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Loaf of sourdough bread on a table

Sourdough Bread: A Beginner’s Guide

  • Author: Emilie Raffa
  • Prep Time: 13 hours
  • Cook Time: 1 hour
  • Total Time: 14 hours
  • Yield: 1 loaf
  • Category: Sourdough Bread Recipes
  • Method: Oven-Baked
  • Cuisine: American
  • Diet: Vegan


This beginner sourdough recipe is perfect for bakers looking to jump right in! It’s is a low-hydration dough, meaning it will yield a ‘tight’ crumb (small holes). It is great for sandwiches and toast.


  • 150g/ 5.35 oz bubbly, active sourdough starter
  • 250g/ 8.80 oz warm water, preferably filtered*
  • 25g/ .90 oz olive oil
  • 500g/ 17.65 oz bread flour (not all purpose flour)
  • 10g/ .4 oz fine sea salt
  • fine ground cornmeal, for dusting

*For a more soft and pliable dough, you can increase the water up to 300 g- 325 g total. Please use a cloth lined bowl (instead of the Dutch oven for the second rise).

**You will need a 5 1/2 or 6 quart Dutch oven for baking

***This recipe was tested with King Arthur Bread Flour, Gold Medal Bread Flour, Pillsbury Bread Flour


Make the Dough

Whisk the starter, water, and olive oil in a large bowl. Add the flour and salt. Squish everything together with your hands until all of the flour is absorbed. The dough will be dry and shaggy. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, reusable wrap or a clean, very damp kitchen towel. Let rest (autolyse) for 30 minutes or up to 1 hour, if preferred.

After the dough has rested, work the dough in the bowl into a rough ball, about 15 seconds.

Bulk Rise

Now the dough needs to rise.

Cover the bowl with wrap or a very damp kitchen cloth. Let rest in a warm spot to rise. The dough is ready when it no longer looks dense and has doubled in size. This can take anywhere from 3-12 hours depending on the temperature of your ingredients, the potency of your starter and surrounding environment. For example, in the summer rise times can take anywhere between 2-4 hours @ 85º F/ 29º C whereas in the winter, the dough will take about 10-12 hours @ 68º F/ 20º C.

Optional Step: Stretch & Fold the Dough

During bulk rise, you have the option to perform a series of ‘stretch & folds’ to strengthen the dough. Start 30 minutes into the bulk rise. Gather a portion of the dough, stretch it upwards and then fold it over itself. Rotate the bowl ¼ turn and repeat this process until you have come full circle to complete 1 set. Do this once or twice spaced about an hour apart. Although this step is not mandatory, it will increase the total volume and height of your bread. Click here for a step-by-step video tutorial.

Cut & Shape the Dough

Divide your work surface in half; lightly flour one side (for cutting) and leave the other half clean (for shaping).

Remove the dough from the bowl, and place onto the floured section so that it does not stick. You do not need to ‘punch down’ the dough; it will gently deflate as you fold and shape it.

Cut the dough in half to make 2 loaves, or leave it whole for a single loaf.

To shape, use a bench scraper to move your dough to the non-floured section (if there is any flour present, it will be difficult to shape- brush away any excess). Starting at the top, fold the dough over toward the center. Give it a slight turn, and then fold over the next section of dough. Repeat until you have come full circle.

Then flip the dough over and place it seam side down. Using your hands, gently cup the sides of the dough and rotate it, using quarter turns in a circular motion. You can also pull it towards you to even out the shape. Repeat this process until you are happy with its appearance. *See note below.

Second Rise

Now the dough needs to rise again, but for a shorter period of time.

Coat the bottom of your Dutch oven with cornmeal. Alternatively, use parchment paper to prevent sticking (this is what I do, now). Place the dough inside for a second shorter rise, about 30 minutes to 1 hour and cover with the lid of the pot or a very damp cloth. The dough ready when it is slightly puffy but not double in size.

Preheat your oven to 450º F/ 232º C towards the tail end of the second rise.

Score the Dough

Right before your bread goes into the oven, make a shallow slash about 2-3 inches long (or more) in the center of the dough. Use a bread lame, sharp pairing or a small serrated steak knife. The cut should be about 1/4-inch deep.

Bake the Dough

Place the bread into the oven on the center rack (lid on) and reduce the temperature to 400° F/ 204° C. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the lid, and continue to bake (uncovered) for an additional 40 minutes or until deep, golden brown. Keep in mind that all ovens are different; you might have to make minimal adjustments to these temperatures.

You can also take the internal temperature of your bread to double check that it is done. For sourdough, it should read about 205-210º F/ 96-98º C.

Remove the bread from the oven, and cool on a wire rack for at least an hour before slicing. Don’t cut too soon or else the inside will have a gummy texture!


When shaping, the idea is for the dough to catch enough surface tension on a non-floured area in order to create a tight ball. If there is flour present, it will slide around… and drive you nuts.

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