How to Make Sourdough Bread: Ultimate Beginner’s Guide (2020)

by leavenly
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Welcome to Leavenly’s Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Sourdough Bread! I created this resource for you, the beginner baker, the busy mama, the one who’s not sure if she can pull this off. You absolutely can, and I’m here to show you how!

If we haven’t met, I’m Heather. I have two kids (ages 3 and 2), and I’m currently pregnant with our third. My husband and I live with our kids and dogs in Golden, Colorado. And if you haven’t guessed already, I’m sourdough obsessed! I founded Leavenly.com when I realized that baking sourdough bread with kids running around was actually possible. I felt like I stumbled on some kind of secret, and I’m here to share that secret with you.

In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to start your sourdough bread baking journey. You’ll get lessons on starter and leaven, my personal sourdough recipe, two free resources, a list of discard recipes, and also my secrets to success for baking with kids.

So let’s get started, mama!

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.



How to Make Sourdough Bread: Ultimate Beginner’s Guide (2020)


Chapter 1: How to Begin

How do I start making sourdough bread?

You read this post! First of all, congratulations on starting your sourdough bread journey! Whether you know it or not, you’ve already begun this adventure simply by being interested and curious about this process. Welcome!

The best way to begin baking sourdough is to just begin. Don’t think too hard on whether or not it’s a good idea (it IS a good idea!), and instead, keep this momentum and just start.

Sourdough boule

If you don’t have a starter, that’s step one. Fast forward to Chapter 4 to learn all about sourdough starter, and how to make it.

If you do have a starter, great! Start feeding it regularly to get it nice and strong, and take a look through Chapter 3 to make sure you have all of the essential tools for baking sourdough.

Then, start by reading the next chapter, What is Sourdough?, to get an idea of what you’ll be working with. Even a basic understanding can make a world of difference to your final loaves, and to your experience.

Finally, you’ll want my Simple Sourdough Recipe: The Best Method for Busy Mamas which is in Chapter 9.

If you’re having any problems, reference the Sourdough FAQs section in Chapter 13. If you have a question that’s not answered there, feel free to write to me at heather@leavenly.com and we can troubleshoot together!

Now, let’s get started with your crash course in sourdough!


Chapter 2: What is Sourdough?

When people think of bread, they tend to think of that which uses commercial, or quick rise, yeasts. However, this type of bread has only existed for just over 150 years.

Three loaves of sourdough bread

The Science

Sourdough breads are made with wild yeasts and bacteria. Three basic ingredients – flour, water, salt – come together in a beautiful symbiotic rhythm to raise the bread naturally, as has been done for thousands of years. The yeast and bacteria that exist on the flour grain and on the baker’s hands get kick-started once the water is added. They begin digesting the flour, and a by-product of this digestion is carbon dioxide (CO2). The CO2 creates bubbles in the dough, which gives the bread its rise and crumb. Some bacteria even digest gluten which creates lactic acid, lowering the pH and bringing the sour to the sourdough. (An interesting side note: many people who are gluten-sensitive are able to eat sourdough with no digestive issues – this is due to that breakdown of the gluten protein, making it gentler on sensitive stomachs.)

The Basics

To begin, you need a starter. This is something you can either make yourself from scratch or receive from someone else. If you don’t want to make it from scratch, I suggest reaching out on social media (Nextdoor is a great way to find a starter!) and simply ask: “Does anybody have some healthy, active sourdough starter I could have?”

If you can’t find one, you can make your own. It’s fun! Click here to go to Chapter 4, How to Make Sourdough Starter in Six Easy Steps.

Once you have a starter and it’s healthy and active, you add warm water and flour to make a leaven. This sits out for 8-12 hours, and then it’s time to make your dough.

Leaven sticking to jar lid

To mix the sourdough, simply add your leaven to some water and add the flour. It must rest after mixing, and this is called the autolyse. This allows the flour to fully absorb the water, to activate enzymes, and to begin converting the flour into simple sugars. It’s a hugely important step, one that takes about 30 minutes, but some folks autolyse for up to two hours or more.

After the autolyse, the salt is added. Salt adds flavor to the sourdough, and gives the dough structure, improving its ability to hold on to the carbon dioxide. It also slows fermentation, which is why it’s added after the autolyse. The salt (and a little more water) is incorporated into the dough completely, then the dough rests for 30 minutes.

Now begins the series of folds. There are countless techniques for this, and it comes down to preference. Personally, I prefer to leave my dough in the bowl as opposed to dumping it onto the counter. This makes far less mess and makes the folding steps simpler. I do a total of three or four folds, each resting for 20-30 minutes in between.

Now the dough sits pretty for 1.5 – 2 hours. This is called the bulk fermentation, and the gluten is allowed to relax, and more complex flavors are developed. After this stage, your dough will be larger and lighter.

The dough comes out onto the counter and is divided and pre-shaped.

Sourdough bread dough

The loaves rest again for 30 minutes, then they go through their final shaping and are placed into baskets.

Now the dough goes through its final fermentation. This can either happen at room temperature just before baking, or in the fridge overnight. I prefer to do cold-proofing in the fridge overnight because it works better with my schedule, and I recommend it if you have kids. It’s less time in the kitchen per day, which is ideal. You’ll learn more about choosing a two-day versus a three-day process shortly.

When you’re ready to bake, the oven is preheated with the cooking vessel inside. Once it’s good and hot, the dough is flipped out of its basket, scored, and it goes into your pan. Your vessel must have a tight-fitting lid, like a Lodge cast-iron combo cooker, a Dutch oven, or the Challenger Breadpan. The key to a golden crust that isn’t dry and over-baked is moisture. Commercial ovens have steamers that can maintain humidity within the oven, but home ovens don’t have that capability. In fact, home ovens are designed to remove humidity. The lidded vessels work because the steam that is released from the first few minutes of baking becomes trapped and surrounds the dough as it bakes.

A note about scoring: a nice deep score that is continuous around the dough, like a square or half-circle, allows the dough to rise upwards, creating an impressive looking loaf. Small, tight scores won’t allow the upward rise and will instead create a loaf that is shorter and more compact, and the loaf will likely “self-score” (aka, burst open) somewhere. Deep scoring is recommended and is achieved by holding your blade at a 45° angle and doing deep, swift cuts.

The lid of the vessel is removed after 30 minutes, and the loaf continues baking for another 15 minutes. It comes out of the oven and is tipped onto a cooling rack, where it crackles and snaps as it cools. It must cool for an hour or more before slicing.

Sourdough bread in Challenger Bread Pan

Those are the basics of sourdough, in a nutshell! There are many more intricacies that we will delve into, so keep reading if you would like more detailed information.

Next up… Let’s talk about kitchen tools!


Chapter 3: 10 Sourdough Baking Tools You’ll Need (What’s Required vs. What’s Not)

What tools do I need to bake sourdough bread?

Not as many as you’d think! To bake great sourdough, there are certain kitchen tools that you will need. The tools listed in the required section are absolutely necessary. Other tools make your life easier, and those are listed under helpful. Finally, there are some tools that some bakers use in addition to their other equipment, and those are listed as optional.

If you’re just starting out and budget is an issue, I would recommend only buying the required tools. From there, you can slowly start adding some of the helpful tools, until you feel like your personal sourdough baking arsenal is full. Check out the list below for some great suggestions.

Required:

·   Parchment Paper

Parchment paper will make transfer of your dough into your cooking vessel much easier and will prevent your loaf from sticking to your cooking vessel. Any brand is fine: as long as it’s parchment paper it’ll do the job! Personally, Reynolds is my favorite brand.

·   Digital Scale

You absolutely need a digital scale. Weighing your ingredients is much more accurate than volumetric measurements, like cups and tablespoons, and true bakers weigh their ingredients. As long as it weighs in grams, you’re all set. This scale is inexpensive and has everything you’ll need.

·   Heavy baking vessel with tight-fitting lid

 This is an absolute must. I’ve used both the Lodge cast iron combo cooker (below) and the Challenger Bread Pan (pictured above, at end of Chapter 2). Both are great for different reasons. The Lodge combo cooker is less expensive, but over time feels limiting. However, it’s a great place to start. The Challenger Bread Pan is the champion of the bread world, and has a lot more versatility, but with a higher price tag. You can also use a basic 4- or 5-quart Dutch oven, or even a lidded roasting pan. Whatever it is that you use, make sure it has a tight-fitting lid. This traps the escaping steam from the dough as it bakes, simulating a steam-injection oven, and creates a perfect crunchy crust that’s not too thick or chewy.

