How to Make Sourdough Bread

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This is the fourth and last post in a series of posts I’ve written on how to make homemade sourdough bread, in which I will share with you the sourdough bread recipe that I’ve found that works the best for me.

How to Make Sourdough Bread

Here’s the Proof. Yes, you CAN make beautiful homemade sourdough bread.

 Part 1:

In Part 1 of the series, I shared with you some deflating truths that I’ve learned through this five month learning process. I don’t share these truths with you to scare you off – far from it! I share this information just to make sure you are duly warned. These are the things that I didn’t know before I started that I wish someone had shared with me.

Part 2:

In Part 2, I talk about the scientific reasons as to why you really MUSN’T cut corners on the quality of your ingredients, (even though I may have tried to myself, initially  😀 ) and I share with you the specific ingredients and tools you’ll need to bake your own beautifully delicious sourdough bread.

Part 3:

In Part 3, I explain the somewhat lengthy process of being sure that your starter is happy, healthy, and fully refreshed. (Yes, I’ve tried shortcuts in that area, too, but sadly, you really bake a better loaf of bread if you actually follow the directions. Who knew? 😀 )

Part 4: The Recipe

So, today, in my last and final post in this series, I’ll share with you the recipe that has worked most consistently and best for me. And to those of you who love Cook’s Illustrated, you won’t be surprised to learn that I follow their process. I tried the King Arthur recipe and process, but the bread produced by that recipe was tame and boring, when compared with the lovely sourdough tang and improved texture that came from following the procedure outlined by Cook’s Illustrated.

Notes Regarding my Sourdough Bread Recipe

I prepared my loaves of bread using a Kitchen Aid mixer, using their dough hook attachment. If you want to use this recipe and knead by hand, it will work just fine, but you’ll need to double the amount of time you spend actually kneading.

I’m going to tell you this next fact because I have some bread making friends who LOVE to grind their own whole wheat flour to use in baking bread. I understand their passion. I’ve shared it myself. Friends, I’ve made this recipe substituting my own freshly ground whole wheat flour for some of the all-purpose flour.

In comparison, the bread made with whole wheat flour was not nearly as satisfying.

It didn’t rise as high, was much heavier in texture, and overall, my family and I were disappointed in the outcome. I know you’ll probably want to try this out for yourself, if you’re passionate about grinding your own flour, and maybe you’ll have a better outcome than I did. But I’m going to tell you that given my experience,  I won’t be repeating that experiment.

 (I love whole wheat bread, in general. But not in this particular recipe. I’m open to sourdough whole wheat bread, but I’d recommend using a different recipe.)


  • Use filtered water.
  • I recommend unbleached, artisan, all-purpose flour with a protein level of between 11-13%. (King Arthur,  really DOES make a difference. I’ve tested, I’ve tasted, and I’ve seen.)
  • I always measure my flour and my starter by weight, on a scale. It’s much more accurate.
  • Once my dough is made, it rests on parchment paper for the remainder of the process. It acts as a sling. You’ll be glad you have it.
  • I also use a big round pizza stone in my oven, on which I bake the bread, to help develop “oven spring” and the kind of crust I want.
  • I use a big spray bottle to spray water onto my loaves, to help them develop that beautiful “blistered” look to the crust.

If you don’t understand why I strongly encourage the use of each of these items, read my second post, Part 2, about the ingredients.


It’s not a difficult process, but it’s a time consuming process.

EVEN WITH A FULLY REFRESHED STARTER (and refreshing your starter takes a couple of days), making a great loaf of sourdough is still a TWO DAY PROCESS. The sourdough needs the long, slow fermentation it gets from spending the night chillin’ in your fridge, to develop that great sourdough tang. So…how does this work out, practically speaking, in terms of time? (Think Algebra word problem, here.)

Let’s say you want fresh bread for a lovely Italian meal you’re planning for dinner on Wednesday night.
You’ll need to start making that bread on Tuesday morning. Each step of the actual bread making  process is very easy. But time must be allotted for allowing gluten strands to form through kneading, and then allowing those gluten strands to relax through those the specified resting times.

