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Basic Artisan Sourdough Bread Recipe

by Victor @ Taste of Artisan

Basic Artisan Sourdough Bread Recipe | Taste of Artisan

This sourdough bread recipe is the result of many years of tweaking, improving and simplifying. We love artisan bread and bake it on a regular basis. To be able to do that with our busy lives, the bread recipe and the process must be simple and easy to follow. Isn’t it how sourdough bread has been for centuries? In our modern world there are way too many gadgets, tools, books and information, which tend to complicate things. There is no need for that, making fantastic sourdough bread at home is very simple once you learn a few basics and tips that I will show you here.

When I started out baking my own sourdough bread back about 8 years ago, I encountered numerous challenges and was never quite happy with the results for a long time. My bread didn’t quite look the same as on the pictures from the bakers who inspired me. On top, the taste was not great either and often varied significantly from batch to batch.

Over time, as I gained experience and learned the ‘tricks of the trade’, my sourdough bread became consistently great and I was not afraid to share it with others. Many people who tasted it immediately loved its taste and texture, and were interested in learning how to bake it. I have successfully taught my method to a number of friends and family members, and I still keep getting requests. I hope this post will help all those aspiring to learn how to make amazing artisan (or artisanal if you wish) sourdough bread at home quickly and efficiently.

Basic Artisan Sourdough Bread Recipe | Taste of Artisan

A lot has already been written about sourdough bread fundamentals. I am not going to focus on the concepts like autolysing, retarding, bulk fermentation, bench resting, proofing, steaming, scoring and baker’s percentages. Knowing them hardly helped me with getting good results. Instead, I will focus on a very simple process that works very well for me, and will hopefully work for you.

Basic Artisan Sourdough Bread Recipe | Taste of Artisan

Artisan Sourdough Bread Making Process

Step 1 – prepare a healthy sourdough starter

Good sourdough starter was THE MOST IMPORTANT factor to getting a decent loaf of sourdough bread for me. Get it right and your results will already be good.

There are hundreds of resources out there that tell you how to make a sourdough starter.  All seem quite easy but none really worked for me. I would be able to get my sourdough starter rise and fall predictably but the bread made with it was never good. It would be dense and wouldn’t get a decent oven spring. I would get huge bubbles in some spots, while other parts of the crumb would be dense and have tiny holes. It’s a sign of weak sourdough starter. On top, my starter would be great initially, for the first 5-8 days, then it would get vinegary and thin. No matter how I tried to feed it, it would not live long.

What worked for me to get good sourdough starter going indefinitely:

  • Buy a package of dried (organic) San Francisco sourdough starter online. Local yeast strains may not give you the results that you are looking for. I find it best to start with a known good strain of yeast.
  • Follow instructions to get the starter going. Typically, all you need to do is combine one tablespoon of dry sourdough starter with a cup of flour and a cup of warm water, let it sit for a day to get the yeast going, then feed once a day.
  • Feed it once a day, using a mix of white and whole wheat flour. My dry sourdough starter would turn vinegary after feeding it just white flour after about a week or so. I suspect that all purpose flour just does’t have sufficient nutrients. Ever since I’ve started feeding my starter with whole wheat flour it looks very happy and healthy. I’ve had it going for the past 5 years.
  • Increase the flour to water ratio in your starter. Many resources recommend a 50/50 flour to water ratio by volume when feeding sourdough starter, e.g. one cup of water to one cup of flour. I’ve had a much better luck with thicker starters. At 50/50 ratio by volume, my starter would again, become too sour after a few days, and, eventually, vinegary.

Sourdough Starter | Taste of Artisan

Step 2 – mix the ingredients

There are no tricks here, and no special steps. I just mix all of the ingredients together at the same time and let rest for an hour. You don’t need to use the autolyse method in this recipe. I’ve tried both ways and saw little, if any, benefit. Without it, it’s one step less to worry about.

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Step 3 – dough fermentation with stretches and folds

At this stage the dough will undergo what is called ‘bulk fermentation’, where yeast will feast on sugars and produce ethanol and other derivative chemical components that give bread its characteristic aroma. The dough in this recipe will be quite wet and slack initially, so we will need to do a series of stretches and folds to strengthen the dough.

