brown bread
8 minutes

A Beginner’s Guide to Making Sourdough Bread

Master the art of sourdough bread making in 2023 with this beginner’s guide. Learn the science behind it, gather essential ingredients, create your starter, and bake the perfect loaf. Plus, troubleshooting tips and flavor experiments.


Sourdough bread, with its distinct taste and artisanal allure, has been capturing the hearts of food enthusiasts and health-conscious individuals alike. Its enticing tangy flavor, chewy texture, and crunchy crust make it stand out among other bread types. Sourdough bread has also recently experienced a revival in popularity, especially amidst the quest for more wholesome and natural eating options.

Interestingly, sourdough isn’t a new invention; it has ancient roots and has been a beloved bread-making method for centuries. What sets sourdough apart is its unique fermentation process, where natural yeasts and bacteria are utilized to leaven the bread. This not only contributes to its characteristic taste but also bestows it with several health benefits.

Compared to regular bread, sourdough is often lauded for its enhanced nutritional profile. The fermentation process is known to reduce phytic acid, which in turn, makes minerals like calcium and magnesium more readily available for absorption. Additionally, sourdough bread typically has a lower glycemic index, meaning it causes a slower rise in blood sugar levels, making it a preferred choice for many health-conscious individuals.

In this guide, we will take a journey into the art of sourdough bread making. From understanding its background to getting your hands doughy, this article aims to equip beginners with the essentials of crafting the perfect loaf of sourdough bread. Whether you’re a complete novice or a home baker looking to delve into the world of sourdough, this comprehensive guide will be your go-to resource.

Let’s get started on this exciting and rewarding culinary adventure!

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Photo by Cats Coming on

Section 1: Understanding Sourdough

A. What is Sourdough Bread?

Sourdough bread is a type of bread made by the fermentation of dough using naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeast. Unlike other bread types, which often use commercial yeast to rise, sourdough relies on a starter – a fermented mixture of flour and water – that contains wild yeast and good bacteria.

The science behind sourdough fermentation is intriguing. The wild yeast and lactobacilli in the starter work together to not only rise the dough but also create its unique flavor. The yeast ferments the sugars in the flour, producing carbon dioxide, which causes the bread to rise. Meanwhile, the lactobacilli produce lactic acid, which gives sourdough its characteristic tang.

B. The Health Benefits of Sourdough Bread

The slow fermentation process that characterizes sourdough bread-making doesn’t only contribute to its distinct taste; it also enhances its nutritional aspects.

1. Nutritional Benefits:

  • Enhanced Mineral Availability: The lactic acid produced by the lactobacilli can help neutralize phytic acid, which is often referred to as an anti-nutrient as it can block the absorption of minerals. By reducing phytic acid levels, sourdough bread allows for better absorption of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and iron.
  • Lower Glycemic Index: Sourdough bread usually has a lower glycemic index compared to regular bread, meaning it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels as quickly. This is beneficial for managing blood sugar levels.

2. Sourdough and Gut Health:

  • Probiotic Properties: The fermentation process involved in making sourdough can produce beneficial bacteria and create a bread variety that’s easier on the digestive system.
  • Better Digestibility: The breakdown of gluten during the sourdough fermentation process can make this bread more digestible for some people who are sensitive to gluten.

Understanding the process behind sourdough and the benefits it brings is the first step in appreciating this artisanal bread. Now that you are familiar with what makes sourdough special, let’s delve into the practical aspects of making your own loaf.

Section 2: Getting Started

A. Gathering Your Ingredients

Before diving into the process of making sourdough bread, it’s essential to gather all the necessary ingredients. Sourdough bread requires simple ingredients, but the quality of these ingredients is crucial.

  • Flour: You can use different types of flour, such as all-purpose, whole wheat, or rye. Some bakers like to mix flours for added depth in flavor.
  • Water: It’s best to use filtered or bottled water, as chlorine in tap water can hinder the fermentation process.
  • Salt: Salt not only flavors the bread but also helps control fermentation. Use sea salt or kosher salt for the best results.

B. Essential Equipment

Having the right tools is just as important as having quality ingredients. Here is a list of essential kitchen tools you will need:

  • Glass or Plastic Container: For creating and storing your sourdough starter.
  • Kitchen Scale: Precise measurements are critical in bread making. A kitchen scale is a must.
  • Mixing Bowls: For mixing your dough.
  • Dough Scraper: Helps to manipulate the dough without it sticking to surfaces.
  • Cast Iron Dutch Oven: This is ideal for baking sourdough as it retains heat well.
  • Banneton Basket: Helps to shape the bread and create a beautiful crust.
  • Lame or Sharp Knife: For scoring the bread before baking.

