How to Make Artisan Sourdough Bread (2022)

If you haven’t experienced the joy of homemade sourdough bread, you haven’t truly lived. Okay, I’m exaggerating (a bit). But it’s something that a food enthusiast should taste at least once in their life. The depth of flavor you can achieve can’t be replicated in off-the-shelf bread. Sure, you can buy some excellent sourdough bread these days. But unless it was baked the same day, it won’t have the same quality as a loaf just pulled from your oven. On top of that, there’s the joy of eating something that you carefully crafted over the course of days.

You might think that making artisan sourdough bread is reserved for the most advanced home cook. I was of the same mindset not that long ago. But I overcame my inhibitions and gave sourdough bread-making a try. And the very first loaf I baked was scrumptious. I was shocked at my success. Maybe it was a fluke? But no, I have been able to achieve the same results again and again.

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Today I’m going to be sharing the method I use to create drool-worthy sourdough bread. If you follow my instructions carefully, I’m confident that you too can enjoy this amazing loaf. The recipe I originally used was from Homemade Food Junkie. I’ve added my own spin to it and adjusted it slightly to fit my needs.

I was going to buy special bread-making equipment for this post so I could look all fancy and professional. But then I realized: no! I want to show you guys that you can make some amazing artisan sourdough bread at home without any fancy equipment. All you need is some parchment paper, a kitchen scale, a tea towel, a bowl, a serrated knife, and a Dutch oven or heavy baking sheet.

I decided to give you a really in-depth, step-by-step photo tutorial because explaining something new can get kind of wordy. My suggestion is to cook from the tutorial a few times until you get the hang of it, and then transition to cooking from the recipe. I wrote the recipe to be more concise so you don’t have to read through a huge chunk of words every time you want to bake bread.

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The Starter/Levain

If you haven’t seen my previous post, Sourdough 101, make sure to give it a read first! I talked all about sourdough starters: how to make one, and how to maintain one.

It’s so important to start your bread-making with a healthy, active starter. For this loaf of bread, I fed my starter the night before. I started with 50 grams of starter, and fed it with about 80 grams each of organic all-purpose flour and water. In the morning, it had doubled and had lots of little holes.

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Here you can see what the surface looked like.

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It’s really important to give your starter the float test. If it floats, it indicates that it’s ready to be used! After several times baking with sourdough, you might be able to tell if the starter is ready without the float test. But it’s a good idea to utilize it the first few times you bake.

A note about the “maturity” of the starter: A starter that’s “younger” (one that has been fed more recently) will result in a sweeter loaf, and a more “mature” starter (one that has gone longer without a feed and is starting to smell sour) will result in a more sour loaf. Both a young and a mature starter might pass the float test, but they will probably result in different-tasting breads.

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Mixing the Loaf

Pour 525 grams of water into a large bowl. It’s a good idea to choose a bowl that has a lid if you have one, because we’ll be proofing the dough in the same bowl that we mix it in.

I highly recommend getting a kitchen scale if you don’t already own one. It’s so much more accurate to measure ingredients by weight than by volume, especially when it comes to sourdough!

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Dump 200 grams of your starter (which passed the float test) into the bowl as well.

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Whisk the water and starter together. I’ve forgotten this step before, and it makes mixing the dough a lot harder!

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Add 700 grams of all-purpose flour to the bowl. I’ll sometimes use part whole wheat flour. It gives it a nice flavor, but the texture isn’t as light.

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Now mix the flour into the water/starter mixture until everything is well combined and there aren’t any dry flour patches. The dough will seem very slack and sticky.

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Let the dough sit for 1 hour. This resting stage is known as autolyse. It basically gives the flour a chance to absorb the water.

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After the autolyse, it’s time to add the salt. Salt slows down fermentation, which is why we didn’t add it in the beginning.

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Now we need to work the salt into the dough. Before you touch the dough, make sure you wet your hand. This will prevent the dough from sticking to you. I like to keep a bowl of water close by so I don’t have to walk over to the sink every time I need to wet my hand.

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Now lift and fold the dough every-which-way until the salt is somewhat incorporated. Don’t worry: it will get mixed in more during the next step!

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The next part of the process involves making a series of “folds” in the dough. Grab one corner of the dough and pull it up and over to the opposite side of the bowl. Repeat on all four “corners” of the dough.

Let the dough rest for 30 minutes, and then repeat the exact same folding steps. This helps to build the gluten.

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Repeat the folding and resting process for a total of 5-6 times. This process will take about 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

As you do more turns, you’ll notice that the dough becomes more cohesive and elastic. This is exactly what you’re looking for!

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After a total of 5 to 6 turns and rests, let the dough rest a final time for 1 hour.

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After an hour, you should notice that the dough is puffier. Cover it with a lid or plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for 12–22 hours.

If you’re pressed for time, you could just do the final rise and shape at this point, but a long rest in the refrigerator really improves the flavor and texture in my experience. It’s also easier to control the temperature in the refrigerator. If your kitchen is really warm, the dough will ferment much faster. If it’s chilly in your house, the fermentation will slow down. Letting the dough rise in the refrigerator takes a lot of the guesswork out!

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The next day, when you pull the dough out the refrigerator, it should look something like this. Notice the large bubbles under the surface.

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First Shaping and Bench Rest

Gently scrape the dough out onto your work surface.

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Divide it into two pieces.

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Shape each piece into a ball by folding the edges under to create some tension on the top of the loaf. Let the dough rest on the counter for 30 minutes. This is known as the bench rest.

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Final Shape

When you come back, you’ll notice that the dough balls have flattened out. That’s just fine!

