Dutch Oven Sourdough Bread (Easy!)

Sourdough Bread Loaves

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!

This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you purchase the products recommended in this post, I make a small commission at no cost to you. You will not be charged extra for purchasing through the links. To read my full disclosure click here.

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 a 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 the sourdough starter and how to grow a starter from scratch check out my easy & comprehensive sourdough starter guide.

Equipment

Why You Need Cast Iron Dutch Oven

A dutch oven is made of cast iron. Cast iron is able to retain a very high temperature for a longer time and it ensures the best oven spring (the final rising when baking) of your bread. If you are worried about whether what you have is the best dutch oven for sourdough bread, don’t be concerned. As long as the bread fits into the pot, your dutch oven is a perfect size for baking 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! If you decide to use a sheet pan then make sure to add a dish with water to the bottom of the oven so that water vapor circulates and encourages the oven spring. You will need to take the water out after the first 20 minutes of baking time.

Sourdough Bread in a Dutch Oven

Banneton Baskets / Bowls

Banneton baskets are designed for proofing the loaves before baking. You can, however, use mixing bowls lined with kitchen towels for proofing as well. Make sure to flour your baskets/bowls well before placing the dough into it! If you would like to get banneton baskets, a bench scraper, and a scoring tool then it is cheaper to order them all in one kit.

Kitchen Towels

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 4 kitchen towels all together.

Kitchen Scale

A digital scale is the best way to ensure you are using the correct measurments. Cups are not consistent, so I always recommend using a digital kitchen scale which is super easy to use and even saves you time!

Razor / Knife

You will need a sharp knife or better a razor for scoring your dough.

Bench Scraper

A bench scraper is great for separating the dough and for scraping dried dough that stuck to your working surface. If you are serious about your bread baking then go get that few bucks worth bench scraper! You definitely won’t regret it.

Ingredients

All you need is flour, water, levain (or starter), and salt. This is the beauty of 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 its nutritional value.

As well as those two, bread and all-purpose flour 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 flour 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.

Salt

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 autolyzing 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 nutritional value.

Levain / Starter

Finally, levain is a mature starter mixed with some flour and water. Levain is better than a starter because by making a separate mixture of levain you can control the acidity level and the hydration of your bacteria and yeast.

Levain in a glass jar

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 the mature starter as well, it is up to your preference and how much time you have!

For more details on the difference between levain and starter check out this guide.

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 autolyze.

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 the 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 Dutch Oven Sourdough Bread!

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!

Levain in a glass jar
Mature levain

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 of starter, 40 grams of all-purpose flour, 40 grams of whole wheat flour, and 80 grams of warm water. Let your levain mature for about 5 hours in a warm spot.

STEP 2 – autolyze 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 autolyze for 1 hour.

Autolysing stage for sourdough bread

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 autolyzing add your levain and the rest of the water to the dough. Mix it well with your hands and leave it to rest for 15 minutes covered with a wet towel.

Sourdough Bread Dough in a Bowl

STEP 4 – add salt

Now mix 23 grams of fine sea salt into the dough. The reason the salt goes in last is that 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.

Sourdough Dough with bubbles on the top

STEP 5 – slap and fold #1

Transfer the dough onto a clean surface. Pick the dough up and slap it onto the table, then fold it 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 the 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 for 30 minutes.

STEP 10 – stretch and fold #3 and bulk rise

Repeat STEP 8 again. Now is the time for the 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. Generally, the bulk rise will take about 3-5 hours depending on the temperature in your house.

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 it 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.

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 loaves of bread if you’d like to! Just pour some seeds onto a plate, then pick one of the dough balls up and turn the smooth side down onto the plate. Pick it up and place it into the floured banneton baskets/bowls.

You can proof your dough at room temperature for 2-4 hours or you can do overnight proofing which will take you 12-14 hours. Don’t skip this step if you want to get the 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 the best sourdough bread results!

Cover with wet tea towels and place them into the fridge for overnight proofing or let them sit at 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, and 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. The 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 and 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.

Sourdough Bread in a Dutch Oven
Your Best Sourdough Bread at Home

If you are using a 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 of the dutch oven and let it cool completely.

Sourdough Bread Loaves Baked
Best Sourdough Bread at Home: Final Results

STEP 20 – enjoy!

