The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Sourdough Bread Baking

Embrace the joy and simplicity of baking sourdough bread from scratch. This beginner-friendly guide helps you understand the science behind this fun and healthy bread-making process


5/30/20233 min read

The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Sourdough Bread Baking

Welcome to the world of sourdough! This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about baking your own sourdough bread, even if you're a complete beginner. By the end of this post, you'll be equipped with all the knowledge and confidence you need to bake your very own artisanal loaf at home. So, let's dive in!

Understanding Sourdough: What is it?

Sourdough is a type of naturally leavened bread, meaning it doesn't rely on commercial yeast to rise. Instead, it uses a fermented mixture of flour and water known as a sourdough starter, which acts as a natural leavening agent. This ancient method of bread baking gives sourdough its distinctive tangy flavor, chewy texture, and crispy crust.

Step 1: Creating Your Sourdough Starter
  • Whole grain flour (rye or wheat)

  • Water

Making a sourdough starter involves combining equal parts of flour and water, then allowing the mixture to ferment over several days. The process is simple:

  1. Day 1: Combine 50g of whole grain flour and 50g of lukewarm water in a clean jar. Stir until there are no dry bits of flour, then loosely cover the jar and let it sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

  2. Day 2: You may start to see small bubbles forming. Whether you do or not, discard half of the starter, then feed it with 50g of flour and 50g of water. Stir well, cover, and let sit for another 24 hours.

  3. Day 3-5 (or until it's ready): By now, your starter should be bubbly and have a pleasant aroma. Continue discarding half and feeding it daily until it reliably doubles in size within 4-8 hours of feeding – this means it's ready to bake with!

Step 2: Mixing, Autolyse, and Adding the Starter

Once your starter is active, it's time to mix your dough.

  • Bread flour

  • Whole wheat flour

  • Water

  • Salt

  • Active sourdough starter

  1. Mixing & Autolyse: Combine your flours and water, then let the mixture rest (autolyse) for 30 minutes to 1 hour. This allows the flour to fully hydrate and enzymes to start breaking down the starches and proteins, which aids in gluten development and flavor.

  2. Adding the Starter & Salt: After autolyse, add your starter and salt to the dough, mixing until they are thoroughly incorporated.

Step 3: Bulk Fermentation and Folding

During bulk fermentation, your dough will develop flavor and strength. To aid gluten development, we perform a series of "folds".

  1. First Fold: About 30 minutes after mixing, stretch and fold the dough over itself from all sides. This is one set of folds.

  2. Subsequent Folds: Repeat this process every 30 minutes for the next 2 hours. You will see the dough becoming more elastic and airy with each set of folds.

  3. Bulk Fermentation: Let the dough rest until it grows about 20-50% in size. This might take 3-5 hours, depending on your kitchen temperature.

Step 4: Shaping and Second Rise (Proofing)
  1. Pre-shaping: Gently shape your dough into a round without deflating it too much, then let it rest for 20 minutes.

  2. Final Shaping: Shape the dough according to the type of bread you're making, then place it into a well-floured banneton (proofing basket) or a bowl lined with a well-floured towel.

  3. Second Rise: Let the dough rise until it's puffy but still retains its shape when gently poked. This could take anywhere from 2 hours to overnight in the refrigerator.

Step 5: Baking Your Sourdough
  1. Preheat your oven: Preheat your oven to 475°F (245°C) with a Dutch oven inside.

  2. Score your bread: Transfer your loaf onto a piece of parchment paper, then make a deep slash on the surface with a bread lame or sharp knife.

  3. Bake: Carefully place your loaf into the preheated Dutch oven using the parchment as a sling, cover, then bake for 20 minutes. Lower the temperature to 450°F (232°C), uncover the Dutch oven, and bake for another 20-30 minutes until the bread is deeply browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

  4. Cool: Allow your bread to cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

Now, you're a sourdough baker! This guide should provide you a solid foundation in sourdough baking. Remember, practice makes perfect. If it didn't turn out like you imagined, keep trying! We also have a troubleshooting section to help! So, keep baking, learn from each loaf, and most importantly, enjoy the process! Sourdough baking is as much a science as it is an art – embrace the journey, and happy baking!