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  • Writer's pictureMatt Suprunowicz

Sourdough III: How to Bake a Loaf of Bread

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

Now that the starter is ready to use, how can we make bread dough with it?


This Lesson Plan is part the Nutrition Module of SustainEd Farms' virtual programming.

Background: Sourdough Bread

After making a sourdough starter and tending to it (feeding it) for a week or so, the “discarded” portions could then be used for sourdough pancakes. Now that the yeast culture has been active for a few weeks, it is time to bake a loaf of sourdough bread. This guide will help the home baker produce two delicious loaves of bread using their active starter, and very few other ingredients. The result is a bread with complex sour flavors and soft, spongy, and crunchy textures. The loaf will make fantastic sweet options (like spreading jam on top or making french toast) as well as savory ones (such as pairing with oil and pepper and balsamic vinegar). Consider giving a loaf of this sourdough bread as a gift to a family member or friend -- upon tasting, they will assure you that your love, efforts, and time dedicated to the baking process were well worth it!

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to...

  • Prepare two loaves of sourdough bread from homemade starters

  • Learn about the process of rising/proofing, kneading, and the autolyse method

Academic Vocabulary

autolyse /awt-l-ahyz/ noun. - in baking, a method for stimulating gluten development by mixing the water and flower and letting it rest

knead /nēd/ verb. - the pulling, pushing, folding, and massaging of dough that activates the bonding power of gluten, forming a coagulate

rise (bread) /rīz/ verb. - the increasing in volume of bread dough due to the biological action of yeast

proof (bread) /pro͞of/ verb. - the final rising and resting of a yeast-based dough before it is baked


1. Gather your materials. You will need the following supplies:

Day 1: scale (optional but very helpful) · measuring cups · active sourdough starter (20 g) · water (100 g) · flour (100 g) · clear container (1 qt or larger) · fork · tea towel

Day 2/3: scale · leaven (200 g, from Day 1) · several mixing bowls (+ bread baskets, if available) · measuring cups · water (750 g, + extra for float test) · flour (1000 g, + extra for dusting) · spoons and forks · salt · bench scraper (optional) or knife · tea towels · Dutch oven + oven · corn meal · oven mitts

2. Watch the following YouTube video to see a demonstration of how to bake a loaf of sourdough bread. Then, follow along with the remainder of the lesson by reading the steps below.

Day 1:

3. Before you begin baking, make a plan for when you want to eat your bread. Ideally, you will begin the process before going to bed on one night, prepare the dough the next day (which will be the most time intensive day), and bake your loaf [or two] the following day or several days after. However, if your dough is behaving according to plan, you could feasibly do this process over two days. Gauge when you would like to eat the bread, and plan to set ample time aside accordingly. This method will guide the baker over three days of work.

4. On day 1, around 10 - 14 hours before the first step of your “time intensive” day, mix 20 g of your ripe (bubbly, fresh & doughy smell, light & pasty color, sticky texture) sourdough starter, 100 g of water, and 100 g of flour into a clear container large enough to hold double the amount of its initial contents. Use a fork to stir until it is uniform.

5. Cover the container loosely with a tea towel. Set the container aside at room temperature until the next day (or 10 - 14 hours later).

Day 2:

6. After about 10 - 14 hours of “feeding,” check the leaven (the rising agent in the dough -- your mixture from the night before) for readiness by performing a float test. First, observe if the starter has grown in size: if it hasn’t grown, or if it has fallen significantly, you may need to feed it again according to the first day’s procedure. If the “new” starter looks bubbly and has risen, fill a bowl with water, and use a spoon or fork to transfer about a teaspoon of the starter to the water. If the mass floats for the first several seconds, you should move on. Otherwise, restart the feeding process.

7. Upon passing the floating test, it is time to use the autolyse method for preparing the bulk of the dough. Weigh out 1000 g of flour and 750 g of room temperature water, and combine them in a bowl with your hands until there is no more dry flour. Let the mixture rest for half an hour at a minimum in order to let the gluten begin forming (which will help structure the dough). Wet a towel, and cover your flour and water mixture.

8. Remove the damp towel from your autolyse after half an hour (or more) of resting, and mix in 200 g of your starter using your hands. Pinch and twist the dough inwards from the outside of the bowl, rotating the bowl as you work. Mix until completely combined.

9. Weigh out 20 g of salt and 20 g of water, and place them across the top of your mixture. Repeat the pinch and twist process in step 8 until the salt and water are thoroughly combined. Cover the bowl with the damp towel and set aside for 10 minutes.

10. Uncover the dough once again, and wet your hands. Grab about a half-handful of dough on the edge of the bowl and lift it upwards steadily. Once the dough begins to give resistance to your pull, fold it over to the other side of the bowl. Rotate your bowl 90°, and repeat the pull and fold process before rotating the bowl once again. Continue kneading your dough in this way for 10 minutes.