Helpful:

·   Proofing Baskets

There is a lot of variety in proofing baskets, and price points vary as well. There are inexpensive plastic proofing baskets that work just fine but may not hold up over time. There are also wooden baskets called bannetons (below) which are beautiful, solid, and more expensive. I recommend getting baskets that come with liners.

·   Wide Bowl or Container

This is what you will be mixing your dough in, so you want it big. Starting out, I bought a stainless bowl that was large, cheap, and basic, and I still use it with every mix because it’s huge, it’s light, and it allows for your bread to rise without touching the kitchen towel. Plastic containers work, too, but they have to be pretty big. You can find good ones at a restaurant supply, if you’d rather be able to see your dough as it ferments.

 ·   Bench Knife & Pastry Scraper

Okay, so this is two things, but you can buy them as a set. They are so helpful. Your bench knife serves many functions: cutting dough, lifting dough, scraping countertops… The list goes on. Your pastry scraper is used to scrape the dough out of your bowl, and off your hands. Like the mixing bowl, I’m still using the very first ones I ever bought, which are linked to above.

·   Digital Thermometer

Most people already have a digital meat thermometer which is perfect for the job. You will be using the thermometer to measure the temperature of your water and your dough. If you don’t already have one, choose a basic one that’s instant-read.

Optional:

·   Razor Blade

You can use a knife or scissors for scoring your bread, but eventually, a basic razor blade makes scoring much easier and more precise. Scoring is necessary because it allows the loaf to reach its height potential, and prevents it from bursting open from pressure. You can either slide it onto a split popsicle stick or buy a bread lame like the UFO Lame. Please don’t try to hold the blade in your bare hand! You need something to hold it securely. The razor blades are very cheap, and basic lames are pretty inexpensive as well.

·   Linen Kitchen Towels

Learn from my mistakes and don’t use terry cloth towels! The dough will stick to them and it will be a disaster. Linen kitchen towels are a flat-weave 100% cotton towel, so they’re breathable and their smooth surface prevents the dough from sticking. I like the ones that are large square shapes, but any will do. Choose ones that you like!

·       Mason Jars

Mason jars are very useful for your starter and your leaven, though they’re not necessary. The type of mason jar that will serve you well are the 16oz wide-mouth jars. It will also be helpful to have a 32oz wide-mouth jar. If you can, get one large jar (for making leaven) and at least three regular jars (the first for your starter, the second for feeding, and the third for storing your discard in the fridge). I like to collect my discard and make something yummy with it once a week, like sourdough English muffins (my personal favorite!).

And that’s it! Once you get all your kitchen equipment together, you’re ready to start baking. 

Next, make sure you have all your ingredients: 

  • all-purpose flour
  • whole-wheat flour
  • salt
  • healthy active starter

Then it’s time to give it a shot! Remember, sourdough is much more forgiving than you might think. You can absolutely do this, and if you need more help or more encouragement, send me an email at heather@leavenly.com. I would love to hear from you!


Chapter 4: How to Make Sourdough Starter in Six Easy Steps

How do I make my own sourdough starter?

It’s much easier than you think! Sourdough starter is the heart and soul of sourdough bread. Without it, there is no sourdough. 

If it helps, you can think of the starter as the yeast. It will provide the rise you need in bread like commercial yeast does, but it’s using wild yeasts and microflora instead.

Sourdough Starter from Scratch

What is a starter?

A starter is made of two ingredients: flour and water. If this seems too good to be true, it’s not! What we don’t see are the hidden ingredients that bring the starter to life: millions of wild yeasts and bacteria that digest the flour and turn it into carbon dioxide and lactic acid. You can’t see it, but it’s happening as soon as you add the water to the flour.

There are many ways you can get a starter without making it yourself. You can post on neighborhood groups on Facebook, request some on Nextdoor, or simply ask someone that you know makes their own sourdough. Most people are thrilled to share their starters! You may even luck out by calling a local bakery and asking them. They may guard their starter more than a neighbor, but it’s worth a shot. King Arthur Flour also sells starter online! One ounce is only $9, and it’s descended from a century-old starter.

That said, there’s a certain beauty in making your very own starter. It’s truly amazing to watch as this glob of flour and water suddenly starts bubbling away, growing and expanding and full of life. When I made my own, I was totally geeking out the entire time!


Click below for Leavenly’s FREE email course and get your own starter going! Get a daily email in your inbox with simple instructions on building a sourdough starter from scratch.


What kind of flour is best for sourdough starter?

Different flours produce different results in terms of microbial and yeast activity. Depending on which you choose, your starter could be ready to bake with very soon, or may take several weeks. Below, the three most common types of flours (all-purpose, whole wheat and rye) are listed with explanations regarding their activity in a sourdough starter.

·        All-purpose flour has been stripped of most of its nutrients, so it doesn’t have much to offer the microflora to eat. As such, building a starter on only all-purpose flour is a slow process.

·        Whole wheat flour has a lot more nutrition for the microbes because it’s less processed. Starters built with whole wheat flours grow faster.

·        Rye flours tend to attract the most yeasts of all the flours, which causes the starter to ferment the fastest, and takes the least time to grow strong.

It’s up to you which flours you would like to use. Most bakers use a blend of two or sometimes three flours. I like a half-and-half blend of all-purpose and whole wheat flours, but you might find a different blend that works better for you.

Sourdough Starter

What kind of water do I use in my sourdough starter?

Some folks argue for bottled water, and yet others state that water needs to be a certain pH. I use tap water, and my starter and bread always turns out beautifully! If you have very hard or very soft water, you may want to filter it before using it, but I’m always a fan of trying it out first to see if it works. Why spend money on a Brita if your starter comes out great with your regular old tap water? If you see any issues arising down the road (very slow activity or unexpected outcomes), it might be worthwhile to switch to filtered water and see if there’s a difference. Don’t start over! Just continue feeding as normal with filtered water instead of tap water. Keep notes!

Below is my tested, tried and true method for making sourdough starter from scratch. There are many methods out there, some far more complicated than others. Some call for the addition of fruit, to add different microbes and sugars and aid fermentation. Others use more complicated techniques than basic hand-mixing.

I like to keep it simple: flour, water, hand-mixing, and the most important ingredient: time. You must give your starter ample time to grow healthy and strong. I say it takes two weeks or less, but yours might take more. You must watch it, observe it, and learn how it’s acting. Your starter will tell you all you need to know; you just need to pay attention.

You absolutely can do this! Just make it a part of your morning routine, and soon you won’t even think twice about it.

Sourdough Starter from Scratch

How to Make Your Own Sourdough Starter in Six Easy Steps

Making sourdough starter from scratch doesn't have to be complicated! This recipe keeps it simple, basic, and guarantees an active starter you can bake with in two weeks or less.
Each step is extremely easy and takes mere minutes. The most important factor is time – you must give your starter sufficient time to build up and get strong, or else your bread will fail. Patience is a virtue!
Course Appetizer, Breakfast, Brunch, Main Course, Side Dish, Snack
Cuisine American

Ingredients
  

  • 50 g all-purpose flour or bread flour works too
  • 50 g whole wheat flour
  • 100 g warm water

Instructions
 

  • Day One:
    Weigh water in a mason jar, and add both flours. Mix well, with hands if possible, until all lumps disappear and no dry flour remains. Cover the jar with the inner lid (do not screw down!) and place in a warm, dry location – your kitchen counter is perfect. Place an elastic band around the jar at the level of the starter to make it easy to visualize any rise.
    Now is a good time to name your starter! Studies have shown that people are more apt to feed a starter if it has a name 🙂
    Flour and water to make starter
  • Day Two:
    Remove 25g of your new starter and put in a clean jar. Add 100g warm water and swirl to incorporate. Mix in 50g whole-wheat and 50g all-purpose flours, and stir until no dry flour remains. Cover the jar with the inner lid, mark with rubber band, and place in a warm, dry location.
  • Day Three:
    Check for signs of activity! You're looking for small bubbles around the perimeter of the jar, and evidence of rising, and you'll want to note the smell each time, too. Today it will likely smell slightly similar to beer, or have a nutty smell. This will continue until you begin smelling a distinctly sour smell in about three or four more days.
    Remove 25g of your new starter and put in a clean jar. Add 100g warm water and swirl to incorporate. Mix in 50g whole-wheat and 50g all-purpose flours, and stir until no dry flour remains. Cover the jar with the inner lid, mark with rubber band, and place in a warm, dry location.
  • Day Four – Seven:
    At this point, you will repeat the feeding process above (from Day Three) once a day. Make sure you're taking notes throughout the process.
  • Day Eight and onward:
    At this point – or possibly sooner – you'll want to start noticing how long it takes for your starter to double in size. The goal is 8 hours or less, but more important than the timing is the predictability of your starter. For example, mine will double in size at about hour six, then fall. I know this about my starter, and soon you will know it about yours!
    Sourdough Starter from Scratch
  • Your starter may be ready to bake with at Day Eight, but it might take as long as 14 days. Don't rush the process, and give your starter ample time to become nice and strong to support leavening an entire loaf of bread.
    If you miss a day or two of feeding, don't fret, just feed as normal and expect that the process will take a little longer. We're only human!
Keyword Sourdough, Starter

Once your starter is good and strong, it is time to start learning some sourdough basics. Next up: Leaven!


