Beginner Sourdough Bread: Full Guide & Recipe


A great recipe for a first time sourdough baker!

This recipe has been a long time coming! I’ve had an overwhelming number of people reach out to me for a basic beginners sourdough bread recipe and now it’s finally here!

This recipe is a classic white sourdough bread that is suitable for complete beginners that have an active sourdough starter ready for bread making. It’s similar to the recipe I teach at my workshops and is ideal because it’s very forgiving.

It’s a little different to what you see elsewhere…

I’m all about practicality and success. As a beginner, you need a recipe that is:

  • easy to follow
  • doesn’t take up your entire day
  • has a high chance of success

And that was my aim when designing this bread recipe. Granted, that does come at a slight cost. The texture for this recipe is one of a slightly lower hydration level. This means:

  • A slightly thicker crust
  • Tighter crumb

So, it’s not going to have great big holes in it (known as ‘open crumb’), but it is going to:

  • Have a soft inner texture (you’ll see a picture of the texture of this bread later on)
  • Taste absolutely delicious (a mildly sour flavor)
  • Be a dough that is relatively easier to work with (which is great for beginners)
  • Make you feel like a boss!

If this is your first loaf ever, this recipe will hopefully give you the confidence to continue on your sourdough baking journey and make you super proud of yourself 🙂

I’m hoping you’ll get a well risen loaf of sourdough bread that tastes great and impresses your friends and family!

Be the first to hear when my online sourdough baking course will be released by joining my mailing list.

First things first, let’s talk equipment. Assuming this is your first loaf, I’m going to go through a list of essentials you’ll need for this recipe, and also what you might consider getting if bread baking is going to be your thing.

If you’d like more detailed information on what you need to make great sourdough bread, check out my post here, where I go through in more detail the things you would need, and what you could use instead if you didn’t have.

Essential Equipment for This Recipe

For making this particular recipe, you’ll need the following equipment: (The links in this list will take you over to Amazon in case you wanted a closer look at my recommendations)

This post contains links that are part of affiliate programs, where the site owner is compensated for referring traffic and business to the companies. (I only recommend what I myself love and/or use!)

  • 2lb proofing basket/banneton – This is a handy set that contains a dough scraper and dough scoring knife too!
  • Digital kitchen weighing scales – These are important when baking bread. Volume measurements will not give you enough accuracy.
  • 2 large mixing bowls – for mixing all your ingredients and letting your dough rise.
  • Dough scraper – Silicone non-stick ones are great for starting out.
  • Dutch Oven – It’s used to lock in all the moisture from your loaf while it is baking to give it the best rise and fluffiness. If you’re looking for a decent inexpensive one, I recommend the Lodge 5qt. Check out my article here for information on buying the best type for your needs.
    • (If you don’t have a Dutch oven, have a read of my article here for some tips to help you get a good rise.)
  • An active sourdough starter – If you don’t have one, you can make one (see my article here). But it can take a while to get it going (1 to 3 weeks). Etsy is a really good place to get hold of a good quality active sourdough starter that you can use almost straight away. Click here to get a sourdough starter from Etsy.
Here’s a shot of the texture of this bread inside

Non-Essential Equipment

The following equipment is not essential for baking this loaf, but is definitely useful and will give you better results:

  • Lame – This is a blade that is used to slash your loaf just before baking. It helps your loaf control it’s shape as it rises. It is useful to have as it makes slashing your loaf easy and quick, with such a thin and sharp blade. (You can use a razor blade or scalpel knife instead if you don’t have one).
  • Bread slicing knife – A proper bread slicing knife has a serrated jagged edge that is slightly bowed. This type of knife makes bread slicing A LOT easier, particularly if you have a thick crust on your loaf. Here’s the one that I have, which I bought from Amazon. It’s such great value and does a very good job! You can read more about buying a good bread knife in my article here.