The Basic Outline of the Sourdough Bread Recipe:

Here’s the basic outline, with some time constraints, to help you get a ballpark picture of what this process looks like when broken down, time-wise:

  • MAKE THE SPONGE: then let it rise for 2-3 hours
  • MAKE THE DOUGH: then let it rest 20 minutes
  • KNEAD THE DOUGH: by machine, this takes about 5 minutes
  • LET THE DOUGH RISE: this takes 3-5 hours
  • DIVIDE AND SHAPE THE LOAVES: then let them rest for 15 minutes
  • PROOF THE LOAVES: allow the dough to rise once it comes out of the fridge takes 2-4 hours
  • BAKE THE BREAD: 30 minutes
  • COOL THE BREAD: Ideally, the bread needs to cool for 2 hours. (In practice: this is hard to do!!!)

In case you are wondering about that first step, the one called “making a sponge”? A sponge (also called a levain in some bread recipes), is just a beefed up starter, made by mixing a portion of your fully refreshed starter with some filtered water and flour. So…just to review…you use a portion of your fully refreshed starter to make a sponge, and once it’s fully developed, the sponge is then used to make bread dough.

Refreshed Starter ——>Sponge——>Bread dough.

Get it?

(Once you’ve removed that half cup of fully refreshed starter from the starter you’ve been nurturing, you can store the remainder of the unused refreshed starter back in the fridge, and pull it out again next time you’re ready to feed it: within a week is best.)

PROOF THE LOAF: Here, we see the loaf  on the parchment paper, on the jelly roll pan, following its  all-night nap in the refrigerator.
I’m now going to allow it to rise for a while.
SLASH THE LOAF: after its final rise/being proofed, right before I put it in the oven.

Sourdough Bread Recipe

Yield: 2 loaves

How to Make Sourdough Bread

How to Make Sourdough Bread

It really is possible to make delicious, artisan sourdough bread AT HOME. It's not without quite a bit of effort, but you'll find your result deeply rewarding.


  • 4 1/2 oz. refreshed starter (1/2 cup)
  • 3-4 oz. filtered water, at 80º (use about 3 oz. if it's humid, 4 oz. if your environment is low in humidity)
  • 5 oz. unbleached, all-purpose flour (1 cup) with a protein level of between 11-13%
  • DOUGH:
  • 12 oz. filtered water, (1 and 1/2 cups) at 70º
  • 24 oz. unbleached all-purpose flour (about 4 3/4 cups) with a protein level of between 11-13%
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons of table salt