Chapter 5: All About Leaven

What is leaven? Do I need leaven to make sourdough?

Let’s cover everything about leaven from A-Z. Yes, you need a leaven to make sourdough! But it’s just as easy as feeding your starter, and is just another step in the process.

Before starting on this journey, I had never even heard the term “leaven” before. Once I started baking sourdough, I learned that the term leaven is both a noun and a verb. This sent me on a quest for understanding leaveners, and here is what I’ve learned.

Technically speaking, a leaven is whatever provides the rise in your baking. There are two primary types: chemical leaveners and natural leaveners.

  • Chemical leaveners such as baking soda and baking powder are used prominently in baking. They work by releasing carbon dioxide gas into your dough or batter as a result of exposure to acid, liquid or heat, depending which leavener we’re talking about.
  • Natural leaveners include yeast, both wild and commercial. Commercial yeast changed the bread baking game when it was invented, but a lot of flavor was sacrificed. Commercial yeast is convenient and expedites the process, but after thousands of years, we are still baking with wild yeasts. Why? Because nothing beats the flavor of a naturally leavened loaf of bread.

When I use the word leaven, I’m referring to the little concoction you will make from your starter that gets incorporated into your sourdough. Your leaven provides the rising power for your bread. Before you even start mixing, you have to make sure your starter is healthy and active. If you’re not sure, try feeding it twice daily for several days and watch for activity: a predictable rise and fall, and visible gas bubbles. 

Leaven

Clear mason jars are great for storing starters; just don’t tighten the lid. Remove the outer ring of the lid and just use the inner disc lid, placing it gently on top of the jar. This allows gases to escape, which will give room for the physical rise of the starter, and also avoids the accidental creation of a dough bomb.

Take notes during this process if it is new for you. Write down the date and time of feeding, how you fed, what it looked and smelled like before, and what happened after you fed it. This will help you notice a pattern (“Oh, my starter rises fully six hours after feeding”) which will deepen your knowledge of – and connection with – your starter.

Once your starter is healthy and active, bubbling away on the countertop, you can make your leaven. The leaven must be used in your bread dough, so you only need a leaven if you’re planning to bake. It is like the middleman between your starter and your sourdough. You’re now ready to begin mixing.

Now let’s take a look at the three-day sourdough process, from start to finish. First up: make that leaven!



Chapter 6: The Sourdough Process – Step One: Choose Your Schedule and Build Your Leaven

How do I make sourdough bread?

If you’ve ever wondered these words, this post is for you.

Before you begin, you’ll have to choose whether a two- or three-day process works better for you.

I personally prefer the three-day method. I find that it is much easier to do it this way with kids, but mine are young and more demanding of my time.

I honestly feel pressure when doing the two-day method. For example, if I make my leaven at 7:00am, it can take 8-12 hours to be ready to bake with. This means I’m looking at mixing my dough anywhere between 3:00pm and 7:00pm. Well, late afternoon mixing doesn’t work for me. My kids are waking up from their naps, demanding milk and snacks, I’m trying to get dinner ready, the kids need baths, and my kitchen is probably a war-zone – so the whole situation just stresses me out. Plus, sometimes the leaven isn’t even done at 12 hours; don’t even get me started on staying up until midnight to mix bread dough.

But all that said, maybe it will work for you better than the three-day process. Maybe your kids are older, more independent, stay up later, etc. So I’ve outlined what the two- and three-day processes actually look like, time-wise. Use your judgment and choose which process would result in the least amount of stress for you.

Here’s what the two-day process looks like:

  • Day One – Make your leaven in the early morning + Mix your dough in the afternoon/evening (total time = 5+ hours)
  • Day Two – Bake your loaves (total time = 2 hours 15 minutes, or 45 minutes each)

Here’s what the three-day process looks like:

  • Day One – Make your leaven in the evening (total time = 5 minutes)
  • Day Two – Mix your dough sometime in the morning (total time = 5+ hours)
  • Day Three – Bake your loaves (total time = 2 hours 15 minutes, or 45 minutes each)

Once you’ve decided which timeline works better for you, you’re ready to go. I’ll be describing the process as the three-day process.

The two-day process will be summarized below each step in a format like this.

The Leaven

On Day 1, we make our leaven. Leaven Day is the easiest of all three days, because it takes mere minutes from your day. In the morning, you’ll feed your starter like normal. If it was in the fridge, leave it on the countertop after feeding. You’re all done until the evening!

Right before bed, you will build your leaven. This is basically like feeding your starter, but on steroids. The final volume of the leaven will be much larger than the final volume of the starter, so I use a large wide-mouth jar for this. You take some starter, dilute it with water, then add your flours. Then it sits on the countertop overnight and ferments while you sleep.

           If you chose the two-day process, you’ll feed your starter the night before, then build your leaven first thing in the morning.

That smaller jar of starter? You have two options:

  1. Pop it in the fridge until you plan to bake again.
  2. If you’re feeding daily, go back to your regularly scheduled feeds.

Heavenly Leaven – The Recipe

Use your healthy, active starter to build your leaven the night before you plan to prepare your dough. I call this Day 1 of the Sourdough Process – Leaven Day!

Ingredients

· 100 grams lukewarm water

· 50 grams healthy, active starter

· 50 grams whole wheat flour

· 50 grams all-purpose flour (or bread flour)

Instructions

  1. On Leaven Day (the day before you plan to make your dough), feed your starter first thing in the morning and leave it on the counter. In the evening, you will make your leaven. For the two-day method, feed your starter the evening before you plan on making your dough, then make your leaven as soon as you wake up the next day.
  2. That night, before bed, pour water into a large mason jar. Add starter, close lid tightly and shake to incorporate.
  3. Open the jar and add both flours. Using a bread knife, stir it all together until it’s sticky and there is no dry flour remaining. (Look through the bottom of the jar to make sure there’s none hiding!)
  4. Leave on the counter – it should take 8 to 12 hours to ferment appropriately. It will have doubled or tripled in size and will be light and bubbly with a sweetly sour smell.
  5. To test readiness, take a glass of water and drop a small amount of your leaven in it. If it floats, it’s ready for baking. If it sinks, it needs more time to ferment. Recheck every 30 minutes or so.
  6. When it passes the float test, you may begin mixing your sourdough!
Starter

Next up in the sourdough process: mixing your dough!


Chapter 7: The Sourdough Process – Step Two: Mix Your Dough

Mix Day is the day you get your hands dirty!

Having your prep and bake days on separate days is important, because it makes the goal of baking sourdough every week much more attainable. I sure don’t want to spend an entire day in the kitchen covered in flour, and I doubt you do, either. Whether you’re doing the two- or three-day process, you’ll mix and bake on separate days all the same.

Below is a walkthrough of what you can expect, and you’ll find the recipe and method for great sourdough in Chapter 9!

To start, you’ll mix your leaven with water, and stir to break it up. Then you’ll add your flours, mix by hand, cover with a towel, and let the dough autolyse for 30 minutes.

Doughy Hand

The autolyse period is important because it allows the flours to absorb the water, activating enzymes which starts the gluten development. It’s a critical step that can’t be rushed.

After 30 minutes, you sprinkle in the salt and a little extra water, mix by hand, cover with a towel, and the bulk fermentation can begin. This is a four-hour process, and you are only required for half of it.

