These Are the 4 Steps to Making Sourdough Bread Everyone Will Love

Fill your home with the irresistible smell of freshly baked bread by following our easy tips for creating and maintaining a sourdough starter.

It's no secret that making homemade sourdough bread is a time-consuming process, but it doesn't have to be complicated. A lot of waiting is involved in making it, so you'll need patience. But the bakery-level result is well worth your time. The good news? It only takes a handful of ingredients (likely already in your pantry). Take some expert tips from our Test Kitchen on how to make sourdough bread at home. If you don't already have a sourdough bread starter, it's simple to make one. And once you make it, you can feed your sourdough starter and continue using it over and over again.

How to Make Sourdough Bread Starter

Sourdough Starter in Small Jar
Jason Donnelly

To make a sourdough starter, you need only two ingredients (and time): flour and water. Sourdough starter uses natural yeasts and lactobacilli from the air to grow; they settle into the flour-water mixture and feed on the sugars in the flour. The "sour" flavor is from fermentation by the lactobacilli, which produces sour-tasting lactic acid. Here's how to make a sourdough bread starter:

  1. In a large clean container such as a glass food jar ($17, Walmart), stir together one cup of all-purpose flour and ½ cup of water. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Set in a warm place (about 70 degrees Fahrenheit), and let it stand for 24 hours.
  2. Stir in another cup of flour and another ½ cup of water. Cover loosely and let stand in a warm place for another 24 hours. Repeat this process every day for five to seven days or until the mixture is very bubbly and aromatic. The starter is ready to use at this point, and you can move on to how to make sourdough section below.

Feeding Sourdough Starter

If you're not using your starter immediately, keep it at room temperature and feed it by stirring in one cup of flour and ½ cup of water. Let it stand in a warm place overnight. Repeat daily. To slow down the fermenting process, store your starter in the refrigerator and feed it once a week.

Let the starter come to room temperature before measuring and using it in a recipe. When you use your starter, remove the desired amount and feed the remaining starter. Then let it stand at room temperature for at least 24 hours before chilling the extra starter. When your starter gets to be too much, discard half of it before feeding.

How to Make Sourdough Bread

Classic Sourdough Bread Loaf and Slices
Jason Donnelly

Once your sourdough starter is ready, gather the ingredients for our basic sourdough bread recipe that makes two loaves (10 slices each).

Step 1: Stir Together Ingredients and Chill

mixing bread dough with wooden spoon
Jason Donnelly

In a large bowl, stir together flour, water, and sourdough starter until smooth. Cover bowl with waxed paper or plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature four hours. Place the bowl in the refrigerator and chill overnight.

Step 2: Add Remaining Flour and Knead

covering dough with plastic wrap
Peter Krumhardt

Stir the salt and the remaining flour into the mixture. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead in enough flour to make a smooth dough (two to three minutes). Place in a greased bowl, turning to grease the surface of the dough. Cover and let rise at room temperature about two hours or until slightly increased in size (you might see a few bubbles).

Step 3: Separate and Shape Loaves

Line a large baking sheet ($12, Walmart) with parchment paper. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface; divide in half. Shape each dough half into an oval loaf. Place the loaves on the prepared baking sheet and cover with greased plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature about two hours or until nearly double in size.

Step 4: Bake

testing baked bread for doneness
Kritsada Panichgul

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a sharp knife ($70, Williams Sonoma), make three or four diagonal cuts across the top of each loaf. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until the bread is golden and sounds hollow when lightly tapped. Remove the loaves from the baking sheet; cool on wire racks ($17, Target).

How to Make Sourdough Bread Without a Starter

If you're looking for a quick sourdough bread recipe, this one is about as fast as it gets. For one thing, you can skip the process of making a starter. Follow these instructions to learn how to make sourdough bread without starter that's ready to slice and eat in just a couple of hours.

  • 6¾ to 7¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 pkg. active dry yeast
  • 1½ cups water
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 3 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • One 6-oz. carton (⅔ cup) plain yogurt
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine 2½ cups of the flour and the yeast; set aside. Heat and stir the water, sugar, oil, and salt in a medium saucepan until warm (120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit). Add water mixture to flour mixture, along with the yogurt and lemon juice. Beat with an electric mixer on low for 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl constantly. Beat on high for three minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir in as much of the remaining flour as possible.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately stiff dough that is smooth and elastic (six to eight minutes total). Shape dough into a ball. Place in a lightly greased bowl, turning to grease surface of dough. Cover; let rise in a warm place until double in size (45 to 60 minutes).
  3. Punch dough down. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide in half. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, lightly grease a baking sheet.
  4. Shape each dough half by gently pulling it into a ball, tucking edges underneath. Place dough rounds on prepared baking sheet. Flatten each round slightly to about six inches in diameter. Using a sharp knife, lightly score loaf tops in a crisscross pattern. Cover; let rise in a warm place until nearly double in size (about 30 minutes).
  5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until bread sounds hollow when lightly tapped. (An instant-read thermometer should register at least 200 degrees Fahrenheit when inserted into centers of loaves.) If necessary, cover loosely with foil the last 10 minutes of baking to prevent over-browning. Immediately remove bread from baking sheets. Cool on wire racks.

You can also make sourdough bread without a starter with this simple slow-cooker bread recipe. Got too much sourdough starter to handle? Put it to good use in a new recipe. Enjoy the freshly-baked sourdough bread as the base for your morning avocado toast or a classic stuffing. Get our tips for storing bread to keep it fresh as long as possible, or turn stale bread into croutons, French toast, or bread pudding.

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