Beginner’s Sourdough Bread

My very first sourdough loaf surprisingly turned out to be pretty decent, but oh boy was it sour. Sour like those candies you really only eat at the movie theater because they destroy your tongue, sour. Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration but I remember my wife choking down a slice commenting that it was “pretty good, yeah, pretty good bread” and only later did she fess up that it was “actually not really that good to be honest”. But all-in-all the bread baked fully, rose nicely and had a pretty decent crust. And you know what, we ate the entire thing because despite its sourness it still was tasty, and one has to start somewhere, right? And starting out can be daunting, especially with sourdough, but that’s what this post is about: a beginner’s sourdough bread. A how-to guide on getting started with baking my style of sourdough at home with a touch more explanation for some of the steps and terms.

I vividly remember the weeks leading up to that first loaf: weeks of voraciously reading Tartine Bread finally thinking that my newborn sourdough starter and I were finally ready to take on the sourdough world like a boss. Dog-eared pages, post-it notes, bookmarks, torn pages and highlighted passages peppered the book that first kindled that baking spark. My notebook had a schedule scribbled down, surprisingly mostly the same schedule & outline I follow today, with what to do when, and how to do it. Flour was purchased. Water was filtered. Kitchen towels were cleaned. And just like any good engineer I dove in head-first and got my hands dirty.beginners sourdough bread crumbFast forward a few bakes, a few “a ha” moments (like don’t use the entire levain made from the Tartine recipe, they make extra), and many breakfasts and dinners with fresh sourdough — I found myself descending into a full baking obsession. There was something ancient about performing the whole process, something exciting about mixing together such simple and humble ingredients that would eventually produce beautiful life-giving sustenance: modern day alchemy. It’s such a simple thing, really, and yet brings so much joy when family & friends tear into a fresh baked loaf. I wanted to bake every day of every week.

My original motivation for starting this site was to not only journal my baking progress but to pass on those things I learned along the way. When I first started baking there were only a handful of resources with step-by-step help for baking sourdough. Recently I’ve come to realize that here at my very own site I don’t have a beginner’s sourdough recipe, a recipe for those just starting out to get in and get their hands dirty. And so here we go: if you’re just starting out in the world of baking sourdough bread, this is a jumping-off point: a beginner’s sourdough bread.

Baker’s Terminology

I’ll start off by briefly introducing some common baker’s terms and their definitions, this will help us all have a common vocabulary and you’ll certainly run into these terms elsewhere.

Starter

A starter is essentially a mix of flour and water that naturally ferments. The starter is fed indefinitely, and when bread is to be made a small amount of this starter is taken to create an off-shoot, or leaven, that will eventually be used in making bread and cease to exist when baked in the oven.

Levain (or leaven)

Made with the starter, but only a small off-shoot, the levain is what is “built”, or made, to provide the dough with a starting population of yeast and bacteria. It’s an off-shoot because the levain is eventually mixed into the dough when making bread, and has the same fate as the bread itself: to be baked in the oven. The levain is always made with a portion of a starter when the starter is mature, or at its peak (more on this later).

Autolyse

Autolyse (“auto-lease”) is a step in the baking process where only flour and water are mixed together, always at the beginning of the whole process. Not only does it initiate enzymatic activity in the dough which helps draw out sugars from the flour, but it also increases its extensibility (the ability for the dough to stretch out without tearing). Increased extensibility (up to a point) is a good thing: it allows the dough to expand and fill with gasses, resulting in a light & airy loaf.

Bulk Fermentation

This is the first rise of the dough, as a single cohesive mass, which takes place after mixing the flour, salt and levain. The fermentation process during this step is critical and provides flavor to the dough in the form of alcohols & acids (the starter and leaven also play a role here) and also leavens the dough through gaseous (carbon dioxide) byproducts.

Proof

The final rise, typically done at cooler temperatures for recipes here at my site, is where the divided and shaped dough continues to ferment, further strengthening the dough and leavening it.

Final Dough Temperature (FDT)

The final dough temperature (FDT)1 is the temperature of the dough right after mixing all ingredients together. Naturally, each ingredient (levain, the flour, the water and the ambient environment) has a temperature and while most of these are out of our control, we can adjust the water temperature. Adjusting it enables us to change the FDT of the entire dough mass to meet whatever the recipe calls for. In the following example we will determine what our water temperature needs to be to achieve a FDT of 78ºF:

Ingredient Measured Temperature
Levain 75ºF
Flour 70ºF
Room Temperature 75ºF
WaterTemp = (FDT x 4) - (LevainTemp + FlourTemp + AmbientTemp) 2
WaterTemp = (78 x 4) - (75 + 70 + 75)
WaterTemp = 92ºF

We need to warm our water to 92ºF so at the end of our mix our final dough temperature will be 78ºF.
For additional explanation see the Dough Temperatures Guide at King Arthur’s website.

Baker’s Math

Baker’s math, or baker’s percentages, help bakers adjust the actual quantity of the ingredients up or down, depending on how much bread they have to make, while keeping all the ingredients at the same percentage with respect to each other. All of the formulae here on my site are expressed in baker’s percentages where all ingredient weights are expressed as a percentage of the total flour weight, which always adds up to 100%. The best way to understand this is with an example. The formula for my typical levain is shown in the table below:

Weight Ingredient
25g Mature liquid starter (100% hydration)
100g Fresh Milled Hard Red Spring Wheat
100g H2O @ room temperature

The flour is always expressed as 100% and all other ingredients are expressed as a percentage of the flour weight. In this example to calculate the percentage of mature starter required:

25g starter ÷ 100g total flour × 100 = 25% starter

The full computed table as you’ll see it throughout my site:

Weight Ingredient Baker’s Percentage
25g Mature liquid starter (100% hydration) 25%
100g Fresh Milled Hard Red Spring Wheat 100%
100g H2O @ room temperature 100%

beginners sourdough in bowl

Creating a Sourdough Starter

It all starts with, naturally, your starter. The first thing we need to do is get a strong sourdough starter rising and falling predictably. If you’ve already done this we can proceed, if not I have an entire post dedicated to creating a sourdough starter.

If you’re wondering how I maintain my starter on a day-to-day basis have a look at my sourdough starter maintenance routine. This guide will show you what visual cues to look for to determine when your starter is ready for a refreshment (feeding), when it’s gone a bit too far before refreshment, and lastly, when it’s at its peak and ready to be used for making a levain.

Baking Tools

There are a few necessary tools to baking your first loaf of bread. This might look like a long list but many of these things you probably already have in your kitchen — only buy what you don’t have.sourdough starter and baking toolsOne item is so necessary I have to draw attention to it upfront: a kitchen scale. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, please (please) consider buying one. You can use it not only for bread but for just about every other thing in your kitchen — it pays for itself time and time again. Measuring flour with cups and scoops is wildly inaccurate.

  • combo cooker like a Lodge 3qt. cast iron combo cooker or a Le Creuset Dutch oven that can withstand 500ºF in the oven, has a lid and will create a good seal when covered3
  • two medium-sized kitchen bowls to proof your dough
  • two kitchen towels or tea towels to line the bowls
  • bench knife to cut and shape the dough
  • kitchen scale that measures in grams
  • mixing bowl
  • instant read thermometer (not entirely necessary but extremely helpful)
  • white rice flour for dusting proofing bowl
  • pack of razor blades & a coffee stirrer, or a pair of kitchen shears, for making a “lame” to score the dough before baking
  • sea salt
  • parchment paper
  • pizza peel (don’t buy this if you don’t have it, but comes in handy for sliding your dough into the combo cooker)
  • heavy duty oven mitt

You can find a full list of all the tools I use when baking at my baking tools page.

Temperature

One thing I didn’t quite grasp at the beginning of baking was how crucial it is to monitor your dough and ambient temperature. This is where an instant read thermometer comes in handy, but any kitchen ambient thermometer will help.dough temperature with thermapen

Treat temperature as an ingredient, just as flour, water and salt are ingredients.

You must treat temperature as an ingredient. This means if you mix with water that is 70ºF and then a week later mix with water that is 80ºF you will get drastically different outcomes. I clearly list a small temperature range for each of the steps below. If you’re not able to control things to get them into that temperature range know that lower temperatures generally mean things will take longer and higher temperatures generally mean things will take shorter time. You can also use your (turned off) oven with a light on inside to create a temperature-stable environment for your dough.

Flour

For this recipe I used supermarket flour: Bob’s Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour, Bob’s Red Mill Whole Wheat Flour and Bob’s Red Mill Dark Rye Flour. These are great flour choices but equally suitable are any of King Arthur’s offerings or anything you find at your local market. I chose “bread flour” for the white component as it has a higher protein percentage compared to “all purpose” flour. This will help give your bread strength and generally makes things a bit easier when first starting out. That said, I find the flavor to be a little more gummy compared to lower protein flour. As you become more and more proficient you can play with blending bread and all purpose flour to suit your taste (or refer to any of my other recipes).

If you have a local source for flour I highly recommend seeking that out first. Not only does it support local farmers and millers, it will most likely be much more fresh. We don’t all have this option, unfortunately, so I’m using market flour as the least common denominator.

With all the boilerplate out of the way, let’s get on to the actual recipe and baking.

Beginner’s Sourdough Bread Formula

Vitals

Total dough weight: 1800g
Pre-fermented flour: 7.50%
Hydration: 78% (this hydration includes the levain hydration below)
Yield: 2 x 900g loaves

If you want to halve this recipe just take all ingredients in the Dough Formula and divide by 2. I still recommend using the same quantities for the Levain Build below, however.

Levain Build

As defined above, a levain is composed of a ratio of bacteria and yeast, and is essentially flour that has been prefermented. Not only does it add flavor complexity to the dough, it also is the primary agent responsible for making it rise. The levain is made ahead of time and is separate from the Dough Formula below, typically the night before you plan to mix your dough, but it can also be done really early in the morning — whatever works for your schedule.

Note that while the recipe below only calls for 184g of levain, we make a little extra (200g) to have a “buffer”, or some excess, so we are sure we have enough to meet the recipe’s requirements. The extra 16g can be composted or used to make other delicious items.

Weight Ingredient Baker’s Percentage
40g Mature liquid starter (100% hydration) 50%
40g Bob’s Red Mill Stoneground Whole Wheat 50%
40g Bob’s Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour 50%
80g H2O @ room temperature 100%

Dough Formula

Note that the baker’s percentages listed below are with respect to the final dough ingredients and do not take into account the levain.

Target FDT for this formula is 78ºF.