For the first two hours of the bulk, you’ll be folding the dough every 30 minutes. This consists of grabbing one edge of the dough and pulling it up and over itself. Then, you rotate the bowl a quarter turn and do the same thing, all the way around the bowl. Then you cover with a towel and let sit until the next fold.

Once you’ve completed the fourth fold, you’ll cover the dough with a towel and let it sit for 1 ½ – 2 hours.

Now you’ll dump your dough onto a floured surface and divide into two or three pieces, depending how big you want your final loaves. After personally making many batches of both two and three pieces, my preference is to do three pieces. The dough is more manageable, and they’re easier to cut into once they’re baked if they’re a little smaller. You will roughly shape each piece, then let them rest for 30 minutes.

Sourdough bread dough

It’s time to do the final shaping on your loaves. Once they’re shaped, they go into your dusted proofing baskets. It’s best to seal the dough in plastic so it doesn’t absorb the odors from your fridge, so I put each basket into a grocery or produce bag, tie a loose knot, and put them all into the fridge.

This step is called cold-proofing, and it’s a godsend to busy folks like us. Without it, we’d need to bake our bread in a few hours. The refrigerator slows fermentation and allows us to finish our day, go to bed, then bake in the morning.

I always love the feeling of accomplishment I get once the loaves are tucked away in the fridge. And every time, without fail, I’m amazed at how easy it was. Baking bread using commercial yeast used to amaze and intimidate me, until I made sourdough and yeasted bread became child’s play. But what’s funny is that the sourdough process, although longer, is much simpler than baking anything else. Less time required of you to be in the kitchen. Less dishes. Less mess. And because sourdough is so forgiving, there is also less fear of failure.

Proofing bread in bannetons

Next up in the sourdough process: Bake Day!


Chapter 8: The Sourdough Process – Day 3: Bake Day

Today is my favorite of all three days. Fresh bread!!

Plus, I get to do all the fun stuff today (scoring, smelling, eating) with none of the work.

Bake Day can be approached in one of two ways:

  1. Bake all of your loaves back-to-back, and you’ll have fresh loaves within a few hours.
  2. Bake one or two today, and save the other one or two to bake later or tomorrow.

I prefer the first method because my oven is already preheated, and also because I live at elevation and fermentation happens faster up here, so I’ve found that after a certain point, my dough can become over-proofed. This may not be the case for you, which is why it’s imperative that you take detailed notes with every bake. This will help you pinpoint any trends that make your final loaves better or worse, and you can correct and adjust as necessary.

Taking Notes

First, preheat your oven with your cooking vessel inside for at least 30 minutes, ideally more. When your oven is screaming hot, you’ll remove one basket from the fridge and take it out of its bag.

Then you’ll place a piece of parchment paper on top of the basket and flip it upside down so the dough is resting in your hand. Place the dough on a small cutting board, dust the top with white flour, rub off the excess, then score your loaf.

Now you’ll carefully pull the parchment paper with the dough on top into your cooking vessel in the oven. I don’t need to remind you that this is nuclear hot, so be super cautious at all times. If you do get burned, run the area under cold water ASAP for five minutes. (Sorry, I can’t help it – I’m still a nurse at heart!)

Now you’ll bake your bread for a bit with the lid on, then take the lid off and bake a bit more. When it’s done, remove from the oven and place the loaf on a cooling rack. Let this cool for at least 1 hour before slicing. Bake your remaining loaves the same way whenever you’d like, but I wouldn’t leave them in the fridge any longer than 30ish hours.

Store your loaves wrapped in kitchen towels for the first day or two, then store in plastic.

And now you have freshly baked bread for your family! Congratulations!


Chapter 9: Simple Sourdough Recipe: The Best Method for Busy Mamas

What’s the best sourdough recipe?

This one! Here’s why: it’s easy to follow, it’s very simple, and it breaks down each step into an understandable process, even for beginners.

The first few times I made sourdough, I followed the Tartine cookbook precisely. It worked wonderfully the first time, so why mess with success? Then, after moving to Colorado at 5,600 feet, I tried the same Bay Area recipe only to be met with failure. 

In retrospect, I now know that the hydration wasn’t high enough and the overuse of flour turned my once-successful sourdough into dense lumps, but I had no idea what I was doing wrong at the time.

Sourdough Bread in the Challenger Bread Pan

I learned about playing with the hydration percentage from a workshop I took at Raleigh Street Bakery with David, the owner of RSB. He recommended that we use up to 100g more water more than Tartine calls for, and in lieu of flouring the work surface, he rubs it with water, increasing hydration even more. This is beneficial at 5,600 feet because the air and flour are more dry than at sea level.

Since then, I’ve become comfortable with adjusting hydration to fit my goal. My ideal hydration is 75%, and that’s what we’ll be making in this guide. In the recipe below, I use measurements that work at both sea level and elevation.

The beautiful thing about cooking and baking is that your recipes become adaptations, whether or not you’re aware of it. Even after using a recipe for the first time, your mind – consciously or subconsciously – decides what it liked and didn’t like, and what it would do differently next time.

As such, my recipe changes all the time.

This is how I came to have my current sourdough recipe. Through a lot of trial and error with measurements, techniques, fermentation time and equipment, I’ve found a groove that works for me. I’m quite sure this will continue to evolve, so as it does, I will update the recipe here as well.

To help me adjust my methods, I always take notes with every bake. This way, if I loved my results, I can go back and copy exactly what I did. Conversely, if my bread comes out flat or dense, I can look at what I did differently and make changes based on my notes.

It’s critical to keep notes as you mix and bake! To help you, I’ve created a FREE downloadable PDF for you to take your notes on.

Click here for your FREE Sourdough Notes PDF download!

Remember, the recipe looks long and intense. Don’t let this scare you! The whole process is done over three days, which makes each individual day a piece of cake. See the whole process broken down in Chapters 6, 7 & 8.

All the best and happy baking!



Bake better sourdough with these tips

Easy Sourdough Recipe for Busy Mamas

This is the recipe for sourdough that I’m currently using at home when I bake for my family. I am constantly learning from my bread, which means the recipe changes and evolves with each lesson learned. The recipe looks intense, but it is broken down over three days – each day is really simple! Give it a shot and let me know your results!
To make sourdough, you must have a digital scale. All measurements are done in grams and this is to ensure continuity. Converting to cups will not work. As an example, a cup of sifted flour would weigh far less than a cup of unsifted flour, so depending on your technique, you may end up using too much or too little of an ingredient. True bakers measure by weight.
You will notice that all mixing is done by hand. This is for two important reasons: to introduce even more wild yeasts and beneficial bacteria into your dough, and to help you learn what a good dough should feel like. Eventually you will know when your dough is ready just by using your senses: sight, smell and touch. Don’t be afraid to get your hands in your dough!
Prep Time 45 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Resting Time 1 d
Total Time 1 d 1 hr 30 mins
Course Appetizer, Breakfast, Brunch, Main Course, Side Dish, Snack
Cuisine American
Servings 3 boules

Ingredients
  

  • 200 grams Leaven see post, Make Heavenly Leaven Like Your Local Baker
  • 750 grams Warm Water (80°F) reserve 50g
  • 900 grams All-Purpose Flour or Bread Flour
  • 100 grams Whole Wheat Flour
  • 22 grams Salt fine

Instructions
 

Day One – Leaven Day

  • Before bedtime, build your leaven. Weigh 100 grams of lukewarm water in a mason jar and add 50 grams of your healthy, active starter, which you fed this morning (8-12 hours ago). Don't use freshly fed starter, it is not mature enough. 
    Weighing starter to make leaven on a digital scale
  • Screw the lid on the jar and shake to incorporate the starter. Open your jar and add 50 grams whole wheat flour and 50 grams white flour (all-purpose or bread flour). Stir with a butter knife or spatula until all flour is incorporated.
    Shaking starter and water to incorporate
  • Place the lid lightly on the jar – don't screw it on! – and leave on the counter to ferment overnight.