Schedule for Making this Beginner Sourdough Bread Recipe

Now that you have everything you need, it’s time to talk schedule. One of the biggest turn offs for me when I was looking into sourdough bread, was how long it seemed to take, and the fact that I’m not home all day to tend to my dough! Now that I understand the process, I realize that:

  1. Hardly any of this time is hands on. It’s simply leaving the dough to do it’s thing.
  2. You can adjust the schedule to suit your needs once you have a little understanding of how sourdough works.

You do have to be available at certain times of the day to do certain things. But don’t worry, this recipe is specifically designed for busy people!

TIP: My course will have lots of detail on making sourdough bread work around your schedule. Sign up here to be the first to hear when it’s released!

With this recipe, all the attention is given to the dough at the beginning of the process, and then at the end.

So if you’re going to be out at work, you can tend to your dough before work. And then it will be ready for the next stage of the process when you get home. You can then either bake it a couple of hours later that evening, or you can leave it in the fridge overnight to bake in the morning.

QUICK TIP: Do have a read through of the whole process before beginning so that you can plan to handle your dough at roughly the right times.

You just have to make sure that your sourdough starter is ready to use on the morning that you start mixing your dough. Here is the schedule in more detail:

The Night Before Baking Day:

  • Feed the sourdough starter 75 grams of flour and 75 grams of water. (If you already have a large amount of starter, take a small amount out of the jar, and feed the small amount 75 grams of flour and 75 grams water: You’ll use this freshly fed bit in your recipe).

On Baking Day:

  • First thing in the morning – the sourdough starter you prepared the night before should be active and bubbly by now. It’s time to mix the ingredients together, which will take you a couple of minutes maximum.
    • 10 minutes later – Stretch and fold the dough (this will take about 15 seconds of your time, and details of how to do it are in the instructions below)
    • Another 10 minutes later – Stretch and fold the dough again
    • Another 10 minutes later – Another stretch and fold
    • After another 10 minutes – Stretch and fold the dough one last time

In total you have only a few minutes of hands on time for the above, but you’ll need to be home for about an hour or so. You can then leave your dough unattended for around 8 hours to rise (this is known as ‘bulk ferment’)

  • Later in the evening – Shape the dough and put in the fridge for an hour or so. You can leave it for much longer at this point if you need to i.e. overnight.
    • Preheat the oven for an hour.
    • Bake for 45 minutes
Here it is fresh out of the oven!

Cool your loaf for a good couple of hours before you cut into it! If you baked it in the evening, it’s a great breakfast to look forward to!

BONUS TIP: If you need for your dough rising time (bulk ferment) to be longer, for example if you have a long commute or don’t get home until much later, then use 50 grams of sourdough starter instead of 150 grams (see recipe section). This will mean you can leave your dough alone for around 12 hours while you are out, and it will be ready to shape when you get home.

A Note About Temperatures…

The schedule mentioned above assumes that your room temperature is around 75F (21C). If your kitchen is much hotter, then the time that you leave your dough to rise will need to be much shorter. (You can stretch the time by adding a smaller amount of starter as mentioned above if needs be.)

And again, if you are in a colder climate then the timings will be far longer, and you can use a higher amount of sourdough starter if you want to make this time shorter. For more detailed information about how temperature affects sourdough, have a read of my temperature guide here.

A Note About the Ingredients Used…

The flour that I used here is a Canadian strong white bread flour. As a beginner, I always recommend using a standard strong white flour, also called bread flour to begin with.

This type of flour has the strongest gluten development potential and will be the easiest to work with. So you will have the best chance of getting a good rise in your bread. To learn about using other flours, I have a flour guide for sourdough here.

Ingredients

It’s very important in bread baking to use accurate measurements in weight, so a kitchen scale is essential. Using volume measurements will give you inconsistent results. Here are the quantities of each ingredient:

AmountIngredients
450 gramsStrong White Bread Flour
300 gramsWarm Water
150 grams*Active Sourdough Starter
12 gramsSea Salt
*This amount is can be adjusted to 50 grams for a longer 12 hour bulk ferment.