  1. MAKE THE SPONGE: With a half of a cup of bubbly, fully refreshed starter (that was last refreshed no more than 12 hours earlier), you're going to make the "sponge". In a bowl, with at least a 1 quart capacity, stir together the 1/2 c. (4 1/2 ounces) of starter with 1/2 c. filtered water, until fully combined. Then stir in 1 c. (5 oz.) flour. The mixture will be like super-thick, lumpy pancake batter. Lumps are OK, in other words. Cover bowl with plastic, and let rise at room temperature for 2-3 hours.
  2. MAKE THE DOUGH: Add water and sponge to the bowl of a standing mixer. Using a dough hook, with mixer running at lowest speed, add the flour, 1/2 of a cup at a time. Once all flour has been added in, continue to mix until dough forms a ball, and then let the mixer run one minute longer. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, and allow dough to rest for 20 minutes.
  3. KNEAD THE DOUGH: Using your fingers, make a little pocket in the dough and add the salt to that pocket. Knead dough on low speed until it is smooth, soft, and moist, about 5 minutes. You are going to love the way the dough feels: just like a baby's behind! Transfer dough to clean work surface and knead for a minute by hand, until dough forms a firm ball.
  4. LET THE DOUGH RISE: Spray a 4qt. capacity bowl with non-stick cooking spray and place dough in bowl. Then spray top of dough with cooking spray as well, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let stand until dough doubles in size, 3-5 hours.
  5. STRETCH AND FOLD THE DOUGH: Scrape dough out onto clean work surface. Gently stretch dough to redistribute and refresh yeast, as far as you can, without tearing it, and then fold dough into thirds, like a letter.
  6. DIVIDE AND SHAPE THE LOAVES: Using a bench scraper or a knife, divide dough in half. Each piece should weigh about 1 1/2 lbs. Form each half into a ball or an oval, depending on the shape of the loaf you want, and cover with plastic wrap, allowing the dough to relax for 15 minutes. Continue to form the shape you want, and place each loaf seam side down on a separate sheet of parchment paper. I place them each on top of an upside down jelly roll pan, spray each loaf with cooking spray, and cover with plastic wrap.
  7. REFRIGERATE THE LOAVES OVERNIGHT: Place the cookie sheet with the loaves on parchment paper, covered in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator overnight, between 8-12 hours.
  8. PROOF THE LOAVES: Remove the loaves from the refrigerator and from off the jelly roll pan, and place on the kitchen counter. Loosen plastic wrap slightly and let rise until doubled in size, for 3-4 hours, being sure that loaves are at least 6" apart. After 3 hours, adjust oven rack to lower-middle position, and place pizza stone/baking stone on rack. Preheat oven to 500º. Slide loaves one at a time onto upside down jelly roll pan. (You can use a baker's peel for this if you have one, but I don't.) Using a knife tip held at a 45º angle, slash surface of loaves, two or three times, about 1/2" deep. Working quickly, spray the surface of the loaves with water.
  9. BAKE THE BREAD: Slide the parchment paper and the loaves of bread onto the baking stone. Immediately close the oven door, and lower the oven temperature to 450º. Set the timer for two minutes. Quickly open the oven door when the timer goes off, and spray the loaves with water, being careful not to spray the oven light, which could shatter. Close the oven door, and set the timer for two more minutes. Open the oven door and spray the loaves one last time, closing the door quickly. Set the timer for 25 minutes. Bake until deep golden brown. (If you want to be sure your bread is done, you are looking for an internal temperature of 210º with an instant read thermometer, but I have found that the exterior color of the crust is a good guide.) Bread will need an approximate 30 minutes total in most ovens, but keep an eye on things, since your mileage may vary, depending on your oven. Remove bread (and parchment paper) from oven, and transfer the loaves without the parchment paper to a cooling rack. Bread takes around 2 hours to cool, at which point you can cut it more easily, without squishing it or tearing it. Good luck waiting that long.

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Homemade Sourdough Bread #recipe #sourdough #starter #homemade

Slicing your own homemade sourdough is almost as rewarding as eating it.

Might as well throw in a pot of soup, as long as you’re making bread.
Here's the recipe you've been waiting for, in my series of 4 posts on How to Make Sourdough Bread: the RECIPE for how to make homemade sourdough bread.

How to Make Homemade Sourdough Bread – just the right size to pin on Pinterest. Here’s the recipe you’ve been waiting for: the recipe for Sourdough Bread,

Please, if you enjoyed this post, or this series of posts, let me know in the comments.
Share it on Facebook or Twitter while you’re at it.
Pin it on Pinterest to remind yourself that this is something you’re ready to try. Here’s the perfect image to pin!

How to Make Homemade Sourdough Bread #recipe #sourdough #starter #homemade

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  1. thank you for sharing this with me, I really like this article very interesting

  2. Phil Davis says

    Thank you Susan for your very in-depth explanation of sourdough. I also have purchased the KA sourdough starter and think it is excellent. I also use the KA white wheat flour to make my dough. My problem has been that when I place my dough into a bread pan and score the dough, it tends to deflate inside the oven.

    I love sourdough sandwich bread and I'll try to use your explanation to make the dough dryer. Great blog and great advice. Thank you so much.

    • The recipe is wonderful. My dough also tends to deflate when I score it. Also my dough spreads and flattens out when putting it in the oven. Do I need more flour? Am I raising it for too long?

      Thanks so much for your help

      • Susan Williams says

        It might be your shaping technique. It’s important to build tension along the top of the loaf. When you’re shaping the dough into a loap, fold it edge by edge, repetitively over the top of itself, so that on the bottom (which is what will be the top of the loaf) it’s being stretched, and has more tension. That creates a boundary that will keep it from stretching out more. Hope that helps!

