An easy and simple beginner sourdough bread recipe with cup measurements. This is my go-to sourdough bread recipe that always turns out delicious.
At the beginning of this year, I was a complete newbie in the world of sourdough. It was January, and I was embracing the cold baking season. The whole family loves that sour, tangy sourdough flavor and we typically bought it at the grocery store as our regular sandwich bread. Come to find out, the grocery store sourdough isn’t exactly true sourdough, which we didn’t know until I started on this little adventure, and it still had that great flavor. But I was in a January baking binge and figured it could be fun to make some of our own!
I had next-to-no idea what I was getting into (see my sourdough starter recipe for more on that). At the time, I didn’t know any of the health benefits, or how the whole situation with a sourdough starter worked, or really much of anything. But I dove into learning and, since then, I’ve been hooked. I’ve loved learning the process of sourdough baking and experimenting with different recipes. Who knew it’s such a neat hobby?! The possibilities are endless!
My biggest piece of advice is not to make it too complicated. The more research I did, the more I realized what an overload of information is out there. Don’t get bogged down in it. Soon, you’ll find yourself completely overwhelmed and afraid to start. As one of my old chem teachers used to say, remember the “KISS” rule: “keep it simple, silly”. Yes, of course there’s a lot going on a chemistry level with sourdough. But there’s a lot going on on a chemistry level with ANY kind of cooking or baking. None of that is important. You just need to understand the basics of what’s going on – there’s no need to understand the chemical reactions (unless you want to of course 😉 ).
When it comes down to it, all you’re doing is replacing store-bought yeast with your sourdough starter.
Your sourdough starter is a fermented, live culture of yeast. You feed it with flour and water to keep it alive and active. When you feed it, it grows and expands and rises in the jar. Right when it reaches the peak, or just starts to fall from the peak, you know it’s hungry again. So you add it to a bowl and give it more flour and water and a bit of salt – the dough. The yeast starts to grow and expand and rise again as it feeds on the new flour. Bam – that rises your bread. That’s all there is too it! You have yeast, you feed it, it grows – either in a jar or in a loaf.
I’ve chosen NOT to use a kitchen scale. Mostly because I’m a rebel. Almost every blog or article you read says you absolutely have to use a scale to succeed with sourdough baking. Well, let me tell you, one surefire way to get me NOT to do something is to tell me I HAVE to.
Is that a positive personality trait?
But I see no reason to make things harder than they need to be!
I promise, sourdough isn’t as complicated as it might seem at first and you don’t need a bunch of fancy things to get started. You just have to get your hands into the dough!
Grandma Sourdough Bread Making
Now, I’m not going to claim to be an artisan sourdough bread baker. I’d say I’m in my grandma era of sourdough baking.
Sourdough is simply the traditional way of making bread. People have been making bread this way for all of existence. Before you could buy yeast at the store, you grew it in a jar. They started manufacturing yeast so they could make bread faster and faster and bag it and fill the grocery stores. But, before you could buy yeast, this is how every household made bread! And I don’t think great great great great grandma had a kitchen scale. Or, even if she did, I doubt she used it every time she made bread, which was a daily task. Of course, this is speculation, but I’m guessing she just knew the measurements and whipped those loaves up like they were no big deal. Little of this, little of that, needs a bit more flour, bada bing bada boom – loaf of bread. You know how grandma cooks – a little of this, little of that, dash of this, and voila! The most beautiful meal you’ve ever tasted.
Now, that’s not to say a kitchen scale isn’t handy when you’re trying out a really specific recipe. By all means, I pull the scale out for stuff like that! The artisan bakers are incredibly talented and their work is beautiful! But that’s not my goal here. I wanted to keep the sourdough bread nice and simple – a task I can do on the regular without having to think too much about it. Know what I mean? I’m trying to fit this in as a side hobby while taking care of three young, very energetic kiddos! And I kinda like to bake and make alterations on the fly. It’s more fun that way!