The purpose of the stretch and fold method is to stretch and align strands of gluten, which strengthens the dough. The same can be achieved by mixing but stretching and folding is more gentle on the dough and results in larger bubbles in the crumb. I do three stretch and folds over a period of 4-5 hours. By the time I am done the dough is smooth, soft and elastic, with some blisters showing on the surface. The dough is kept at room temperature, ranging from 67F to 72F, depending on the time of year. There are no special accommodations.

For sourdough bread to develop its flavor it’s necessary to slow down one of the dough development stages. It can be either bulk fermentation or proofing. It allows the dough to develop deep flavor. In this recipe, I extend proofing time as this better fits my schedule.

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Step 4 – shape the dough

After the final stretch and fold and about a 30 minute to an hour rest, I gently transfer the dough onto a smooth surface (countertop), divide into two equal pieces and shape. After the final rest in the bowl, and if you are gentle with it when transferring, the dough does not really need another rest (usually referred to as bench rest) before shaping. If I am in a rush, I shape and immediately place the dough into proofing baskets. If not, I will shape it, let it rest for 20 minutes, then give it one more fold and place into a proofing basket.

The dough in this recipe is fairly wet, but not wet enough to warrant using working flour. If you shape it on a smooth surface, there will be no sticking. However, after a while the dough will stick to the sides of the proofing basket quite easily. You can use a 50/50 mix of white flour and rice flour to prevent sticking. This helps, most of the time, but I am not a big fan of white flour on the bread’s crust. Instead, I use sesame seeds. They guarantee no sticking every time and that the bread gets an additional load of toasty sesame seed flavor. I love it!

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Step 5 – proof the dough

The final stage of the getting the bread dough ready for baking is proofing. This is THE SECOND MOST IMPORTANT factor to getting great bread. Under-proofed bread will be dense. It may have a nice oven spring but once you cut it you will see dense, poorly baked mass at the bottom and a few large hollow cavities at the top. Over-proofed bread will be flat and will have almost no oven spring. It will have an airy, open crumb though. A perfectly proofed dough will result in a great oven spring and an airy, open crumb.

Basic Artisan Sourdough Bread Recipe | Taste of Artisan

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So, how do you tell the dough is perfectly proofed and ready for baking? If you use the same formula and the same proofing baskets long enough, you can tell that the dough is over-proofed because it’s spilling out of the proofing basket. When you turn such dough onto a flat surface, it doesn’t hold its shape and becomes flat. When you score it, it goes even flatter.

The best way to test the dough for readiness is to give it a gentle poke with a finger. If the dough is sufficiently proofed the indentation springs back very slowly.  If it’s under-proofed, the dough will spring back quickly. Over-proofed dough won’t have much strength and the indentation will stay as is.

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Step 6 – score the loaves

Once the shaped loaves have sufficiently proofed,  turn them over onto individual pieces of parchment paper and score to allow for a better oven spring during the initial baking stage. There are dozens of ways to do it but I have a very simple method that works wonderfully for me. All you need is a serrated knife. I use my old bread knife with serrated edge that does the job just fine. I used to use a lame with razor blades but got tired of losing the blades, cleaning them and in general, etc.

Scoring is more of an art that comes with practice. After you do it a dozen times, or more, you know how to do it right. Even then, every single score will be unique and the bread will look unique. Here are two technically identical loaves, that were score in a similar way. Yet, they look quite different. But that’s the beauty of artisan bread baking.

Basic Artisan Sourdough Bread Recipe | Taste of Artisan

My advice is start with about a half an inch cut that goes ALMOST from one end to another. Run the score too far and the bread will go flat. Cut too deep and the dough won’t spring up. You can score on top, on the side, or at any angle you desire. You can even do multiple small scores. The important part is experiment and figure out what works best. A perfect score will produce a perfect oven spring and vice versa.

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Step 7 – bake the bread

Now, grab a pizza shovel and send those loaves into an oven preheated to 500F. Bake with steam at 475F for 20 minutes and 25 minutes without steam at 450F.

