How To Make Sourdough Bread: A Beginner’s Complete Guide

If you’re interested in learning how to make sourdough bread at home, it’s important to get a foundational understanding of the process so that it can be fun rather than frustrating! While making sourdough bread takes a lot of time, it’s a rather simple process that mostly takes care of itself when you step out of the way and let the magic happen.

This guide will help you get started with making your own loaf affordably and easily with an FAQ section at the end for the most common bread making questions. Happy fermenting!

What Is Sourdough?

bread and sourdough starter

Sourdough is a commonly used word that describes a mixed culture starter for rising bread. You can create a probiotic sourdough “starter”, a liquid consisting of flour, water, and natural yeasts that can create numerous loaves of bread over and over again. This method was how all bread was made until only a couple of centuries ago, when we began to isolate and commercialize yeast strains. 

This pushed natural bread baking into the world of obscurity. However there has been renewed interest and it is becoming easier to find materials and ingredients to make your very own loaf at home.

Benefits Of Sourdough

folding bread

A Great Source Of Antioxidants & Vitamins

Sourdough bread is a great source of antioxidants as well as minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, folate, and niacin. These nutrients can lower one’s risk for certain types of cancer, signs of aging, and auto-immue diseases. 

Can Support Disease Prevention

The lactic acid produced during the fermentation process makes sourdough bread more bioavailable, which means that your body can much more easily absorb nutrients and antioxidants. This increased absorption plays a powerful role in protecting your cells from diseases such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and more. 

May Lower Your Blood Sugar

The bacteria in sourdough has a unique effect on the starches inside of bread. It’s able to change the structure of the starch molecules in a way that makes the body absorb them much slower. This process lowers the bread’s glycemic index and can prevent insulin levels from spiking as high as they would when eating conventional white bread. 

Improves Digestive Health

Sourdough acts as a prebiotic, which means it is a fiber substrate that feeds and helps build your healthy gut bacteria. It also contains less gluten than other breads, making it a preferable choice for those who are sensitive to gluten. For those who are gluten intolerant, it is possible to make gluten-free sourdough bread as well.

Saves Money

Making sourdough can save a lot of money, with ingredients as simple and cheap as bread, water, and the possible addition of salt. This is cheaper than both buying bread mixes as well as pre-baked bread.

A Therapeutic Hobby

There’s a reason that sourdough has become a more common practice even though it takes more time than grabbing a loaf at the store! It’s incredibly gratifying and is a wonderful expression of self care. It’s great for socialization and makes the perfect gift for loved ones. It’s also a great source of curiosity and creativity. You can vary your bread loaves indefinitely to find many versions of sourdough that work for you.

How To Make Sourdough Starter

two jars full of sourdough starter

How To Make A Sourdough Starter Without Yeast

The easiest way to make a sourdough starter is by mixing a small amount of water with a small amount of flour in a bowl. Use a smidge more flour than water, and mix it into a smooth consistency. The batter should be pourable, yet still have enough thickness to stick well to a spoon. Make sure to use unchlorinated water since chlorine will kill off natural yeasts. 

Stir this mixture once or twice a day and keep an eye out for bubbles on the surface of the flour water batter. When it begins to bubble, it’s time to “feed” the starter, which means adding fresh flour and water to it. You can add 3 to 4 times as much flour and water as the total volume. By feeding your starter this large amount it will reduce the acidity of the sourdough environment and help the yeasts to have a competitive edge for growth. 

Sourdough starters can also be made from many other sources. You can use water that you’ve boiled, soaked, or rinsed fruits, vegetables, or grains in. This means that the water may include the natural wild yeasts from the plants, and may start your culture sooner. 

You can also use other fermented products to start a sourdough starter. You can add beer foam, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and much more to the flour water mixture. These methods are experimental and will require patience and close observation. On the plus side, they may help your starter develop much more quickly. Just as with the plain flour and water method, watch for bubbles on the surface of the batter. 

How to buy sourdough starter

If you would like faster results and to start baking bread right away, you can always purchase a starter. Previously this may have been difficult, since sourdough bread was an artisanal hobby. However, it’s rising popularity has come with many conveniences. 

Firstly, you may want to consider asking for a sourdough starter before you buy one. You can ask a local restaurant, find a local homesteading or bartering group online, or post on a larger forum like Craigslist or the Facebook marketplace. People who make sourdough bread often have lots of extra starter and are happy to share it for free. 

If you’re looking to purchase a starter, you can usually find some at your local co-op, Whole Foods, or farmer’s market. For ultimate convenience, you can purchase a starter online as well. Many online starters will be dehydrated, so you will need to reconstitute them with water. As mentioned above, make sure not to use chlorinated water to protect the natural yeasts. 

How to tell if sourdough starter is ready

Pay attention to the bubbles in your batter to determine if your starter is ready. These bubbles mean that the yeasts are alive, well, and eating the nutrients in the flour and water mixture. When you stir and feed your starter you should be able to hear a soft hissing sound, similar to that of a carbonated beverage. 

Your starter may also rise in the process of fermenting and can even grow to double its size. Make sure to start with a container large enough to handle this expansion. If you are using a clear container, you can mark the level where your mixture began with a marker to see how much it grows over the days. 

Finally, you can use the “float test” to determine if your starter is ready. Fill a cup full of warm water and place a tablespoon of starter in it. If the starter floats, then it is ready to go! 

How to feed a sourdough starter

Once your sourdough starter is healthy and active, you will have to regularly maintain it to keep it going. This is done in two ways. Firstly, you will need to get rid of some of your starter, about half of it. I recommend that you use this extra amount to make a quick sourdough pancake by just pouring it into a hot skillet. Of course, you can also share this portion with others so they can begin their sourdough journey as well.

