This is your ultimate beginner's guide to learning to bake simple sourdough bread.
The full, printable recipe is at the end of this guide, complete with videos and photos to help you on your way.
You'll also find a handy printable "Sourdough Baking Checklist" that you can download to help you plan your bake.
If you're looking for a full guide to sourdough baking terminology, check out this sourdough glossary. You might also be interested in the history of sourdough bread or this post on what sourdough bread should actually look like.
Before you start to make easy sourdough bread, you'll need to have a sourdough starter - this guide will help you create a bubbly starter to make your bread with and this post will show you how to maintain your starter so it's always healthy.
Learning To Bake Simple Sourdough Bread
I LOVE artisan and sourdough bread but with 3 kids and a crazy life, I really do cook amongst chaos. So I want to share with you my way of always being able to create amazing sourdough for my family, even with very little time (and patience).
Because I have a busy family, I like my sourdough to be completely simplified. I use overnight to do my bulk ferment and I like a long cold ferment.
Not only do I love the way a long cold ferment creates bubbles and blisters on my dough, I also love the convenience of being able to prepare the dough when I have time and then cook it when I need to, straight from the fridge.
I guess the only caveat here is that to bulk ferment overnight, you need to know how warm (or cool) your home is.
When you're beginning to bake sourdough, the best way to learn is to watch your dough. There's nothing worse than over proofed dough that fails to provide good oven spring.
So while an overnight bulk ferment is convenient, you may need to do a few day time bulk ferments while you learn how your dough behaves in your home environment.
The Key to Sourdough Success
The absolute most important thing when baking simple sourdough bread is to have a super bubbly, active starter, just like when you make sourdough baguettes.
If you haven’t created a sourdough starter - you’ll find the simple guide to creating yours here.
If you're having trouble getting your starter to be ready to bake with, check out our troubleshooting guide here.
Having a super active sourdough starter is the very first step in ensuring you get superior oven spring when your sourdough hits the oven. And if one of your sourdough goals this year is to give your starter a boost, you definitely want to make sure you're feeding your starter regularly.
If you are wanting to make your sourdough starter extra sour, you'll find ideas on how to do that here.
Make A Baking Timeline To Bake Simple Sourdough Bread
One of the other keys to successful sourdough is create a “baking timeline” that works for you. Many of my sourdough failures (and indeed any cooking failure) is often because I start and then I get distracted by kids and I'm not able to come back and finish.
Or you have to go out right when you are supposed to be doing stretch and folds (school pick up always gets me lol).
My sourdough process has been created from cooking amongst the chaos of family life.
So while my sourdough baking process has a few different stages and some suggested timings, it's not absolutely critical that you follow them to the letter. If your starter is super active and you weigh your ingredients correctly then you will be off to a fantastic start.
Let the rest unfold. Listen to your instincts.
My timeline for this baking simple sourdough bread looks something like this - but it's all negotiable.
1.00pm - Feed sourdough starter
5.00 pm - Premix and Autolyse (while I cook dinner)
6.30pm - Form into a smooth ball. Rest for 30 minutes.
7.00pm - Perform 4-6 sets of stretch & folds over next 2 hours.
9.00pm - Cover and leave on bench overnight for bulk ferment if temp right.
6.00am - Shape & lift into banneton/bowl & into the fridge.
(I could bake my bread from around 2pm today if I wanted to, I just prefer a longer cold ferment).
2.00pm - 32 hours later place into hot oven.
7.00pm - finally cut into delicious sourdough and slather with cultured butter!
You can find more information on sourdough baking timelines here.
What Is Stretching & Folding?
You'll hear a lot about "stretching and folding" when you read about how to bake simple sourdough bread. Stretching and folding is the technique used to move the dough around and build the gluten network of your dough.
It basically means to stretch the dough up and then fold it over itself. You move clockwise around the dough and perform a stretch and fold at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock. I've put a diagram below to show you.
This video demonstrates how to stretch and fold the dough. You will notice that the dough becomes more elastic and easier to handle as you move through the sets of stretches and folds.
