Making homemade sourdough bread seems a little scary—odd measurements, long wait times, and complicated sourdough starters.
If it’s so difficult, then why was it a staple at every homestead back in the day?
The answer is: it doesn’t need to be.
I don’t like complex recipes; I like easy ones with simple ingredients I can throw together, items I have on hand. Let me share with you a simple sourdough bread recipe that doesn’t require a kitchen scale or come with elaborate instructions—a true homestead sourdough bread.
I began my journey with sourdough starter about 4 months ago. Now I bake sourdough English muffins every week. I even crafted several sourdough starter recipes I will share here! My most recent sourdough recipe was sourdough cinnamon rolls. I am obsessed with my sourdough starter and these cinnamon rolls are easy and straightforward to make—I will do a tutorial on it soon. The key to making sourdough bread is truly the starter—you need a healthy, active starter.
If you just started your sourdough journey, keep in mind that it can take up to two weeks for your starter to be active enough to rise a loaf of bread. In the meantime, find recipes you will try when it matures! My sourdough English muffins recipe is a great beginner sourdough recipe due to its simplicity—mix the starter with water and flour and allow it to rise over night; then add in the rest of the ingredients and bake the most beautiful English muffins you’ve ever seen in your cast iron pan. YUM!
To ease the process of baking sourdough bread, have the following kitchen items on hand:
Dutch oven: A Dutch oven helps crust the outside of the sourdough loaf while maintaining a soft center by steaming the dough as it bakes, much like a brick oven. The crusty outside to the sourdough loaf makes that lovely ‘crunch’ when you softly press on the finished bread (my favorite thing to do!) I not only use my Dutch oven to bake breads, but I use it for my garden vegetable stir fry. This oven is a must-have for every kitchen!
Large mixing bowl: The dough will rise in a large bowl overnight. You need a large bowl since your dough may rise considerably, depending on how active your starter is! I cover the bowl with a tea towel overnight.
Dough scraper: I originally thought a dough scraper wasn’t necessary, but I found that baking sourdough bread is more enjoyable when using a scraper to ease the process. Scrape the dough from the bowl to preserve air bubbles in the dough. Don’t deflate the dough! I have used sturdy kitchen spatulas before, but I much prefer dough scrapers.
Proofing basket: These cute baskets help preserve the shape of the sourdough loaf during its final rise. If you don’t have room for proofing baskets, line a bowl with a tea towel coated with flour and let the dough rise in there.
The kitchen truly becomes a “bakery” during the process of making sourdough bread, so try to have all the fun equipment if you can!
The ingredient list for this beginner sourdough bread is short and simple:
1/2 cup active sourdough starter
1 1/4 cup lukewarm water
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
You likely have these ingredients on hand. If you don’t have a sourdough starter, get one going! They are in emergency situations when you don’t have access to store-bought yeast and you want to make breads.
Here are some common sourdough questions I had when I first got my sourdough starter going:
How do I know if my sourdough starter is active and healthy?
After it has been fed, it should double in size within 4-6 hours and be full of bubbles. Bubbles indicate activity, which is good. Use the sourdough water test method to determine if your starter is active: place a teaspoon of starter in a cup of cold water, and it should float on the surface.
What kind of flour do I need to make sourdough bread?
Start with all-purpose flour. Sourdough bread can be made with many different flours, like einkorn or wheat, but all-purpose flour yields more consistent results. This is definitely a beginner recipe, so learn the process before moving on to other flour types.
How is sourdough different from regular bread?
Sourdough is wetter and stickier dough. You don’t knead the dough as much as with regular bread dough—bring it together until it’s mostly combined, and then let it sit. It also uses sourdough starter instead of yeast. A sourdough starter is fermented and is for breads, brownies, crackers, cinnamon rolls, and many other goodies! Sourdough also doesn’t have to be sour like its name implies. Most of the goods I make are not sour at all! You can adjust the level of sour to your preference.
How do I make my sourdough sourer?
1) Use a higher ratio of flour to water when you feed the sourdough starter
2) If your starter separates and produces a brown layer of liquid on top, mix it back in.
3) Place your dough in a cooler place to rise. It will take longer to rise and this will increase the sour level.
How can I store sourdough bread?
Eat the bread within 2-3 days. If this isn’t possible, store half the loaf in the freezer for later. Keep your bread in bread boxes or wrap it up in Saran Wrap or beeswax bread wraps to maintain freshness.
Why didn’t my sourdough bread rise?
This happened the first time I attempted to make a loaf. My starter probably wasn’t active enough. Before baking sourdough bread, make sure your starter has been recently fed and is active with lots of bubbles! This was a good learning experience for me.
Why did my sourdough loaf spread out?
The dough possibly wasn’t stretched and folded enough, so it didn’t have enough tension. Moisture could be the reason—moister dough generally spreads further than dryer dough.
Now that we understand the sourdough bread baking process, let’s get baking!
Simple Sourdough Bread
- 1/2 cup active sourdough starter
- 1 1/4 cup lukewarm water
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1-2 tsp cornmeal
- Combine the sourdough starter and lukewarm water in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the flour, then the salt.
- Use a fork to mix the ingredients until the dough becomes stiff. Once it’s stiff, use your hands to make a rough ball. Don’t overmix!
- Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel or tea towel and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
- Stretch and fold the sides of the dough and bring into the center a few times to form a ball.
- Place the dough ball in a clean bowl and allow to rise overnight or until doubled in size (about 8-12 hours.)
- Turn the dough out onto a clean counter and fold it over itself a few times to tighten into a ball. Allow to sit for 15 minutes.
- Carefully shape the dough into a ball and place in a well-floured proofing basket or a bowl lined with a lightly floured tea or dish towel. Do not knead! Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and allow to rise for 2-3 hours or until it doubles.
- Preheat the oven to 450F and sprinkle the bottom of your Dutch oven with a thin layer of cornmeal. This gives a nice cornmeal bottom to the sourdough bread and helps protect the Dutch oven from scratches.
- Gently tip the loaf out of the proofing basket onto a sheet of parchment paper. Place the parchment paper with the loaf on top in the Dutch oven.
- Put the lid of the Dutch oven on and bake for 20 minutes.
- Remove the lid and bake for another 30 minutes or until the loaf is golden browned and crispy on top.
- Once finished baking, place on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before cutting it!