There are numerous ways to steam an oven, from simple to downright crazy complicated, or just crazy. After trying a few and killing my old oven with a ‘lava rocks in a cast iron pan’ steaming setup, I settled on a simple and effective method that has worked for me for years. On The Fresh Loaf, it’s referred to as Sylvia’s Steaming Method, in honor of the member who created it. I’ve deviated from it over time but the idea is the same – a bread pan filled with water and a kitchen towel thrown  in it. This setup allows for a slow, continuous release of steam. I place a towel in a bread pan then fill it with hot tap water. The pan then goes in the oven when I start preheating it. 45 minutes later I have a nice, steady steam going.

A good, thick baking stone completes my bread baking setup. After a number of cracked pizza stones and not so great results, I ended up buying a 3/4″ thick kiln shelf from a local pottery supply store, which cut it to 16″ x 20″ for me. It’s heavy and therefore permanently resides in my oven. I love it. With it I get much better oven spring in my breads. Despite several spills and many years of use, it’s still going strong. I can easily bake two 2-pound loaves on it.

Basic Artisan Sourdough Bread Recipe - Oven Setup

Step 8 – cool the bread

You are supposed to cool the bread for at least 1 hour before slicing. Personally, I’ve been breaking this rule ever since I started baking my own bread. There is nothing like a slice of hot sourdough bread right out of the oven with some melting butter on top. There are exceptions though, like the flaxseed bread which has a gummy texture when hot.

Basic Artisan Sourdough Bread Recipe | Taste of Artisan

Sourdough Bread Formulations

Levain Formula

I feed my sourdough starter every evening using the formula below, and that’s what I use for levain in this basic sourdough bread recipe. There are no extra steps for building a specially formulated levain here.

WEIGHTINGREDIENT
100gBread Flour
25gWhole Wheat Flour
25gSourdough Starter
100gWater

Sourdough Bread Formula

WEIGHTINGREDIENTBAKER’S PERCENTAGE
500gBread Flour50%
450gWhole Wheat Flour45%
50gRye Flour5%
750gWater75%
200gLevain20%
25gKosher Salt2.5%

 

Basic Artisan Sourdough Bread Recipe | Taste of Artisan

Basic Artisan Sourdough Bread Recipe

5 from 2 votes
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Author: Victor

Ingredients

  • 500 g bread flour
  • 450 g whole wheat flour
  • 50 g rye flour
  • 750 g water (around 85F)
  • 200 g levain
  • 25 g kosher salt

Instructions

  • Two nights before baking
    Feed mature sourdough starter using the levain formula above.
  • The night before baking, around 6:00PM
    Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl, cover with a plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  • Thirty minutes to one hour later, around 7:00PM
    Perform a set of stretch and folds. Cover and let rest.
  • Around 7:45PM and 8:30PM
    Perform two additional sets of stretch and folds. Cover and let rest.
  • Around 10:00PM
    Depending on your ambient temperature, the dough should double in size by around 10:00PM. In my case, at around 66F - 67F ambient temperature the dough doubles in size in about 4 hours. If not, wait until it does, about an hour or so.
    Turn the dough over onto a flat, smooth surface. Divide into two equal pieces, pre-shape, flip and let rest for 20 minutes.
  • Around 10:20PM
    Fold the loaves one more time, pinch the seams (optional), dip into sesame seeds and place into 14" oval proofing baskets, seam side up. Cover with each with a piece of paper towel, then wrap with a piece of plastic wrap. Proof in a cool place (around 66F or lower) overnight.
  • The morning of baking, around 7:00AM
    Place the baking stone on the rack about 3 positions from the top. Place a kitchen towel in a bread pan, or a small cake pan, fill with hot tap water and place on a rack below the baking stone, to the side of the stone. Preheat the oven to 500F.
  • Around 7:45AM - 8:00AM
    Prepare two pieces of parchment paper slightly bigger than the proofing baskets. Turn the dough pieces onto parchment paper. Score with a serrated knife. Using a pizza shovel, transfer the dough into the preheated oven. Using a water spray, spray some water on the sides of the oven to create some extra steam, and quickly close the oven door. Drop the temperature to 475F and set the time to 20 minutes.
  • 20 minutes later
    Remove the bread pan with water from the oven. Drop the temperature to 450F and continue baking the bread for an additional 25 minutes.
  • 25 minutes later
    Remove bread from the oven and set on a cooling rack to cool down for an hour. Then slice and enjoy.

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17 comments

Pam November 9, 2019 - 12:11 pm

If my dough isn’t sticky do I need to add more water or starter?

