The Best Sourdough Bread Recipe for Beginners
No need to be a seasoned bread-making pro to pull off this sourdough bread recipe.
If you're ready to attempt making fresh-baked bread at home but feel intimidated, this beginner-friendly sourdough bread recipe is for you. With so many people homebound and cooking during quarantine, kitchen projects that take a little more time—but not a ton of hard-to-find ingredients—can be a great way to feed your creativity along with your body. Bonus: sourdough, which gets its name from its tangy taste, actually has some nutritional advantages over conventional white bread.
The Benefits of Sourdough Bread
When making your own bread you know for sure what's in there, which makes it easy to control for dietary restrictions like allergies and avoid cross-contamination. You can also rest assured you're not getting any preservatives or excess sugar or sodium (did you know sliced bread is a sneaky contributor to high sodium in many U.S. diets?) since you get to control the amount. When getting to the store is a challenge or retailers are out of many staples, being able to make your own can also save you a lot of stress. If you can't find yeast, then you'll love that the only three ingredients you need to make sourdough bread are water, flour, and salt! (FWIW, during the fermentation process to make the sourdough starter, the naturally present yeast in flour becomes active, so technically there is some yeast involved.)
When compared to commercial white bread, sourdough's nutrient profile looks similar at first glance, but it stands out for its noted digestive benefits.
Sourdough contains prebiotic fibers that help nourish the gut by providing fuel for the beneficial probiotic bacteria in the gut. While most of the probiotics naturally present in the sourdough starter don't survive the baking process (they primarily contribute flavor, in this case), the strains of lactic acid bacteria (some of which also have probiotic properties) created during the starter fermentation process do hang on. In addition to helping make sourdough bread easier to digest, these strains may also provide some antioxidant benefits.
Sourdough bread's distinct tangy flavor comes from using wild, active yeast that's formed from a starter, which is created by combining flour and water and letting it ferment over several days. The component of the wild yeast that actually lends that "sour" flavor is the friendly bacteria—specifically lactobacillus—created during the formation of the starter that helps ferment the naturally present sugars from the flour in the bread dough.
Just as a heads-up, sourdough bread is not gluten-free. However, research suggests that the long fermentation process may help make gluten more easily digestible. For those who suffer from non-celiac sensitivity to fructans, the fermentation process also helps break them down so they're more digestible. Additionally, the yeast and lactic acid produced during that fermentation help neutralize the effect of phytic acid, another compound found in wheat that can cause digestive issues.
How to Make Sourdough Bread
Step 1. Make your starter.
The first step to making sourdough bread is to make a starter, which you create by combining flour and water and allowing it to ferment over the course of a few days (anywhere from five to fourteen), feeding it with more flour and water each day. In this process, lactic acid and wild yeast are created, as well as the other probiotic bacteria mentioned, which add flavor. Once the starter reaches the appropriate volume (we'll get to this) you can use part of that starter to make a loaf of sourdough bread. It sounds more tedious than it is, promise! The good news is that you don't need to make a new starter every single time you want to make a loaf of sourdough if you maintain your mature starter as explained below.
Sourdough Bread Starter Recipe
This starter recipe was adapted from America's Test Kitchen
- 4 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- Room temperature water
- Combine whole-wheat and all-purpose flour in a large container.
- In another large container, mix 1 cup of the flour mixture into 2/3 cup water, using a fork. It should resemble a thick paste (think: almond butter).
- Cover with a lid, plastic wrap, or damp towel and allow it to sit at room temperature for 48 to 72 hours until it's bubbly and gives off a pleasant aroma. A warmer room will speed up the process. Heads-up, it is possible to kill your starter with heat, since yeast dies at about 140° F, and even temperatures lower than that may be harmful. If it's a really hot day, keep your starter in a cool spot and out of the sun. You don't have to overthink it, though—while room temp (around 70° F) is ideal, a few degrees above or below shouldn't make a difference.
- To feed your starter, scoop 1/4 cup of the starter into a clean container and throw away the rest. Add 1/2 cup of the flour mixture and 1/4 cup of room temperature water until well combined and then cover and allow the starter to sit another 24 hours.
- Repeat that process of feeding the starter every 24 hours until it doubles in size 8 to 12 hours after being fed, about 10 to 14 days. At this point, you can either bake with the starter or maintain it.
If you're going to bake ASAP with your starter: Your starter will typically rise to its full peak about four to 12 hours after it's last feed (water and flour addition). Once you start to notice it deflate, it's best to bake with it within the hour for the best flavor and final results.