Based on my experiments over the past few months, you can most definitely make sourdough bread without a scale. I did use the scale a couple times when I was starting my sourdough starter since that was such a roller coaster ride. And I used it for one of my very first loaves of bread. But then I dropped it and just started to learn the dough and haven’t used it since. I almost think it works better without the scale now because your starter will vary a bit from day to day. If you know what the dough is supposed to look like, you can adjust it a little here and there based on how it mixes up each day.
That might seem a little overwhelming if you’re totally new to making sourdough. But, I promise – you can do this! The most intimidating part is starting! You’ll know the dough soon.
Know the dough.
I feel like we could go somewhere with that. Maybe the next blog post title, or book … or bumper sticker 😂
Sourdough Bread Recipe
I wrote this sourdough recipe with cup measurements. Cup measurements do vary a bit from brand to brand, but they’ll all get you close enough. You may adjust it a bit as you figure out what texture of dough you like best based on how each sourdough loaf turns out. But it would be mighty hard to ever make it a complete loss. If you have way too much flour, the dough won’t mix. If you have way too little, the dough will be a sticky mess. Anywhere in between those is going to be just fine, and you’ll still get a loaf of bread. Then you can fine-tune it to your liking! And if your dough is a little wet, add a bit more flour. If it’s dry, add a bit of water.
If you want to use a kitchen scale, by all means, do! There are a ton of recipes with measurements in grams that are all wonderful as well. Or do a little of both until you get more comfortable with it.
This sourdough bread recipe has quickly become my go-to loaf! It’s easy to make and always turns out wonderful. We use it for all bread needs – sandwiches, dinner bread, toast, etc. I typically shape it into a boule (round loaf), and then we just cut it to fit the situation. Though I’m working on a loaf shape recipe now as well. Hopefully it’ll be ready to share soon!
You can adjust the timeline to do an overnight bulk fermentation or make the whole loaf in one day. I just do whichever one fits best into the current day.
A few things to note –
- I do knead the dough in my recipe. It’s really just because I enjoy kneading it. I’ve made wonderful loaves without kneading. I’ll write a recipe for a no-knead sourdough bread as well (coming soon). The difference is that you squelch the ingredients together at the beginning (squeeze them into the dough by hand) and let it rest a bit longer before starting the stretch and folds. Otherwise, the recipe is the same!
- The first few loaves I made were a bit overwhelming and felt like it took over the ENTIRE day. The whole process does take about 8 hours, but the hands-on time is really small. Once you make a few, you’ll figure out the flow and then it just becomes part of the day. No overwhelm. Promise.
For a quick video overview, see my sourdough bread recipe reel on Instagram. You can also find my sourdough journey saved to my Instagram highlights.
Bread Flour or All-Purpose?
You can use either all-purpose flour or bread flour. Bread flour has higher protein content, so it’s known for a stronger rise (more oven spring). It will give you a fluffier, larger loaf because it rises more.
All-purpose flour usually makes a little smaller loaf without quite as much rise. Since all-purpose flour has a lower protein content, it soaks up less water in the dough. I’ve found that I have to add about a 1/4 cup more all-purpose flour to the dough when I substitute.
I wrote the recipe for bread flour since that’s what I use most of the time, but try one of each and see which you like best. Or don’t worry about making a special trip to the store if all-purpose is all you have. You can make it work and both are delicious!
Feed the Starter
It took me a few tries to get this figured out. When do you feed the starter so it’s active at the correct time to start baking? I’ll do another post on sourdough starter care, but for now – if you bake once or twice a day, keep your starter on the counter. If you plan to bake once or twice a week, keep it in the fridge to slow down the yeast activity (temperature HUGELY affects fermentation). I usually keep mine in the fridge and pull it out the night before I plan to bake.
Every starter is different, so adjust these timelines as you learn yours. This is just my experience with my starter. You’ll get to know the timeline of yours as you go, but I hope this at least gives you a starting place.
