How to Make Sourdough Bread
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Fresno Sourdough

It took a week to get to this point, but today I have two loaves of delicious fresh sourdough from my new starter.  If you’re just tuning in and want to learn how I created my sourdough starter, begin here.

Even though I’ve been making sourdough bread from scratch for over 5 years, it still amazes me that something so delicious can come from only 3 ingredients:  flour, water, and salt.  I didn’t use any special equipment to make this bread – it was mixed and kneaded by hand and baked in a home oven on a regular sheet pan.  Anyone can do this.

First Loaf of Fresno Sourdough

It’s true that I do own lots of special equipment for baking bread.  If I had taken some extra steps, this bread would have been even more beautiful, with a dark golden crust and open crumb.  But I really wanted to show you how easy it is to bake sourdough bread at home without any special knowledge or equipment.  Sure, with some instruction and practice, anyone can learn to make bread that looks like it came from the bakery.  We’ll get to that.  But if you’re new to sourdough and don’t yet own a kitchen scale, instant-read thermometer, stand mixer, baking stone, or proofing baskets, don’t worry.  You can make this bread and it will be delicious.

Sourdough Starter Day 8

This was what my sourdough starter looked like on the morning of day eight.  Yes, it was definitely time to bake some bread with it.  The first step in this bread is to measure out a cup of your starter and mix it up with three cups of flour and cup and a half of water in a large mixing bowl.  It’s basically like feeding your starter twice as much as usual and therefore tripling the amount instead of doubling it.  This mixture is called the sponge.  (Make sure to feed your original sourdough starter after removing one cup – you can stick it in the fridge after feeding if you want.)

The Sourdough Sponge

You need to let this sponge sit out at room temperature for at least a couple hours, but it can be as long as 8 hours if you want.  You can even decide to refrigerate it after a couple of hours and continue the rest of the process the following morning.  The longer you let the sponge ferment, the more sour your bread will be.  The temperature of the room is also going to have an effect.  The warmer it is, the faster the sponge will ferment and vice versa.  I like to let the sponge tell me when it’s ready.

Sourdough Sponge Collapsing

After you mix up the sponge, it will start rising.  At a certain point, it will have risen as much as it can and it will slowly start collapsing.  You see how the surface of the sponge has wrinkles in the middle?  This is what I look for as a sign that my sponge is ready to be mixed into a bread dough.

Mixing in the flour

Now it’s time to stir in the salt and extra flour to make the dough.  I start by whisking the salt into a cup of flour and stirring that into the sponge.

Mixing the Dough

I then keep adding more flour, a little at a time, until it’s too hard to mix the dough with my wooden spoon.

Bread Dough on Floured Board

Next, I sprinkle flour over my kitchen counter or bread board (in this case, I used the board) and then scrape out the dough.  I then dust my hands with flour and start kneading.  The dough will be sticky, so you’ll want to have flour nearby to dip your hands into and you’ll need to sprinkle a bit on the board under the dough as the dough starts sticking.  Use only as much as you need to keep the dough from sticking – you want to keep the dough fairly soft.  For instructions on kneading, go here.

Kneading the Bread Dough

Although I said that you don’t need any special equipment to make this bread, a bench scraper is really very helpful.  Sourdough is stickier than other bread dough and the scraper helps to lift up the dough to sprinkle more flour underneath when it starts to stick to the board or counter.  It’s also very helpful when cleaning up flour.

You want to knead the dough for about three minutes and then let it rest.  I just cover it with a towel and leave it for about ten minutes.  While the dough is resting you’ll need to clean and dry the mixing bowl then spray or rub it with oil.

Bread Dough Ready to Proof

After the dough rests, you’ll continue kneading for another few minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Next, place the ball of dough into your greased bowl and turn it so that the top is lightly coated in oil.  Now cover the bowl and put it in a fairly warm spot.  If your kitchen is cold, put it on top of the refrigerator or in the oven (turned off) with the light turned on.  Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Dough is Doubled

One way to test if the dough has doubled is to push a couple fingers down into the dough.  If the holes don’t fill back in, the dough is ready to be shaped.