Instructions

Here are detailed steps to making your very first sourdough bread! I’ve included pictures at essential steps to help you along the way.

There are 7 stages that I have broken it down into with step by step instructions in each stage.

Stage 1 – Autolyse

This recipe uses a very short autolyse time (10 minutes). Autolyse is when you are leaving the flour to absorb with the water. For more detail about different types of autolyse, check out my article here.

Step 1 – In the first mixing bowl, mix together the flour and salt thoroughly until the salt is evenly distributed around the flour. Set the bowl to one side. This will be your dry mixture.

Step 2 – In the 2nd mixing bowl, put the sourdough starter, and warm water. Gently mix together until all the starter is dissolved into the water. This is your wet mixture.

NOTE: It’s good practice to feed your starter as soon as you have used it in a recipe i.e. at this point)

Step 3 – Add the dry mixture from the 1st bowl into the 2nd wet bowl and mix, (either with your hands or a dough whisk), until it just comes together. You DON’T need to mix until everything is well combined.

You only need to mix until it just comes together. The dough should have a few wet bits and a few dry bits at this point, and looking very shaggy (See picture below).

The dough should look ‘shaggy’ after the initial mix, and then left to rest for 10 minutes

Step 4 – Place the empty bowl upside down, on top of the other bowl to cover it (or alternatively cover it with a cloth) and leave to stand for 10 minutes.

As mentioned earlier, this is known as a short autolyse. The flour is starting to absorb water, and start the process of gluten development. Check out my article here for a more detailed guide on different types of autolyse.

Stage 2 – Kneading the Dough

After 10 minutes, the dough is ready for kneading using the ‘stretch and fold’ method:

  • IMPORTANT NOTE: With each stretch and fold that we do at this stage:
    • If the dough feels too sticky – dip your fingers in flour each time you place them in the dough.
    • If the dough feels too dry – dip your hand in water (shaking off the excess) each time.
  • Flours have different absorbency levels and it’s important to work with a dough that you are comfortable enough to handle.
  • DO NOT add extra flour or water to the dough, simply use either floured hands or wet hands at each stretch and fold IF NEEDED.

Step 1 – Lift the dough from the furthest side with one hand and bring it over to the middle. This is 1 fold (see pictures below)

Step 2 – Turn the bowl 90 degrees and lift from the furthest side again bringing it over to the middle. This is your 2nd fold.

Step 3 – Continue to turn the bowl, lift and fold until you have done 10 stretch and folds.

Perform 10 ‘stretch and folds’ every 10 minutes

Step 4 – You have now completed one kneading session i.e. a set of 10 ‘stretch and folds’. Cover the bowl and leave to rest for 10 minutes.

Step 5 – After 10 minutes, the kneading session should be repeated (i.e. 10 more stretch and folds), and again the dough must be left to rest for 10 minutes.

Step 6 – Continue with the 10 minutes of rest and the kneading sessions until you have completed 4 kneading sessions in total.

BONUS TIP: Mark the number of kneading sessions you have completed by poking your finger into the dough that many times!

You should find that the dough starts to come together and become smoother with every kneading session. (See picture)

The dough will become smoother as you go further into the process

Stage 3 – Bulk Ferment

Once all kneading has been completed, the dough is ready to be left to prove for a minimum of 6 to 8 hours, until you see the dough has grown in size. Be sure to leave the dough covered and in a draft free area.

This long proofing time is called the ‘bulk ferment’, and it is essential to leave it for that amount of time in order to let the sourdough starter do it’s magic!

You may need to leave it longer or shorter depending on how hot or cold your kitchen temperature is, but generally it will be around 8 hours. (See my proofing guide to help you determine when your dough is ready).

Stage 4 – Shaping the loaf

Step 1 – Flour your proofing basket really well to prevent the dough sticking later. I recommend using the basket WITH the cloth liner that it comes with to also help prevent sticking.

Step 2 – Lightly flour your counter top surface and gently place the dough onto it. You can use your dough scraper to help take all the dough out.