Weight Ingredient Baker’s Percentage
748g Bob’s Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour 82.43%
110 Bob’s Red Mill Stoneground Whole Wheat Flour 12.16%
49 Bob’s Red Mill Dark Rye Flour 5.41%
691g H2O @ 90ºF 76.22%
18g Fine sea salt 1.95%
184g Mature, liquid levain 20.27%

Method

1. Levain – 8:00 a.m.

Mix together everything called for in the “Levain Build” section above in a clean jar in the morning and store somewhere around 74-76ºF ambient for 5-6 hours. sourdough levainKeep an eye on how your levain is progressing during this time. When its ready to be used it will be expanded, bubbly on top & at the sides, and smell almost a little sour. The photo above is the state of my levain just before going into my dough mix at 1:00 p.m. below.

2. Autolyse – 12:00 p.m.

Using your hands mix all the flour and most of the water (reserve 50g water for mix, later) called for in the “Dough Mix” section above in a bowl until all dry bits are hydrated. Cover the bowl and store somewhere warm (near your levain is convenient, around 75ºF) for 1 hour.

Note that this autolyse stage does not incorporate or use the levain build in any way, they are two separate entities at this point that will be mixed together later in the process.hand mixing flour and water

3. Mix – 1:00 p.m.

At this point your autolyse is complete and your levain is ready. Add salt, reserved water, and levain to your already mixed flour & water (the autolysed dough). Mix thoroughly with your hands. I like to spread everything on top of dough resting in the bowl and use my hand to pinch all the ingredients together by bringing my thumb and index finger together repeatedly as I move from one side of the bowl to the other. Transfer dough to a tub or thick-walled bowl for bulk fermentation.hand mixing levain, salt, flour and waterAt this point use your instant read thermometer to take the temperature of your dough to get your final dough temperature. If your FDT is below 78ºF next time use warmer water, and conversely, if it’s above 78ºF use cooler water.

4. Bulk Fermentation – 1:10 p.m. to 5:10 p.m.

At 76-82ºF ambient temperature bulk fermentation should go for about 4 hours. Perform 3 sets of stretch and folds during bulk, spaced out by 30 minutes.bulk fermentationstretch and fold during bulk fermentationEach set consists of 4 folds, one at the North, South, East and West sides. Wet your hands with a little water to prevent sticking and then lift up one side (North) of the dough with two hands. Stretch the dough up high enough just so that you can fold it completely over to the other side of the dough in the bowl. Rotate the bowl 180º and do the other side (South). Finish the other two sides (East and West) to complete the set. Let the dough rest 30 minutes, covered, between sets.

After that third set of stretch and folds, let the dough rest the remainder of bulk fermentation. During this time we let the flour ferment further, aerating it (making it rise), strengthening it and developing flavor.

At the end of bulk fermentation your dough should have risen anywhere between 20% and 50%, should show some bubbles on top, sides and the edge of the dough where it meets the bowl should be slightly domed showing strength. In the photo below you can see all these signs.end of bulk fermentation

5. Divide & Preshape – 5:15 p.m.

Lightly flour your work surface and dump out the dough. With your bench knife in one hand divide the dough into two halves. Lightly flour your other hand and using both the knife and your hand turn each half of dough on the counter while lightly pulling the dough towards you. This gentle turning and pulling motion will develop tension on the top of the dough forming a round circle.preshapeCover with an inverted bowl or moist towel, and let rest for 10 minutes. After, remove the towel or bowl and let the dough rest 10 more minutes exposed to air.

6. Shape – 5:35 p.m.

Lightly flour the top of your dough rounds and the work surface. Working with one at a time, flip the round so the floured top is now down on the floured work surface.shaping boules

Using two floured hands, grab the bottom of the round and stretch it lightly downward towards your body and then up and over about 2/3 the way to the top.

Then, grab the left and right sides of the dough and stretch them away from each other, fold one side over toward the other and repeat with the other side.

Then, grab the top of the circle and stretch away from your body and fold down and over all the way to the bottom of the resting dough. You’ll now have a tight package that resembles a letter.

Then, flip, or roll down, the dough so the seams are all on the bottom and using two hands cup the top part of the round and drag the dough gently towards your body. The angle of your hands will gently press the bottom of the dough on the counter creating tension, forming a skin on the top of the dough as you drag.shaping sourdough boulesAfter shaping, let the dough rest on the bench for a few minutes and then place seam-side-up into a towel-lined kitchen bowl that was lightly dusted with white rice flour.

7. Rest & Proof – 5:40 p.m. to 9:30 a.m. (next day)

To prevent your dough from drying out overnight, place your bowls containing your shaped dough in plastic bags (you can use any bag lying around that is large enough to fit your basket inside without touching the dough) tied shut with a rubber band. I will usually puff up the plastic bag around the bowl by opening it wide and then quickly closing the opening. It’ll look like a silly balloon with a bowl inside.dough ready for proofOnce covered, let the dough rest on the counter for 20 minutes. Then, retard4 in the refrigerator at 38ºF for 16 hours.

During this time overall fermentation will slow down, but (good) bacteria will continue to be active which contributes to a more complex flavor over time than if you were to proof your dough on the counter.

8. Bake – Next Morning: Preheat oven at 8:30 a.m., Bake at 9:30 a.m.

Preheat your combo cooker or Dutch oven inside your oven for 1 hour at 500ºF. If you’re using a combo cooker, place the shallow side face up on one side and the heavier, deep side, facedown on the other.sourdough fully proofedWhen you’re done preheating, take one of your plastic bag-wrapped loaves out of the fridge and unwrap it. Cut a piece of parchment paper so it fits over the top of your basket and place on a pizza peel. Invert the peel and parchment paper so they are resting on top of your basket containing your dough. Then flip the whole thing over. Remove the basket and your dough should be resting on the parchment (and on the peel).banneton and pizza peel with parchment paperScore these loaves at a 90º angle between the razor blade and dough. If you want a more pronounced “ear” at each score line, lower the angle between the blade and the dough (so the blade is close to horizontal with the dough). I chose to do a “box” pattern that always works quite well, but feel free to be creative. If using scissors, snip the dough a few times at a very shallow angle between the scissors and the dough, forming a set of ridges down the center of the dough.

While wearing your oven mitt, and being extremely careful, pull out your shallow side of the combo cooker and using your pizza peel drag a corner of the parchment paper to slide your dough (and paper below) into the combo cooker. Place it back into the oven and cover the shallow side with the deep side to create a seal. This sealed environment helps trap the escaping steam from your dough to steam the exterior of the loaf as it cooks, allowing it to fully rise as it heats up.sourdough scoring and bakingTurn the oven down to 475ºF and bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, use your oven mitt to very carefully remove the top, large part of the combo cooker. Leave the large side of the combo cooker in the oven to the side of the shallow part of the cooker holding your dough. Close the door and turn the oven down to 450ºF, bake for 30 more minutes until the loaf looks well cooked. If you are unsure if your bread is done, use your thermometer to test the internal temperature, it should register between 210ºF and 212ºF.

When done, carefully use your oven mitt to remove the bread from the combo cooker (I will grab a corner of the parchment paper and drag the cooked bread out of the cooker) and cool on a wire rack. Place the combo cooker back in the oven and bring the temperature back up to 500ºF — repeat for the second loaf.

Conclusion

For those new to sourdough baking this is a great place to start. The hydration of the dough is not wildly high making successful shaping much more approachable, but as you can see below, this makes some really great (and healthy) bread. A crunchy crust, open interior and a taste that will put a smile on your face. This recipe is also a jumping off point for you to make this bread your own: higher or lower hydration, the addition of seeds and nuts, fruit and/or different shaping.

Crust

sourdough crustThis crust shows some nice caramelization and a serious crackle. Baked in a combo cooker, this bread had ample steam to rise high with excellent coloring and a thin, brittle crust. A rustic bread like this just begs to be torn apart and eaten with a thick, hearty stew. Perfect.

Crumb

beginners sourdough bread crumbA nice and light bread with an open crumb — very happy with the outcome of these. I cut while they were still a bit hot from the oven, and you can partly see that in the photos, but the crumb is soft and tender. The added whole wheat and rye flour really boosted fermentation but also contributed to a nice crumb structure and imparted a particular yellowish hue to the crumb that I enjoy. With the addition of even more whole grains the crumb could take on even further taste complexity.

Taste

a beginners sourdough tasteThanks to a lengthy and cold overnight proof, you first get a touch of sourness at first taste. The soft crumb and crackly crust present a really nice contrast to each other and fall into perfect balance. I’m not a fan of bread that has a pale and uninteresting crust with a spongy crumb, and this is not that kind of bread. As I mentioned earlier I do find the taste of these higher protein flours to be a tiny bit more “gummy” than lower protein flour but don’t let that discourage you from making this bread — it’s fantastic.


With this basic sourdough process & formula you can endlessly modify with add-ins like walnuts, cranberries, seeds and a host of other ingredients bound only by your imagination. Some of my favorite recipes have walnuts, I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend trying one of those first. As your baking experience increases you can tweak the taste of this sourdough by blending flour types (with more or less whole grain), increasing or decreasing hydration, changing the amount of levain in your mix, and begin to work on a flavor profile that suits your individual taste. But the most important thing is to bake and have fun, remember that sometimes bread doesn’t come out like you intended but stick to it and you’ll be rewarded time and time again.

My goal for this post was to give you a jumping-off point and a push to dive in and get your hands dirty. I really hope you’ll find yourself baking bread this weekend!

And of course, buon appetito!


  1. Note that this is a simplified description that does not take into account the friction of a mechanical mixer since we are mixing everything by hand. If a baker was mechanically mixing dough at a bakery they would have to factor in the frictional heat generated by the rotations of the mixer arm.

  2. We multiply the FDT by 4 because there are 4 temperature inputs into this formula: 1) Levain, 2) flour, 3) room, and 4) water.

  3. If you don’t have a combo cooker or Dutch oven, and don’t want one, you can use an inverted stainless steel oven-ready bowl placed on top of your dough on baking stones (but you’ll need those).

  4. A baker’s term meaning place into a cold area during proof

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  • Suzanne

    I have copied and pasted this very excellent tutorial into Evernote. You are a master bread maker. Thank you for this.

  • Anna

    I’m getting ready for my first Tartine bake and this is a perfect accompaniment! Are there any big differences between the two that I’m missing? Looks pretty similar, slightly smaller?

    Also thanks for your site in general, I’ve been diving in pretty hard the past 24 hours and it’s extremely helpful!

    • It’s quite similar, different percentages, addition of rye and a little higher hydration. But you could definitely use my guide here as an augment to the Tartine formula (different photos, words, etc.). You’re very welcome, glad you’re enjoying my site! Happy baking, Anna 🙂

  • Rosa

    Love all your breads , What size is the cast iron?

  • Laurel

    Hi Maurizio: love your recipes and attention to detail.
    I have a question about seasoning your cloche – I’ve tried rice flour, rice flour blended with white flour, and all manner of seasoning the linen – with little success – I usually have a mess – nothing sticks to the sides. I use a large square cloche – not one that tightly fits the banneton like yours – perhaps the difference? also do you ever wash them – kinda defeats the purpose of seasoning doesn’t it? and where do you keep yours? mine are in the freezer in plastic bag . Thank you!