Day Two – Mix Day

  • Place your mixing bowl on the scale and weigh 700g of the water (save 50g) and 200g of your leaven. Using your hand, incorporate the leaven a bit by squeezing it through your fingers. Save the rest of your leaven – this is now your starter! Feed it as usual.
  • Add both flours and mix together with your hand. Mix until you don't see any more dry flour in the bowl. The dough will become sticky, so it's useful to keep one hand clean. Dunk your clean hand in water, and remove the sticky dough from your other hand. Then dip your dough spatula in water and scrape the edges of the bowl, making it as clean as possible.
    Sourdough dough after initial mixing
  • Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel or plastic and let the dough rest for 30 minutes. This is called the autolyse, which allows the flours to absorb the water, activating the enzymes which begins the gluten development. This step is critical and cannot be rushed.
  • After the autolyse, sprinkle the salt over the dough and then add the remaining 50g of water. Poke your fingers into the dough to press some salt deep inside, then fold over itself about a dozen times or so to incorporate the salt. Cover the bowl again; the bulk fermentation has begun. Set your timer for 30 minutes.
    Sourdough dough before adding salt
  • The bulk fermentation takes four hours. During the first two hours of the bulk fermentation, the dough must be folded four times, or every 30 minutes. This is similar to kneading but is much more gentle to preserve the natural gases that become captured in the dough, and is much easier on the baker.
  • To fold the dough, first imagine your bowl as a compass: the edge furthest from you is north, the right edge is east, the closest edge to you is south, and the left edge is west. Dip your hand in water and reach under the dough at the east point. Grabbing it gently but firmly, pull the dough out to the east and then fold it over itself toward the west. Rotate the bowl a quarter-turn, and repeat. Do this for each "corner" of your compass, then cover with a kitchen towel.
  • Set your timer for 30 minutes, and repeat the process three more times.
  • Your dough now gets to rest, covered and untouched, for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. During this time, flavor and strength is developed, so don't rush this step.
    Aerated sourdough dough
  • After the bulk fermentation, pull all the dough onto a floured work surface using a dough spatula. With your bench knife, cut the dough into two or three even pieces (depending how many loaves you want, and how big you want them). Scrape the bench knife under one piece, and move it away from the other(s).
  • The pieces now need to be pre-shaped. Working with one piece at a time, pull the west side of the dough out and fold it toward the east. Then pull the east side out and fold it over and toward the west. Rotate your dough 90°, and repeat. Do the same for the remaining piece(s), then lightly dust with flour and cover with a kitchen towel. This prevents a skin from forming on the outside of the dough. Let rest for 30 minutes. This is called the bench rest.
  • For the final shaping, care must be taken not to deflate the dough. Gently rub off any excess flour – the top of the dough will become the inside of the loaf, so you don't want any extra flour inside. Just as in the pre-shaping, pull the west side of the dough out and fold it toward the east. Then pull the east side out and fold it over and toward the west. Rotate your dough 90°, and repeat. Flip the loaf so it is seam side down on your work surface, and using both hands, twist the dough as you tuck it under itself. There are great YouTube videos with different techniques for this, but the goal is the same: to increase the surface tension without tearing the dough. You'll feel the dough tighten as you do this. Repeat for the remaining piece(s).
  • Line your proofing baskets or medium-size bowls with basket liners or clean linen kitchen towels. Lightly dust them with rice flour (all-purpose works if you don't have rice flour, just not as well), covering the sides and bottom. This prevents the dough from sticking when you flip it out. Lift each piece of dough with the bench knife and flip it gently into the basket, so the seams are facing up.
    Sourdough proofing
  • Now begins the final rise. You can cover the loaves and leave them on the counter for 3-4 hours if you'd like to bake today. However, what I recommend is using your refrigerator to slow the final rise so you can bake in the morning. This is called cold-proofing. To do this, slide each basket into their own plastic grocery or produce bag, and place in the fridge overnight. The plastic is used to prevent fridge odors from absorbing into the dough. The dough will slowly rise over 8-12 hours.

Day Three – Bake Day

  • In the morning, put your baking vessel and lid in the oven and preheat to 500°F. It's ideal to let your oven sit at 500°F for 10-15 minutes beyond the preheating phase, so your baking vessel is screaming hot. When it's ready, remove a basket from the fridge.
  • Take a minute to get your things ready: Prepare a square of parchment paper on a thin cutting board, bring the flour close by, and have your bread lame (or razor blade) ready to go.
    UFO Lame for Scoring Bread
  • Place the parchment square on the basket, place your hand on top, and gently flip the dough out into your hand. Place the dough on the cutting board. Dust the dough with flour and lightly rub it around the sides and top.
  • Holding the lame at a 45° angle, score your loaf. This takes practice. Hold the cutting board with one hand as you slice the furthest corner of the blade into the dough. The easiest and most effective scores are a deep line about an inch or two from the bottom, running half the circumference of the dough, or a simple square.
  • Wearing heavy duty oven mitts, pull out your oven rack and remove the lid from your baking vessel. Working quickly but carefully, transfer the dough into the pan by holding the cutting board over it and pulling on the parchment. Replace the lid, reduce the oven temperature to 475°F, and set the timer for 30 minutes.
  • When the time is up, carefully remove the lid from the pan and continue baking uncovered for 15 minutes.
    Removing cooker lid
  • When the loaf is done, transfer it to a wire cooling rack. If you don't have one, tip it on its side so air can circulate around the bottom. To test doneness, knock on the bottom of the loaf: it should sound hollow. Allow it to cool for at least an hour before slicing so it can cool completely. Hot bread does not slice well.
    Sourdough cooling on the cooling rack
  • Set the oven temperature back to 500°F, and put both pieces of your baking vessel back in the oven. Let these heat for 10-15 minutes, then repeat above steps for your other basket(s) of dough. Congratulations, you just made sourdough!
Keyword Sourdough

Next, let’s look at some different uses for your sourdough discard!


Chapter 10: Discard Recipes

How can I use sourdough starter discard?

Wondering what to do with that sourdough discard? Look no further! Leavenly has combed the Internet in search of the greatest sourdough discard recipes, from pancakes to crackers to tortillas to chocolate cake!

When you bake sourdough, you need to have a starter. A starter is basically a little microbial world of bacteria and wild yeasts that thrive on the flour and water you feed them.

Regular (or yeasted) breads use commercial yeast to get their rise, whereas sourdough breads use a starter to get their rise.

What is sourdough discard?

Sourdough discard is the sourdough starter you have left over after you’re done feeding. Feeding a starter just means you take a small amount of your existing starter and add water and flour. (Don’t have a starter? Learn How to Make Sourdough Starter in Six Easy Steps!)

But what happens to the rest of the starter that’s left behind – your discard?


The Internet’s Largest Collection of Sourdough Discard Recipes

You can discard it, as the name implies. Scrape it into the garbage, then rinse your container in hot soapy water.

OR….

You can add it to other recipes! This adds a boost of nutrition from your starter, and makes regular recipes more flavorful. For example, Belgian waffles are good, but sourdough Belgian waffles are amazing!

If you’re growing tired of feeding your starter, or if you’re planning a long vacation, consider drying your starter and storing it in the pantry. Check out How to Dry (and Revive) Your Sourdough Starter for Long-Term Storage for step-by-step instructions on both drying and reviving your starter.

The best way to use sourdough discard: Collect it!

Sourdough starter needs to be fed daily, which means you’ll have discard every day. If it works for you to use it in a different baking recipe every day, go right ahead!

But for most of us, we don’t have that time to dedicate in the kitchen. The best way is to scrape your discard into one collective jar in your fridge, making sure to use it once a week.

This is a great strategy for two reasons:

  1. It’s a better use of your time, rather than having to bake something new every day
  2. Some recipes call for a whole cup of discard, and it can take several days to accumulate that much discard

For us busy mamas, collecting sourdough discard through the week is a much more realistic option. This way, we can plan a baking day in the upcoming week (like a Saturday) and collect the discard until then!

Why store sourdough discard in the refrigerator?

You must store your sourdough discard in the refrigerator if you’re collecting it more than two days.

A sourdough starter will do fine for a couple days on the counter without feeding, but soon it will grow a layer of liquid on the top (hooch) and it will keep fermenting to develop a super sour taste that’s much too overpowering to use in recipes.

It’s best to store your discard in the fridge to slow down fermentation and to get mild sour tastes in your discard recipes.

My rule of thumb is this: collect discard for a week, and if you don’t use it, throw it away and start collecting again. I once made my favorite sourdough waffles with discard I collected over ten days or so, and they weren’t even edible. Despite being in the fridge, the discard continued to ferment and it developed that overly-sour flavor, which ruined the waffles. Learn from my mistakes! 