  3. So, I just did something a bit crazy… I tested four different sourdough bread recipes simultaneously with the same starter to find the best recipe. I won't give out the names of the other recipes but I will give descriptions. I've listed the recipes in order from worst to best:

    Recipe #1: Mixed measured Flour, water, salt and a sponge, had a dual proof (once after kneading and again after shaping), baked in a cold oven set to 425 deg, with the water pan and spritzing during baking. That one failed to rise very much and was rock hard.
    Recipe #2: Mixed weighed Flour, water, salt, starter and a small amount of whole wheat flour. Allowed to proof overnight at room temp. Baked on a baking sheet at 375 deg with the water pan and spritzing. This was better but lacked the oven spring upon baking. Had a good texture due to the whole wheat.
    Recipe #3: This was a combo experiment. I used Susan's weighed ingredients, but tried the single overnight proof after kneading at room temp and baking technique from Recipe #2. This had good oven spring and great tangy flavor, I believe due to the sponge in Susan's recipe. This will be a good alternative when I'm in a hurry and don't have time to wait 3-5 hours before shaping, but just want to go to bed and have a loaf ready to bake in the morning.
    The best recipe was Susan's recipe listed above (Recipe #4). The best oven spring and flavor. Nicest crispy crust. Great color and texture.
    Thank you, Susan for your in-depth explanations. My only issue now is, like Phil above, whose dough deflates after scoring/slashing. I know it's due to a dough that is over-proofed or proofed too long, but how do you prevent that from an overnight proof? I didn't want to risk it with my experiments so I didn't slash my loaves above.
    Now, please excuse me, while I go clean up my kitchen which is covered with bread flour and crumbs, but smells wonderfully :).

  4. Sorry for the typos! Here it is again:

    We have a convection oven. Does it matter whether we use that feature or not? The oven automatically turns the temp down 25 degrees when we use the convection feature. Thanks so much!

    • In baking pies and pizzas, I've used my convection oven and found it to work well.
      Cupcakes and muffins tend to get lopsided, but they're a wetter batter.
      I don't think I've baked bread yet using my convection oven, so I'm not sure experientially how to respond, but I would try it using the convection setting. I'd bet it works very well on bread.

  5. I started making slow rise bread a few years ago and it's become my go to. Other breads just don't have the same development of flavor!
    My recent post Negative Blog Comments & What To Do About Them

  6. Hi Susan
    I have read your bread making posts with great interest.
    Now, a couple of question from a nubie just starting with sourdough. Have you or any of your readers done 50%white.flour and 50% whole wheat recipe. And also, would your recipe work doubling the amount for larger quantities?
    All the best from the West Coast of Tasmania, Australia

    • Hi, Paul!
      I've done 50% whole wheat before…just experimenting. You will get less lift, and a much denser product. But, it won't be as dense as 100% whole wheat bread, and if you're used to that, and like that, then it will be perfectly acceptable.
      I've never doubled this recipe before because, frankly, my mixer wouldn't be able to handle that. But if yours can, I don't see why you shouldn't give it a try!
      Al the best to you, from here in the Boonies of Tennessee!

  7. Kelly Culbreath McClearn says

    There’s a typo in the recipe, says 1/12 cup water for dough, it confused me for a second bc I’m still learning 🙂

  8. Thanks for your clear instructions and insights in all things sourdough! I recently began venturing into sourdough; purchased a starter from Cultures for Health. Happily, no failures yet! My first attempt was a simple sandwich bread with recipe included in my starter packet.

    I’ve since tried King Arthur’s no knead artisan sourdough recipe with a couple of changes and it is wonderful!

    Instead of using a stiff starter I stuck with my 100% hydrated version. This too is a 2 day process but well worth the time! Rather than kneading, stretching and folding the dough during the long bulking phase is needed; then an overnight refrigerated rest. (I used a floured bread basket covered with wrap.). Next day baked loaf in my cast iron pot after about 45 min at room temp. Preheated the oven for the entire 45 min at 425.

    I do want to try your technique as well. Thanks again.

    • Dear Joyce,

      Thank you so much for the kind words. I really did strive to make them clear, since many that I've read are not so clear, so I appreciate your appreciation of my effort! I bet that overnight refrigerated rest really develops great flavor, as well! Keep baking!