- if you store your sourdough starter in the fridge – it takes a little more time for the starter to become active again when it’s stored in the fridge since it has to come up to room temperature. I keep my starter in the fridge most of the time, so here’s my typical process. Pull the starter out of the fridge the evening before I plan to bake. Let it rest on the counter and feed it in the morning a couple hours before I want to start baking (usually around 7am). Let it rest on the counter until it becomes active and bubbly, which should be around later morning. Some people will feed theirs the night before, but I’ve found that my starter only takes about 4 hours to get going and that just ain’t enough sleep for this gal.
- if you store your sourdough starter on the counter – when you store your sourdough starter on the counter, it doesn’t take as long for it to become active and bubble. Feed it a few hours before you want to start baking.
Make the Dough
In a large mixing bowl, combine the active sourdough starter and water (an active starter will float in the water). Use a whisk or spoon to stir until most of the starter dissolves into a milky mixture.
Then add 3 1/4 cups of bread flour and 1 1/2 tsp of salt to the mixing bowl and stir until the dough comes together. It will be a shaggy dough. You may have to use your hands to finish working the flour into the dough.
Let It Rest
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (or a plate works well too) and let the dough sit for 30 minutes. This is called the “fermentolyse” where you allow the ingredients to come together. It helps produce a smoother, more elastic dough, creates a stronger gluten network, and gives a better oven spring (rise). Fermentolyse is when you let all the ingredients rest together. Autolyse refers to another method in which you just let the flour and water rest together, then add the salt later – very similar and you’ll here both, often interchangeably.
If using a stand mixer, use a dough hook to knead the dough for 5 minutes. If doing by hand, transfer the dough to a clean surface and knead the dough for 5 minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic. You’ll be able to feel the difference. It’s so wild!
Stretch & Fold
Return the dough to the mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel (or a plate works well too), and let it sit for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, you’ll begin a series of stretch and folds. Fold each side of the dough over itself into the middle. Work your way around the dough until you’ve done all four sides. Then cover the dough and let it sit again. The goal is to stretch the dough and build tension along the surface to get a strong gluten network. Repeat the stretch and folds approximately every 30 minutes for 2 hours for a total of four sets of stretch and folds.
After the final set of stretch and folds, it’s ready for the bulk rise.
- one day loaf – to bake the loaf the same day, cover the loaf and let it rise for 2-4 hours. Then roll it onto a lightly floured surface (or sometimes I don’t even use any flour) and shape it. Transfer to a parchment paper lined bowl. Let it rise for 30 minutes – 1 hour. The dough is ready when it is slightly puffy.
- overnight loaf – to bake the next day, do the bulk rise over night in the fridge. After the final stretch and folds, just cover it and pop it in the fridge. Then pull it out in the morning and let it rest for about 1 hour so it comes up to room temperature (still in the bowl). Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and let it rest another 20 minutes. You’ll notice the dough start to relax. Once it has relaxed a bit, do the final shaping. Let it rise for another 30 – 45 minutes and then bake.
To shape the dough:
Do one set of stretch and folds to bring the dough into a round boule shape. Then flip the dough over and gently cup the dough and move it around in a circular motion to build tension on the top of the loaf and tighten the shape.
Place a piece of parchment paper inside the bowl you used for rising. This will make the transfer to the dutch oven really easy. Carefully pick up your shaped loaf and transfer it to the piece of parchment paper inside the bowl for the final rise. The bowl also helps maintain shape so the dough doesn’t just spread out to the sides.
Heat Dutch Oven
While the loaf is in its final rise, preheat your oven to 425°F and place your dutch oven in the oven to heat up. You’ll want the dutch oven in there for about 30-40 minutes to heat up. You can use either a cast iron dutch oven or an enameled dutch oven [I use this one], but the lid is helpful to bake the bread without burning the crust.
Score the Top of Your Boule
Once the dough has finished its final rise, lightly flour the top and score it with a bread lame or sharp pairing knife. You can try all sorts of fun scoring patterns or just keep it simple with a straight score. The cut should be about 1/4″ deep. This gives the bread a place to expand as it rises in the oven.