Dividing the Dough

Carefully dump the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it in half.  Again, a bench scraper works well here, but you can cut it with a knife.  You want the pieces to be as equal in size as possible.

Shaping the dough

Next, shape the loaves.  You can form them into whatever shapes you wish, but I find round loaves (also known as boules) are the easiest.  For instructions on shaping, go here. Place the loaves onto a lightly greased baking sheet that has been sprinkled with cornmeal.

Covered Loaves

You’ll want to cover the loaves while they rise.  You can used plastic wrap that has been coated in spray oil or get creative like I did.  I just used a big plastic container that fit over both loaves.  I did spray the inside of the container with oil just in case the loaves spread out while rising.  Again, let the loaves rise in a warm space until about doubled in size.  The dough will most likely spread out rather than up, and that’s fine. It should take close to two hours.

Loaves ready to be baked

If the loaves grow into each other, it’s not the end of the world.  Don’t try to move them, you may end up deflating your loaves.  They’ll be easy to separate after baking.

Ready for Slashing

At this point, your oven should be preheated to 450 degrees F.  The last step before baking is to slash the tops of the loaves.  You can use any sharp knife for this or a razor blade.  I decided to try this cutting tool.

Slashed Loaves

You can create whatever pattern you want.  It doesn’t really matter if you mess up – I’m notoriously bad at this.  The dough will be sticky so your best best is to be confident and just do it quickly.  Even if your slashes look horrible now, the bread will probably come out of the oven looking pretty good.

Baked Loaves

And even if they’re not the most gorgeous things you’ve ever seen – it will smell wonderful and taste even better.

Sourdough Bread Ready to Cut

If you can, wait for the bread to cool completely before cutting into it.  The flavor and texture continue to develop as the bread cools.  I’ll admit that I’m not very good at waiting for my bread to cool before cutting the first slice, so I won’t say anything if you can’t wait.

Basic Sourdough Bread
adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 cup “fed” sourdough starter
1 1/2 cups warm filtered water
5 to 6 cups unbleached all-purpose or bread flour
2 1/2 teaspoons salt

The sponge: Pour the cup of starter into a large mixing bowl.  Add the warm water and 3 cups of flour.  Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon.  Cover this sponge with plastic wrap and put it aside to work.  This period can be very flexible, but allow at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours.  A longer period (at a lower temperature) will result in a more sour flavor.

The dough: After the sponge has bubbled and expanded, remove the plastic wrap.  Blend the salt and one cup of flour.  Stir the flour and salt into the sponge then add more flour, a little at a time until the dough comes together.  Turn it out onto a floured board and knead it for 3 to 4 minutes.  Give the dough a rest while you clean out and grease your bowl.  Continue kneading for another 3 or 4 minutes, adding extra flour as needed, until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Add only enough extra flour to keep the dough from sticking.  Place the dough in the bowl, turn it once to grease the top, cover, and let it rise until doubled (1 to 2 hours).

Shaping and Baking: Turn the dough out, then divide in half.  Shape each half into a loaf, and place on a lightly greased, cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheet.  Cover, and let rise until doubled (this can take up to 2 hours).  Remove the cover, slash the tops, and bake in a preheated 450 degree oven for approximately 20 minutes, until golden brown.  Turn the oven off, crack the door, and leave the loaves in for another 5 minutes.  Remove loaves to a cooling rack and let cool completely before slicing.

How to Create a Sourdough Starter

If you don’t yet have your own sourdough starter, you’ll need to get one from a friend, buy one, or make your own before you can make this bread.  Of course I think you should make your own!

You can follow my adventure making a sourdough starter and find instructions for making your own starter by clicking on the following links.  The full instructions are given on each page.

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40 Comments
  1. Barbara

    An informative how-to! What great looking bread. I’d love to make my own starter….my grandfather used to have a starter (do you believe?); he made buckwheat pancakes with it!

