Sourdough Bread 101: A Guide to Creating the Ultimate Loaf

Sourdough bread is a type of bread made using a naturally fermented dough known as a sourdough starter, which consists of flour and water. Unlike bread made with commercial yeast, sourdough bread relies on wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria naturally present in the environment. The history of sourdough bread dates back thousands of years, with evidence of its existence in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Roman Empire. It was the primary form of leavened bread until the advent of commercial yeast in the 19th century.

Sourdough bread's uniqueness lies in its distinct flavour, texture, and extended shelf life compared to bread made with commercial yeast. The fermentation process of sourdough creates a complex and tangy taste, while the natural enzymes and acids contribute to a moist and chewy crumb. Additionally, sourdough bread's longer fermentation allows for better digestion and potential health benefits.

Baking Techniques

Baking techniques play a crucial role in achieving the perfect loaf of sourdough bread. Here are some key aspects to consider:

Preheating The Oven And Using Baking Stones Or Dutch Ovens: Preheating the oven is essential to ensure that the bread bakes evenly and achieves a desirable crust. Baking stones or Dutch ovens are commonly used to create a consistent and intense heat source, mimicking the effect of a professional bread oven. They help achieve a crispy crust and a well-risen loaf by retaining and radiating heat.

Scoring The Dough For Proper Expansion: Scoring refers to making shallow cuts or slashes on the surface of the dough before baking. This technique serves multiple purposes. It allows the bread to expand properly during baking by providing an outlet for steam and gases. It also helps control the direction of expansion, preventing the bread from bursting at random points. Additionally, scoring creates an attractive pattern on the crust and contributes to the overall aesthetic appeal of the loaf.

Steam Generation To Create A Crispy Crust: Steam is crucial during the initial stages of baking as it keeps the surface of the dough moist. This moisture delays crust formation, allowing the loaf to rise fully before the crust hardens. To generate steam, various methods can be employed, such as spraying water into the oven or placing a pan filled with water on the oven rack. The presence of steam contributes to a glossy and crisp crust.

Baking Times And Temperatures For Different Loaf Sizes: The baking time and temperature vary depending on the size and type of loaf. Generally, sourdough bread is baked at a high temperature, typically between 400 and 450°F (200 and 230°C), for the first 10–15 minutes to achieve maximum oven spring. Afterward, the temperature is usually reduced to allow the bread to bake thoroughly without over-browning. Larger loaves may require longer baking times compared to smaller ones. It is important to monitor the bread closely during baking and make adjustments based on visual cues such as crust colour and internal temperature.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Overfermentation Or Underfermentation: Overfermentation occurs when the dough has fermented for too long, leading to a sour taste, excessive air pockets, and a collapsed or flat loaf. Underfermentation, on the other hand, results in a dense and doughy texture. To avoid these issues, it's important to understand and maintain the ideal fermentation time, considering factors such as starter activity, room temperature, and recipe guidelines. 

Dense Or Gummy Crumb: A dense or gummy crumb indicates insufficient gluten development or inadequate fermentation. It can be caused by factors such as using low-protein flour, inadequate kneading or folding, or not allowing the dough enough time to rise properly. Adjustments may include using high-protein flour, implementing proper kneading and folding techniques, and allowing the dough sufficient fermentation time. 

Dealing With A Sourdough Starter That Isn't Active: An inactive sourdough starter can result from various factors, such as inadequate feeding, poor storage conditions, or contamination. To revive an inactive starter, it's crucial to feed it regularly with fresh flour and water, maintain consistent feeding schedules, and create optimal storage conditions, such as proper temperature and sanitation practices. 

Understanding The Impact Of Ambient Temperature On Fermentation: Ambient temperature plays a significant role in sourdough fermentation. Warmer temperatures accelerate the fermentation, leading to faster rise times but potentially risking overfermentation. Cooler temperatures slow down fermentation, extending rise times and allowing for more flavour development. It's essential to understand how temperature affects fermentation and make adjustments in proofing times or using temperature-controlled environments to achieve desired results. Monitoring the dough's progress and adjusting fermentation times accordingly based on ambient temperature can help achieve optimal results.

