A beginner’s guide on how to make a gorgeous loaf of Artisan Sourdough Bread! Complete tips for a homemade white bread baked in a dutch oven.
This post has been in the works for about 2 years now. When we originally started learning about sourdough from sifting through my grandma’s old cookbooks, her sourdough starters used yeast and the recipes often called for leavening agents other than just the sourdough. I didn’t know any better…but I was enjoying working with and learning about sourdough starters.
As the past 2 years have gone by I’ve realized that a “real” sourdough starter doesn’t begin with yeast. And sourdough bread recipes don’t normally have yeast. This has been fascinating for me to learn, and with the current state of shortages in supplies, it was the perfect time for me to fill in the gaps.
So…today I introduce to you our beautiful artisan sourdough bread. This has been a rollercoaster of a ride in learning, but we’ve been through the failures and testing so you don’t have to.
We promise that if you step through our process, you’ll end up with a gorgeous loaf of homemade bread without yeast!
Most breads use commercial yeast to give rise to bread doughs. They are quick, easy and generally no nonsense. But what happens when you don’t have yeast on hand?
Sourdough bread uses a “starter”, a naturally fermented mixture of flour and water that will give a beautiful rise to your baked goods…without the use of yeast. The process takes longer but is so, so easy once you get started with it. It’s really a lot of hands off time.
Because of the natural fermentation, the bread has a “sour”, tangy flavor that is just amazing. The longer you keep your sourdough starter going, the better the flavor it will have!
We have an entire post dedicated to making homemade sourdough starter. It takes about a week. Start at that article, then once you have an starter that is bubbly and active, come back here to make bread.
There are a few things you’ll need to have on hand if you want your bread to turn out in the best possible way.
This is one of the most important questions when making sourdough bread. If your starter is not active and bubbly, it won’t give any rise to a loaf of bread. And no one wants to waste ingredients.
You should feed your starter a few hours before you are ready to bake bread. When it has doubled and is really bubbly, it’s time to bake with. You want to bake with it before the starter deflates. This is important!
Drop a little bit of starter into a glass jar. If the starter floats, it is ready to bake with. See the picture below.
You may hear about “high hydration” and “low hydration” breads. High hydration breads means there is more water in the dough. The doughs will be stickier, may spread more (not hold their shape well) and will have larger holes in the bread once it is baked.
Low hydration breads are tighter in texture (not big holes) and will hold a nice round dome before baking.
We call this bread recipe a medium hydration. It is the perfect mix between the two for our family. Try using less water (or more flour) as you tweak this recipe to be the perfect bread for your family.
You’ll want to plan about a day and a half for making artisan sourdough bread. Here’s the timeline I usually follow. They are somewhat flexible based on temperature and humidity, but it gives you an idea.
I plan my artisan sourdough bread this way because I don’t want to be up late baking bread. I’d rather let it rise overnight. You can tweak this if you’d like, but as you can see it will take almost 24 hours to make. Thankfully, most of that is hands off time.
Turn on your kitchen scale. Place the glass bowl on top. Press “tare” so that it isn’t using the bowl weight, but only the ingredients you’ll add. Also make sure it is set to grams.
A note about how much starter to use for a loaf of bread: You can use as little as 25 grams of starter in this recipe. However, know that it will take longer for the bulk fermentation stage. If we are running low on starter, we’ll use 50 grams. We normally have a nice amount of starter on hand so using 90 grams of starter simply allows the whole process to go a little more quickly for us.
Add 90 grams of active sourdough starter to the bowl. Then add 350 grams of warm water. Use a whisk to whisk the ingredients together.
Then add 500 grams of a high quality, unbleached bread flour. This is the type of flour that will give you the best results. We have not tested other flours, only unbleached bread flour.
Lastly, add 9 grams of salt.
Mix these ingredients together until they form a rough, shaggy dough.
Allow the dough ball to sit for 30 minutes. This will help the gluten strands form. It’s an important step for the texture of the dough.
After the 30 minutes is over, use your hands to form a dough ball. This should only take about 15 seconds and isn’t necessarily “kneading” the dough, but just forming a smooth ball.
Place the dough ball back into the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Now it is time for bulk fermentation. That starter is going to make all of your bread dough bubbly and light textured. Watch it do it’s magic! Or do like me and go to sleep while it works. 🙂 This step normally takes about 10-12ish hours for us. It really depends on temperature and how active your starter is. The dough should be nearly doubled in size though.
You should see pretty bubbles of all sizes in the dough. That’s why we love to use a glass bowl!
Now that the dough has fully fermented, it’s time to shape it! If the dough feels super sticky, dust it lightly with flour. It’s important to note that through this shaping the dough will naturally deflate, but you don’t want to press down on it hard or knead it. Hold it gently and work with it lightly.
Start on one side and fold the dough over. Then turn the dough slightly and fold over the next section of dough towards the center. Turn the dough again and fold again, then do it again until you’ve gone all the way around the circle. This process creates a surface tension on the outside of the dough for a nice shape.
Place the dough ball, smooth side down, into a floured banneton basket. Allow the dough to sit again for another 1-3 hours. You want the dough to look light textured and not dense at all. It won’t fully rise to double again….just watch for the texture to lighten. Don’t let this stage go too long because you want that “oven spring” during baking, which is the final rise before the crust forms on the outside of the bread.
Homemade bread bakes best when it has steam or moisture to allow it to form and rise correctly. Baking bread in a dutch oven traps that moisture and works beautifully to allow the inside of the bread to bake before the exterior dries out. It gives the crust a crispy exterior that you know and love in a sourdough bread.
So yes, we 100% recommend using a dutch oven to bake artisan sourdough bread.
Sourdough bread is perfect for sandwiches, paninis, French toast, breakfast casseroles or grilled sandwiches.
Our favorite is simply when we slice it and slather it with butter and honey. So, so good!
We’ve had so much fun working with sourdough and creating all the things! Try one of our favorite recipes, both with discard and active starter.
Still have discard? You’ll love these recipes!