A Note on Bulk Fermentation
The bulk fermentation in any sourdough recipe refers to the "first rise" or the longest fermentation period. It's when the magic happens.
In this recipe I refer to doing your bulk ferment overnight - this is totally possible but it will depend on the temperature in your home.
I only leave my dough overnight if I know that it's cool enough, so generally under 21 degrees celcius. Any warmer and I know that I will need to watch my dough more carefully.
When my home is over 21 degrees celcius I do not generally do overnight ferments - I will start earlier in the day so I can watch the dough and have it shaped and into the fridge before I go to bed, ready to bake the next day (or day after).
One of the biggest issues I find people having with their sourdough is over fermenting at this bulk ferment stage - so the best advice is to watch your dough until you are comfortable with leaving it overnight.
The cambro container is straight sided which makes it much easier to see when the dough has doubled.
You'll know your dough is perfectly fermented and ready to shape when it has a smooth, domed top. It will be soft and pillowy - but not sticky (just slightly tacky).
You can see more photos of perfectly fermented dough here.
Shaping Your Dough
Shaping can be a tricky technique to master, but like anything, practice makes perfect!
Shaping is much easier when your dough has been fermented for the right amount of time.
As you will have seen above, dough that has fermented well will have a sticky underside and a smooth top. We use these to our advantage when shaping the dough.
When you tip the dough out on the counter to shape, you need to make sure you tip it out upside down, as demonstrated in this photo.
The diagram below shows you how to bring the edges of the dough into the centre before flipping it over to tension it into a tight, round ball.
Your shaped dough needs to be placed into a banneton. If you're looking for the right size to bake my Simple Sourdough Recipe, you'll find the correct size for a batard here and a boule here. You can also find more sizing information in this banneton sizing guide.
For a full guide to prepping, using, maintaining and storing bannetons, go here.
Preheat Your Oven & Your Dutch Oven
I'm also a big advocate for a preheated oven and putting dough into a HOT dutch oven for superior oven spring.
I like the colour that comes from a hot oven too. I've tried putting my sourdough into a cold dutch oven and it just doesn't work for my liking.
If you don't have a dutch oven, it really is a worthwhile investment - you can cook so many other things in a good dutch oven.
I use mine on a daily basis for all sorts of things including soups, casseroles, roasting meat, reheating leftovers ... and of course bread!
There are tonnes of good quality, reasonably priced dutch ovens out there - you don't have to spend hundreds.
You can read my guide to investing in a Dutch Oven for sourdough baking here.
Don't Cut Your Bread Right Out of the Oven
I love to cook sourdough bread quite a few hours before we will need it, as it’s best not to cut it for at least 2 hours - or even longer.
Of course you can cut into your loaf sooner, but there are so many benefits to waiting until the loaf has fully cooled.
What Equipment Will I Need To Make Sourdough Bread?
You can bake simple sourdough bread with very basic equipment - a bowl, wooden spoon, your oven. However, it really does help to have some specialised equipment. Some of my favourite things to use while baking sourdough bread are:
- Glass mixing bowl so you can watch all the action unfold.
- Kitchen scales so you can accurately measure ingredients.
- Silicone dough scraper to get the dough out of the bowl without losing the precious bubbles.
- Stainless steel bench scraper for easy sourdough shaping.
- Banneton for retaining shape while cold proofing.
- Dutch oven to ensure you get the best possible oven spring and crust.
- Good quality bread knife to ensure easy & consistent slicing of my sourdough bread.
If you'd prefer to see pictures - check out this post on Sourdough Baking Equipment.
One Last Thing ...
We all see photos of the lacy, holey sourdough bread - they really do look amazing and it is certainly an achievement.
But don’t let these photos make you feel unhappy about your loaves. Some questions to ask yourself - is my bread edible? Does it have good flavour?
While there is always room for improvement, the perfect bread is bread you enjoy baking and eating. I don’t like my sourdough with too many holes - I can’t slather butter on it when there’s too many holes 😉
Embrace the imperfection and know that your sourdough is a completely unique result of the different flours, water, wild yeasts and bacteria in your town, home & country.
