If you want to learn how to master the best sourdough bread in the world then all you need is to start baking! Here you will find the classic sourdough bread recipe that will help you achieve that fluffy and light crumb everyone is after.
Follow this easy sourdough recipe as I share the tips and tricks to my best sourdough bread. If you are a beginner this is the perfect place for you to start!
What is the Secret to Best Sourdough Bread?
There is one main ingredient that ensures you have light, fluffy, tall, nutritious, tangy, bubbly, and overall great sourdough bread – it is a strong sourdough starter. It is not the only important ingredient, but without it you will not get good results no matter how hard you try.
A starter takes at least a week to build and even more to grow its strength. Even though you probably will already be able to make bread with one week old starter, the longer you continue to feed and grow your starter, the better results you will get.
However, it is not a complicated process! The hardest part is patience. To learn more about sourdough starter and how to grow a starter from scratch check out my easy & comprehensive sourdough starter guide.
Why You Need Cast Iron Dutch Oven
Good news here! You don’t need to have a whole bunch of fancy tools to make best sourdough bread at home. One thing you do need is a cast iron dutch oven, or a cast iron pan, or a cast iron baking sheet. Something cast iron, you get it!
Since cast iron is able to retain a very high temperature for a longer time, it ensures the best oven spring (the final rising when baking) of your bread. If you don’t have anything made of cast iron, you can still use a regular baking sheet, but you will not get the same results!
However, if you do decide to invest into this baking equipment, your best choice is a dutch oven. Dutch oven is easy to use as it has a lid which is important to make sure you have good amount of steam trapped inside the pot to raise your bread. Also, you will be able to use your dutch oven to make soups or other recipes, so it won’t be sitting around idly!
Banneton Baskets / Bowls
Banneton baskets are traditional for baking sourdough bread and they can give a very nice shape to your breads! However, if you don’t have banneton baskets, you can use mixing bowls lined with towels. In that case you will need a minimum of 2 bowls.
You will need to cover your dough with a wet towel during resting times. If you are using a mixing bowl instead of a banneton basket, you will need to put a towel into each bowl under the dough and have one to cover each one while resting.
Measuring equipment – you can use cups, but it is best to go for a digital kitchen scale. Cups might not always be correct, yet it is important for you to know the exact amount of different ingredients in order to get the best results.
Razor / Knife
You will need a sharp knife or better a razor for scoring your dough.
Bench Scraper / Metal Spatula
You will need something to help you scrape the dough off of the surface as your dough will be very sticky and hard to work with. You can use a bench scraper or a metal spatula!
All you need is flour, water, levain (or starter), and salt. This is the beauty of the sourdough bread! It is all natural without any unhealthy additives. However, what kind of flour, water, and salt should you use?
Best Flour for Sourdough Bread
Rye flour is the healthiest and most nutritious flour for sourdough bread. Yet another good option is whole wheat flour as it gives a special flavor to your bread along with nutrition value.
As well as those two, bread and all-purpose flours are also good choices, although as they are processed, certain health benefits are stripped away. So, if you do end up using the last two options, you might benefit from mixing in some of the rye or whole wheat flour into your bread.
I like to mix all-purpose and whole wheat flours in my bread. But whatever you choose, your bread is already going to be better for your health by simply being sourdough!
What Water is Best for Sourdough Bread?
You can use warm tap water for your bread. However, you need to remember that different types of minerals in the water will trigger bacteria differently which may affect the flavor of your bread. If your water has chlorine in it, you can get rid of it by leaving the water out on the counter overnight or by using a filter.
Another important ingredient is salt as it strengthens already developed gluten and balances out the bitterness and sweetness of your bread. However, salt might prevent new gluten from forming, so it is advised to add salt after the autolysing stage (the first resting stage of the dough) is finished.
As it is tempting to go for table salt in this recipe, you will rather benefit more from fine sea salt as it has more nutrition value.
Levain / Starter
Finally, levain is mature starter mixed with some flour and water. Levain is better than starter because by making a separate mixture of levain you can control the acidity level and the hydration of your bacteria and yeast.
If your starter is too sour it might affect your dough formation negatively. For that reason it is recommended to use levain, although you can totally use mature starter as well, it is up to your preference and how much time you have!