    • Laurel

      nothing sticks to the sides, that is, except the dough! 🙂

    • Thanks!
      If you have linen or canvas inside then I lightly dust the entire surface with white rice flour only, using a small handheld sifter (I fill the sifter with the flour and then gently tap the side of it as I move around dropping a cloud of flour all over). I find that when I turn my baskets over even if the dough does stick to the canvas, which is slightly does, especially when wet, I can just lightly peel off the canvas with no issues. I do actually wash them occasionally. Wet flour + time will eventually = mold 🙂 After I’m done baking I’ll typically let the flour dry and then brush out any excessive clumps.

      If you’re using just a cane/wood banneton I keep them seasoned and then occasionally brush out just the same.

      For the liners you see above I keep them in the baskets as they are kind of custom-fit to them. I can remove them, but I leave them on. My other cloche, which is just a long canvas, I keep folded up in my pantry where air can circulate somewhat. Freezer isn’t a bad idea!

      I don’t know if any of this helps, I hope it does!

  • Janet

    Maurizio, thank you so much for taking the time to record your process in such detail. You are an inspiration to me. I have been baking sourdough for about three months and want to refine and improve my already-good results by applying your master-baker techniques. It is very kind of you to share your process and findings.

    • Thanks, Janet I appreciate that. Just doing what I can to help, and inspire 🙂

  • Ivan Kuštera

    How wet and sticky is your dough by the end of bulk fermentation? For me, shaping is very often frustrating because dough sticks to much when I am handling it.

    • Yes, the dough is definitely sticky and takes practice to handle. At this hydration I do not have any issues, but as we get closer to 90% then it really becomes a test.

      I’d say flour liberally at first until you get a good feel for the dough, then back off the flour until it becomes unmanageable for you. Also, I rely heavily on my bench knife and keep the contact between dough and my hand to a minimum.

      Hope that helps!

      • Ivan Kuštera

        Thanks for reply!

        I tried to follow Tartine recipe and incorporate as little flour as possible when handling dough, but it’s impossible to do the last fold (when you get letter) and after it’s almost impossible to pull dough from the surface. And yes, scraper is my best friend.

        Thanks for advises.

      • Ivan Kuštera

        I tried today this recipe and it resulted in very manageable dough. So far, I was usually sticking to Tartine recipe but your method really made a difference. I think long autolyse without levain was the thing that helped. I usually did it with levain for 20-30 minutes only. Also, I usually used colder water for mixing so that maybe sped up fermentation. In the end, I used some new flour that’s stone milled so maybe it absorbed more water.
        Lots of changes when I sum it like this, but I was very pleased how it went. I hope it will be good tomorrow.

        Thanks for this good text. It was exactly what I needed to change my routine a bit.

        • Excellent! Sounds like you’re well on your way. I wanted to mention that cooler water should actually slow fermentation whereas warmer water will speed things up. That’s probably what you meant.

          You’re welcome and thanks so much for the feedback, Ivan!

          • Ivan Kuštera

            Well, I meant that I usually use cooler water so using ~90F as you recommend sped up things but wrote it wrong 🙂
            In the end, bread was fine, maybe a bit overfermented so I’ll try to adjust it a bit tomorrow.

            Thanks for taking time to respond to all comments with good advises.

  • Mestre Boleira Sr Salgado

    Beautiful and very very useful post!! I always go back to “Tartine Berad” too, every time I need to check something. A really good investment this book!
    Yet about fresh milled whole wheat. I finally could shape it with sucess but this week I didn’t prepare my levain correctly. I hope the next time I’ll achieve “the perfect loaf” 😉

    • Thanks! Yes, Tartine Bread is one of my most cherished books — it’s pretty much falling apart at this point 🙂 Good luck with the fresh milled wheat!

      • Mestre Boleira Sr Salgado

        Finally!! Success!! A beautiful tasty bread with fresh milled wheat! Now, is definitely going to my list of great breads! Thank you for sharing the recipe and this great post “step by step” (I was needing to remember some details 😉

        • Excellent! Really great to hear, I’m glad it worked out for you. Time for some bread and butter 🙂

          • Mestre Boleira Sr Salgado

            In this case, the bread was ordered by a colleague. She tasted one of the other breads and she liked so… Now I need to do another just for me! And to practice 😉 And to try it with walnuts!!

            • Hah! Yes, definitely try out some walnuts, really great flavor.

  • Lauren

    Hi Maurizio – thank you so much for taking the time to put together such a comprehensive blog (and especially this post!) about sourdough breads. I’ve had so much fun browsing your site.

    I have one quick question about the formula you describe here – you don’t really seem to do much of a knead, other than quickly mixing things together before the bulk ferment. I’m just wondering how that ends up working out in the end in terms of gluten development etc. Is it just because there’s such a long rising time involved in sourdoughs? I usually knead my sourdough but it would be nice to know if it isn’t always necessary.

    Thanks again!

    • Super glad to hear that, Lauren!

      You can definitely build more strength upfront with this bread, or sourdough in general. This more minimal mixing approach relies on a series of stretch and folds during bulk to develop enough strength in your dough. In addition to this, organic acids that are present, and produced by, your starter/levain help condition the gluten and build strength in your dough during the long bulk and cold proof. The flour I used here also has such a high protein percentage the dough strengthens up rather quickly during bulk, even with just a few stretch and folds.

      If I’m working with a lower protein flour, or a really high hydration, I’ll sometimes help the process along by kneading (in the form of slap/fold) for a few minutes at mix time before performing several sets of stretch and fold during bulk. Sometimes it’s necessary to build a little more strength upfront.

      If you haven’t tried a no-knead approach like this I’d suggest you give it a try, you might be surprised how much strength can be created with such minimal interaction!

  • Andrea Orloff

    Wow! Is all I can say about the thoroughness and completeness of this explanation for beginners! I’m American and drank a glass of wine while reading this and unfortunately, all the measurements just swam together in my head. I’m used to cups and tablespoons. I’ll convert this tomorrow when my mind is clear. I can’t thank you enough for providing us “Newbies” with these directions!

    • You’re very welcome Andrea! Let me know if you have any questions along the way, happy baking!

  • Mary

    Hardly what I’d call a beginner’s loaf, or an instructional post for the beginning baker. I don’t have a scale, don’t need one, and quickly bypassed anything like this post when I was learning about sourdough baking. You started off pretty nicely explaining things, but it took off from there and got complicated. So let’s just scare off any new bakers before they even learn how to get a starter mature and ready to bake. I have seen a lot of instructional posts and articles, but this one takes the cake. Much, much too complicated to call it a beginner’s instruction page. I have had to help too many new bakers who are scared to even try to bake the first loaf, seeing posts about a starter and getting bubbly and then getting discouraged when it’s not. This one would have then tossing it all in the garbage right off the bat. You don’t need the thermometer, scale, dutch oven, special tools, multiple types of flours or any of that. Most folks learning to cook will do so with the tools on hand — measuring cups, bowls, dishtowels, sharp knife and timers. Maybe a basic AP flour or whole wheat. And that’s all you need to be a beginner baker and make a fantastic loaf of bread. Giving measurements in grams only makes posts like these sound elitist. Totally went over my head very early on, especially all the issues with math, a subject I have always done well in. Your issues with precision make me scared to pull my starter out of the fridge and make bread, afraid I’ll bomb at it. Oh wait, I successfully made 4 loaves a couple weekends ago, shared one with my neighbor. Guess it doesn’t take precision and scales after all.

    • margie

      If you didn’t care for it, move on. But the criticism is uncalled for. I have read many, many books by professional bakers that have had parts I wasn’t ready for. Did I write to them to tell them they wrote a crummy book? Nonsense! Go bake your crappy bread.

      • Mary

        I responded this way because the very first paragraph was misleading. The exact quote: ” And starting out can be daunting, especially with sourdough, but that’s
        what this post is about: a beginner’s sourdough bread. A how-to guide
        on getting started with baking sourdough at home, using only the most
        necessary items and a touch more explanation for some of the
        steps and terms.”

        1. a beginner’s sourdough bread. 2. how-to guide on getting started. 3. only the ‘most necessary items.’
        It really should be revised to state that this is for the person who has already tried their hand at baking sourdough, not getting the results expected, and wanting to take it to the next step. To state that “the most necessary items” for a beginner’s loaf required going out and spending a couple hundred dollars on an experiment is a bit deceptive. It’s like telling a college kid he needs a $2,000 laptop on day one of school when his old one he got for $200 will do the same thing. And no, most books and recipes are not in grams, especially not on beginning recipes. Most folks cook by measure, not weight.

        • Agree, I could see how those things could be misleading. I reworded my intro a bit to make it clear this is “my style of sourdough”. Thanks!

          • Dan

            I’m a total beginner and this site, especially this recipe, has made it possible for me to bake my first loaf. I for one especially appreciate the precision, the details, the discussions about the tools, and especially the discussions about the why’s of doing certain things. I cannot stand touchy-feely recipes that gives no reason for doing things except some cosmic goodwill. I appreciate the weights in grams because they are easy to calculate. I have been cooking for years, though not baking, and I always appreciate it when a recipe gives quantities in weight, not measures, so that I would know exactly how much of each item to use. I like to plan what I do before I do it. I like knowing why I would do something, and I like to know precisely what I am to do, not just what it should be like, more or less. Most importantly, precisions lets me duplicate the results, so that I could figure out what should and should not be changed next time. Please do NOT reword this page. If someone doesn’t like it, there are plenty of fuzzy recipes and websites around on the web.

            • Thanks for the feedback, Dan! Don’t worry, no rewording of the page will happen (unless it’s a fix :)).

              Glad you’re off to baking great bread at home, that makes me happy. Happy baking!

        • Steven

          Actually, most folks in the US might cook by measure, but at least here in Belgium we always use weight as that is way more accurate then weight.

    • You definitely have some points there. You don’t need a scale, thermometer or even a Dutch oven to make great bread, far from it! Bread has been made for millennia before such tools even existed.

      I’m sure your bread is great but for my site, and for sourdough that I truly enjoy, I think this is a good place to start, to learn the terms you’ll definitely overhear somewhere along the way, and to help those who visit here see a little deeper into the way I learned to bake. There are recipes for bread that require a whole lot less than this, but this is where I started and this is what I’m passing on to people.

      Calculating baker’s math is not difficult in any way, to be honest. You’re multiplying, dividing and adding, if there’s trouble there whip out the ol’ trusty calculator! Nothing to be scared of. Additionally, measuring things in grams is the standard around the world, only in a few locations across the globe do we use the Imperial system. It’s not being elite, it’s just a different method for measuring.

      Thanks for the comments though, I definitely appreciate another take on this! Happy baking, Mary.

