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Sourdough bread has a thick, chewy crust and soft, airy interior. It is comforting, savory and so easy to make using only flour, salt, and water. Learn how to make your own starter, maintain it, and turn it into a loaf.

Collage of photos of step by step how to make sourdough bread

We know many people are looking for an easy introduction to sourdough, without worrying about technique, so consider this your introductory lesson to making sourdough starter and bread from scratch. There are many methods and recipes for sourdough out there, and we are just focusing on one simple method. If you graduate from this and want to get fancy, there is a lot more to try out with sourdough baking! 

The most important first step is to have a sourdough starter. You might already know someone with a starter, and if so, you’ve got an easy head start! You don’t need a lot, just get a couple of tablespoons and then immediately feed. If you aren’t lucky enough to have family or friends with an active sourdough starter, you can make your own from flour, water, and a bit of patience.

Sourdough starter in a mason jar

Making Your Own Sourdough Starter:

Wild yeast lives in the air and flour, it’s everywhere really! Breads made from wild yeast do not require commercial yeast. To make your own wild yeast sourdough starter

  1. Fill a larger plastic or glass container with 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water. Stir until thoroughly combined into a smooth batter.
  2. Cover with a loosely screwed on lid or plastic wrap.
  3. “Feed” your starter 4 ounces of water and flour, stirring until combined, every 24 hours.
  4. Notice any air bubbles day to day, both large and small, that means it’s working and the wild yeasts are doubling! It should start to smell sour after a few days, but room temperature can affect how quickly it activates. Don’t worry too much about it, just keep feeding it every day. The texture will change from a pancake dough batter to an airy, lighter batter over the first 5 days.
  5. By day 5, or once it smells sour and is airy and doubling in volume, it is ready to use in your preferred sourdough bread recipe! 

Sourdough Starter Maintenance

If you bake bread often, you can leave your starter on the counter and feed daily to keep it active. We like to feed 5 Tablespoons of both flour and water. You’ll find that your jar can’t contain that much starter, as it will double in size each time you feed it. You can either discard a bit of starter before each feed, or you can save it and use in waffles, pancakes, pizza dough, or even fry up that discarded starter in oil and add some seasonings as a delicious, sourdough ‘pancake!’ Just always make sure to leave at least 2 tablespoons of starter behind to continue to feed. You never want to use it all up.

If you want to only make bread once each week or less, keep your starter stored in the fridge. 2 days before you’re ready to make bread, remove it from the fridge and feed and leave on the counter. 24 hours later, feed it again. It could take anywhere from 2-5 hours for the starter to be fully active and ready to use after that second feed. Once it is fully active and doubled in size, you are ready to bake. Make sure to feed your starter after each discard or use.

Using Your Starter: Making the Dough

Now that your starter has doubled in size and is billowing at the top, you are ready to make your bread dough. We like a larger loaf, so mix 5 cups of flour with 2 cups of water. Either all purpose or bread flour will work, though we prefer bread flour. You can start mixing with a wooden spoon if you like, but you’ll realize pretty quickly that a spoon will only get you so far, and you’ll want to switch to just mixing by hand. The dough will be really sticky and thick. Let the dough rest for 45 minutes with a lid on or covered in plastic wrap. This resting process where gluten development begins is called the autolyse.

First Rise

After 45 minutes, add in 1 Tablespoon salt and 1/2 cup of your starter to the water/flour mixture. Mix this all in by hand until well combined, but do not knead. Let it rise for anywhere from 12-24 hours. In the winter, when the house is cooler, we let this rise for about 20 hours. In the summer, we stick fairly close to 12-14 hours. You just want it to double in size. Without adding any commercial yeast, this can be a fairly long process, so we tend to do this first rise overnight.

Sourdough first rise in a plastic container

Second Rise

Once the dough has doubled in size, dump it out onto a clean, floured surface and fold it over a few times into the center. Transfer this to an oiled bowl or to a floured proofing basket. Let it rise for 3-5 hours. You’ll know it’s ready when you poke it with your finger (not too harshly) and the indent remains, or only very slowly springs back while still leaving an indent. If the dough springs right back, it needs more time to rise. 