For more details on difference between levain and starter check out this guide.
- 40 grams mature starter
- 40 grams all-purpose flour
- 40 grams whole wheat flour
- 80 grams warm water (or room temperature)
- 690 grams all-purpose (or bread) flour
- 200 grams whole wheat flour
- 750 grams warm water, divided
- 23 grams fine sea salt
Best Sourdough Bread Timeline
- 7 am – feed your starter.
- 11 am – make levain (if your starter is mature by now – doubled in size and is bubbling).
- 3 pm – mix the flour and some water and autolyse.
- 4 pm – add levain to the flour mixture with the rest of the water.
- 4:15 pm – add salt.
- 4:30 pm – slap and fold.
- 4:45 pm – slap and fold.
- 5 pm – slap and fold.
- 5:30 pm – stretch and fold.
- 6 pm – stretch and fold.
- 6:30 pm – stretch and fold, leave for bulk rise until doubles in size or almost doubles in size. It can take 2-6 hours depending on temperature in your kitchen.
- 10:30 pm – transfer to a banneton basket (or a bowl lined with a towel) and proof in the refrigerator overnight. Give it about 12-14 hours in the fridge. Or proof in room temp. for 2-4 hours.
- 10:30 am (next morning) – bake according to the recipe instructions.
Download my FREE sourdough bread timeline in PDF here to print and to keep at hand during baking!
Watch How to Make Your Best Sourdough Bread at Home!
Step by Step Recipe
STEP 1 – make the levain
For this step you will need to feed your sourdough starter about 4 hours before making the levain and place it in a warm place. I like to place mine into the oven with the light on as it gives some warmth but doesn’t kill the bacteria!
After you fed your starter, wait until it doubles in size and is bubbling on the top (3.5-4 hours). When the starter is ready, mix 40 grams starter, 40 grams all-purpose flour, 40 grams whole wheat flour, and 80 grams warm water. Let your levain mature for about 5 hours in a warm spot.
STEP 2 – autolyse the dough
1 hour before your levain is ready mix 690 grams of all-purpose flour, 200 grams of whole wheat flour, and 650 grams of warm water (save 100 grams of water for later). Mix until incorporated, don’t overmix. You can use your hands! Leave to autolyse for 1 hour.
Autolyse is the process of gluten formation. Just leave your mixture in a warm place and the process will happen on its own! Don’t forget to cover the mixture with a wet towel so that the dough doesn’t dry out.
STEP 3 – add the levain
After 1 hour of autolysing add your levain and the rest of the water to the dough. Mix it well with your hands and leave to rest for 15 minutes covered with a wet towel.
STEP 4 – add salt
Nnow mix in 23 grams of fine sea salt into the dough. The reason the salt goes in last is because salt partially inhibits gluten formation. However, by now gluten has developed a lot and it is safe to add some salt! Let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
STEP 5 – slap and fold #1
Transfer the dough onto a clean surface. Pick the dough up and slap onto the table, then fold onto itself. You can see how I do it in the video above! Do the slaps and folds a few times, then transfer the dough back to the bowl and let it rest for another 15 minutes.
STEP 6 – slap and fold #2
Repeat slaps and folds. Rest the dough for 15 minutes.
STEP 7 – slap and fold #3
Repeat slaps and folds again and rest the dough for 15 more minutes.
STEP 8 – stretch and fold #1
Now is the time for stretch & fold stage. While the dough is in the bowl, pick one side of the dough up, shake it a bit to stretch it as much as you can and then fold it onto itself. Do the stretches and folds a few times, then let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
STEP 9 – stretch and fold #2
Repeat STEP 8. Rest the dough 30 minutes.
STEP 10 – stretch and fold #3 and bulk rise
Repeat STEP 8 again. Now is the time for bulk rise. Bulk rise is when the dough will almost double in size. Make sure you don’t leave your dough out for too long so that it doesn’t start deflating.
If it starts going down, it means that bacteria and yeast ran out of food and you won’t get much of the oven spring (rising of the bread in the oven during the first 20 minutes of baking). However, you still probably will get some good bread!
STEP 11 – prep the proofing bowls / baskets
When your dough almost doubled in size, prepare 2 banneton baskets or 2 bowls lined with kitchen towels. Flour the surface of your baskets or towels to make sure the dough won’t stick to it. Be generous with flour! This step is very important.