    7:12 pm  Sep 30th, 2011
  2. susan

    This looks inviting to try.Do i use bottled water or what???I’ll have to try this soon.I grew up with saltrising bread an although it is hard to find i stll love to eat it.Sourdough makes the best foundation for a yummy sandwich.

    8:37 pm  Sep 30th, 2011
  3. Foodiewife

    I have always wanted to make my own sour dough bread. Your tutorial, and the preceding ones on how to make sour dough starter, are terrific. You’ve given me confidence to try. Great job!

    9:44 pm  Sep 30th, 2011
  4. Jennifer

    Looks so good! Um, can we even eat ours in October? Hehe.

    12:03 am  Oct 1st, 2011
  5. Kelley

    Thanks for sharing this!! I’m definitely going to give this a try.

    6:04 am  Oct 1st, 2011
  6. Laura

    How did the flavor compare with that of your other starters?

    Lovely bread, and I could almost smell the fragrance…..

    7:04 am  Oct 1st, 2011
  7. Katherine Martinelli

    Making sourdough bread is definitely a goal of mine – thanks for the clear, step-by-step instructions! Yours looks amazing!

    2:02 pm  Oct 1st, 2011
  8. Arlene @ Flour On My Face

    Your bread turned out beautiful. I had to pull out my own starter and feed it after I saw your pretty loaves. I’ll try your recipe with my starter in the morning.

    I made my starter with just flour and water. The pineapple recipe didn’t work for me when I tried it a few years ago.http://www.flouronmyface.com/2011/08/how-to-make-sourdough-starter.html

    3:43 pm  Oct 1st, 2011
  9. Diana@Spain-In-Iowa

    Totally inspired to get my sourdough back up and going. Your loaves turned out beautifully. I grind my own grain, so can I substitute for fresh ground whole wheat (hard red)? I’m starting my starter tonight :D

    5:28 pm  Oct 1st, 2011
  10. kriswithmany

    Do you think there would be any issues with using my kitchen aid to knead?

    This looks so good – I plan on using whole hard white wheat (ground at home). Yummy!

    1:31 pm  Oct 4th, 2011
  11. Trista

    I just started this same sourdough starter. I hope mine turns out as well as yours did. Great blog!

    4:38 pm  Oct 8th, 2011
  12. WannabeBaker

    Thank you for your time and effort! This is a wonderful set of instructions :) so easy to follow with a beautiful final product. the sandwich ideas forming in my mind are just endless….yum.

    8:30 pm  Oct 13th, 2011
  13. Anna in Atlanta

    Thank you so much for the detailed instructions — my starter is perking along wonderfully. A BIG question, though. I baked from the instructions today, and everything is perfect ( the rise, the crust, the baking time) except the flavour of the bread, which is pretty darn nothing. What went wrong? Is it the salt, maybe? Do you use kosher or table salt? How else can I adjust the taste? I really want to make an outstanding sandwich-able loaf for my kids, who are obsessed with Pepperidge Farms sourdough for their school lunch sandies.

    7:38 pm  Oct 14th, 2011
  14. Kristen

    I am SO excited to make this. I love the detailed 7 day lay-out with detailed instructions. It’s gotta be fool proof, right? Well, maybe not… but it sure seems like it. Thanks for posting this!

    2:47 pm  Oct 20th, 2011
  15. Aissa Galoso

    I bake my sourdough bread in sizes perfect for carving out into bread bowls to pour chowder into. Sourdough really pairs well with creamy clam chowder.

    11:54 pm  Dec 22nd, 2011
  16. mark

    We want to make our own starter. However, the weather is a little too cold here in the Bay Area to make it with wild yeast. We bought the Bread For LIfe Sourdough starter from Azure Standard.

    It’s the easiest starter that I have ever worked with.

    Thanks for all your photos and tips. Bread making is so rewarding.

    11:43 pm  Jan 26th, 2013
  17. Danielle

    Hi! Can you use a gluten free all purpose flour or quinoa flour???