      • Margot Weening

        You’re a good man, Charlie Brown …..I appreciate both your post and the quality of your character

    • downtheriver

      Actually, this kind of recipe was what I was looking for as a beginner and didn’t get until I found Maurizio’s website. (I’m sure some of the books out there would have done the same, but money is tight right now.) My bread is also very well received, but as someone who likes to always get better at things, it was so wonderful to find this blog. I knew bloody well from the beginning that I don’t have to use “precision and scales” and in fact often don’t, and I get exactly the bread you’d think because of it…but thanks to Maurizio, I know why and how to get the loaf to where I want it, which is the only perfect loaf that counts. My friends and family say my bread is already way better than store-bought, and even my sourdough hating boyfriend likes my bread…but my own drive and passion for doing things I do as well as I can more than appreciates the artistry, passion, and drive that Maurizio brings to his bread making, as well as the time and generosity it takes to share those things through his blog.

      There’s no such thing as a perfect loaf in reality…just bread that’s perfect for each person’s tastes, but the tools to get to that perfection are universally the same, from Boudin to Tartine to Maurizio.

      By the way, most of the world does cook by weight, not cups. Americans are not the definitive source for a way of cooking, as stunning a thought as that might be.

      But thanks for giving us the opportunity to read how a class act responds to…someone like you. Maurizio clearly does not need me to defend him, but I admire his generous and classy response to your negativity.

      • The ability to convert a “sourdough hater” into a “sourdough lover” might be one of the best compliments ever! Thanks for all the comments, really appreciated 🙂

  • jeff mccarthy

    Totally hooked on this site. I’m chasing my own Perfect Loaf! This post is just what I needed. Seriously the best resource I’ve found for sourdough online. Very practical information. Thanks, keep it up!

    • Thanks for the feedback, really appreciate that — happy baking, Jeff!

  • Karen

    Thank you for taking the time to explain everything so thoroughly. I have searched and read so many sites – yours is my favorite. Made my first loaves last weekend – lots of questions and your post came at the perfect time. Looking forward to using your tips and suggestions the next time I bake

    • Great to hear that, Karen, glad I put this up when I did! Good luck on the next bake 🙂

  • Adam Marley

    Fantastic post Maurizio!

    Exactly the type of post I wish had been around when I started my sourdough journey a few months ago.

    Disregard the naysayer – everything they didn’t like about the post and thought would discourage beginners was exactly what I was looking for as a beginner and worked brilliantly for me! Suggesting beginners will have more success (and be less intimidated) with less control over the process and more variability in their measurements etc seem truly absurd; Accuracy and Precision are the beginner’s most valuable tools and friends (whilst Experience is still off having a good time somewhere else). Beginners are not by default unintelligent or lacking in the ability to comprehend clear instruction – knowledge will help guide their initial endeavours and make success (and thus encouragement) all the more likely! (And a trip to the shops isn’t that difficult for most.)

    Yes, the complexity of sourdough baking can be scary, but being ignorant of that complexity doesn’t erase its existence. Keep up the great work! I hope many a budding baker is inspired and assisted by this post (as I’m certain they will be).

    (Also: amazing photography – as always.)

    • Thanks, Adam! Very good points and I wholeheartedly agree with it all, especially the fact that ignoring complexity doesn’t make it magically disappear — well said.

      You’re right, SD can be overwhelming at first, even this post went on longer than I’d hoped but the fact is there are a lot of moving parts to doing this type of SD.

      Thanks for the comments 🙂

  • Ciao Maurizio – another tremendous write up! I’m eventually going to get round to writing a post on my sourdough experience thus far, but I do sometimes think “what’s the point, I’ll just point my friends to Maurizio’s posts!” 🙂 Quick question… you autolyse without the levain then add it later? have you found this gives you better results than dissolving the levain in water and mixing with flour then autolysing? A great read amico. Ciao, Cristiano.

    • Ciao Cristiano! Thanks again 🙂

      Yes, there’s a very different result when you do a “true” autolyse, which is just water & flour. If you think about it, when you “autolyse” with levain included you’re really starting your dough down the path of fermentation right when your levain hits the rest of your dough. A true autolyse does a number of things before we even start fermenting (conditions gluten, enzymatic activity, etc.) and I find even a 30 minute auto helps. I tend to get nicer final crust caramelization, more extensible dough and a host of other things.

      I hope that helps!

  • AS

    Looking for some troubleshooting. I baked a loaf using this recipe. Everything looked fine until the actual bake. I noticed the loaf had deflated considerably at the 20 minute mark. By the time I pulled it out of the oven, it had flattened quite a bit and there was even a noticeable indent on one side. What could have caused this? I am not using any pizza stones and I baked in a Le Creuset dutch oven.

    • There are a few reasons this could happen: over hydrated the flour, over proofed the dough or shaping was not quite tight enough causing spreading. Without more details, and knowing the hydration isn’t overly high for this recipe, my first guess would be your dough was overproofed. If you followed the times and temperatures above you might want to reduce either your water temperature some, cut your bulk fermentation time by 1/2 hour or reduce your final proof time by a couple hours.

      With regard to shaping, try to ensure you have a fairly taut top surface of your boules when you shape them. Your dough should hold its shape on the counter after you do your final shaping and should be nice and smooth on top.

      I hope those suggestions help!

      • AS

        Thank you for your helpful suggestions. A few tweaks later, the second batch came out great. We almost ate an entire loaf in one day.

  • downtheriver

    Hey Maurizio–magnificent! I literally just gave a friend a link to your website only to find that you have this up now, which is so well-timed! She’s sharing your link with neighbors who are just starting their baking journey on a gift of her own starter discard. I know this will help them immensely–but they’re not the only ones. 🙂

    • That’s really awesome to hear! Spreading the word about sourdough and getting people into baking awesome bread at home is what I’m all about 🙂 Thanks!

  • JH

    I’m at 5000ft elevation. Do you know of any modifications I should make to account for that?

    • JH — I live at 5280 ft, no modifications necessary!

      • Sundari

        That is a very specific elevation… you wouldn’t happen to be a fellow Denverite, would you?

        • Very close! I’m down in Albuquerque, NM. We’re up pretty high too 🙂

  • Chris Dunstan

    Hi Maurizio, great recipe. Tried it this weekend. I normally use a Banneton and did so this weekend. But struggled to get the bread out of the Banneton the next morning. I normally line with rye flour…..Noticed you have yours lined. Im guessing this stops it sticking? do you recommend lining the Banneton? Thanks again

    • Thanks, Chris! I have these liners that I tend to use, sprinkled with a bit of white rice flour to ensure the dough really doesn’t stick. It’s up to you whether you want to line, you can get good results either way — if you don’t use a liner (e.g. tea towel or a kitchen towel) you can use a small sifter to lightly sift white rice flour all over the banneton until you have a thin layer covering the entire surface. When I work with high hydration recipes (> 85%) I will always use a liner, the dough is simply too wet!

      I hope that helps!

  • jinal contractor

    Exactly what I needed a few months ago. Highly concise guide for beginners with beautiful and to point photography. It sure fills the gap between sourdough baking books, I must have flipped cover to cover, a few 100 times looking for ‘that’ little more information. Bravo! Maurizio ? A lot of peeps will benefit from it!

    • Thanks Jinal, I really appreciate that! It’s those little gaps that really tripped me up in the beginning, that’s for sure 🙂 Happy baking!

  • Freke Bolt

    My Levain test shows it is over fermented as it sinks like a stone in the water
    What do I do now ? As I’m getting ready to make bread today

    • If your levain has gone too long before using, you can make an intermediate build if you still want to bake today. Instead of the ratio I have here with 50% mature starter, you can use 100% mature starter so your levain will be ready in about 2-3 hours. Mix together 100g mature starter, 100g flour and 100g water at 85ºF. This should be ready to use, and float, after a couple hours.

  • SimonHea

    Hi Maurzio, Thanks for this, I consider myself to be a half proficient sourdough baker but I’m a strong believer in going back to basics now and again so thanks so much for this, flour is autolysing now!
    One question; you refrigerate just 20 mins after shaping, I’m familiar with baking straight from the fridge but normally let the Bannetons sit, at room temp, for a couple of hours before heading to the fridge. You sure the dough will be sufficiently risen to bake?

    • SimonHea

      Hi Maurizio, what can I say? I followed your instructions almost to the letter and, other than small spread, the loaf came out perfectly! The crumb is nicely open, the crust is oh so crusty and, unlike my other loaves, has stayed really crispy hours after taking out of the oven, and the whole loaf is gorgeously chewy! My only smal variation was a final S & F 30 mins before bulk was completed then in the fridge for an hour to make shaping a little easier.
      A triumph! Thank you!

      • Awesome! Sorry for taking so long to get back to you but I guess it worked out 🙂

        You can definitely let your dough sit on the counter a while before you retard it to the fridge, but you really only need to do that if you think you need extra fermentation time before it slows in the cold environment. If you followed my instructions above (and kept the dough near those temperatures) you most likely would not need that extra time. It’s a judgement call you’ll have to make each bake, whether things look active enough or not.

        Really glad it turned out for you thanks so much for the feedback!

  • Shelby

    Hi Maurizio – I have what is probably a pretty silly n00b question about baker’s percentages. When you say, “Note that the baker’s percentages listed below are with respect to the final dough ingredients and do not take into account the levain”, does that mean that I should be subtracting the amount of flour and water in my levain from the totals listed? Ie: the dough formula calls for 748g of bread flour but my levain has 40g of bread flour in it already, so should I only be using 708g of bread flour for the autolyse stage? I just want to make sure I’m understanding correctly. Thank you so much!

    • Not a n00b question at all. What that means is the percentages shown in the dough formula table don’t factor in the ingredients in the levain. So, for example, the water in the levain doesn’t show up in the dough table calculations, meaning the overall hydration of this bread is actually a bit higher than what’s shown there (because there’s a lot of water in the levain, so that adds hydration to the overall dough). It’s a preference thing and I choose not to show the levain factored in so people can adjust the dough formula only without affecting the levain build. In my Vitals section I show the overall calculations for hydration and other information just to be complete (and in my hydration example there you can see the hydration is higher in the vitals area vs the dough formula because that does take into account the levain).

      I hope that makes sense!

      • Shelby

        I ended up doing what I said – subtracting the amount of flour and water constituting my levain from the total formula (so, 708g bread flour, 70g whole wheat flour and 651g water, 50g of which I reserved for mixing in the levain and salt after autolyse, as per your directions). The resulting loaves were two of the best I’ve made to date. Nice open crumb, bubbly crackled crust and way more oven spring than I’ve gotten with other formulas to date. It may have just been a lucky shot in the dark, but a win’s a win…:D Thank you for your website – it’s been super helpful so far.

        • Wow, well that’s great then! You’re welcome, glad my page has helped you make some really fantastic sounding sourdough 🙂

      • Shelby

        Also, I’m not seeing the “Vitals” section you mentioned above and that’s something I’d really like to check out. Could you provide a link?