That's pretty special if you ask me!
- If your sourdough starter isn't quite ready for baking yet, why not try this artisan sourdough discard loaf or this easy sourdough discard sandwich loaf?
- Want to add some flavors to your sourdough bread? You'll find the ultimate guide to adding flavors to your sourdough bread here.
- Go here to calculate the exact calories in every single slice of your bread.
- Guide to Baking Sourdough Bread at High Altitude
Simple Sourdough Bread Recipe
- Mixing Bowl
- Digital Scales
- Dutch Oven
- 500 g Bread Flour 100%
- 350 g Water 70%
- 50 g Sourdough Starter 10% (Fed and Bubbly)
- 10 g Salt 2% (increase or decrease according to your taste)
- Autolyse - Premixing The DoughWeigh out your sourdough starter and water into a large ceramic or glass bowl. Glass is always good as you can see what's happening underneath your dough. This recipe is based on you having an active starter that you have fed a few hours before starting your bake.Mix the water and starter together briefly. Then add your flour and salt and mix whole lot together to form a shaggy dough. I find a dough scraper the easiest way to mix it as you can keep the sides of bowl clean.The dough will be fairly shaggy and only just brought together (see photo). You might wonder how this will turn into bread, but just wait, time is your friend and the dough will change in around an hour.
- Cover your bowl with cling film or a damp tea towel and let it sit for around 1 hour. It's ok if it's a little bit longer, it's not going to matter too much.This process is called the "autolyse" and allows your flour to soak in all the water and become hydrated. You can see how the dough has changed in this photo.
- Forming Up The DoughAfter the dough has been through autolyse you need to bring it together into a ball. Work your way around the bowl, grabbing the dough from the outside, stretching it up and over itself, into the centre, until a smooth ball is formed. You shouldn't need more than about 20-30 stretches to form the ball. You'll notice that the dough is fully hydrated after soaking all the water up. It will be fairly sticky but as you bring it into a ball, it will become smoother and shinier.
- Once the dough has formed into a smooth ball, pop the cling film back on and let it rest for 30 minutes.
- Stretch & Fold - Creating StructureOver the next few hours you need to create some structure for your dough by "stretching and folding". Aim to do around 4-6 sets of stretches and folds. For each set, stretch the dough up and over itself 4 times. Leave around 15 minutes in between each set. Again you do not have to be exact with time, but you need to do at least 4 sets over 2 hours.I like to be fairly liberal with my timings as I am generally cooking amongst the chaos of family life and therefore sometimes timing does go astray!
- Bulk FermentOnce you've finished your stretch and folds, place the cling film or damp tea towel back over your dough and let it rest and ferment (a plastic cover is a better option for this stage).See notes below for more info on this step.
- Shaping The DoughOnce your dough has finished it's first ferment, it's time to shape it into either a boule or a batard. You'll need to flour your counter top with rice flour for this (we use rice flour because it has no gluten). Try to be quite sparing with the rice flour, you only need a very light dusting.Use a silicone dough scraper to gently ease the dough out of the bowl. You want it to land upside down on your counter so that the smooth top of the dough is on the countertop and the sticky underside is facing up. This will make it easier to shape.You want to pull the edges of the dough into the centre and then flip it over so that the sticky side is now underneath. Using the stickiness, gently pull the dough into a tight ball.You will need a banneton to put your dough into. If you do not have a banneton, then a bowl or basket lined with a floured tea towel is perfectly fine. Make sure your bowl isn't too big though, you want your dough to retain some shape.Whatever you're using needs to be liberally floured with your rice flour. If you're using a banneton - liberally sprinkle it with rice flour. If you're using a cloth or tea towel, rub the flour into it to ensure it becomes non stick.
- Placing Into A BannetonOnce the dough is shaped into a tight ball, place it into your banneton smooth side down, so your seam is on the top - this way the top of your dough will get the pretty lines from the banneton. If you're using a cloth or tea towel in a bowl it's ok to put your dough with the smooth side up. Just make sure the dough is tight.Lift your dough around the edges to pop a little more rice flour if you feel it needs it. Just try to handle the dough as little as possible and be really gentle as you really want to preserve all the gases and air bubbles that have formed during your bulk ferment.