Baking

Once your dough is fully risen, preheat your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit with your dutch oven in the oven for the entire preheating time. Flip your dough from your basket/bowl onto a large piece of parchment paper. Use that excess parchment paper to help lift the dough into the dutch oven. Put lid on and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the lid and continue to bake until bread is a deep brown, approximately 30 more minutes. 

PRO TIP: Put a baking sheet under your dutch oven  when you remove the lid, and bake for the remaining time this way. This will ensure the bottom of the bread doesn’t get too dark or burn. 

Once the bread is a deep brown, turn off oven and crack the door. Let your bread cool in the cracked oven for 20 minutes before removing from oven and dutch oven, and putting on a cooling rack. Cutting into a warm loaf of bread is SO tempting, but it is important to let the bread cool completely to allow texture and flavor to develop completely. 

Baked loaf of sourdough bread on a black wire cooling rack
Sourdough bread on a cooling rack
Sourdough bread has a thick, chewy crust and soft, airy interior. It is comforting, savory and so easy to make using only using flour, salt, and water. Learn how to make your own starter, maintain it, and turn it into a loaf.
Ingredients

Sourdough Starter

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour or bread flour
  • 1/2 cup water

Sourdough Loaf

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour or bread flour
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup sourdough starter
  • 1 tablespoon salt
Instructions

Sourdough Starter

  • Fill a larger plastic or glass container with 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water. Stir until thoroughly combined into a smooth batter. Cover with a loosely screwed on lid or plastic wrap.
  • “Feed” your starter 4 ounces of water and flour, stirring until combined, every 24 hours. It should start to smell sour after a few days, but room temperature can affect how quickly it activates. The texture will change from a pancake dough batter to an airy, lighter batter over the first 5 days.
  • By day 5, or once it smells sour and is airy and doubling in volume, it is ready to use in your preferred sourdough bread recipe.
  • Continue to feed the starter daily with 1/3 cup each of both flour and water. Always leave at least 2 tablespoons of starter behind as you use it for baking.

Sourdough Loaf

  • In a large mixing bowl, use a wooden spoon to stir together 5 cups flour (675 grams) and 2 cups water (506 grams). Use your hands once it becomes too difficult to stir.
  • Cover and let the dough rest for 45 minutes.
  • After 45 minutes, stir in 1 tablespoon salt (13 grams) and 1/2 cup of your starter (100 grams). Mix in by hand until combined, but do not do any extra kneading.
  • First Rise: Cover and let rise 12-24 hours, until double in size. Colder temperatures require the longer end of this range, while summertime warm temperatures require around 12 hours. This is done overnight.
  • Second Rise: turn the dough out onto a clean, lightly floured surface. Fold it over a few times into the center. Transfer dough to an oiled bowl or to a floured proofing basket. Let it rise for 3-5 hours. You’ll know it’s ready when you poke it lightly with your finger and the indent remains, or only very slowly springs back while still leaving an indent. If the dough springs right back, it needs more time to rise.
  • Put a dutch oven into the oven and preheat to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Flip your dough from your basket/bowl onto a large piece of parchment paper. Use that excess parchment paper to help lift the dough into the dutch oven. Put lid on and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the lid and continue to bake until bread is a deep brown, approximately 30 more minutes.
  • Once the bread is a deep brown, turn off oven and crack the door. Let your bread cool in the cracked oven for 20 minutes before removing from oven and dutch oven, and putting on a cooling rack. Let the bread cool completely to allow texture and flavor to develop completely before slicing.
Notes
  • PRO TIP: Put a baking sheet under your dutch oven  when you remove the lid, and bake for the remaining time this way. This will ensure the bottom of the bread doesn’t get too dark or burn. 
  • If you want to only make bread once each week or less, keep your starter stored in the fridge. 2 days before you’re ready to make bread, remove it from the fridge and feed and leave on the counter. 24 hours later, feed it again. It could take anywhere from 2-5 hours for the starter to be fully active and ready to use after that second feed. Once it is fully active and doubled in size, you are ready to bake. Make sure to feed your starter after each discard or use.
Course: Bread
Keyword: Sourdough Bread
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Judy
August 2, 2020 8:25 am

5 stars
Been baking this type of bread for years and found I have really enjoyed making it by your set of standards; my biggest problem all along however, is taking the bread out of the baneton/rattan proofing basket gracefully to place it in my dutch oven with the parchment paper.