NOTE: DON’T be tempted to put heaps of flour on the work surface. This will make shaping more difficult! See pictures below for an idea of how little you actually need. Having a lightly floured dough scraper and lightly floured hands also helps.

Step 3 – Use your dough scraper to lift up the right edge of the dough, and then, using your fingertips, slightly stretch up the dough and fold it over to reach the over the dough.

Step 4 – Using this same technique, take the left edge and fold it over. Then do the same from the top, then the bottom. You now have a dough that has four folds going into the center. See pictures below for more information.

Step 5 – Now we are going to use the same technique, except we are going to make the fold go all the way from one end to the opposite end, which will tip the dough over to reveal its smooth side (see pictures below).

Step 6 – Using your dough scraper as the main tool, and your other hand as a support, we are going to tighten the surface of the loaf by using what I like to call the ‘tuck, turn and pull‘ technique with your scraper:

  1. Tuck the dough scraper under the dough.
  2. Turn the scraper gently to move the dough around.
  3. Pull the scraper towards the dough to tighten the surface.

Only gentle movements are necessary. You can tuck, turn and pull a few times until you have a smooth round shape.

NOTE: It’s important not to over shape your dough. Once you have a smooth looking surface, stop shaping.

This is called ‘creating tension’ on the surface of the loaf, and it is what will give the loaf a good shape once it is baked.

Step 7 – Use your dough scraper (and your other hand as support) to gently but swiftly lift up your dough and place it SEAM SIDE UP into your proofing basket.

Stage 5 – Second Ferment

The dough should now be left again to prove in it’s shaped form for anything between 1 to 14 hours in the fridge. Let your schedule decide when is the best time to bake.

Stage 6 – Baking the Loaf

Step 1 – FULLY preheat your oven to the highest temperature it will go. This step is really important. You want your oven to be as hot as possible to ensure you get the biggest rise in your bread.

Step 2 – Once your oven is fully preheated, take the proofing basket out of the fridge and gently turn your dough out (seam side down) into a Dutch oven, (so the smooth side is exposed). I like to line mine with baking parchment to prevent any sticking.

NOTE: You don’t need to preheat your Dutch oven!

Step 3 – Slash the surface of the dough using a very sharp and thin blade. Cut into the loaf about 1/2 inch to 1 inch deep, in a design of your choice, and then put the Dutch oven lid on.

BONUS TIP: I put my dough on the lid rather than the base, because this makes it easier to slash the loaf. It’s one of the reasons I bought the Lodge 5qt over other Dutch ovens! (Amazon link)

Step 4 – Place the Dutch oven into the hot oven and bake at this temperature for 10 minutes.

Step 5 – After 10 minutes, reduce the oven heat to 475F / 220 C. Leave it to bake for another 30 minutes.

Step 5 – Remove the bread from oven and turn it out onto a cooling rack. Tap the bottom of the loaf. If it sounds hollow, it is done. If it doesn’t sound hollow (or you are not sure), place it back in the oven for a further 10 minutes or so until it is cooked through. (You don’t need to place it back in the Dutch oven at this point).

Stage 7 – Cooling the Loaf

Make sure you get that hollow sound when you tap the bottom of the loaf before leaving the bread to cool.

If you would like a softer crust, cover the loaf tightly with a damp cloth and leave on a cooling rack for about an hour before removing the cloth and replacing with a dry one.

If you like a hard crust, leave the bread open on the cooling rack.

IMPORTANT: DO NOT cut the loaf until it is completely cooled down! Your bread is continuing to cook while it cools, and cutting it open before it has completely cooled will result in a slightly gooey/gummy texture.

Enjoy!

Hopefully you have produced a beautiful artisan sourdough bread that tastes delicious, so congratulations!

If you’d like more support in making sourdough bread, I plan to have an online course available soon. If you’re interested then sign up to stay updated here.

Aysha

I've been baking sourdough bread at home for years now and have had a journey full of successes and failures. This has given me great experience in understanding what makes a good bake!

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