11. After 10 minutes, you should notice how the dough has become more elastic and less sticky. Grab a small handful of dough, and perform the window pane test to check for adequate gluten formation. Stretching the dough evenly in each direction with your fingers, gently pull the dough apart until you can see a thin layer of dough through which light can pass (hold it up to a light). If your dough breaks easily before this point, or doesn’t break directly after allowing light through, then continue to knead your dough for 10 - 20 minutes more, performing the window pane test a few more times. After this period, if the dough hasn’t passed the window pane test, you may still move on as your dough will likely still turn out.

12. Cover the dough with a damp towel, and rest it for an hour in a warm location (76 - 80 °F). To mark the progress of dough rising, consider marking the dough level on the outside of the bowl with a piece of tape.

13. After an hour, uncover the bowl, and look for bubbles and signs of texture changes in the dough. Fold the dough by grabbing a small handful at the edge, pulling the dough upward, and folding it over to the other side. Rotate the bowl 90° and fold again, repeating twice more. Cover the dough, and let sit for another hour. Repeat the folding process at least twice more, making observations about bubbles on the surface each time, and resting for an hour between folds. The dough will be ready when it appears to be substantially larger than where it was marked originally -- a 50% - 100% increase in size (reference the tape marker for assistance).

14. After performing enough folds (up to 7 rotations) to grow the dough substantially, it is time to pre-shape the dough. Flour a clean working surface, and gently roll the sticky dough out onto the flour. Cut the mass into two seperate loaves using a bench scraper or a knife. Cover one of the dough balls with a damp towel, and grab the other ball with your hands. Pinch a mass of dough on the outside, fold inwards, and stamp it at the center. Grab an adjacent bunch of dough and repeat, making the dough into a “packet” or “pillow.” Once in a defined shape, turn the dough onto its new seam, and cover the ball with a damp towel. Repeat with the other ball of dough, and let rest for 20 minutes.

15. Prepare your shaping baskets or bowls while the dough is pre-shaping. Line two mixing bowls or bread baskets with clean towels (large enough to cover the whole bowl), and sprinkle flour on the towels generously.

16. After pre-shaping for 20 minutes, uncover one of the balls of dough, and dust your hands and the surface of the dough with flour. Grab opposite sides of the dough with your hands, raise the ball in the air, and gently wave your arms while pulling them apart to make the dough oscillate up and down. Set the spread dough back on the surface, and fold the dough back in on itself lengthways. Grabbing the “untouched” sides of the dough this time, perform the same pulling and stretching process. Scoop the dough up, and turn it onto its new seam. While picking up, rotating slightly, and setting down the ball of dough continuously, fold the edges of the dough with your fingers up and under the main mass of the dough. Make the dough into a circular form, and then flip the dough into your prepared shaping bowl with the seam facing upwards. Sprinkle some flour on the exposed dough, fold the basket/bowl towel over the top of the dough, and let rise for 1 - 2 hours. Repeat for the other half of dough.

17. After proofing the dough (the final rise before baking is possible), it is time to apply to poke test (to check if the dough is proofed). Uncover a basket, and gently press a thumb into the dough surface about ¼ of an inch into the dough. If the dough springs back quickly, the dough needs more time to rise. If an indent is left, you have successfully voided an air pocket, which means that the dough has sufficiently risen for good baking form. If it is proofed, then the bread can be baked; however, letting the bread sit in the fridge for one night (or more) will help develop the flavor profile of the eventual loaf. Continue to Day 3 if you intend to bake the bread immediately; place the dough, covered, in the refrigerator if you will bake the bread on another day.

Day 3:

18. Place an uncovered Dutch oven into the oven, preheat the oven to 500 °F, and remove one of the sourdough loaves from the fridge. Allow the dough to sit out for about an hour as the oven heats.

19. After the oven has reached 500 °F, remove the Dutch oven using oven mitts and place it on a stove top or heat pad. Grab a small amount of corn meal and dust the bottom of the Dutch oven (this will help prevent burning the loaf). Loosen the dough from the towel with your hands. Being careful not to touch the Dutch oven with any body part, grab the towel with the dough, and flip the dough seam-side down into the Dutch oven. Try to avoid touching the sides of the Dutch oven with the dough, if possible.

20. Sprinkle flour on top of the dough in the Dutch oven. Using a knife or razor blade, make a long, shallow (no more than ¼ inch), crescent shaped cut into the top of the dough. This is where the dough will naturally split as it rises in the oven, so feel free to make more cuts in the dough as desired.

21. Put the lid on the Dutch oven, and place the fixture into the oven. Bake for 20 minutes before removing the lid and lowering the temperature to 450 °F. Bake for another 30 - 40 minutes, or until the dough looks golden brown and crunchy on the exterior.

22. After baking, remove the loaf from the oven, and wait 20 - 30 minutes before cutting open with a serrated knife. Enjoy your sourdough bread with its wide variety of delicious toppings!

load of sourdough bread

Additional Resources:

Download the PDF version of this lesson plan:

Sourdough III_ Bake a Loaf of Bread
Download PDF • 8.01MB

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