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Grab a piece and start to gently roll it on the counter, guiding it with your hands, to create more surface tension. If the dough starts to break apart on top, you know it’s time to stop shaping.

You’re looking for a nice round, taut ball of dough.

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Generously dust a clean tea towel with flour. You want to go fairly heavy here since the dough is wet. You don’t want it sticking to the towel when you turn the dough out!

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Line a bowl or colander with the floured tea towel. My favorite bowl is 8 1/2 inches in diameter and 5 inches tall.

Of course you can use a floured banneton (proofing basket) instead if you have one. I’m planning on investing in one since I bake sourdough regularly and I’m sick of dirtying my tea towels.

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Now carefully and gently lift one of the loaves and flip it into the bowl, top side down.

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The bottom of the loaf should be facing up. This is because we’ll be inverting it onto parchment paper later.

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Generously dust the bottom of the loaf.

Repeat the shaping process with remaining dough.

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Final Rise

Fold the corners of the tea towel over the bowl and put it back in the fridge for 3-4 hours.

Again, you can do the final rise at room temperature, but I prefer the cold rise!

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About 45 minutes before your bread is done rising, it’s time to get the oven ready! Turn it on to 500ºF and place a Dutch oven with its lid on inside to preheat. You want the Dutch oven to preheat for 30 minutes before baking your bread.

The reason a Dutch oven works so well for baking sourdough is that it mimics commercial steam ovens. It traps the steam while the dough bakes, creating a beautiful crust.

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Once the dough is done rising, gently dump it out onto a sheet of parchment paper. I can never get mine to land exactly in the middle of the paper…

Note: The loaf may not rise significantly while it’s in the fridge, but it will expand crazily once it hits the hot oven. I didn’t believe this was possible on my first bake, but it’s true!

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Next, dust the top of the loaf with flour and gently rub it over the surface of the dough with your hand. This step is optional, but it makes your scores stand out more.

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Score the loaf with a serrated knife. The reason behind scoring sourdough is that it controls the expansion of the bread. If you don’t score the loaf, it can bulge out and burst in funny places while it bakes.

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There are so many options for how to score your sourdough. Just do a search on Instagram for some inspiration! Lately I’ve really been liking how this leaf pattern turns out. I make a series of slanted slices down the middle of the loaf, and two curves around the edges.

You can also use a special razor blade known as a lame to score your bread. I’m planning on investing in one of those as well because a knife tends to stick to the dough while you’re scoring it.

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Take your (very hot!) Dutch oven out of the oven. Working quickly (and carefully so as not to burn your fingers), transfer the loaf with the parchment paper to the Dutch oven. I grab the edges of the parchment paper to lift it. I usually find it necessary to re-score the dough a bit if it starts to stick together in the transfer.

Put the lid back on the Dutch oven and return it to the hot oven. Bake covered for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake uncovered for an additional 10–15 minutes, or until the crust is deep golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when rapped on the bottom.

If you notice that your loaves tend to get really dark before they’re finished baking, you can lower the temperature to 450 degrees after the initial preheat and just after putting the dough in the oven.

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This is what it should look like when it’s done!

Remove to a rack to cool. You’ll hear the bread crackling as it cools—it’s a glorious sound!

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If you don’t own a Dutch oven, you can always bake the bread on a heavy baking sheet or pizza stone instead. Preheat it in the oven for 30 minutes before baking your bread. To create that steam, you’ll need to preheat a metal rimmed baking pan under the baking sheet as well. Just after you transfer the dough (parchment paper and all) to the hot baking sheet, pour some hot water into the rimmed pan and shut the oven door as quickly as possible. DO NOT open the oven for 30 minutes, or the steam will escape!

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Here’s a comparison of a loaf baked on a baking sheet (on the left) vs one baked in a Dutch oven (on the right). You can tell that there’s a different quality to the crust. The loaf baked on the sheet is still amazing, but the one baked in the Dutch oven takes it to the next level.

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Here you can see a comparison of the crumbs: the one baked on the baking sheet is on the left, and the one baked in the Dutch oven is on the right. Very similar, but I think the rise was more dramatic in the Dutch oven.

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It’s going to be very tempting to cut into your hot-from-the oven loaf immediately. But it’s best if you can wait for an hour or two so you don’t let all of the steam out of the loaf right away.

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One of my favorite ways to eat fresh sourdough bread is spread with some good-quality butter. It also toasts up beautifully once it’s a few days old. It’s simply amazing toasted and spread with butter and cream cheese and topped with avocado and tomato slices. Scrumptious!

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I hope my tutorial has given you the knowledge and confidence to try baking your own loaf of artisan sourdough bread. It isn’t nearly as scary as it sounds. Promise! And you’ll be greatly rewarded for your efforts.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them!

Printable Recipe: Artisan Sourdough Bread

Erica Kastner

Erica is the creator and writer of the blog Buttered Side Up where she shares from-scratch recipes with a healthy touch. She has enjoyed being in the kitchen as far back as she can remember. She was so proud to be allowed to knead bread when she was 8. Her mom would allow her in the kitchen to concoct deviled egg recipes with zero supervision.

As a teenager, she became interested in the nutritional aspect of food and began experimenting with adapting recipes to make them healthier. When she was 18, she started a recipe blog to share her successful creations with the world. She’s been blogging about her love of food ever since!

Erica lives in northern Minnesota (land of lakes and mosquitoes) with her husband and three kids. She’s a believer that just about everything is better with butter. Her other long-standing food obsessions include matcha, sourdough, and late-night cold cereal (with loads of cream).

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