- Cold FermentNow the dough is in its "shaping container" cover it loosely with a plastic bag or damp tea towel and place into the fridge. I use a large plastic bag to cover it - I just reuse it each time. Try to leave it in the fridge for a minimum 5 hours up to a maximum of around 36 hours. The longer you leave it the better your bread will be! A longer cold ferment creates beautiful blisters on your crust and a deeper sourdough flavour. It will also ensure your dough forms a skin which makes it easier to score.
- Preparing To BakeOnce you're ready to bake your sourdough, you'll need to preheat your oven to 230C/450F. Place your Dutch Oven into the oven when you turn it on so it gets HOT. Try to preheat for around 1 hour to ensure your oven is super hot - but you know your oven so just adjust this time if you need to.Leave your dough in the fridge until the very last minute - placing a cold dough into a hot oven will give you a great "spring".
- Bake Time!Now it's time to bake!When your oven is at temperature, take your sourdough out of the fridge. Gently place it onto a piece of baking paper. Make sure that you make the baking paper big enough to use the edges as a handle to lower to dough into your Dutch Oven.Gently score your bread with a lame, clean razor blade or knife. At minimum a large cross is sufficient, but you can get as artistic as you like. You can find my full guide on how to score sourdough bread here.Carefully take your dutch oven out of the oven. Place the sourdough into the pot using the baking paper as a handle. Put the lid on and place into the hot oven. If you want to you can spritz your dough with extra water before you put the lid on.BAKE TIME:30 Minutes with the lid on at 230C/450F plus10-15 Minutes with the lid off at 210C/410F
- Finishing The BakeWhen you remove your dough from the oven, carefully remove it from the dutch oven as soon as possible and place on a wire rack to cool.
- Notes on Flour: This recipe is written using strong Bread Flour. Bread flour has a higher protein content than All Purpose flour. If you choose to use All Purpose flour you may have a different result because of this. You can read more about the differences between All Purpose Flour and Bread Flour here.
- Notes on Sourdough Starter: This recipe is based on you having an active starter that you have fed a few hours before starting your bake. For info on how to make a sourdough starter, go here.
- Notes on Stretch & Folds: If you are going to do the stretch & folds on your bench top, spray your surface with water mist rather than using flour. You can leave the dough in the bowl if you want to. Wet your hands to stop the dough sticking - although it shouldn't be too sticky. It will get less sticky as you do your stretches and folds. For more information on how to do stretch and folds, go here.
- Notes on Bulk Fermentation: If your home is warm then your dough will ferment a lot faster and could be done in as little as a few hours. If it's colder, it will take longer, possibly overnight.
I would recommend that you try to do your first few bulk ferments during daylight hours so that you can watch your dough closely.
Once you're more familiar with the process - and the temperature of your home - you will be able to do overnight ferments. You will know your dough is ready to move to the next stage when it has *just* doubled in size. It will be fairly wobbly and full of bubbles. You should be able to see large air bubbles under the surface of the dough.
You don't want to let it go any further than doubled as it will be over fermented.
If you want to do an overnight ferment, but your home is warm, consider using a little less starter (ie 25g).
Less starter means your dough will take longer to ferment and you will reduce the risk of over fermenting your dough. You'll find more information on these topics here:
When is my bulk ferment finished? What is the difference between cold ferment and bulk ferment? Why does the amount of starter matter?
- Notes on Baking: If you're worried about the base of your bread burning, place a baking sheet on shelf underneath your Dutch Oven - it works! If you're worried about your bread not being cooked all the way through, turn the oven off and place your dough straight onto the oven rack. Leave the door ajar and let your bread rest there for a few hours. Make sure you don't close the door or your sourdough will sweat and you'll get a wrinkly, soggy crust. Remember not to cut into your loaf too soon - you'll need to let it cool for at least a few hours (4-6 is best).