Recommended brands for beginners include Lodge (for cast iron Dutch ovens) and OXO (for mixing bowls and dough scrapers).

Section 3: Making Your Sourdough Starter

A. What is a Sourdough Starter?

A sourdough starter is a fermented mixture of flour and water, containing the yeast and bacteria needed to rise and flavor sourdough bread. It’s the natural leavening agent that differentiates sourdough from bread made with commercial yeast.

B. How to Make Your Own Starter

Making a sourdough starter is a simple process, but it requires patience. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Day 1: Mix 100g of whole wheat or rye flour with 100g of water in a container. Cover loosely and let it sit at room temperature for 24 hours.
  2. Day 2: You might see some bubbles. Add 100g of flour and 100g of water, mix, cover, and let it sit.
  3. Days 3-5: By now, you should see more bubbles and it should have a pleasant aroma. Feed the starter daily with 100g of flour and 100g of water.
  4. Day 6: Your starter should be doubled in volume, with plenty of bubbles. It’s now ready to be used to make sourdough bread!

C. Maintaining Your Starter

Maintaining your starter is essential for continuous bread making. Here are some tips:

  • Feeding: If you bake often, keep your starter at room temperature and feed it daily. If you bake less frequently, store the starter in the refrigerator and feed it once a week.
  • Storing: Keep your starter in a glass or plastic container with a loose-fitting lid.
  • Reviving: If your starter looks inactive, feed it with a tablespoon of sugar to give it a boost.

A healthy starter is the foundation of great sourdough bread. With your ingredients and equipment ready, and your sourdough starter active, you’re all set to start crafting the perfect loaf.

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Section 4: Crafting Your Sourdough Bread

A. Mixing and Kneading

  1. In a large bowl, combine your sourdough starter, flour, and water. Mix until it comes together into a sticky dough.
  2. Add the salt and continue to knead by hand or with a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.
  3. Knead for about 10-15 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.
  4. Perform a windowpane test by stretching a small piece of dough between your fingers. It should stretch thin without tearing.

B. First Fermentation

  1. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover it with a damp cloth or plastic wrap.
  2. Let the dough ferment at room temperature for 4-8 hours, or until it has doubled in size. This process is also known as bulk fermentation.
  3. During fermentation, the dough develops flavor and structure.

C. Shaping and Second Fermentation

  1. Once the dough has doubled in size, gently deflate it on a lightly floured surface.
  2. Shape the dough into a round loaf by pulling the edges towards the center.
  3. Place the dough seam-side up in a well-floured banneton basket or a bowl lined with a cloth.
  4. Cover and let the dough rise again for about 2-4 hours, or until puffy but not double in size.

D. Baking Your Sourdough Bread

  1. Preheat your oven to 450°F (232°C) with a cast iron Dutch oven inside.
  2. Carefully transfer the dough into the hot Dutch oven and score the top with a lame or sharp knife.
  3. Cover and bake for 20 minutes, then remove the lid and continue baking for another 20-30 minutes until deep golden brown.
  4. Let the bread cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

Section 5: Tips and Troubleshooting

A. Common Mistakes

  • Not allowing enough time for fermentation, leading to a dense loaf.
  • Using a starter that is not active or bubbly.
  • Over-kneading or under-kneading the dough.
  • Baking at the wrong temperature or not preheating the Dutch oven.

B. Troubleshooting Guide

  • If your bread is too dense, try allowing more time for fermentation or ensuring your starter is active.
  • If your crust is too thick or hard, reduce the initial baking time with the lid on.
  • If your bread is gummy inside, it might be under-baked or sliced too soon.

C. Experimenting with Flavors and Add-ins

  • Add nuts, seeds, dried fruits, or herbs to your dough for different flavors and textures.
  • Experiment with different types of flour such as rye or spelt for a change in flavor.

By understanding the science behind sourdough and carefully following each step, you’ll be on your way to crafting the perfect loaf. Sourdough bread making is an art that requires patience and practice, but the end result is incredibly rewarding. Enjoy the process and happy baking!

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