Reply
Victor @ Taste of Artisan November 9, 2019 - 12:55 pm

Pam, just go with it this time, see how it turns out. Next time increase water by 1-2% points if you feel you need it.

Reply
Cameron September 28, 2019 - 11:23 pm

Hi Victor, What would the recipe adjust to for a 9.5 inch banneton? Will definitely be giving this a go

Reply
Victor @ Taste of Artisan September 29, 2019 - 4:09 pm

Hi Cameron, 9.5″ bannetons will hold comfortably 500g to 850g of dough. Hence, 1/3 of the recipe will do the trick for you. Good luck.

Reply
Cynthia Danna June 1, 2019 - 8:23 pm

Loved the recipe and how much easier the dough was to work with! Unfortunately I I failed to use the 14″ proofing baskets, and grabbed the 9 1/2″ ones..:-(… Obviously the proofing spilled over and ruined the process.. totally my fault-but I am jumping back on the horse and going to make again on Monday!!

Reply
Victor @ Taste of Artisan June 5, 2019 - 4:33 am

So, how did it go, Cynthia?

Reply
Cynthia Danna May 26, 2019 - 11:11 am

I just read thru your method and am anxious to try. My white sourdough comes out well but wanted to add wheat. ALL 4 loaves failed to rise no matter what I tried. I use King Arthur starter with all purpose flour. I didn’t incorporate wheat in starter. Can I use my starter and convert by using your starter blend?? And, with the sesame seeds, do you not use a liner or towel in your forming baskets??
Thank you!!

Reply
Victor @ Taste of Artisan May 26, 2019 - 3:26 pm

Hi Cynthia, welcome to my blog. Yes, you can start with your started and convert to my blend but give it a few days to adjust. I recommend 3-5 days.

As to using a liner in my proofing baskets for this bread, no, I don’t. The dough has a fairly high hydration and normally would be very prone to sticking but not when it’s covered in sesame seeds. The sesame seeds technically serve as a liner and prevent sticking 100% That’s primarily the reason why I use them. Besides, they add a ton of flavor.

Reply
Cynthia Danna May 27, 2019 - 12:01 am

Two observations: I noticed you use bread flour when feeding the starter and it is much stiffer than the typical sourdough starter. I have yours and mine (with the substitution of 1oz wheat flour for 1 oz of the AP flour) side by side on the counter. I will use yours for your recipe and also see if the substitution of the wheat flour in mine gives me better results for my traditional sourdough recipe.
Will let you know how it goes!!

Reply
Victor @ Taste of Artisan May 27, 2019 - 12:30 am

Please, do let me know. I hope it works out well. Yes, my starter is quite stiff, like very thick pancake batter. This is what works for me and I’ve had my starter going for over 5 years. For some reason thinner starters don’t live long in my house and quickly become vinegary.

Reply
Cynthia Danna May 27, 2019 - 8:46 pm

I have asked several questions about the starter as we know- it is the backbone of the bread!
Do you use the discard for anything in particular? Waffles? Scones? Cake?

Reply
Victor @ Taste of Artisan May 27, 2019 - 10:15 pm

I do sometimes but most of the time I just discard it. It’s a lot of waste, I know, but I need the amount for when I decide to bake on a short notice. Glad I can source my flour fairly inexpensively.

daisy February 2, 2019 - 12:31 pm

Hi,
the bread looks really delicious, but can the rye flour be replaced by usual bread flour? Or will the consistency be changed by that?

Reply
Taste of Artisan February 2, 2019 - 1:25 pm

Yes, you can replace rye with bread flour. The bread will be fine, just the flavor profile will be slightly different. Rye adds its own character.

Reply
Rolande Arista November 29, 2018 - 3:38 pm

I love your site design and your food content. I am a baker and enjoy cooking and baking on the weekend when time allows me to make muffins.

Reply
Tony October 28, 2018 - 6:22 pm

Hi there. I made two loaves per your recipe this weekend and the results exceeded my expectations. Using sesame seeds is genius. I never liked leftover flour on my bread and just didn’t know how to avoid it. This is best sourdough bread recipe! Thank you for the detailed instructions

Reply
Victor October 29, 2018 - 11:01 am

You are very welcome, Tony. Glad I could help.

Reply