How do I use sourdough discard?

If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly looking for new ways to use that precious discard.

Basket of Blueberry Sourdough Muffins

I made this recipe round-up so it’s easy to find exactly what kind of recipe you’re craving. The recipes are divided by sweet and savory, so if you already know you want pretzels instead of cookies, that will help narrow it down.

Leavenly is a site for all things sourdough, so check out the resource page and my most popular post to date, List of the Best Sourdough Cookbooks.

Help build this list: send me your favorite discard recipes! Simply email me at heather@leavenly.com and your recipe just might make the cut!

So read on, and let’s use that discard!


Sweet

1. Sourdough Blueberry Mini Muffins
These little beauties are one of my favorite treats to make from discard, and my kids (and husband) love them, too.

2. Sourdough Crepes

3. Sourdough Cinnamon Crumb Cake

4. Sourdough Banana Bread

5. Zucchini Bread with Sourdough
I love this recipe in the summertime when my zucchini plants are producing more than we can eat. It’s nutritious and super yummy!

Zucchini Sourdough Bread

6. Sourdough Cookies

7. Sourdough Blueberry Crumb Cake

8. Sourdough Chocolate Cake

9. Blackberry Sourdough Scones with Lemony Glaze

10. Sourdough Brownies

11. Sourdough Pumpkin Bread

12. Sourdough Cherry Cardamom Cake

13. Sourdough Waffles
This recipe will always be in my top five favorites because the waffles always come out crispy, light and fluffy – and it’s a total crowd-pleaser.

14. Sourdough Donuts (cake-style)

15. Sourdough Donuts (yeast-style)

16. Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

17. Sourdough Discard Crinkle Cookies

18. Sourdough Pie Crust

19. Cinnamon Raisin Sourdough Bread

20. Sourdough Coffee Cake

21. Sourdough Strawberry Shortcakes

22. Sourdough Pumpkin Spice Bread

23. Cherry Walnut Sourdough Scones

Savory

1. Sourdough Pretzels
This recipe is fun to make, plain and simple. Who doesn’t like winding ropes of dough into pretzels?! These are also a lot of fun to make with kids, and they love to help eat them, too.

Sourdough pretzels in basket

2. Sourdough Fish Batter

3. Sourdough Bagels

4. Sourdough Naan

5. Sourdough Discard Pasta

6. Sourdough Cheese Crackers

7. Sourdough Discard Pasta

8. Greek Yogurt Sourdough Flatbread

9. Sourdough English Muffins
My current #1 favorite sourdough discard recipe, by far! These always come out light and fluffy. I will never buy commercial English muffins again after making these beauties!

Stack of Sourdough English Muffins

10. Sourdough Chapati

11. Sourdough Tortillas

12. Sourdough Cheese Scones

13. Sourdough Crackers with Olive Oil & Herbs

14. Savory Sourdough Babka

15. Buttery & Flaky Sourdough Biscuits

16. Sourdough Pizza Crust

17. Sourdough Focaccia

18. Savory Sourdough Popovers


Chapter 11: Six Easy Ways to Bake Sourdough for Busy Mamas With Kids

How can I possibly bake sourdough bread when I have kids?

It may seem intimidating to get started, but it’s absolutely possible (and easy!) for busy mamas to bake sourdough with kids of any age. Read on to discover my scheduling tricks, and age-specific strategies to make it as stress-free as possible.

Years ago, I was afraid of attempting sourdough. Why? Because I had kids.

I had made sourdough a handful of times before my kids came along, and one time when my oldest was about six weeks old, but then I decided it would be impossible to manage with kids, so I gave up on it.

Luckily, my sourdough-obsessed husband wouldn’t let me give up on it. He loved the idea of home-baked sourdough (obviously, who doesn’t?), and wouldn’t leave the matter alone.

Squeaky wheel gets the grease, as they say!

When I finally tried it again, I was a little overwhelmed. At the time, I didn’t know about schedule-accommodating tricks like cold proofing, and my sourdough process was a two-day endeavor. I didn’t like doing it with the kids around because they distracted me. It stressed me out, because I was in the kitchen for what felt like an entire day.

I still had this nugget of passion inside me, but couldn’t find a way to commit to the process.

My a-ha moment came from a workshop I attended. My step-mom invited me to do a sourdough workshop at Denver’s Raleigh Street Bakery with her. I got excited, and baked sourdough a couple times in anticipation.

During the workshop, David (the owner of the bakery) introduced me to cold-proofing. Once our dough was done, we put it into proofing baskets and into the fridge, and we were done for the day. Wait, what? You can do that??

Once I learned that trick, I felt the fire light inside me again. I tried it at home, and at the time my kids were 1 and 2. It actually worked, it was actually easy, and we actually had homemade sourdough to eat! I was ecstatic, and that’s quite literally how Leavenly was born. I needed to share these secrets with the world.

All that being said, I don’t want you to struggle like I did. I want you to know from the beginning that it’s easy and doable. That you can work it into your day.

It really is possible, and I’m going to outline how.


Six Easy Ways to Bake Sourdough for Busy Mamas With Kids

Six Easy Ways to Bake Sourdough for Busy Mamas With Kids

1. Choose your own two- or three-day process

I personally prefer the three-day method. I find that it’s much easier to do it this way with kids, but mine are young and more demanding of my time. I feel pressure when doing the two-day method. For example, if I make my leaven at 7:00am, it can take 8-12 hours to be ready to bake with. This means I’m looking at mixing my dough anywhere between 3:00pm and 7:00pm. Well, late afternoon mixing doesn’t work for me. My kids are waking up from their naps, demanding milk and snacks, I’m trying to get dinner ready, the kids need baths, and my kitchen is probably a war-zone – so the whole situation just stresses me out. Plus, sometimes the leaven isn’t even done at 12 hours; don’t even get me started on staying up until midnight to mix bread dough.

But all that said, maybe it will work for you better than the three-day process. Maybe your kids are older, more independent, stay up later, etc. So I’ve outlined what the two- and three-day processes actually look like, time-wise. Use your judgment and choose which process would result in the least amount of stress for you.

Here’s what a two-day process would look like:
  • Day One – Make your leaven in the early morning + mix your dough in the late evening (total time = 3+ hours)
  • Day Two – Bake your loaves (total time = 2 hours 15 minutes)
Here’s what the three-day process looks like:
  • Day One – Make your leaven in the evening (total time = 5 minutes)
  • Day Two – Mix your dough sometime in the morning (total time = 3 hours)
  • Day Three – Bake your loaves (total time = 2 hours 15 minutes)

Once you’ve decided which timeline works better for you, you can move on to step two.

2. Think ahead and plan your days

Sourdough baking does require a little planning. I typically look at how much bread we have and when we’ll run out, and decide when to bake based on that. For example, if I think we’ll need more bread on Friday, I know that will be my bake day. So Thursday will be my mixing day, and Wednesday I need to make my leaven. (This is on the three-day process.)

There are other factors to take into consideration as well:

  • When was your starter fed last? Is it on daily feedings, or is it hiding in the back of the fridge? Your daily-feedings starter will be ready whenever you are. Your back-of-the-fridge starter will require a few days of feedings before it’s good and active enough for baking.
  • What events do you have coming up? If you plan to make your leaven tomorrow night, but you’ll be out of town the next day, that obviously won’t work. It’s going to have to be when you’re home and accessible.
  • What other meals are you planning? For the three-day process, most action happens in the mornings, so it allows for cooking dinner in the evening. For the two-day process, you may want to throw something in the slow-cooker so you’re not doing bread and dinner at the same time. Again, it’s all about reducing stress.

3. Choose cold proofing

As I mentioned above, this is the greatest gift to mama bakers. Whether you choose the two- or three-day process, you’ll have your dough shaped and in proofing baskets, and then you’ll just throw it in the fridge overnight.

Cold-proofing allows the baker to extend the final proofing time from about four hours at room temperature to 12-24 (or even 36) hours in the fridge. The lower temperature slows fermentation, but doesn’t stop it completely. My bread typically cold-proofs for 18-24 hours, but I’ve done longer and shorter with success.

The biggest factor that changes with adjusting the length of your cold proof is the flavor. A loaf that has cold proofed for 30 hours will have a more sour flavor than one that proofed for only 10.