The other part of starter maintenance is feeding your starter. You will have to do this process every day if you leave your sourdough in a room temperature area. However, you can place your starter in the fridge and feed it once a week. 

  1. Establish a regular feeding time. It doesn’t matter so much when you are going to feed your starter, but be consistent, so that you get consistent results! 
  2. Remove half of your starter as mentioned above. This refreshes the acidity levels in the starter which controls its flavor and size. Otherwise, it will grow exponentially and require a tremendous amount of space and flour. 
  3. Add equal parts flour and water to your starter, for a ratio of 1 to 1 to 1. You can adjust the consistency by adding a little more flour if the mixture is too watery. 
  4. Cover your starter and let it rise at room temperature. 

You can make bread anywhere from 2 to 12 hours after this process. Keep an eye out for bubbles and a high increase in volume. Warmer climates tend to increase the speed of this process. 

How to maintain sourdough starter

Make sure to keep your starter in a clean warm environment that is out of the sunlight. Making sure that your starter doesn’t get infiltrated by other microbes is key to a healthy batch.

Sourdough starters are strong and do a pretty good job of keeping other microbes out. You will need to cover your mixture with cheesecloth, a towel, or a coffee filter to make sure that insects and dust don’t make their way inside the container. 

It’s ok if you forget to feed your starter! Especially with a more matured batch, these guys are quite strong. Just add more flour and water to get your batch going again. If you’re having trouble with regular feedings, go ahead and put your starter in the fridge so you can take feedings down to as infrequently as once a week. 

How To Make Sourdough Bread

Now that you know the basics and have obtained or made a sourdough starter, let’s get going and make some bread!

Equipment

A large mixing bowl that is large enough for the dough will help your dough rise overnight. Make sure that the bowl has tall sides to prevent overflowing. 

bread in mixing bowl

A dough scraper will help you to remove the dough out of your mixing bowl without deflating it and popping the air bubbles inside. You can also use a very firm spatula for this as well. 

scraper

A bench knife is used to divide and shape the dough, as well as for cleaning flour off of your work station. It’s a great multi-use tool for every breadmaker. 

scoring bread

A proofing basket will help to shape your sourdough bread right before baking it, during the final rise. The gluten will relax as your dough proofs, which causes the loaf to flatten and spread out. The basket prevents this from taking away your bread’s shape. You can get these in long, oval, or round shapes. Line your proofing basket with linen or a towel for a smooth surface texture. A proofing basket is also known as a brotform or banneton. 

proofing basket with bread

A Dutch oven is an excellent choice for baking bread in and is also very useful for other homesteading projects. It imitates a brick oven by steaming the dough as it breaks, because of its lid. This will result in a firm crusty edge and a soft moist center. 

dutch oven with bread

Easy Sourdough Bread Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1.25 cups (300 grams) of lukewarm (chlorine free) water
  • 3 cups (375 grams) of all-purpose flour
  • ½ (120 grams) cup of sourdough starter
  • 1.5 teaspoons (9 grams) of salt

Instructions

  1. Combine the water and sourdough starter in a large bowl
  2. Add the flour and salt into the bowl and stir vigorously until mixture becomes stiff.
  3. Switch to your hands and begin to bring the dough together into a ball.
  4. Leave the ball of dough in the bowl and cover it with a cloth. Wait 30 minutes
  5. Stretch and fold the bowl 3 to 5 times to form it into a ball.
  6. Cover the dough once more and let it sit in a warm place for 8 hours or overnight. 
  7. After 8 hours or the next day, turn the dough out of the bowl onto your counter. Fold it over a couple of times to tighten it into a ball once more. Let it sit for 15 minutes. 
  8. Gently shape the dough into a ball again and place it into a well-floured proofing basket.
  9. Cover the proofing basket with a towel and let the bread sit for 2 or 3 hours.
  10. Preheat the oven to 450F
  11. Put a light dusting of cornmeal on the bottom of your dutch oven (optional)
  12. Take the load out of the proofing basket and place it on a sheet of parchment paper.
  13. Pick up the parchment paper and place it and the bread into your dutch oven. 
  14. Cover your dutch oven with its lid and bake for 20 minutes. 
  15. Remove the lid and bake the bread for an additional 30 minutes, or until the bread is deeply browned. 
  16. Move to a cooling rack and let your bread cool completely before slicing into it 

FAQS

slices of bread

How to make sourdough more sour

You can add a bit more flour to your starter to add more of a tangy flavor to your bread. The flour is the yeast’s food, so it will produce more flavor when it’s more well fed. You can also allow your bread to rise in a cooler area of your home. The slower the rising process is for the bread, the more complex and intense the flavors will be. 

What if my sourdough bread doesn’t rise?

This means that your sourdough starter wasn’t active enough. Make sure that your starter has been recently fed and that it’s producing lots of bubbles. Also make sure that when you mix the dough with water, that the water isn’t too hot. This may kill the yeast. You can use the loaf to make a crust or breadcrumbs if it doesn’t rise, to avoid wasting it. 

How do I make gluten-free sourdough bread?

Check out this video to learn about how you can make a gluten free sourdough with brown rice flour:

Do different ratios of flour and water in the starter change it?

When you add more water to your starter, it will tone down the flavor and make your starter much milder. More flour will have the opposite effect, giving you a thicker and more potent starter. 

Which flour should I use for baking bread?

Check out this video to learn more about different flours you can use with your sourdough bread

Summary

By now, you should have a pretty solid understanding of how to make a sourdough starter and make your own bread! The variations on sourdough are endless, and once you establish the basics and get a feel for the process, you’ll be able to adapt the process to your preference. Leave me a comment letting me know how your sourdough experience has gone! 

loaf of sourdough

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