  9. I've just begun experimenting with sour dough as my first dive into bread making…It has tasted pretty good (per my taste tester husband) but I knew it was just "not right". I almost through in the towel and said sour dough is not going to be my thing but thanks to your blog I am going to keep it going. I too got my started from King Arthur and keeping it nourished has been a welcome chore (our 22 year old son was killed on his motorcycle just over a year ago and anything to keep my mind busy is good for my mental health).

    Thanks for your verification that good sour dough bread is a work of heART…I feel better now and ready to tackle it again with your clear explanations and directions (the other directions I have found so far including the King Arthur directions have been challenging to understand).

    • Tanya, please accept my heartfelt condolences over the loss of your son!
      I'm so glad you found these directions clear!
      That was my frustration, also, whenever I'd go try to understand the whole refreshing/feeding/baking process.
      Here's to more enjoyment of the process!

  10. wich model of Kitchenaid do you have, Kitchenaid stand mixer or Kitchenaid artisian??

  11. Hello Susan,
    A while back, a close friend implied my talents were not up to producing world class panettone. The gauntlet was thrown.
    I started with Bruno's pandoro (Maggie Glezer's A B across A) with amazing results. The fire from my detractor was put out, however, an inferno was lit in me.
    You know the pit falls, so, to the point.
    I chose your recipe mainly because because I could read it. I compared it to another, and Suas' as well. This last run was to determine which flour to use, two identical batches, one, Sir Lancelot, the other Caputo Rinforzato. Everything went as instructed, the Caputo giving a little more rise. Over opened the oven doorn time. Midway through the bake all of the loves collapsed. I opened the door twice . . .a no-no? The dough was very moist, hard to form into a ball. Also, I added 1 teaspoon of vanilla per loaf. I did not use all of the water called for. Not mixed enough? two wet for some reason? bad manners with the oven? I am currently using a 25 year old Kitchen Aid.
    Your comments will be most appreciated.


    • Dear Dan,
      Although I have eaten panettone, I have never made it.
      This recipe is for a simple sourdough
      I have never used either Sir Lancelot, nor Caputo Rinforzato.
      As much as it pains me to say it, my recipe is almost certainly not the one I'd use, since you're trying to make a different product, using different ingredients than my recipe calls for.
      Your problem sounds like too much water, to me, but those flours are both very different from King Arthur, I'd imagine.
      Hope this lack of help, helps.

      • Jamie Wright says

        Can you put the dough in Bannetons before putting it in the fridge?

        • Susan Williams says

          Yes! If you are fortunate enough to own Bannetons, you would put your shaped loaf into the Banneton, before putting it in the fridge.

    • I looked on the King Arthur site, and found this recipe. I hope it helps.

  12. After 4 failed attempts at baking sourdough bread I used the approach outlined in your recipe and finally succeeded in making two loaves. They are “Siamese twins” because they were too close together but I’m sure they will taste great.
    thank you!

  13. How does this recipe compare to the "no-knead" method of bread? Is the spring different?

    • That's very difficult to compare, since one is sourdough, and the other isn't, but in terms of spring, both of my recipes produced results comparable to the best bakeries in Nashville. I hope that helps.

  14. Have you ever cracked your preheated stone when spraying water on the bread and some over sprays to the very hot stone. I have! How do you avoid spraying the stone? Also, I've heard that you can tell when the starter is ready by dropping a spoonful into a cup of water. If it floats…it's ready! What do you think? We'll see as that's what I did!

    • No, but once I cracked my stone just by taking it out of a hot oven, and placing it on the countertop! These days, I'm doing my pizzas on a round cast iron pizza pan, and my crust is just as crispy, so you might want to try using a cast iron griddle or pizza pan. That might help.
      I've never heard the tip before about dropping a spoonful of starter into a cup water. Interesting!

  15. Also, I used my Kitchen aid mixer to knead the dough. However, the bowl is so tightly twisted on now I can't get it off the stand! Any advise?