Carefully, transfer the parchment paper with the loaf into the hot dutch oven. Bake for 40 minutes with the lid on. Remove the lid and continue to bake for 10-12 minutes, until the crust is golden. Many recipes bake for longer without the lid, but I like the crust a little softer. Keep in mind, all ovens are different and you may have to adjust these times a bit!
Remove the loaf from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack.
- 1 cup of active sourdough starter
- 1 1/2 cups of water
- 1 1/2 tsp of salt
- 3 1/4 cups of bread flour
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the active sourdough starter and lukewarm water. Use a whisk or spoon to stir until most of the starter dissolves into a milky mixture.
- Add 3 1/4 cups of bread flour and 1 1/2 tsp of salt to the mixing bowl and stir until the dough comes together. It will be a shaggy dough and you may have to use your hands to work the rest of the flour in.
- Cover and let it sit for 30 minutes. This is called the "fermentolyse" where you allow the ingredients to come together. It helps produce a smoother, more elastic dough, creates a stronger gluten network, and gives a better oven spring (rise).
- Knead the dough for 5 minutes, either by hand or with a dough hook in a stand mixer, until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. You'll be able to feel the difference.
- Return the dough to the mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel (or a plate works well too), and let it sit for another 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, you'll begin a series of stretch and folds. Fold each side of the dough over itself into the middle. Work your way around the dough until you've done all four sides. Then cover the dough and let it sit again. The goal is to stretch the dough and build tension along the surface to get a strong gluten network. Repeat the stretch and folds approximately every 30 minutes for 2 hours for a total of four sets of stretch and folds.
- After the final set of stretch and folds, cover and let it rest for 2-4 hours at room temperature, or until it about doubles in size. Or you can do this bulk rise over night in the fridge (see above for more info on an overnight rise).
- Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface and do another set of stretch and folds to bring the dough into a round boule shape. Then flip the dough over so the seam is down. Gently cup the dough and move it around in a circular motion to tighten the shape.
- Place a piece of parchment paper inside the bowl you used for rising. This will make the transfer to the dutch oven very simple. Carefully pick up your shaped loaf and transfer it to the piece of parchment paper inside the bowl for the final rise. The bowl also helps maintain shape so the dough doesn't just spread out to the sides.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, or a damp towel (I usually do plastic wrap with a damp towel over it), and let it rise for 30 minutes - 1 hour. The dough is ready when it is slightly puffy.
- While the loaf is in its final rise, preheat your oven to 425°F and place your dutch oven in the oven to heat up. You'll want the dutch oven in there for about 30 - 40 minutes to heat up. You can use either a cast iron dutch oven or an enameled dutch oven, but the lid is necessary to bake the bread without burning.
- Once the dough has finished its final rise, lightly flour the top and score it with a bread lame or sharp pairing knife. You can try all sorts of fun scoring patterns or just keep it simple with a straight score. This gives the bread a place to expand as it rises in the oven.
- Carefully, transfer the parchment paper with the loaf into the hot dutch oven. Bake for 40 minutes (lid on). Remove the lid and continue to bake for 12 minutes, until the crust is golden. Many recipes bake for longer without the lid, but I like the crust a little softer. Keep in mind, all ovens are different and you may have to adjust these times a bit.
- Remove the loaf from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing.
**see above for information on how to make this sourdough bread recipe in one day versus with an overnight rise in the fridge.
This recipe is in cups, though cup measurements can vary a bit from brand to brand. As I said above, I bake with cup measurements on purpose. I'm calling it my grandma-style baking era. Little of this, little of that, boom - most delicious bread you've ever had. HOWEVER, this also means you may have to add a bit of flour or a bit of water if your dough isn't quite right. If the dough is super sticky, add a bit more flour a tablespoon at a time. If the dough is dry, add a bit more water. The best thing you can do is just start! You'll get to know the dough and how it works for you as you go! You got this.
There are wonderful artisan sourdough recipes out there if you want to get into that side of things. That's just not my goal here. I like to keep it simple and just make good bread we can enjoy on the daily!
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| Tylynn |
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