If you're going to maintain the starter until you're ready to bake with it: Transfer 1/4 cup of the starter into a clean container that can be loosely covered and discard the rest. Stir in 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup of room temperature water. Let it sit for five hours at room temperature before transferring to the fridge. Repeat this process of maintaining the starter weekly until you're ready to bake your bread.
To prepare a maintained starter for baking, transfer 1/2 cup of the starter to a clean bowl and discard the rest roughly 18 to 24 hours before you intend to start baking. Stir in 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 cup water into the starter and let it sit, covered, at room temperature for 5 hours. Measure out the amount that's called for in your recipe and transfer it to another bowl, which you then store in the fridge, covered, for 12 to 18 hours. The remaining starter can be refrigerated and maintained as described above.
Step 2. Make your sourdough loaf.
Once you have a starter (either homemade or purchased), you're ready to make a loaf of bread. The night before you'll want to prepare a leaven to help the bread dough rise. And if you're looking around on social media and feeling like the only person who doesn't have something called a bread-proofing basket or a Dutch oven, you can use large mixing bowls or colanders for the basket and a large, heavy-bottom pot with a lid in place of a Dutch oven.
Sourdough Bread Recipe
Makes two loaves
- 1 tablespoon active sourdough starter
- 6 cups all-purpose or bread flour, divided
- 3 cups room temperature water, divided
- 1 tablespoon salt
- To make the leavening, combine the active sourdough starter, 1/2 cup of flour, and 1/3 cup of water in a large bowl and mix until a thick paste forms. Cover and allow to sit at room temp overnight or at least 12 hours. You'll know it's ready to be used when the surface is bubbly and a small spoonful floats in water.
- Place about 1/4 cup of water in a small bowl and add the salt. Stir to dissolve and set aside.
- Add 2 cups of water to the bowl of leaven, using a wooden spoon, spatula, or your hands to break up the clumps, but it's okay if a few remain.
- Add the flour and mix until there is no dry flour remaining. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel or cheesecloth and let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes–4 hours.
- Uncover the dough and pour the dissolved salt over it, incorporating it into the dough by pinching and squeezing.
- Fold the dough by grabbing one side, lifting it up and folding it over the rest. Let it sit for 30 minutes before giving the bowl a quarter-turn and repeating the process. Do a total of six folds, spaced 30 minutes apart. The dough should start to become smoother and more cohesive as you go.
- After the last fold, cover the dough and let it rise for 30 to 60 minutes. When it's ready, it will look slightly larger and puffy, but not doubled in size as with other breads.
- Sprinkle a clean work surface with flour and place the dough onto it. Using a pastry scraper, a spatula, or your hands, separate the dough into two equally sized pieces. Sprinkle a little flour on top of each and shape into a loose round shape. To prevent the dough from sticking, put some extra flour on your pastry scraper, spatula, or hands.
- Let the dough rest for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, line two proofing baskets, large bowls, or colanders with clean kitchen towels. (If you only have one, then you can bake the second loaf after the first one is done.) Dust the inside with flour—enough so that you end up with a thin layer of flour.
- Transfer the loaves into the baskets/bowls/colanders. To shape the loaves, dust the top of each with some flour and flip them over with your pastry scraper or spatula. Using a similar method to when you folded the dough, pull the bottom corner up and over the top of the ball of dough. Do this for each of the four "corners."
- Dust the balls of dough all over with flour and place them in the prepared baskets/bowls/colanders. Cover with plastic wrap and allow them to sit and rise until they look puffy, 3–4 hours at room temp or about 12 hours in the fridge.
- Preheat your oven to 500° F. Place the dutch ovens or lidded pots in the oven. Once the pots have preheated to 500°. Put them in there as soon as you turn on the oven, and by the time it's reached 500°, you'll be good to go. Carefully remove them from the oven and gently transfer the loaves inside. Make a two-inch gash in the surface of each loaf using a sharp or serrated knife.
- Cover the pots and place back in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes and then reduce heat to 450° F. Bake for another 10 minutes, undisturbed.
- Remove the lids and allow the loaves to bake for another 30 to 50 minutes. The crust should be a deep golden brown color.
- Use a spatula to carefully lift the loaves out of the pots and transfer them to wire cooling racks. Wait at least an hour before slicing.
USDA Nutrition estimate for one ounce of sourdough bread: 77 calories, 0.7g fat, 15g carbs, 0.6g fiber, 1g sugar, 3g protein