STEP 12 – preshaping the dough
Transfer your dough onto a clean surface and split in half using a bench scraper or a sharp knife.
If your dough is sticking too much to the table, you can slightly flour the surface, but don’t overdo it. If you flour it too much, you will have a hard time shaping your loaves.
But if your dough is so sticky that you can’t work with it add as much flour as you need!
Slightly pre-shape your loaves by folding the sides onto each other (see the video for illustration) and forming a ball. Cover the loaves with a towel and leave them to rest for 20 minutes.
STEP 13 – final shaping
Do the final shaping. See the video for instructions!
STEP 14 – proofing
Now you can add some sesame seeds to the tops of your breads if you’d like to! Just pour some seeds onto a plate, then pick one of the dough balls up and turn it the smooth side down onto the plate. Pick it up and place into the floured banneton baskets / bowls.
You can proof your dough in room temperature for 2-4 hours or you can do an overnight proofing which will take you 12-14 hours. Don’t skip this step if you want to get best sourdough bread results!
To know whether or not your dough is proofed enough do the poke test – poke the dough slightly and if it springs back quickly, it means the dough is not fully proofed yet. If it sinks in and doesn’t spring at all it means that it is over proofed. If it slowly springs back leaving a slight dent, then it is proofed enough and is ready for baking.
You should make sure your dough is not under or over proofed for best sourdough bread results!
Cover with wet tea towels and whether place them into the fridge for overnight proofing or let them sit in the room temperature for 2-4 hours until the dough passes the poke test.
STEP 15 – preheat the oven
Preheat the oven to 500-550F / 260-280C with the dutch oven inside for 30-60 minutes. This step is important to ensure the best oven spring.
STEP 16 – score and bake
When the oven is preheated, take out one of the loaves and turn them over onto a sheet of baking paper, score them with a razor or a sharp knife. For the best sourdough bread scoring make sure that the cut is made at 45* toward the surface. Cover with a lid and place into the oven for 20 minutes.
Now is the time for oven spring. The bacteria is going to work really hard and release a lot of gases which will raise the bread. But in 20 minutes all bacteria will be dead and the rising will be over. Steam created by evaporating water is also a part of why your bread springs so much in this stage. This is why it is important to have a dutch oven that will trap the steam inside and allow for the spring. Good oven spring ensures you have the best sourdough bread made at home!
However, if you are not using a dutch oven thus don’t have a lid to trap the steam in, just place a baking sheet with ice or water on the bottom of the oven and it will create some steam. But you will get better results if you use a dutch oven with a lid!
STEP 17 – second half of baking
After the first 20 minutes of baking are up, remove the lid and lower the temperature to 450F / 230C. Then let the bread bake for another 20 minutes.
If you are using baking sheet with water, then remove it at this point. Now we want the bread to get that hard crust on top and for that we need to get rid of steam.
STEP 18 – forming crust
After the second 20 minutes are up, turn off the oven, crack open the door, and let the bread stay inside for another 20 minutes for a harder crust to form. This step is optional and you don’t have to do it unless you want a really hard crust.
STEP 19 – cooling
Take the bread out and let it cool completely.
STEP 20 – enjoy!
Cut into this beautiful loaf you baked yourself and enjoy your best sourdough bread made at home! Sourdough bread is so good on its own that you can eat it with some olive oil or butter with some salt. Enjoy!
Sourdough Terms explained
- Autolyse is the process of gluten development. In order for gluten to form you need to mix flour and water and the process will begin. If you want to know more about autolyse check this article!
- Stretches and folds are a substitute for kneading in this recipe. This process is important for strengthening gluten in the dough as well as allowing for air to be trapped inside the loaves. This process provides you with that fluffy and airy crumb we all love in sourdough bread!
- Bulk rise is when your dough almost doubles in size. It is crucial to sourdough baking as it also ensures you have those bubbles in your loaves. If you skip this part, your bread will be heavy and flat.
- Proofing is basically the process of final rising and fermentation which happens after you separate your dough into 2 loaves. To learn more about proofing read this article.
- Oven spring is the term for the grand bread rising that everyone is after in sourdough bread baking. To ensure your oven spring gives best results you need to preheat your dutch oven for at least 30 minutes in 500F/260C. Another tip is to follow all the other instructions in the recipe carefully as they all play a role in forming the bread that will spring. But even professional bakers will get a flat loaf at times, so don’t beat yourself up over it!
Best Sourdough Bread: Tips for Success
In order to avoid burning the tops of your loaves dust off the excess flour that stuck to your dough when proofing.
To avoid burning the bottom of your bread place a baking sheet under the dutch oven for the second 20 minutes of baking.
When shaping your loaves be careful not to tighten them to the point of tearing. If the surface tears it might fall flat.
If you are a beginner then add less water to your dough. If you have 1000 grams of flour for your bread, adding 800 grams of water would mean 80% hydration of your dough which is pretty high. To be able to handle your bread easily at first, try to go for 70% hydration or less.
Add water gradually even if you do plan on having a high hydration level. You don’t want to add too much water as it will make your dough saggy. Try to feel the right hydration for your dough as you add water part by part.
As you learn the process better you will learn to use your observation and intuition to take necessary steps and adjust recipes for better bread. The more you practice the better your bread will get!
If you are curious about another method of baking sourdough bread watch this video where I changed some things up. Here I used starter instead of levain, only did stretches and folds without slaps, and waited 4.5 hours during the bulk rise instead of playing it by ear and waiting until almost doubled in size.
Download my FREE sourdough bread timeline in PDF here to print and to keep at hand during baking!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Perfect Ratio for Best Sourdough Bread?
Best bread needs about 80% hydration level, which means your ratio would be 100% flour, 80% water, 15% starter or levain, 2% flour. So, if you use 1000 grams of flour, you will add 800 grams of water, 150 grams of starter and 20 grams of salt. Of course these measurements can be adjusted here and there to your preference!
Why is My Sourdough Bread so Heavy?
It might be because your bread did not finish the bulk rise or proofing process. You might have taken it to the next step way too early! Another reason could be a starter that wasn’t mature enough. Make sure that when you use your levain or starter it has already doubled in size, is bubbling, and hasn’t started to fall back down yet.
Can You Freeze Sourdough Bread?
Yes, you can freeze it right after you cooled it after baking. Just place it into an airtight bag and keep it up to 3 months. To revive your bread just preheat the oven to 500F/260C, put your bread under some cold tap water (don’t let it soak though!), and bake it for 10-15 minutes! You will get a hard crust that will taste like the bread has just been baked.
How Long Does Sourdough Bread Last?
It will last for 5 days in the room temperature. Be careful not to place it into the fridge as it will make your bread stale sooner. Rather, if you cut into your bread, place it into a plastic bag and keep in the room temperature. I find that leaving your sourdough cut side down on the counter makes the crust too hard overtime.
Is Sourdough Bread Good for Weight Loss?
In general sourdough bread is much better for you than other breads because of long fermentation and a lot of nutrition, but when it comes to weight loss, unfortunately, sourdough is just like any other bread. If you want to lose weight you might want to rather focus on eating multi-grain breads as their nutrition build up keeps you full for longer and prevents unnecessary snacking.
Can You Toast Sourdough Bread?
Absolutely yes! It is delicious when toasted especially if fresh.
What is the Big Deal with Sourdough Bread?
Sourdough is the healthiest bread because it is made with natural fermentation and no additives. This is the way our ancestors used to make bread until commercial yeast came onto the market. Sourdough bread is much easier to digest and you don’t feel as heavy as after eating regular bread. As well as that, some gluten intolerant people have been able to digest sourdough bread just fine because of the fermentation benefits! However, ask your doctor before trying sourdough bread if you do have gluten intolerance.
Can I Make Good Sourdough Bread Without a Dutch Oven?
If you don’t have a dutch oven you can use a cast iron pan or a cast iron baking sheet to place your bread onto. However, you will need to also add a baking sheet with some ice or water to the bottom of your oven to provide sufficient steaming for the oven spring. As this option is your second best choice, your oven spring will improve if you invest into a dutch oven with a lid.
Have you made your very own sourdough bread? I would love to see! you can tag me on Instagram @natashashome_ and I would love to share your pictures in my stories! If you have any more questions about best sourdough bread practices that I did not answer in this article, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below!