A Comprehensive Guide to Making Sourdough Bread, from Feeding the Starting to Preparing the Dough

Here are the basic steps to starting a sourdough loaf (or focaccia or croissants).

sourdough bread starter recipe in mason jar
Photo: Johnny Miller

Bread making, especially sourdough bread making, can seem mysterious. We're here to help by showing you what you're looking for when begining to work with a sourdough starter to make levain and autolyze, then proof the dough. Enlist this basic process for when you're making our Sourdough Boules, Sourdough Croissants, or Sourdough Focaccia.

Feed the Starter

Most bakers keep their starter in the fridge where the cool temperature slows down yeast and bacteria growth. When you're ready to bake, adding flour and water "wakes it up" and makes the yeast and bacteria in it grow and multiply. Once it's lively, bubbly, and fed, it's ready for baking.

sourdough levain
Johnny Miller

Make the Levain

Adding a certain amount of flour and water to a measured amount of starter, then letting it sit out to ferment (usually overnight), deepens the end flavor.

prehydrating sourdough dough
Johnny Miller

Prehydrate Dough

This is your autolyze/sponge step. Add more flour and liquid and let it rest briefly; this fully hydrates the flour and helps the gluten develop.

folding dough
Johnny Miller

Fold It

Forget what you might have heard, making bread is not necessarily all about the kneading. In sourdough baking, time in contact with water and folding build the gluten, so several rounds of gentle folding will suffice.

proofing sourdough
Johnny Miller

Proof It

This is the final rise before baking. You know dough is properly proofed when you poke a finger into it and the indentation holds or reflattens very slowly.

Now you're ready to form croissants or shape the dough for boules.

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