        • I can’t link to the section but search the page (CMD+F or CTRL+F and type in “vitals”) or look for the “Beginner’s Sourdough Bread Formula” section, it’s right under it.

  • Karen (Calgary, Alberta)

    Hi Maurizio – followed your instructions – baked my second batch of sourdough bread – and SUCCESS!!!! I am hooked – thank you for taking the time to post and reply to comments as these all help. Definitely an ‘art & science’ project combined.

    • Woo hoo, that’s awesome to hear. Glad you’ve got your baking in the right groove — definitely half art, half science, and that’s what’s fun about it 🙂 Have fun!

  • Maree Tink

    Once again loads of great information and stunning pics!

  • Brook

    such great instructions! Baked this afternoon, and 10 min after cutting it my boyfriend and I had about 2/3 devoured! Amazing flavor. This was only my second loaf baked with my sourdough starter, the first was a total flop! (was not one of your recipes) This one was a baking win!! But, my loaf could use some improving…the crumb was a bit moist, it did have good air pockets, but could be a bit airier. Also the crust was quite hard, almost too much to chew. Any suggestions? I cooked it in a Le Cruset dutch oven, followed the recipe and instructions exactly with one exception, I used AP flour (king Arthur brand) instead of bread flour. I did not take any temps either…yes, i Know, you say temp is an ingredient! 😉 I don’t own a thermometer yet. Any suggestions would be great! But all in all I’m super duper stoked on my loaf!!

    • Awesome — sounds super delicious! If the crumb was on the moist side it may have been that you didn’t bake it fully. If you grab an instant read thermometer use that to ensure the interior of your bread is 210ºF to 212ºF.

      Make sure you preheat the Le Cruset with your oven so it’s super hot when you load your dough into it (be careful!). If your crust was really thick it might be that you didn’t have the LC lid on tight enough to trap steam, or the temperature in your oven might have been too hot. If you had the lid on tight try reducing the temperatures I have listed in this post by 15ºF or so and see if that helps next time.

      I hope that helps and I’m really happy you made such great bread! It’s addicting, for sure 🙂

      • Brook Moniger

        omg second try at this was phenomenal!! I should have realized my oven was just too hot…it always runs hot, but I had it in my head that hotter was better for bread ?! Anyway, turned the temp down by 15degress, (which made the temps where they were supposed to be) and the results were off the charts amazing!! Thanks for the tips! Now, what would you recommend for my next loaf?? And also, maybe one that doesn’t require so much time needing to be in the kitchen? Thanks again, your site rocks!! PS i tagged you on Insta with photos of my Beginner Sourdough, I’m @surrenderandsmile 🙂

        • Excellent — your bread looked awesome! I would recommend you give my cranberry/walnut loaf a try if that sounds good to you — it’s an awesome combination! If you’re looking to try out some more loaves on the “white” side check out my Recipes page and give any of those a try! Do a few more lower hydration bakes before trying anything in my high hydration section as these can be a bit challenging at first 🙂

          Happy baking!

  • Cassie Walker

    Can I use this recipe if I want to use a loaf pan?

    • I haven’t tried that, but I mean to do that very, very soon! It should work out just fine, just keep in mind the dough will rise up above the pan rim most likely, so I wouldn’t put a lid on it. Score the top of the dough with a few slashes or a single long slash to let it expand upwards, and provide enough steam for it to rise. Happy baking, Cassie!

  • Jennifer

    Thanks for this – great level of detail and the additional photos in this really helped. Can you explain what would happen with a longer vs. shorter cold proof, as sometimes it’s difficult to get all of the timing right for the various steps involved with a busy personal schedule? How do you know when the proof has gone on too long or hasn’t gone on long enough? I know a longer proof could lead to a more sour flavor, perhaps, but how much does it affect the crumb and rise? Thanks!

    • Jennifer — thanks I appreciate that! The longer the cold proof the more sour your bread will become, overall fermentation will continue, and flavor will become more complex. There is a limit to this, however, as eventually fermentation will consume all the food (flour) present and your dough will weaken resulting in lackluster rise in the oven, or excessive spreading.

      Determining the correct proof point comes with experience, especially if you bake the same formula over and over again. It’s hard to give an exact time because there are a lot of factors that come into play for the final proof (and fridge temperature is a big one), but I generally go 12-16 hours at 38ºF.

      I look at the dough in the fridge from time to time and look for any weak areas that start to present themselves, areas that look like bubbles with very thin membranes about to pop. You can also poke at the dough from time to time and start to build up a feel for how the dough responds: is it very weak feeling (close to overproof)? Or is it puffy but still springy (just about right)? Does it feel dense (underproofed)?

      I hope that helps!

  • Mia

    Hi Maurizio, I only want to make 1 loaf but I don’t quite understand what you mean when you say “If you want to halve this recipe just take all ingredients in the Dough Formula and divide by 2. I still recommend using the same quantities for the Levain Build below, however.” Do you mean that I should use the same quantities for the levain build and just use half (92g)? Or that I should use the full 184g of levain? Sorry if my questions seem a bit confusing. I can’t wait to try this recipe by the way!

    • Hi, Mia! I’ve reworded that a few times and I just can’t seem to get it right, sorry! What I’m saying is if you want to make 1 loaf take all the ingredients in the Dough Formula and divide them by two.

      When you make the levain (Levain Build) still use the same quantities for everything but only use 92g in the final Dough Formula.

      Hope that makes more sense!

      • Mia

        Thanks! I figured that you probably saying to just use half but I wasn’t really sure.

  • Sundari

    You’re so precise in your instructions I’m sure that this part wasn’t a mistake, but I just have to ask… It seems very interesting to me that the dough can go straight from the fridge to the hot oven, without being brought to room temperature first. Is that really an ok way to do it? Thank you for posting this recipe!

    • Some bakers do bring their bread up to temperature but I’ve never found a need to do so — I take my dough out, unwrap it, score it and into the oven. I’ve been experimenting with letting the dough come up to temperature but have yet to see a significant different.

      You’re welcome, thanks for the comments!

      • Sundari

        Thanks so much for the response! I went ahead and tried it with dough right out of the fridge, and you’re right — it turned out great. 🙂

  • Gustavo Leitão

    Your tips are amazing! So precise and easy to follow. I’ve been trying to find information about sourdough (the best type of bread for my taste) for sometime now and everyone just assumes you know the drill beforehand. Thank you so much for being so generous. Can’t wait to grow my own starter and make my loafs.

    • Thanks for the comments, much appreciated! Glad my tips have helped out, here’s to baking some amazing sourdough at home!

  • Averee

    Hi! Just made these today, and they were great. I baked them in a Le Creuset, in my electric oven. The first loaf I baked at 500/475, and the second one at 475/450. Only issues: that the bottom crust was pretty tough and dark on both — hard to cut through and a little hard to chew. Could this be because my oven was electric and is heated from the bottom? Also, there could have been more air pockets. Still delicious though.

    Second question: how could this recipe be modified to use increased rye flour and decreased AP/bread flour?

    Thanks
    Averee

    • Brook Moniger

      HI! your comment/question is almost identical to mine a few weeks ago 🙂 !! Do you have an oven thermometer? I bake my bread the exact same way as you, and the first time had the exact same issue. I realized my oven runs hot, like I set it to 500 and it gets up to and sits at 510-515. So my next attempt I lowered all the temps by 15 degrees and it totally resolved all my issues–tough/dark bottom crust and gave me more air pockets. Oven thermometers are super cheap too! I also bake mine on parchment in the LC. Hope this helps! happy baking!

      • Thanks for the comments, Brook! I had to do the same thing in the past, each oven is a little different 🙂

    • I notice I’ll sometimes get a slightly darker crust when I use a Dutch oven, it might help to do as Brook mentioned below and reduce the temperature of your oven by 15-20ºF next time. If you have an oven thermometer I’d also ensure the temps are actually what you’re setting!

      If your oven heating element is at the bottom try raising your baking stone away from it as much as you can (make sure you can still easily access the DO lid!).

      If you want to increase rye just remove a portion of the AP flour and add in rye in its place. You might have to adjust the hydration of your dough depending on how much rye you add as rye flour is quite a bit more “thirsty” and will require more. Also note that as you increase the percentage of rye your loaves will have reduced rise and if you add more than 20% or so they may become more “cakey” as rye has less gluten than traditional wheat. Rye does add some incredible flavor, though!

      Hope that helps — happy baking Averee!

  • Jessa

    Thanks for putting all this together! Your instructions and method are so comprehensive compared to other stuff out there. I’ll admit, I am a little overwhelmed, as I usually just do a kneaded or no-knead yeast based bread. But I have been missing real sourdough after leaving SF and moving to Alaska, so I’m doing this! I have a 12″ combo cooker, a huge le creuset, and no desire to buy something new. Since this recipe is a commitment (but looks really worth it!!), I would like to at least bake the right amount of dough before tweaking to my taste. You listed the cooker by different measurements and I’m afraid the loaf will be too spread out, thus flat or dry. Would you recommend just doing one huge loaf rather than splitting the dough? How do you think that affects cooking and proofing time? I appreciate any suggestions you might have! 🙂

    • You’re very welcome! The process seems intimidating at first, but stick to the few major phases and you’ll have it down pat after just a few tries.

      I wouldn’t recommend doing this quantity of dough as a single loaf, it will be quite large and hard to handle. You can always attempt this later on, but smaller quantities of dough are easier to preshape and shape. Having a larger mass of dough does help retain dough temperature and has other effects on fermentation, but I think the benefits of splitting into two loaves outweighs the cons. The dough will not spread out if you develop enough strength in it during bulk and shape time, just follow the steps above and look for the visual and tactile cues I describe — it will be just fine.

      I hope that helps, if not please ask away! Happy baking, Jessa 🙂

  • Made this loaf for the first time last week and wanted to make it again this weekend but for Saturday night.

    What do you think about these timings…. is 8 hours to long for the levin and is 5 hours to short for the resting.

    00:00 levin
    08:00Autolyse
    09:00 Mix
    09:10 12:10 Bulk Fermentation
    12:15 Divide & Preshape
    12:35 Shape
    12:40 – 17:40 Rest
    12:40 Bake in preheated oven

    Can’t wait to hear about experiences 🙂

    • Sam,
      You can always adjust the timing to fit your schedule, just change a few of the quantities, or the water temperature, to speed up or slow things down (within reason — as they say, good bread takes time).

      You can do a shorter levain, around 5-6 hours, by using 50% mature starter in the mix instead of something lower, like 20-30%. The higher the percentage of mature starter used in the mix the faster your levain will reach maturity.

      3 hours for bulk fermentation could work just fine, it depends on how the dough looks and feels. You want a full and complete bulk for the best results. That doesn’t mean it has to be 4 hours, just look for the signs I describe above in the post (volume, bubbles, domed edges, etc.). If you want to shorten bulk you can use more levain in your dough mix, up to 25% would work.