    7:24 pm  Feb 24th, 2013
  18. Les

    Thanks Annie,
    Doubled in about 7 hours but resided a bit overnight, fed it again today so I’ll see how it goes. This is the third try, first 2 were dismal failures but this lot has started activity within the hour so I going to start feeding twice a day tomorrow. I used unbleached white the first 2 times but used wholemeal rye as the first day starter this time, lots more activity.

    Cheers

    10:12 pm  Feb 25th, 2013
  19. Zoie

    I’m kind of worried about my starter. It bubbles well but should part of it be liquid and you need to stir it up? Also when I started my sponge I went ahead and put the salt in in the first cup of flour. Getting excited and ahead of myself. My sponge doesn’t seem to be rising. I started it six hours ago. Should I just start over? I’m determined this is not going to beat me!

    3:21 pm  Mar 14th, 2013
  20. ally

    Thank you so much for this post. I’ve made bread before but it never came out right. I had to redo my starter so I’ve been looking for a new recipe. This is the first in all my arching that doesn’t use a bread machine. I do it all by hand. Can’t wait to try this.

    9:38 pm  Mar 28th, 2013
  21. incense Sticks Wholesale

    This site certainly has all of the information and facts I
    wanted concerning this subject and didn’t know who to ask.

    5:51 pm  May 29th, 2013
  22. vickie

    Your starter recipe was great -now on to making the bread today! Thanks so much for all your help

    5:02 am  Jun 17th, 2013
  23. jennie

    I turned the first lot into zweiback… because I got two methods tangled up, and the dough wasn’t firm enough, but it was tasty! These ones I am about to bake are gorgeous… I used some kefir in at the starter stage… mmm…

    6:42 am  Oct 3rd, 2013
  24. Kimber

    Thank you for such great detail. I may give my own starter a try again after all

    11:38 am  Oct 5th, 2013
  25. Chad

    Many, many thanks for the great step-by-step instructions!

    I have tried this with some success three or four times, but each time I wasn’t able to get enough rise. The bread was very dense, with small bubbles. My starter certainly never “doubled” in volume. This time I tried a few different things which worked wonders.

    For some reason, everything seems to take much longer than described in this recipe for me, so I decided not to fight it. I let my sponge sit for about 18 hours. Then I actually mixed in about 1/3 cup additional starter from the frothy top of the jar along with about 1 cup of flour and ~ 1/2 cup water and kneeded the dough for about 10 minutes.

    Then I cleaned the sponge bowl, coated it with olive oil and let the dough sit again for about 10 hours covered with plastic wrap. Then I kneeded the dough again, adding maybe 1/3 cup of flour to get the right consistency. Up until this point I had refrained from adding the salt because I thought it might be impeding the rise. So at this point I flattened the dough and sprinkled the salt in. I did this maybe 5 times – trying to kneed the salt to spread it evenly throughout the dough.

    Then I cut into two round loaves and let them rise another 2 hours and baked at 400 degrees. This time the loaves look right – they rose much higher than my first attempts, the air pockets are twice as big and the bread tastes much better!

    12:02 pm  Oct 16th, 2013
  26. Adriana

    What an amazing recipe! I’ve tried others without much success, but this one worked wonders! I think the key for me was that each step set the right expectations, so I was able to know better how things were going. Thanks for sharing!

    7:30 pm  Dec 3rd, 2013
  27. ozlem

    Many many thanks for this open expression. i read and watched a lot of times from other places but your recipe is best that i have ever seen. Now can’t wait to make this. Greetings from Turkiye….

    12:24 am  Dec 4th, 2013
  28. win

    Brilliant tutorial! I’ve been making sourdough bread for ages, but always doing it a “bit in the dark”. I’ve never come across the hint about the sponge wrinkling in the middle when it’s ready. Thanks so much : )
    PS : A hint I’ve learnt along the way……the longer you let the mix rise the stronger (w factor) the flour should be.