This is a fun experiment, to see how much sour flavor you prefer, and this is why it’s vital to take notes during your bakes. If you pull a loaf from the oven and it’s the best you’ve ever made, wouldn’t you want to replicate that? Your sourdough notes can work as a recipe. 

Download my free sourdough notes PDF template here, and start getting in the habit of taking notes with every single bake.

4. Work around your kids schedules

Advice for stay-at-home moms
  • Infants: These guys have absolutely no schedule at all, so you’ll have to just go with the flow. Luckily, when they do need you, it’s usually brief: a breastfeed, a diaper change, and back to sleep. I’d say you have free reign to do whatever you want in terms of scheduling, but be prepared to be interrupted.
  • 6-month-olds to 1-year-olds: By now, you’ll understand a little more of your baby’s rhythms and can better plan your sourdough days. My advice is to do your mixing and baking during their longest naps.
  • 1-year-olds to 2-year-olds: Personally, I’ve found this to be the toughest age range yet. They need you but they don’t want you, they try to tell you things but can’t communicate, and they’re easily frustrated. The good news is, the time you actually spend in the kitchen with your hands dirty is so minimal, that it’s even possible to do it with a crying child grabbing on to your leg (been there, done that). Again, work with their nap times. Or try to do the most labor-intensive parts (mixing, shaping, baking) when they’re at their best: for my little guy, that’s mid- to late-morning. If all else fails, screen time! I do it, you do it, we all do it.. So let’s use it to our advantage in this case, and don’t feel guilty about it. You’re baking sourdough at home, for goodness sake!
  • 2-year-olds to 4-year-olds: Life is generally slightly easier simply because the communication piece is finally in place. You can explain to them what you’re doing, and ask if they’d like to help. If so, score! You can do your mixing and shaping whenever you’d like. If they don’t want to help, that’s fine too, but just get used to explaining that you’re busy for five minutes and they need to find something to do in the meantime. If all else fails, screen time always works. Don’t feel guilty about it, either – look at the good that will come from this.
  • 4-year-olds to 5-year-olds: Sometimes your 4-year-old will be in preschool, and if this is the case, great! Plan to use that time to your advantage. If they’re not in preschool, they’re a great age to be your special kitchen helper. Get them their own apron, and chef’s hat if they’re into it. Bonus points if their name is written on them. They’ll feel so important that you can basically plan your schedule for whenever you want. If they’re still napping, plan to use that time for the labor-intensive portions of the process, too.
  • 5-year-olds to 18-year-olds: They’re in school all day – WOO HOO! Carpe diem, mama!
Advice for working moms
  • Infants: When you’re home on a stretch of days off or on weekends, you know how unpredictable your infants’ schedule is. It’s best to just go with the flow, work with whatever schedule you want, but be prepared to be interrupted. Luckily, it’ll only be a few minutes at a time.
  • 6-month-olds to 1-year-olds: By now, you’ll understand a little more of your baby’s rhythms and can better plan your sourdough days. My advice is to do your mixing and baking during their longest naps.
  • 1-year-olds to 2-year-olds: Personally, I’ve found this to be the toughest age range yet. They need you but they don’t want you, they try to tell you things but can’t communicate, and they’re easily frustrated. The good news is, the time you actually spend in the kitchen with your hands dirty is so minimal, that it’s even possible to do it with a crying child grabbing on to your leg (been there, done that). Again, work with their nap times. Or try to do the most labor-intensive parts (mixing, shaping, baking) when they’re at their best: for my little guy, that’s mid- to late-morning. If all else fails, screen time! I do it, you do it, we all do it.. So let’s use it to our advantage in this case, and don’t feel guilty about it. You’re baking sourdough at home, for goodness sake!
  • 2-year-olds to 4-year-olds: Life is generally slightly easier simply because the communication piece is finally in place. You can explain to them what you’re doing, and ask if they’d like to help. If so, score! You can do your mixing and shaping whenever you’d like. If they don’t want to help, that’s fine too, but just get used to explaining that you’re busy for five minutes and they need to find something to do in the meantime. If all else fails, screen time always works. Don’t feel guilty about it, either – look at the good that will come from this.
  • 4-year-olds to 5-year-olds: Sometimes your 4-year-old will be in preschool, and if this is the case, great! If you’re off on a stretch of days off while they’re in daycare, plan to use that time to your advantage. If they’re not in preschool, they’re a great age to be your special kitchen helper. Get them their own apron, and chef’s hat if they’re into it. Bonus points if their name is written on them. They’ll feel so important that you can basically plan your schedule for whenever you want. If they’re still napping, plan to use that time for the labor-intensive portions of the process, too.
  • 5-year-olds to 9-year-olds: These kids are in school, which works great if you have a few days off during the week. If you’re baking over a weekend with them, invite them in the kitchen! Some kids love to help, from measuring and mixing, to really getting their hands dirty. You’ll never know unless you ask them! If they’re not into that, work around other things going on in their lives: birthday parties, sleepovers, visits at a friends house.. This is all time that you have without them home, so use it to your advantage. If they’re home, have them do their homework at the table while you’re in the kitchen. Set up a cool craft, painting or Lego set they can do for a while. Maybe send them outside to play (our moms did that, remember?). Or put on a movie or video game! This isn’t the time to beat yourself up about screen time.
  • 10-year-olds to 18-year-olds: These kids are in school, which works great if you have a few days off during the week. If you’re baking over a weekend with them, try inviting them to bake with you. Depending on the child, they may be too cool for that, or they may be totally into it. You know your kid best. If you don’t think they’d like helping you, again, you know them best: let them play their favorite games or watch YouTube for a little while as you’re in the kitchen. Work around the time they’re out of the house, at friends’ houses or other events. Or send them outside to play or do chores! Just take the time to explain that you need some time to bake your bread and that you’ll be done in a few minutes. Eventually when bread-making is part of your regular routine, they won’t even question it anymore.

5. Include your kids in the process

Busy Mamas Baking with Kids

I mentioned this a lot above, because I think it’s really important. I have this vivid memory of being invited into the kitchen to help make dinner by my step-mom when I was about nine or ten. I remember being so surprised that she would trust me and ask for my help. This may have been a small and insignificant gesture for her, but it altered the way I would raise my children twenty years later!

Inviting your kids into the kitchen instills trust, communication, and solidifies your relationship with your child(ren). They’re going to be so proud of helping make the bread, the dinner, the sandwiches, they will also become more confident children. If they decline your invitation, don’t despair: even the act of inviting them in has far-reaching effects that you may not be able to see right now… but you will. Keep inviting them and making them feel welcome!

6. Bake your loaves whenever you want!

On the third day, you’ll be baking your bread. What I love is that you can literally pick anytime in the day to bake your bread. If you have something going on, or some kind of plans, or even if something unexpected comes up, your sourdough is super flexible. You can do any of the following – do whatever works for you!

  • Bake all three loaves in the morning. Preheat the oven, and just bake your loaves back-to-back-to-back. Get it out of the way early, have fresh bread in the morning, and have a house that smells amazing all day long.
  • Bake one or two loaves in the morning, and the remaining one(s) in the afternoon or evening. This works if you want fresh bread for the day but don’t have the time commitment in the morning.
  • Bake three loaves at the same time in the afternoon or evening. If you’re busy all day, this may be the best route for you!

Whichever plan you choose for baking your bread, just be mindful of the length of time your dough has been proofing. Try to follow this rule of thumb: try to bake your bread around the same time of day as when you put your dough in the fridge. For example, if you put your dough in the fridge yesterday morning, try to bake it in the morning the next day. If it went in in the afternoon, try to bake it in the afternoon. And if it went in the fridge in the evening or night, aim to bake it the next evening or night.



Chapter 12: Sourdough Troubleshooting

Starter Problems

I made my own starter from scratch. Why does it suddenly have liquid on top 12 hours after feeding?

The liquid that forms on top of the starter is known as hooch, and it generally forms when the starter needs to be fed. This could happen for a number of reasons:

  1. You may not be feeding often enough. At minimum, feed your starter every 24 hours. Some people swear by feeding every 12 hours; see if this works for you.
  2. If you’re feeding only with all-purpose or bread flour, the nutrients simply run out faster, because most have been processed out. Try doing a 50/50 mix of all-purpose/whole wheat flour, or adding in some rye. These flours have much more nutrition for the microbes to eat.
  3. Your kitchen may be too warm. This speeds up fermentation, basically running through the food source too fast. Try keeping your starter somewhere around 65-75°F if possible, and see if this makes a difference.