Would you or do you offer a video showing how you can gracefully take the dough out without it deflating and becoming a squirrely mess?

Thank you for your wonderful website, I really enjoy reading & watching the videos; you have a terrific charisma that draws your viewers in.

Wendy
May 2, 2020 12:01 pm

5 stars
Hi, just wondering if I am supposed to be baking the dough on the parchment paper?

Jenni
June 9, 2020 3:36 pm

I started this recipe yesterday and measured the ingredients exactly. First rise seemed to go great. When I took it out of the container to shape for second rise, the dough didn’t hold shape at all. It was really sticky and kept sticking to my hands and the the board i had it on. Did my best to get it into an oiled bowl and just flipped it to put in the dutch oven. It literally fell flat. Put it in anyway and now it’s in the oven. Do you think I should’ve cut the water or added more flour?… Read more »

Jayde
May 10, 2020 3:44 pm

5 stars
Hi Rachel,
When making the starter, you said 4 oz of water and flour. Is that 2oz water and 2oz flour or 4oz of each, water and flour (8oz total). Love the recipe and super excited to try it!

Mary
April 14, 2020 1:37 pm

How big shoulf the dutch oben be?

Pat Gerbrandt
October 3, 2020 6:58 pm

I’ve now made three batches of this bread. I don’t have a dutch oven, so I did the first one in a stone cake pan. It browned nicely, seemed to be a good size, and sounded hollow when I did the thump test. When I cut it though, it was not properly cooked. Today I mixed two batches. I followed the test for second rising, and was satisfied the dough had risen properly. I baked these loaves in a large cast iron pan, placing a smaller, ice-cube filled cast pan below the baking pan. I started one batch considerably after… Read more »

Maggie
May 28, 2020 7:27 am

5 stars
Love this recipe!!

Does the bake time change at all if I divide the dough into 2 Loaves?

Bobo
May 13, 2020 8:33 pm

5 stars
[email protected] I am curious, what is the reason for cooling bread in cracked open oven for 20min after turn the oven off ? Is it critical ? What happened if I skip that and if I immediately take bread out and cool it on the rack? I am just really curious especially because of my house is super hot once oven is on, so cracked open oven will make it definitely worse. Thank you

Paul S
May 9, 2020 8:38 am

5 stars
I’m just about to fold dough and place in oiled bowl for second rise! Do I cover bowl with plastic wrap for second rise as well? Can I use plastic bowl?

Erin
May 2, 2020 5:24 am

Hi Rachel, I’m new to bread baking & just wondering, I’ve now made 2 loaves with this recipe & the flavour is really good! But I am definitely doing something wrong because the first loaf was really dense when we eventually cut into it, and though the second loaf grew more during the proofing, it’s still a bit dense. It’s wider though not taller. My starter is only about 3-4 weeks old, but I noted the comment below about how long after a feed you should use the starter. I think mine had just started to sink when I used… Read more »

Lisa
May 2, 2020 3:17 am

Hi guys,
After taking the dough out of the proofing basket it kinda collapsed and turned quite flat. It didn’t hold the shape at all. I had it proofed for 3h and it withstood the finger test. Did I do something wrong?
Lisa

Kelly
May 1, 2020 11:08 am

Do you put the baking sheet directly under the dutch oven or on the rack below?

Jenaqye
April 29, 2020 4:13 pm

Do you remove half of the starter when you add the firs 4oz of water and 4 oz of flour or only after that wilt additional feedings?

Jacqueline
April 29, 2020 12:05 pm

My no-knead sourdough bread loaf bakes into a lovely rounded loaf with store bought yeast, but will not rise as much when I substitute in my month-old starter. What do I need to do differently with the starter recipe?

Chip hoke
April 29, 2020 10:47 am

So it’s day 4 , only a few small bubbles , hasn’t grown or started smelling sour. Now what? Start over…?

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