    11:50 am  Dec 13th, 2013
  29. Ashleigh

    Thank you for taking the time to post this… Your pictures and explanation were exactly the factual and easy-to-work-with tutorial I needed! I had previously attempted a very simple sourdough, and it turned out only *adequately.* This recipe was the step I had been looking to take, and it didn’t let me down. I used a starter I already had going, but am very much looking forward to making my own per the recipe you provided. I took a few pictures of my experience and posted them here: http://imgur.com/gallery/ftKby.

    Thanks again!

    2:32 pm  Jan 21st, 2014
  30. James

    Thank you for all this great detailed information. I have zero baking experience and I was able to make two great loaves on my very first try!

    7:00 am  Jan 25th, 2014
  31. Katie Freeman

    I just wanted to thank you for the wonderful tutorial on making the starter. I have tried multiple times in the past to make a starter, but it always molded before I could complete the process. Well, this time it turned out perfectly!!! I will be making the bread recipe you posted later today. I invested in a proofer since our house is so cold in the winter months, so I’ll let you know how it turns out.
    Thanks again, Katie

    4:47 am  Jan 31st, 2014
  32. Lisa

    Can the starter be used to bake in a bread maker? My daughter is gluten free and this is the only bread she can eat without getting a terrible migraine. Thank you for your response.
    Lisa

    6:32 am  Feb 15th, 2014
  33. whitney

    thanks for sharing the recipe! Do you have an exact amount of salt that you use? For my sourdough starter I didn’t add any. Or does anyone else have any suggestions? Thanks!

    3:49 pm  Mar 3rd, 2014
  34. whitney

    oops never mind I just read the last part. just kidding!

    6:24 pm  Mar 3rd, 2014
  35. Diana Katerina

    I just want to thank you for this easy to follow and fail proof recipe. I baked two loaves yesterday following your instructions and they turned out perfectly! Everyone thinks I’m so clever, haha. The only thing I changed was that I used whey instead of water which worked fabulously. Today I’m going to have a go at making a pizza base. Thanks again.

    6:30 pm  Mar 13th, 2014
  36. Sourdough Girl

    This is perfect! I’ve been searching for an all-natural recipe for a LONG TIME–one that doesn’t have added commercial yeast. This is so good, just like the way people used to make it. And I’ve baked this two times, with the second batch’s bread HUGE! one measured around 8X8 round, and one measured 5X10 long! Humongous with only that much flour! They are so soft and nutty and filling and delicious, especially with Queso Blanco cheese. Truthfully, you can add anything on top, but Queso Blanco is definitely the best, or any other kind of cheese. Nutella, jam, peanut butter also works well. Perfect for a hearty stew or packed for lunch! This is one of my must-have recipes, and I’m only 12!

    2:43 pm  Mar 18th, 2014
  37. Corinna

    Hello and thank you for this recipe/tutorial! I have made this three times now with better flavor each time! I have a question about your starter though… How “wet” is your method? After my sponge is ready, it is all I can do to get the one cup of flour/salt to work in. About half of that first cup doesn’t mix in until I toss it out onto the counter and knead it in for about five minutes. Is this because my starter is thicker and “drier”?
    And, yes, though the butter melts so deliciously on the piping hot-from-the-oven bread, it tastes even better when toasted the next day! :)

    9:11 pm  Mar 30th, 2014
  38. Bread Maker

    This a great recipe. I am new at baking bread. Trying to learn all that I can. This is a great recipe. I will be trying it this week-end. Wish me luck.!!!!

    3:23 pm  Apr 9th, 2014
  39. KatherineSpins

    I made a starter using the whey from my milk kefir last week, and then this week I used your recipe to make the first loaves. Just lovely! And I’m delighted that your recipe doesn’t add more yeast to what’s already working in the starter. I’m looking forward to seeing how this recipe develops as I try it a few more times and get used to working with live and active yeast instead of the freeze-dried ones.

    7:21 pm  Apr 10th, 2014
  40. DeWitt Kavanagh

    Totally worked… I was lucky enough to get my starter from a place called Girl & the Goat… I used a preheated dutch oven to cook the loaves and they came out wonderfully…

    6:22 pm  Apr 15th, 2014
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