Cut into this beautiful loaf you baked yourself and enjoy! Sourdough bread is so good on its own that you can eat it with some olive oil or butter with some salt.

Sourdough Terms explained

– Autolyse is the process of gluten development. In order for the gluten to form you need to mix flour and water and the process will begin. If you want to know more about autolyse check out 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!

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 soggy. 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 the 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.

Watch How to Make Your Best Sourdough Bread at Home!

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?

For the best results the bread needs about 80% hydration level, which means your ratio would be 100% flour, 80% water, 15% starter or levain, and 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 for 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 as the bread has just been baked.

How Long Does Sourdough Bread Last?

It will last for 5 days at 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 at the room temperature. I find that leaving your sourdough cut side down on the counter makes the crust too hard over time.

Is Sourdough Bread Good for Weight Loss?

In general sourdough bread is much better for you than other bread because of its 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 bread as its 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 in a dutch oven with a lid.

Sourdough Bread Baked with brown crust in the middle

My Best Sourdough Bread Recipe

Natasha
Delicious sourdough bread is good to eat as it or with some butter and salt. If you thought sourdough is nor for you, this recipe might change your mind!
No ratings yet
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 40 mins
Stretch & Fold Time + Rising 18 hrs
Total Time 18 hrs 45 mins
Course Bread
Cuisine American, European
Servings 2 loaves
Calories 185 kcal

Equipment

Ingredients
  

Levain

  • 40 grams (about ¼ cup) mature starter refer to the post for the definition of "mature starter"
  • 40 grams (⅓ cup) all-purpose flour
  • 40 grams (5 tbsp) whole weat flour
  • 80 grams (⅓ cup) water at room temperature

Dough

  • 690 grams (5½ cups) all-purpose flour you can use bread flour as well
  • 200 grams (1¾ cups) whole wheat flour
  • 650 grams (2⅔ cups) water at room temperature
  • 23 grams (4 tsp) fine sea salt

Instructions
 

  • 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.
  • 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. Mix until incorporated, don’t overmix. You can use your hands! Leave to autolyze for 1 hour.
  • After 1 hour of autolyzing add levain to the dough. Mix it well with your hands and leave it to rest for 15 minutes covered with a wet towel.
  • Now mix 23 grams of fine sea salt into the dough. The reason the salt goes in last is that 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.
  • Transfer the dough onto a clean surface. Pick the dough up and slap it onto the table, then fold it 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.
  • Repeat slaps and folds. Rest the dough for 15 minutes.
  • Repeat slaps and folds again and rest the dough for 15 more minutes.
  • Now is the time for the 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.
  • Repeat the previous step. Rest the dough for 30 minutes.
  • Repeat STEP 8 again. Now is the time for the 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. Generally, the bulk rise will take about 3-5 hours depending on the temperature in your house.
  • 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.
  • Transfer your dough onto a clean surface and split it 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. 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.
  • Do the final shaping. See the video for instructions!
  • Now you can add some sesame seeds to the tops of your loaves of bread if you’d like to! Just pour some seeds onto a plate, then pick one of the dough balls up and turn the smooth side down onto the plate. Pick it up and place it into the floured banneton baskets/bowls.
  • You can proof your dough at 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 the 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 the best sourdough bread results! Cover with wet tea towels and place them into the fridge for overnight proofing or let them sit at room temperature for 2-4 hours until the dough passes the poke test.
  • 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.
  • When the oven is preheated, take out one of the loaves and turn them over onto a sheet of baking paper, and 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 and 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!
  • 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 a 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.
  • 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.
  • Take the bread out and let it cool completely. 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!

Video

Notes

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 soggy. 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 the necessary steps and adjust recipes for better bread. The more you practice the better your bread will get!

Nutrition

Calories: 185kcal
Keyword Sourdough Bread, Sourdough Explained, The Best Sourdough Bread, The Ultimate Guide to Sourdough
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Final Thoughts

Have you made your 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 the best sourdough bread practices that I did not answer in this article, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below!

Natasha.

Hi, I am Natasha! Glad to see you here. Hope you join along as I discover and share great recipes that make family cooking easier and more fun! To learn more about me, read my story of how I went from a world traveler to a countryside home cook. Read more…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating