How to Make Sourdough Bread

Block off a weekend to bake this delicious homemade loaf.

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Photo By: Josh Grubbs

Photo By: Josh Grubbs

Photo By: Josh Grubbs

Photo By: Josh Grubbs

Photo By: Josh Grubbs

Photo By: Josh Grubbs

Photo By: Josh Grubbs

Photo By: Josh Grubbs

Photo By: Josh Grubbs

Photo By: Josh Grubbs

Photo By: Josh Grubbs

Photo By: Josh Grubbs

Photo By: Josh Grubbs

Lovely Loaves

If you fancy yourself a baker, at some point it's time to move on from cakes and experiment with breads — and sourdough is one of the most popular recipes that project cookers like to try. Sourdough is complex, tangy bread, but it actually only requires a handful of ingredients to come to life. Of course, you'll need some other things: You'll need to learn some new words (like "levain" and "autolyse"). You'll need some sourdough starter. And you'll need a good bit of time — let's just say sourdough is pretty lazy (read: it likes to rest!). But once you're done, you'll feel quite accomplished, and have enough loaves for two parties!

Get the Recipe: Sourdough Bread

Mix the Levain and Let Rest

Combine 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour, 3/4 cup warm water (about 75 degrees F) and 2 tablespoons active sourdough starter (at room temperature; see Cook's Note) in a medium bowl and mix to combine.

Cover the levain and let it sit at room temperature until bubbly and increased in volume by about 20 percent, about 8 hours.

Portion the Levain

Weigh out 7 ounces of the levain (about 1 cup). Discard any remaining levain.

Mix the Autolyse and Let Rest

Add 6 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, 2 3/4 cups warm water (about 75 degrees F) and 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the reserved levain to the mixer and mix on low until a shaggy dough forms. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Finish the Dough and Let Rest

Add the salt to the dough and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes; the dough should feel a bit sticky and wet but look smooth and very stretchy. Scrape the dough into a plastic or glass container about twice its size. Cover the dough and let it sit at room temperature until puffed, about 45 minutes.

Fold the Dough

Put the dough on a floured work surface, flatten it gently, then fold in thirds like a business letter. Transfer it back to the container. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 45 minutes. Repeat the folding process one more time, transfer back to the container, cover and let sit at room temperature for another 45 minutes.

Test the Dough

After the third 45-minute rest, the dough should feel soft and pillowy; when pressed with a finger, it should leave an indentation that begins to spring back.

Divide the Dough

Gently scrape the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide in half using a bench scraper.

Shape the Dough Balls

Shape each piece loosely into a round by gently tucking the edges under. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest for 30 minutes.

Prepare the Bowls

Drape two kitchen towels into two medium (8-inch) bowls and dust very generously with flour.

Flatten, Fold and Shape the Dough Balls Again

Flatten one piece of dough into a circle, then fold the left and right sides of the dough over the center. Keeping tension in the dough, begin folding down from the top edge in 3 segments, sealing the bottom edge with the last fold. Loosely cup the dough and, using your hands and the tension between the board and the dough, pull the bread very slowly towards yourself while creating a taut ball.

Let Rise

Gently flip the dough ball over and into one of the prepared bowls. Cover loosely with another kitchen towel. Repeat the process with the second piece of dough. Place both in a warm place to rise until about 1 1/2 times their size, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Preheat Dutch Oven and Place the Loaf

About 20 minutes before baking, position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven, put a 4-quart Dutch oven and lid on the rack and preheat to 500 degrees F. Carefully transfer the hot Dutch oven to a heatsafe surface with oven mitts (leave the lid in the oven). Flip one round of dough over into the Dutch oven.

Score the Loaf

Using a sharp knife, scissors or bread lame, score the top of the bread in a cross or desired pattern. Return the Dutch oven to the oven rack, immediately cover with the lid and bake for 20 minutes.

Bake Until Brown and Let Cool

Lower the temperature to 425 degrees F, uncover and bake until dark brown, about 10 minutes more. Transfer the bread to a cooling rack to cool completely. Return the empty Dutch oven to the oven, raise the temperature to 500 degrees F and let heat for 10 minutes before repeating the baking process with the second dough round.