      5 hour proof is fine, but you’ll most likely have to do this on the counter instead of in the fridge. In this case, if it’s on the counter around 72-75ºF then a 3 hour bulk would probably work in combination. Use the “poke test” to determine when the dough is fully proofed and ready to bake.

      As you’ve probably guessed all these steps are interrelated and build on each other. If you shorten one then you’ll likely have to lengthen another. But it depends on how the dough looks and feels, as they say “watch the dough not the clock”!

      I hope that helps, let me know if you have any other questions and I’ll try to help you fit this into your schedule! Experimentation is probably going to come into play here 🙂

  • Liz

    My husband and I baked this bread a few days ago (our first experience baking sourdough!). We were overall pleased with how it turned out and thank you so much for such detailed instructions! I do have a few questions, though. It didn’t rise quite as well as yours during the bulk ferment. Any suggestions? I was also confused about the dough formula. Should I follow the quantities exactly as it is here?

    • Liz thanks for the comments and I’m glad your bread turned out great! You should follow the quantities listed here, yes, that will yield two loaves of bread. Once you get the process and feel down of course feel free to try other recipes here or adjust things to your liking.

      There could be many reasons why I didn’t rise quite as much during bulk fermentation: is your ambient temperature between 74-82ºF? The warmer the temperature (within reason) the higher the activity you’ll see. Also, is your starter very active and strong? See my post on starter maintenance to get an idea of what things should look (and smell like).

      Those are the primary things I’d focus on first, once those are in line then I’d explore other possibilities if your loaves still aren’t rising high enough.

      Hope that helps, keep me posted and happy baking, Liz!

      • Liz

        Bread baking day! =P We got more activity and better rise this time. We are waiting for our boules to cool a bit before cutting open. Excited to see if there is a more open crumb. Every boule we have baked has a burnt bottom though. Would placing the dutch oven higher in the actual oven help (it has been rather low)? Or maybe preheating the oven to less than 500 degrees?

        • Yes, with a DO you should definitely reduce the temperature (I mentioned this in the post above), but you could also preheat at 475ºF as well, that would help. Placing it higher in the oven would work if your heating element is at the bottom of your oven, some are like this, just make sure you have enough room to lift off the lid!

          Hope it tasted great (I’m sure it did)!

  • Tel

    Thank you so much for this resource — it’s by leaps and bounds the best I’ve found. Your tips and photography are so helpful and appreciated!

    My bread didn’t work out, and I thought you might have some tips.

    I think I have a pretty active sourdough starter, using the recipe and techniques you described and having fed it as needed for a couple weeks (APF and rye). I prepared the levain, and it seemed okay; same for the autolyse. But I didn’t get much leavening or bubbling during the bulk fermentation — a little activity, and a little sourness, but no significant proofing and no bubbling around the edges, as you describe and show above. Do you think I got it a bit too warm? (It was originally a little cool (I keep a cool house), so I placed a heating pad set on low on the top of the fermenting bowl (with a clean dish towel and some space below it).) Even though it looked like a failure, I went ahead and shaped the dough and refrigerated it as recommended, just for the practice and to see what would happen, and here are the results: decent flavor and some stretchy gluten activity, and some leavening when heated (I experimented with throwing it on a hot skillet, and it definitely proofs up), but overall no real bubbling or proofing in the fridge and no airiness.

    Do you have any thoughts? I would love to try again this weekend! Thank you!

    • Thanks, I appreciate that!

      It’s possible it was too warm for too long but during bulk you would have seen some rise, bubbles and activity in the dough during that time. If the heat was far too much then it’s possible you killed the yeast/bacteria present in your levain but it would have to be pretty hot to do that… I believe in excess of 110ºF.

      Did you see activity in your levain? Did you try doing the “float test” to see if it was ready to bake with? Take a little of your levain and drop it into a lukewarm glass of water to see if it floats, if it does then it’s ready to bake with, if not give it a few more hours.

      My guess is you didn’t have enough fermentation in your dough. The fact that it poofed up when heated is a good sign, it means there’s some activity but I’m guessing not enough. Make sure your levain passes the float test and then look for the signs I describe in the post above for your bulk fermentation, you want to look for all those before dividing and shaping.

      I hope that helps! Let me know how it goes on your next try, we’ll sort it out. Happy baking!

      • Tel

        Thanks, Maurizio. I didn’t try the float test, because I just assumed (based on everything I was seeing) that my levain was sufficiently activ–I’ll be sure to do that next time. As for my bulk fermentation, it didn’t get anywhere near that hot — maybe mid-80s at its warmest. I’ll keep working on it and let you know how it goes. Thank you so much!

  • Rashmi Mathur

    Thanks in advance for this painstakingly detailed tutorial on sourdough basics! I have studied it in detail and jumped in to the whole process with gusto. I am now at the end of Step 7 – my dough has been resting in the bowl for hours. (It didn’t rise nearly as much as yours did but I do see some bubble activity on the top.) However, I am stuck at step 8 because I don’t have a combo cooker or dutch oven, and I doubt my stainless steel mixing bowl would withstand 500F in the oven. Is there a simple, easy, and inexpensive hack for the oven set-up? Can I tent the dough with aluminum foil, and if so, is there a recommended technique for doing it? If not, what should I do with the dough – send it the way of the discarded sourdough starter (compost)?! Thank you very much for any suggestions you can offer!

    • HenrikRydgard

      I tried this recipe without a dutch oven and it turned out pretty good, though the crust wasn’t perfect.

      Just bake on parchment paper in a flat cast iron pan or an oven tray. It’ll still taste pretty great, and you can work on the crust the next time.

    • You’re very welcome! As Henrik mentioned you can certainly just bake your dough without a Dutch oven or steam, it just wont rise quite as high. It’ll still be delicious!

  • Camron James

    My levain does not look nearly as active as this but I thought my starter was fairly strong. We shall see how it turns out.

    • Camron James
      • Camron James

        Definitely did not get as much rise as yours did but I’m not unhappy with it by any means.

        • Camron, your bread looks great! For your first attempt that’s really nice. I’d say your dough could use a bit more fermentation, make sure during your bulk fermentation step your dough sits around 78-80ºF if that’s possible, if not extend bulk another 1/2 hour or 1 hour. That will help increase fermentation activity and time, respectively.

          Great work!

          • Camron James

            I think the 2nd loaf turned out better. While the rise was kind of lacking, at least the oven spring was decent to balance out. The only real difference was slicing the box pattern instead of the single slit in the middle and the additional couple of hours in the fridge waiting to be baked.

            https://www.instagram.com/p/BEoD_EqFiYN/

            I was able to keep it between 77 and 80 degrees during bulk using a space heater in my office but I think maybe my starter just needs to mature a little more also. I’ll keep up with three feedings per day for a week and see how it goes.

            I’ll also give additional time a shot next time. The flavor is too good for there not to be a next time!

            • Looking great! Yes, I think that extra fridge time really helped, that added fermentation time is evident. You could try letting your dough sit out 30m-1h more on the counter after shaping but before placing into the fridge. This will give fermentation a little more time as well. Happy baking!

  • Oonagh

    Hi Maurizio, many thanks for this, it’s a great guide. I just made this bread and it’s delicious, but I have a problem when I bake that I never get a good oven rise. My starter is very active but my levain never passes the float test. I live in Asia. Do you think it’s possible that the local wild yeasts just aren’t strong enough to do the job?

    • You’re very welcome, thanks for the comments! I do not think it has anything to do with your locale. It’s fine if your levain doesn’t pass the float test, this isn’t a 100% reliable method, but it usually helps out. If you followed my guide exactly then the float test should pass, especially if you use the same types of flours I used here (if you make your levain with a significant portion of rye flour, for example, it would never pass the float test).

      It could be that your levain is not quite yet mature enough to use and thus the sinking. Does it show significant bubbling around the sides and top? That aeration is what helps it float in water, you want it to have risen quite a bit and start to smell like ripe fruit — a little sour but not too much.

      Check out my guide on starter maintenance, if you haven’t yet, which shows you what it should look like when it’s at its “peak”, which is exactly how you want your levain to look and smell.

      • Oonagh

        Many thanks for the reply. My starter is a year old. I brought it over from Ireland. The very first loaf I made with it six months ago rose beautifully, but none have risen much since. I’ve switched to bottled mineral water and it made no difference. I followed your timings exactly and the levain failed the float test, so I gave it another hour, still with no results. I don’t use rye flour, the starter is fed with organic wholemeal and for the levain and bread I use a mixture of organic wholemeal and organic white bread flour. I’m stumped as to what the problem is.

        • Does your starter rise and fall predictably? You need this to happen for it to be strong enough to bake with. Make sure you’re feeding it on a schedule with the same flour and tap water (good enough to drink is good enough to use, don’t use mineral water) and try to keep at a temperature around 75ºF minimum. Once your starter is rising to a peak at around the same time each day (that’s when you should feed it) it’s strong enough to use!

          • Oonagh

            Maurizio, you are officially the patron saint of sourdough.
            Your last comment above made me think, maybe I’m keeping my starter in the fridge too much? I took it out & fed it at room temperature on a regular schedule for a few days, and it made a big difference. I also reduced the hydration to try to stop the loaf from spreading.
            Your instructions on pre-shaping and shaping in this recipe are superb, I never really understood what to do until I read your descriptions, and they work. At the last minute I chickened out, and even though I had a nice boule I put it in a tin for the final retarded fermentation. Next time I’ll be braver, because I got a great loaf with lots of oven spring. I am delighted!
            Thank you so much for this recipe and your very helpful comments. I’ve learned so much from your responses to others, too.

            • You’re very welcome, glad my comments have helped! Yes, you’ll definitely notice quite a bit more activity with your starter on the counter instead of in the fridge. The cold temperatures of your refrigerator will slow fermentation down significantly. In the future I hope to put up videos of shaping and other parts of the process, that should help significantly.

              Happy baking!

  • Steven

    Hi Maurizio, first of all thanks for writing these detailed instructions!
    I tried to bake this bread yesterday, but the dough was really way to sloppy to handle. I did all required folds, but I didn’t manage to get the dough any firmer. When I left it to rest, it just spread out instead of staying in a nice shape. I ended up pouring it in a tin bread from, but it didn’t bake really well, no oven spring at all. I do live in Europe (Belgium), and read that there flour here can typically hold less water than American flours. Do you have any experience with this?

    • Hi, Steven! It sounds like a case of over-hydrating your flour. I’m surprised by this but again, every location has different flour and a different environment. I would recommend you try to reduce hydration significantly, perhaps by about 10% (try 627g water for the Dough Formula mix). This has happened to me plenty of times, usually a case of too much water for the flour to handle, as you guessed! Let me know how it goes, happy baking Steven!