Sourdough Bread Variations

Sourdough bread offers a wide range of variations, including regional styles and speciality bread:

Exploring Regional Sourdough Bread Styles: Different regions have their own distinct sourdough bread styles. For example, San Francisco sourdough is known for its tangy flavour and open crumb structure. French sourdough, or pain au levain, often has a thicker crust and a complex, nutty taste. Italian sourdoughs, such as Pane Pugliese or Pane Siciliano, showcase regional characteristics with variations in shape, hydration levels, and flavours.

Speciality Sourdough Bread: In addition to regional styles, there is speciality sourdough bread that varies in shape, like baguettes, boules, and batards. Baguettes are long and slender loaves with a crisp crust and a soft, chewy interior. Boules are round loaves with a hearty crust and an airy crumb. Batards are similar to boules but are elongated and narrower. These speciality bread allow for creativity and experimentation with shaping techniques, flavours, and ingredients, adding further diversity to the world of sourdough bread.

Storing and Preserving Sourdough Bread

Storing and preserving sourdough bread correctly is essential to maintaining its freshness and flavour. Here are some key points to consider:

Proper Storage Techniques: To keep sourdough bread fresh, store it in a paper bag or a bread box at room temperature. Avoid using plastic bags, as they can trap moisture and make the crust soggy. Sourdough bread is best consumed within a few days of baking, but if you need to store it for longer periods, consider slicing and freezing it. 

Freezing And Thawing Sourdough Bread: To freeze sourdough bread, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or aluminium foil, or place it in a freezer bag. When ready to use, thaw the bread at room temperature, and if desired, refresh it in a preheated oven for a few minutes to restore its crustiness. 

Creative Uses For Stale Sourdough Bread: Stale sourdough bread can still be put to good use. Slice or cube it to make croutons for soups and salads, or pulse it into breadcrumbs for coating meats or adding texture to dishes. Stale sourdough can also be transformed into delicious bread pudding, French toast, or even used as a base for savoury bread puddings.

Recipe For Sourdough Bread 


350 grams of bread flour

150 grams of whole wheat flour

350 grams of active sourdough starter (100% hydration)

10 grams of salt

300 grams of water


1. Mixing The Dough:

In a large mixing bowl, combine the bread flour, whole wheat flour, and salt. Mix well.

Add the active sourdough starter and water to the bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon or your hands until the ingredients come together into a shaggy dough.

Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let the dough rest for about 30 minutes. This resting period is known as autolyse and helps with gluten development.

2. Kneading And Folding:

After the autolyse, perform a series of stretches and folds. Wet your hands and grab one side of the dough, stretching it up and folding it over the rest of the dough. Repeat this process on all sides of the bowl.

Cover the bowl again and let the dough rest for another 30 minutes. Repeat the stretch and fold process three more times, with 30 minutes of rest between each set.

3. Bulk Fermentation:

After the final set of stretching and folding, cover the bowl and let the dough undergo bulk fermentation. This usually takes 3–4 hours at room temperature but can vary depending on the temperature of your kitchen. During this time, the dough should rise and become more airy. 

4. Shaping The Loaf:

Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Gently shape it into a round or oval shape by folding the sides of the dough towards the centre. You can also create tension on the surface by rotating the dough on the surface while keeping your hands cupped around it.

Place the shaped dough into a floured banneton or a proofing basket, seam side up. Cover it with a kitchen towel and let it proof at room temperature for 1-2 hours, or until it increases in size and feels puffy. 

5. Preparing For Baking:

About 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). Place a Dutch oven or a baking stone inside the oven during preheating.

Once the oven is preheated, carefully remove the Dutch oven or baking stone. If using a Dutch oven, lightly flour the bottom to prevent sticking. If using a baking stone, have a steam-generating method ready, such as a tray of water. 

6. Scoring And Baking:

Gently turn the proofed dough onto a piece of parchment paper. Score the dough by making shallow cuts on the surface using a sharp knife or a bread knife. This allows the bread to expand during baking.

Carefully transfer the dough, along with the parchment paper, into the preheated Dutch oven or onto the baking stone.

If using a Dutch oven, cover it with the lid. If using a baking stone, quickly pour a cup of water into the steam-generating tray to create steam.

Bake the bread, covered, for 20 minutes. Then remove the lid or steam tray and continue baking for another 20–25 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Once baked, remove the bread from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack for at least an hour before slicing.

Enjoy your homemade sourdough bread! Remember, baking times and temperatures may vary, so it's important to adjust accordingly based on your oven and desired results.