I fed my starter, and it rose to double and then deflated – is it dead?

No! That sounds like a perfectly healthy sourdough starter. You can start taking notes on your observations, and soon you’ll notice a trend. Maybe yours doubles in size within six hours and then collapses in another six hours, or maybe four, or maybe eight. Regardless, if your starter doubles in size at any point, it’s healthy and active.

Where can I purchase starter?

I would start by calling a few local bakeries first, and ask if they sell their sourdough starter. King Arthur Flour has a starter for sale on their website that’s descended from a century-old starter. Etsy has a whole category of sourdough starters on their website, and Breadtopia also has one for sale.

If you don’t want to buy one, try asking your neighbors on Nextdoor. This is a foolproof method that I’ve seen work time and time again. I’ve given out two myself to neighbors who are asking!

Of course, you can always make your own starter. Check out the guide here to make it in six easy steps.

I have a very small amount of starter remaining after making my leaven. How do I get the quantity back up?

Your starter doesn’t need to be any more than 150g in weight. Some bakers maintain even less starter, to produce less waste. The key is to have enough to make leaven (50g) and some left over (at least 25g).

If your starter is seriously tiny, one feed should be enough to bulk it back up.

I just got a starter from a friend. How often should I be feeding it, and what quantity and type of flour should I use?

If your friend was keeping up with a regular feeding schedule, you can either continue with the daily feedings or put it in your refrigerator if you don’t plan on baking anytime soon.

If your friend pulled the starter from the back of the fridge, it might need some refreshing. Go ahead and feed it daily for about a week, or until you see a predictable rise and fall pattern emerge.

The type of flour does matter. If you’re feeding only with all-purpose or bread flour, the nutrients simply run out faster, because most have been processed out. Try doing a 50/50 mix of all-purpose/whole wheat flour or adding in some rye. These flours have much more nutrition for the microbes to eat.

Once you have starter, do you continue to feed it and use portions of it to make the leaven, or do you have to make starter from scratch for each loaf?

Your starter will be with you for the rest of your life, if you’ll allow it! Once you have a starter, it’s the last starter you’ll ever need. You’ll just take little pieces from it to make your leaven, which you use to make your bread. Always make sure that you have some starter left over after making your leaven. You can always make your leaven a little smaller if you won’t have any starter left.

For making the leaven, do you recommend a 16oz or 32oz mason jar?

I personally use a 32 oz mason jar for my leaven because it’s a large quantity that a 16oz jar couldn’t hold. If you don’t have one, you can always use a bowl or other container!

When you leave the starter out on the counter after a feed, do you put the lid on?

Nooo! Never! If you tighten the lid on your starter (or your leaven), you’ll have a little pressurized bomb on your hands. If you’re using a mason jar, just use the inner lid and place it on top. Do not screw it down. If you’re using another kind of container, simply drape plastic over the top. The gases just need a way to escape as fermentation occurs.

Bread Problems

I baked my bread, but my loaves are thin and don’t seem to rise in the oven. What’s happening?

Nine times out of ten, this is due to over-fermentation. If you left your dough for too long during the bulk fermentation or during cold-proofing, that’s your culprit. Try sticking to a strict timeline and see if that makes a difference.

This is actually something I’m personally very familiar with, because I live at 5,600 feet. Learning to bake in Colorado has been a challenge, and sourdough was no exception. What I’ve learned to do is to reduce my bulk fermentation time by 30 minutes, and to keep my cold-proofing to 24 hours max. This prevents my loaves from over-fermenting.

The best way to test for this is to gently press your finger into the dough when you’re ready to bake it. If it springs back right away, it’s actually under-fermented, and needs more time. If the dough stays sunken but slowly comes back out, it’s ready. And if the dough stays sunken and doesn’t try to come back out at all, it’s over-fermented. But don’t fret! This bread is still worthy of baking, because even if they’re flat, I guarantee they’re still delicious.

How come my sourdough doesn’t taste like sourdough from stores?

Most store-bought sourdough is a hoax. A basic variety of authentic sourdough (often called a country loaf) should have three ingredients: flour, water, and salt. Sometimes they list “starter” as an ingredient, but that’s still authentic sourdough.

If the ingredients list yeast, baking soda, baking powder, milk, sugar, honey, or anything else, sorry, but it’s not authentic artisan sourdough. And that’s what you’re baking in your kitchen.

I recently looked at my local Target and Whole Foods stores, and neither had authentic sourdough. Their sourdough had chemical leaveners (baking soda) and commercial yeast added. This dramatically changes the taste.

If you’re getting your sourdough from a local bakery, they too might use these suspect ingredients. You’ll have to do some digging to find out if they’re using commercial or wild yeasts, and what their basic ingredients are. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to be using extra ingredients, but it makes me uneasy when it’s labeled as something it’s not.

How do I get more air pockets in my dough?

Those large air pockets you see in photos of sourdough is a technique referred to as an open crumb, and open crumb comes with experience. It requires knowledge of the dough, what it should look, feel and smell like, when it’s underproofed, when it’s overproofed, when it’s at the perfect hydration, etc.

I would recommend practicing getting a good rise when baking, called oven spring. Once you’ve nailed that, you’ll have more hands-on experience with your dough, and you can start shooting for a more open crumb.

The queen of open crumb tutorials is Kristen over at @fullproofbaking. She has many video tutorials on her YouTube channel to achieve that elusive open crumb, so I definitely recommend following her and subscribing to her channel!

How can I make an oval loaf instead of a round one?

Easy – you buy an oval proofing basket! The final shaping is a little different, too. You’ll want to research the differences between shaping a boule (a round loaf) and shaping a batard (an oval loaf). It’s still very easy, just different. I personally use this proofing basket for making batards.

Why did my dough stick to the basket liner?

It’s possible you didn’t use enough flour. I like to use rice flour when dusting my baskets because it’s finer and sticks less than regular flour, but if regular flour is all you have, just make sure that all surfaces (sides and bottom) and dusted well. If there’s excess, you can brush it off once you flip out your dough to bake it.

I scored my bread 15 minutes before I put it in the oven, and the dough spread apart. Did I do it too soon?

Always try to leave scoring to the last minute. Your dough should be scored immediately before going into the oven, otherwise it will spread and pull apart at your scores, as you experienced. Next time, wait until you have a piping hot oven and baking vessel, remove your dough from the fridge, score it, and put it right in the oven.

How can I make my scoring pattern stand out more?

This was a mistake I was making as a beginner, too. I would make beautiful scores, but when the bread came out of the oven, they were barely visible! Then I learned to dust the top of the dough with flour before scoring. This makes the top crust more whiteish, and your dark brown scores will stand out dramatically from the white. To do this, simply dust some all-purpose flour on your dough, then use your hand to smooth it out on the top and sides of the dough. Some people like to use a lot of flour, and some people only use a small amount – it depends on what you find appealing in the final result. Play with this, take notes, and learn what you like best!


Did I miss any important sourdough information?

What is your favorite way to make sourdough bread? Do you have a different technique for making a starter from scratch? Or maybe you’re sitting on an amazing secret for baking with kids! 

If you have any info to share, or just have a question, please leave a comment below!


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7 comments

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[…] beginning to pitch guest posts to several blogs in her niche this week too. Heather’s guide about how to make sourdough bread is seriously epic, so that’s going to be a major focus to get more traffic to this […]

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Derek Birmingham May 27, 2020 - 3:16 pm

Excellent site.

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leavenly May 29, 2020 - 1:05 pm

Thank you Derek!

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Mary S May 30, 2020 - 8:51 pm

On day 2 (before baking) it says to sprinkle in salt and more water, but I don’t see any amounts!

Reply
leavenly May 31, 2020 - 2:27 pm

Hi Mary! First I describe the sourdough process without details like amounts, temperatures, etc. This way, readers can get an idea of what they’ll be doing without getting bogged down by details. Later in the post (or eBook) I share my recipe, which has the precise amounts you’re looking for. Hope this is helpful!

Reply
Pat June 29, 2020 - 9:33 am

My timer stopped working during first two hour rise. I’m lost how much time It has been rising. Can I do anything about this or doI have to start over

Reply
leavenly June 29, 2020 - 10:20 am

That’s happened to the best of us! I would just estimate as closely as you can, and continue on. I’m pretty sure your bread won’t mind 🙂

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