      • Steven Dehandtschutter

        Maurizio, thanks for the response! I tried making another loaf yesterday, this time decreasing the amount of water to 310 grams (I halved all of the ingredients). This morning, when I tried to shape it, it was still as liquid as the previous one. Actually, I didn’t even try to bake it, and just threw away the dough. One thing I forgot to mention in my previous post, is that I’m using spelt flour. I’ve searched around a bit, and found one site that recommended to decrease the water by as much as 10%-15%. So I’ll try reducing the water even further, to around 600 grams this time. I’ll let you know how it goes.

        • Ah sorry to hear about that Steven! I recently posted a spelt recipe here at my site and I warn readers about the same thing! Spelt does not hold onto water as well as traditional wheat does, be careful with that. Let me know how it goes next time with reduce hydration (even further). Happy baking 🙂

          • Steven Dehandtschutter

            Well, I’m giving it another try, I’ve reduced the H2O to 255 grams (56% Hydration). It’s currently proofing in the fridge, and it’s the first time I’ve even bothered to put it in a banneton. But it still didn’t hold its shape well while resting after shaping it. It started as nice round dome shape, but ended a lot flatter even after letting it rest for 30 minutes. Still better than the previous one, which was more like a batter than a dough. Still, I’m not sure if how it will hold up when I remove if from the banneton tomorrow morning. Today, my Emile Henry bread cloche arrived, I can’t wait to give that a try first thing tomorrow morning! Let’s hope the dough doesn’t stick to the banneton.
            I saw your spelt receipt yesterday, so I was eager to read it. But when I saw the hydration you use (85%!), there’s no way that would work with the flour I have. I think even the 56% I’m using now is a bit too much.

            • Steven Dehandtschutter

              I couldn’t wait until tomorrow, so I baked it already, and it came out quite nice! http://twitter.com/sdehandt/status/725796606902153216/photo/1. A bit too much flour, but it’s the first time I’m using the banneton, so I wanted to be sure the dough wouldn’t stick. And now the hard part: letting it cool before tasting it… 🙂

              • Hah! Excellent, your bread looks great! I’m sure it tasted amazing 🙂 Yeah the hydration I’m using for my spelt loaf is so high mostly because the spelt flour is milled hours before using it, and it’s able to take on a little bit more water. It sounds like you might have found the sweet spot anyways!

  • anthony fiorillo

    Hello Maurizio! So this is my second time trying this recipe, albeit the small modifications. Taste is phenomenal. Crust is phenomenal. Both times, however, I have ended up with a very dense crumb with a few large bubbles. The modifications are the following: 1). all rye starter 2). Instead of Bob’s Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour, I used Bob’s Red Mill organic all purpose 3). I let the levain go for 8-9 hours (it expanded to its peak mixed after the autolyze close to 78 degrees F). Everything else was the same. 4 hour bulk ferment with 3 stretch folds at 30min intervals (got good signs of rising and bubbles here) at 80 degrees F. 16 hour proof in the fridge. Thoughts on why I am getting all that density? My starter is quite active on two a day feedings. The first time I thought this was the problem because the first bake was after 6 days. Second bake was after 12 days. Thoughts? Thanks so much.

    • Really glad to hear that, Anthony! It could be that your all purpose flour needs more strengthening, it has a lower protein percentage than “bread” flour. Try giving your dough 2 more sets of stretch and folds during bulk fermentation (so a total of 5 sets). Everything else sounds good to me, just make sure your levain is used around when it peaks (sounds like you’re doing that). As long as your starter is rising and falling predictably it should be strong enough to bake with, and it sounds like it is by your description of bulk fermentation with bubbles and rise.

      Try a few more sets of stretch and fold with that all purpose flour and see if that helps open it up some more!

      • anthony fiorillo

        Thank you so much! Got a much better loaf this go around. Used a bread flour this time, did more stretch folds, a bit longer bulk, and I mixed the dough using the slap folds you had in one of your other posts. Appreciate your work and advice! Now that I am figuring out my process and I have had success, I am also looking to refine my ingredients from supermarket products to a good white bread flour and whole wheat bread flour. I called and talked to the folks at central milling. They recommended their organic artisan bakers plus (malted) and their T85 malted whole wheat flour. Have you used these? How was the performance? I am wanting to make a daily eater for my family and friends probably somewhere around 8-5% whole wheat. The last batch I did was more like 20% whole wheat. Thoughts? I appreciate your devotion to answering all these comments. Cao! (my family is originally from Alife which is about an hour and half north of Naples)

        • That’s fantastic news! Glad that last bake went so well.

          I highly recommend Central Milling’s Artisan Bakers Craft (Plus) flour, it’s really good stuff. T85 is also one of my current favorites, it has an incredible taste (it contains more of the bran/germ than more white flour) and great performance. You cannot go wrong with those two flour choices. If you want to shoot for 5-10% whole grain in your dough with those two flours use mostly ABC with about 20% T85 (T85 is kind of like half white flour half whole wheat).

          I haven’t yet been to Naples but it’s high on my list of places to go! Most of my family is in the south (near Brindisi) and some up north in Bologna. I love Italy! Ciao for now 🙂

  • Antonella Aguilera-Ruiz

    Hi Maurizio! I had been baking a 70% whole wheat, 30% bread flour bread with moderate success and this post inspired me to go back to the basics now that I have a few more loafs under my belt and I’ve hit a disastrous streak : ( I got some flours from Central Milling and tried their Baker’s Craft and T70 flour and it spread like crazy after final fermentation. The first time I thought I had worked it too much and broken the gluten strands and the second time, I worked it less and it still just spread out and transfer to the dutch oven was a beast. Both times I had done 85% hydration in search of an open crumb.
    Today, I decided to go back and try 50% whole wheat (from community grains) and 50% CM T70 at 80% hydration and 20% levain (which I built from 20g mature starter + 100 g flour, 100 g water). I did a 2.5 hour autolyse of flour+water. I worked it a little more in the initial mixing, final dough temp was 76′ and did 4 folds (every 30 minutes). Did about a 4 hr bulk (at 80′) and then pre-shaped, shaped and did a 3 hour final fermentation at about 82′ (I warmed the oven briefly). After bulk, it had lots of bubbles and it had doubled in size. Shaping went OK, but my loafs always seem to spread quite a bit in pre-shape. When I was ready to bake, it had definitely risen quite a bit and the finger dent test filled slowly. I thought I was in business! But it spread all over the place as I transferred it to the baking peel to go to the dutch oven. Just a sticky mess oozing all over! Do you have any suggestions? I don’t know how to troubleshoot to see if its over proofed, under developed or if I’m missing something else? It seems with the whole wheat that it should be able to take 80% water, but maybe it’s over hydration? As always, your site is incredible and your dedication is inspiring and can’t thank you enough for the attention you give to your craft.

    • Thanks so much for the comments, I really appreciate that!

      I was originally going to respond saying it’s possible your dough overproofed, if it goes too far (and this is easy to do with that much whole wheat and T70 — I find the T70 to really speed up fermentation!) you’ll get that spreading on the counter when you go to load them into your oven. From the description of your “poke” test though, it sounds like the dough was not overproofed. Keep an eye on this though and if my suggestion below doesnt help try to cut back on your proof time as well.

      I would suggest you try to add a little more strength to your dough during mixing and/or bulk fermentation. Try adding 2 more sets of stretch/fold during bulk (really vigorous stretching and folding at the beginning), this should help prevent the dough from spreading so much after your preshape. I think what Chad Robertson describes in his book Tartine is important: at the end of preshape you want the dough to have really defined edges on your counter, it shouldn’t spread out so it looks like a flat pancake — if so then you need to either reduce hydration or add more strength to your dough.

      I hope that helps, let me know if these suggestions work out!

      • Antonella Aguilera-Ruiz

        Thank you! I think you were right on. I did a more vigorous slap and fold at the beginning and added a set of folds and it held it’s shape much better! I underestimated the strength in the T70 : ) Going to be a fun flour to work with!

        • Fantastic! Glad to hear it. T70 is one of my favorite flours to work with, such good taste and great performance. Have fun 🙂

  • Lyn Kimson

    Hi Maurizio – just a quick question (sorry if you’ve already answered below, but I’m just about to start my new levain after feeding starter for the last 48 hrs). During the mixing of the flour stage to autolysing, how do you get your flour + levain + salt and the extra 50g water to mix in thoroughly? And is there such thing as overmixing? Do you add salt to the already mixed flour, then water then levain? I find it bit tricky to get my dough well combined during that stage, and some bits are softer than others? Thank you! Lyn

    • I do this initial mixing with my hand and sort of “pincer” the ingredients together along a line, and then fold one side over and repeat. This is a good way to get everything incorporated. Have a look up in my timeline under the “3. Mix – 1:00 p.m.” section, you can see the 4 pictures displaying my mixing technique.

      There is such a thing as overmixing, but it’s very, very hard to do when mixing by hand. I wouldn’t be too worried about it.

      It depends on the bread but for this recipe I add the salt, levain and reserved water together before mixing. Once you add all these things you really have to work the dough with your hand to get it all incorporated thoroughly. If you find the salt hard to incorporate you can dissolve it into the reserved water before pouring on top of your levain and dough.

      I hope that helps, let me know if you have any more questions!

      • Lyn Kimson

        Thanks Maurizio! I will try that. I find that my levain needs longer than the 5-6 hrs. Not sure if it is the flour I’m using but still playing around with timing to get it to the right bubbly-ness. And that’s with a strong starter fed well over a couple of days…

        • And that’s totally fine! Adjusting to your individual starter (and conditions) is a good sign you’re doing the right thing — there’s no set timetable just read the signs (and smells) and adjust your feeding to suit. Good luck!

  • Kelsey

    Hi Maurzio, thank you so much for your posts. They’ve been incredibly helpful in helping me wrap my head around baking my first sourdough loaf. I’m planning to bake this recipe for the first time and I had a couple questions.

    What is the reason for leaving the cover to the combo cooker in the oven?
    For baking the second loaf, do I stagger taking out the second loaf from the fridge?

    • You’re welcome, Kelsey! You don’t have to leave the cover of the combo cooker in the oven, but I do because I find it adds a little more mass to retain heat when I open and close the door. This way even when I open the door to the oven it quickly gets back up to temperature since there is a massively hot cast iron lid in there. Optional.

      Yes, leave the second loaf in the fridge and take it out when your oven is back up to the preheated temp, then proceed just as the first.

      Great questions! Happy baking 🙂

  • Deb

    Hello Maurizio,

    Thank you so much for your blog, and for this detailed article «Beginner’s Sourdough Bread». It was so helpful! I read this article several times before attempting to do the recipe, yesterday, on Sunday. I am new to sourdough baking, and your recipe was my fourth attempt at making sourdough bread (the three other recipes I tried before were not very successful).