  16. Susan Miller says

    Hi I just made your bread. It didn’t need 30 minutes in the oven and the internal temp is 212
    While it doesn’t look like your picture and didn’t rise as expected, they look good CI can hardly wait to see the crumb

  17. What happens if you add the salt earlier, during the mixer phase? Thanks

    • Susan Williams says

      Salt slows down fermentation and enzyme activity in dough. The salt crystals draw water away form their environment (salt is ‘hygroscopic’). When salt and yeast compete for water, salt wins and the yeast is slowed down.Thus, your dough won’t rise as fast as you’d like.

  18. Dear Susan,

    I have made your wonderful recipe, but not in a year or s. This morning, my sponge doesn’t seem to be rising much. Do you think my starter wasn’t ready, maybe? I received it from KA Flour a few days ago and have only fed it 3 times.

    Thank you for this and all your amazing recipes.

    • Susan Williams says

      Dear Helen,
      That would be my best guess. I think I remember feeding mine for a week or so, before I ever used it to bake with. I hope your next round goes better!

  19. suzanne brazell says

    so your recipe was really easy to follow, thanks for that BTW. I finished my sourdough the cast iron dutch oven method, and it turned our great! I was beautiful and looked perfect. My problem was that the bread had no flavor. It was really bland. Is it my sourdough starter? Thanks!

    • Susan Williams says

      It could be your starter. I’d try adding a touch more salt, and see if that makes it more to your liking.

  20. Dirk Agueros says

    Susan, I was wondering how long it should take to incorporate the flour into the sponge. As I add each 1/2 cup about how long until the next 1/2 cup? I’m using a Kitchen Aid mixer on the lowest speed. Thank you!

    • Susan Williams says

      I don’t wait long between each addition. I just look to see that most of the white has been incorporated into the dough in the bowl, and then add more. Hope that helps.

  21. Barry Dunwoody says

    Hello Susan, I am in Australia. Thank you so much for answering a lot of questions about sourdough. I succesfully baked my first two loaves last week following your method and the next two are in the fridge ready for baking tomorrow. My starter came from a friend of my son and has been going for 14 years. Over 3 weeks I fed it it with a 50/50 mix of spelt flour and lo-fodmap flour. My wife is slightly gluten intolerant and she is able to tolerate this mix in the bread. It needed about 2 fl. oz. more water in the dough mix in the KitchenAid mixer but other than that followed your method.

  22. Barry Dunwoody says

    Forgot to say protein content of the lo-fodmap flour is 15% and that of the spelt flour is 9%. So my 50/50 mix shpuld be 12% which is in the range you recommend. Is my thinking on this correct? By the way my second batch has just come out of the oven and looks even better than the first!

  23. Kevin Bryant says

    Susan, I’m using a KitchenAid stand mixer for the first time (borrowed it to try your well-written recipe). I have no experience using this machine and have not yet had success with any other sourdough recipe, so I’m not sure what things SHOULD look like at each stage. Could you maybe add pictures? And most importantly for me, in mixing the dough in step 2, about how long should the dough hook be spinning in that mixing bowl, and what should the dough look like when it’s ‘done’ for this stage? The instructions say ‘until it forms a ball’. I ran the mixer for 10 minutes and really didn’t see what I’d call a ball, but was worried that I would overdo it if I carried on. The dough was still wrapping up dough hook. I’m using the KitchenAid where you can lower the bowl, and when I did that the dough started to look more like a ball, and much of the dough on the hook crawled down. Is that the right idea? Any other guidance for me?

    • Susan Williams says

      Dear Kevin,

      That’s a great idea for the next time I update this post, to add pictures at each stage. I have no plans for doing that in the near future. What a kind neighbor or friend you have, to loan you their Kitchen Aid! I don’t think I could make it without mine.

      By “forming a ball”, I mean that when you start out, you’ll see that the dough looks very different. It’s kind of everywhere in the bottom of the bowl. After kneading it, using the bread hook for about 10 minutes, you’ll see precisely what you have described: the dough will begin to gather around the dough hook, becoming more elastic-y, and will have begun to lift away from the side of the bowl, toward the center. What you described sounds correct.

      Hope that helps.

  24. Susan, I started baking sourdough bread about 1 year ago.
    I must tell you that your directions and recipe for sourdough bread are by far the best instructions I have used. The details you included were concise and easy to follow.
    The bread I baked came out perfect.
    Looking forward to using more of your recipes.

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