’ve achieved the volume of starter you want (it basically doubles every time you feed it) and it’s bubbly and active.
Start with 554 grams of spring water
You can do a “float test” with your starter to see if it’s active and ready to go. If it floats, you’re good. If not you may want to do a couple more feeds. (FYI: I have totally baked successful loaves with sunken starter but there is no guarantee!)
You’ll end up adding 405 grams of starter to the water mixture and then whisking it together so that it’s fully incorporated. It will have a milky appearance.
Weigh out 1,020 grams of unbleached all-purpose flour.
Make a well in the flour.
Pour in the starter/water mixture and begin to stir, first with your whisk and then with your hands to start bringing the dough together.
Here’s a video where I walk you through this process. You want to turn the bowl in a clockwise direction while you move the whisk in a counterclockwise direction. Once dough gets sticky and hard to whisk, switch to your hands. Continue with the clockwise, counterclockwise turns but also start squeezing the dough together with your hands.
At this point we are ready to let the dough take its first rest for what is called autolyse. You are going to leave the dough in the bowl you mixed in and pour 23 grams of sea salt on top of it. Don’t mix in the salt. I know it seems like a lot of salt but trust me, you need it! Resist the urge scale back. Leave the dough at room temp. You can place a towel over it if you’d like.
After a 25-30 minute autolyse, your dough is ready to be kneaded. I use my Kitchenaid mixer with a dough hook. Knead with the Kitchenaid on a speed of 1 for about 9-10 minutes. Alternatively, knead dough by hand for about 15 minutes (but you’re going to have to find another Internet resource for this as I have not yet done it!).
Look at the transformation that happens during the kneading process! The dough gets so smooth and silky.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl (I usually just use the Kitchenaid mixing bowl that I’m already working with and just hold the dough up while I spray the sides of the bowl) and start the proofing process. The bread will proof for 2.5 hours with one break for folding at the halfway mark. Place a towel over the bowl, set a timer for an hour and 15 minutes and leave the bread at room temp.
Once your timer goes off, it’s time to fold the dough. Here’s a video demonstration on how to do this. It helps redistribute the yeast.
Take the dough out of the bowl and place it on the counter. I like to put a tiny bit of flour on the counter so it doesn’t stick. You can also work with wet hands. Fold the dough like a letter by bringing both ends towards each other. Then rotate the dough 90 degrees and make that same fold. It will look like a little package. Flip the dough upside down and place it back in the bowl with the fold side down.
Set a timer for another hour and 15 minutes and then you’ll have this! As you can see, my dough has grown and risen quite a bit since the start of proofing. It’s now time to shape our loaves.
Divide your dough into two equal portions. This recipe makes two loaves of bread! Flour your counter top and working one dough ball at a time, begin to shape your loaves. You do this by kind of cupping your hands under it and pulling it towards you on the counter. Then you’ll kind of rotate it and do the same thing. As you pull it across the counter and towards you, it’ll start smoothing out and coming into a ball shape. It takes about 45-60 seconds.
I made a video because this was so hard for me to grasp when I first started.
Lightly dust your proofing baskets with flour and tap out the excess. If you don’t have proofing baskets, I have also used mixing bowls lined with kitchen towels and a dusting of flour. Place the shaped dough rounds flat and smooth side down into the proofing bowls and then either cover with plastic wrap or place each bowl in a plastic bag (like a grocery bag) and tie off the ends. Place the baskets in the fridge. The dough needs an overnight rest before it’s ready to bake.
The next morning you will get your oven all set up to bake your bread. Place a baking stone on the bottom rack of your oven (it’s okay if you don’t have this) and place a heavy duty pot in the oven on top of it. You want to preheat the stone and the pot with the oven. Preheat to 450 degrees.
Once your oven is preheated, VERY CAREFULLY pull out the shelf you’re working on and lightly dust the pot with cornmeal or a coarse flour.
Gently work your dough out of the proofing basket (they can come straight out of the fridge, don’t bring them to room temp first!) and place it in the pot, round and pretty side up. You need to score your dough before you put the lid on it so that it doesn’t bubble and burst. I just quickly use a sharp knife to either make three horizontal strikes or a crisscross pattern in the dough. You can also use a razor blade.
Bake with the LID ON for 20 minutes and then CAREFULLY remove the lid. Remember, it’s 450 degrees. Don’t grab it with your hand!
Bake another 12-15 minutes with the lid OFF, depending on your oven. The sourdough bread is ready when it’s reached an internal temperature of 190-205 degrees. You’ll also know it’s ready when you can tap on it and it seems a little hollow and firm. Repeat the baking process with the second loaf.
Let the sourdough loaves cool completely on baking racks. Try to resist the urge to cut into them. (I know it’s hard.)
Use a super sharp knife to slice your bread. Slicing sourdough is no joke as it’s an extremely crusty bead. I usually work up quite a sweat.
My preferred method of storage is placing the sliced sourdough in gallon sized plastic bags and immediately placing them in the freezer. I take a slice out and heat it at 50% power in the microwave for about 30 second when I want to eat it or make toast with it. It stays super fresh this way. I don’t recommend keeping it out on the counter for multiple days. Basically, you have the window of that first cut to eat it fresh and then it needs to go in the freezer.
I like to keep one loaf of sourdough and gift the second one. It just seems like a friendly/give back thing to do and it keeps me baking more regularly and my starter more active.
Wow! That was a lot of information. Let me know if you have any questions. I am here for you and I know you can do this! Every time you bake you’ll get more comfortable and confident with the process. I think I’ve now done something like 10+ test rounds to get ready to share this with you guys. I have made my fair share of mistakes but I have found the sourdough to be very forgiving. You will learn every time!
Have fun with it!