    I have a very active rye sourdough starter, which rises easily (doubles volume in about 6 hours, and triples if I wait longer). I followed your recipe step by step, carefully measuring the ingredients in grams. I used Robin Hood white bread flour (a Canadian flour), and an organic integral stoneground wheat flour. During mixing, the dough looked very runny and wet sloppy, so I added about 1 tablespoon white bread flour (I didn’t measure exactly in grams for this 1 tablespoon addition.) My final dough temperature was 78/79ºF.

    I performed 3 sets of stretch and folds, and let the dough bulk ferment for a total of 4h30. After bulk fermentation, dough had raised nicely, and there were some bubbles on top.

    When I preshaped, and then shaped the dough, it was sloppy and spread a lot, and didn’t hold shape. I tried to shape the dough the best I could, and placed it in a towel-lined pyrex bowl.

    For the final proofing, I recided to let the dough rise at room temperature, because I wanted to bake the bread during the evening. After about 3 hours, the volume of the dough had nearly doubled, and the poke test looked good.

    When I flipped the dough on the parchment paper (on the pizza peel), immediately the loaf spread quite a lot. I quickly scored it and placed it in my Dutch Oven, and baked following the instructions on your website.

    The final bread is not bad. The middle of the crumb is a little more dense and sligthly humid (the inner temperature was 210ºF, but I wonder if I should have left the loaf to bake a few minutes longer…). But overall, the taste is great, the crust is thin and crisp, and the crumb is tender, not heavy, and filled with little holes. Definitely my best sourdough bread so far.

    Here is a picture of my bread:
    https://goo.gl/X2S7Uo

    However, I was disappointed to see that my loaf did not rise at all during baking, it had no oven spring at all… The final, baked loaf is exactly the same height as the uncooked dough that I placed in the Dutch oven. The final loaf of bread is quite flat… Any clues why my loaf didn’t rise in the oven?

    I also wonder why my dough didn’t hold its shape. Maybe next time I should reduce the water in the recipe? What do you think?

    Thank you!

    • Thanks for sending over that picture and detailed description, that helps a lot! To me it looks like your dough was over-hydrated, as you guessed. It looks like you have strong fermentation and I’d guess with less water in the mix your bread will turn out really nice.

      Next time try reducing the water used by 10-15% and see how it turns out. The dough should definitely spread less and when you bake the interior won’t be so moist. I’m pretty confident this change will fix your issue!

      Let me know how it goes — happy baking, Deb!

      • Deb

        Thank you so much for your answer! I will try again this Sunday with 10-15% less water. I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks again!

  • Jenna

    I can’t wait to try this recipe. The only problem – I don’t have a Dutch oven, and I can’t afford one at the moment. I know you said use a stainless steel bowl, but that worries me. Could I just use the preheated baking stone and hope for the best? Will it not rise or get a nice crust without something on top?

    • Jenna

      Woops – one more question. Do you think I could somehow make the bulk fermentation (with the 3 stretch & folds) go a bit faster using the proofer in my bakery?

      • You can speed up bulk by increasing the ambient temperature at which your dough is resting. I usually target 80ºF but you could push it up to 82-84ºF and see how it does, it might complete around 3 hours at this temperature.

        Alternatively you could also mix your dough with warmer water, say around 100ºF (don’t go too much higher than that, definitely not over 110ºF) to really shock things and get it moving.

        You’ll have to experiment with these temps and times to suit your schedule but you get the gist! I hope that helps, let me know if you have any more questions.

        Happy baking, Jenna!

        • Jenna

          Thank you!! Is using a metal mixing bowl really oven safe? I’ve been tempted to try but a bit nervous…

          • I’ve never personally used a stainless steel bowl but I know others have. Maybe if you pick one up at the store or on Amazon it’ll list the max temperature on it?

    • Absolutely! You’ll still get incredible sourdough — it may not rise as high as possible and it may have a little more of a dull crust but those things are no big deal at all. Your bread will turn out awesome.

  • Laura

    Thank you for this and everything on your site- I so appreciate the time and detail, and that you are kind enough to respond to so many questions!

    I have been reading and researching for my first sourdough starter for about a week now (and non-stop for the past 5 hours), and will be creating my first starter when my flour arrives on Monday!

    If all goes well, that will put me on schedule for my first bake two weeks from now. I’ll be using organic sprouted white wheat flour and arrowhead mills organic rye, plus I have some whole wheat already on hand (can’t remember the brand). I was going to use the organic sprouted white wheat to replace the bread flour in your formula- wonder if you can anticipate any problems with that?

    I just purchased a few vitals missing from my kitchen, but unfortunately made and fulfilled my list before finding your site. I bought a commercial-grade baking sheet in lieu of a stone (cheaper, needed for other things as my current ones are cheap and awful) and had read that I could use this with a pan of water in the oven for steaming… I know this won’t be the same, but will it still work with this recipe? Plan to buy the Lodge combo you recommended ASAP, but as a teacher heading into a no-pay summer, I have to watch my spending!

    Thanks again for this wonderful blog!

    • You’re very welcome, Laura! Really glad you’re following along 🙂

      I’m not intimately familiar with working with sprouted flour (coming soon!) so I don’t know all the characteristics of it — besides I’ve read it really increases fermentation rates and the health benefits. I’d say go ahead and use it, or perhaps some smaller percentage, and see how it turns out! I’m sure it’ll be delicious, just keep an eye on your dough as it might move along faster than the times I’ve listed in my recipes.

      Your baking sheet will work just fine! Use what you have and you’ll get great bread, no worries about spending any more than needed.

      Let me know if you have any more questions and let me know how things turn out, today is the day for you to get started!

      Happy baking 🙂

  • Kat LeSueur

    At what point do you recommend adding flavors and aromatics like walnuts or herbs?

    • I’ve played around with this quite a bit and I usually either add it right before bulk fermentation, in my second phase of mixing, or right after the second set of stretch and folds. Honestly I think either way works really well, if you do it earlier you can mix things in a bit easier but later could potentially help prevent destroying the gluten network you’ve spent time and energy building through mixing.

      I usually decide based on the ingredient I’m adding in: porridge (like oats or polenta) goes in early but more “harsh” ingredients like nuts go in later. As far as oils (like walnut oil or olive oil) I feel like adding these in at any time is fine.

      Hope that helps!

      • Kat LeSueur

        Thank you!! It does help. By the way this beginner sourdough post has been so super helpful to me as I start to get into it. I’ve already played around with percentages keeping your base recipe and method and it works really great. Just did an 85% hydration 90% whole wheat (half of which was whole wheat bread flour) 10% buckwheat and it worked beautifully. My husbands fave so far. Next I want to go back to mostly white bread flour and incorporate some black garlic I just made, maybe with walnuts or dry cured black olives. Having so much fun with it!

        • So happy to hear that! I really love the flavor of buckwheat, adds a nice earthiness to the bread and that black garlic concoction sounds awesome! You’re right though, endless possibilities and so fun 🙂

          • Kat LeSueur

            Another question for you- when adding oils or something on the wetter side like nut butter, how do you adjust the percentages? Or do you? Would you lower hydration to allow for a wet flavoring ingredient or just go for it starting with, say, 50g per base recipe? I am wanting to do a sesame sourdough using tahini and sesame seeds. Thanks again 🙂

            • When adding in small amounts of oils and nuts I don’t adjust the hydration or flour percentages at all — many bakers take this approach. They are considered “add-ins” and not part of the base formula. I still list them here on my site in terms of baker’s percentages just so readers get a feel for how much is added.

  • Erina

    Hello Maurizio,

    I’m a first timer in sourdough. Glad I found your website. You explain it so well. I cant wait to bake this tomorrow morning. But , can I bake this with home-steam-oven method ? Is there any difference in crust between steam oven method and combo cooker method ? Thank you so much.

    • You can definitely bake this either way, in a combo cooker or using my home steaming method explained on my site. I find the combo cooker is easier when you’re just starting out and it gives really great results. It will color the bottom of your loaf a tad more but not a problem. I like my other method as I can do larger loaves and make different shapes such as longer batards. So yea, either way will work well!

  • Ako Nakagawa

    Hello Maurizio,

    I’m new to here and baking sourdough bread. I’ve just baked bread with my own sourdough starter since April. Yesterday I tried your beginner’s recipe which is very helpful especially the time table. I haven’t got the hang of high hydration dough and 78% is too high for me so I decreased the hydration to 70%. My difficulty is pre-shape! My hands and bench knife always dither over the wobbly dough! Are there any good tips for beginners to do pre-shape?

    Now the dough is in the oven! Seems to have good oven spring!

    I want to have fresh bread at lunch time so your time table very suits my weekend plan.

    Thank you very much!
    Ako

    • I plan to have some videos up for each of these steps soon, that will definitely make things more clear. For pre-shape I like to gently dump out the mass of dough into the counter and then use the bench knife as much as possible while only using my flour-dusted hand when needed. I cut and push the dough with the knife and then using my other hand and the knife gently guide the dough around and around to build tension. Use a little more flour on you hands if necessary!

      Your bread sure turned out nice so I’d say you’re doing really well!

      • Ako Nakagawa

        The video is what I need. Repeatedly watching the hands and bench knife handling the dough is for me very helpful. Please do make some videos!

        Yesterday I found when handling the dough the bench knife needs more than hands and I haven’t got the bench knife skill yet.

        • I’ll be working on those videos very soon ?

          Yes it takes quite a bit of practice and as you practice your confidence and ability will grow!

          Keep practicing and happy baking!

          • Ako Nakagawa

            The crumb of my beginner’s sourdough bread turned out to be the best one I’ve ever done! So I’ve just started doing Instagram:)
            https://www.instagram.com/p/BGBS7hQINNn/?taken-by=helloiamako
            Again, thank you very much for your precise instructions.

          • Chaz Flouts

            Hi Maurizio,
            I’m looking forward to the videos as well. Thanks!

  • Ako Nakagawa

    Hi Maurizio,

    http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/45964/fresh-oven

    This is my beginner’s sourdough bread. It’s a good result and next weekend I’ll bake this bread again!

    Thanks!

  • Reshma Roshania

    Hi Maurizio,
    This is a wonderful site! I really appreciate all of the details you provide without it being too overwhelming – really nice for a new sourdough baker like myself! I’m trying this recipe now, and I’ll be using a baking stone with a pan of boiling water for steam, as I don’t have a dutch oven (yet!) You mention in the comments below that it will be fine, but I’m wondering if I need to adjust the oven temperature and baking time accordingly? Many thanks!
    reshma

    • Reshma, thanks so much for the kind words, I really appreciate that!

      I have notes listed above for the difference in oven temps between baking on stones versus a Dutch oven. I find when baking on stones you can push the oven temperature higher without scorching the bottom of your loaves. I like to preheat the stones for 1 hour or so at 500ºF, after this I’ll bake for the first 20 minutes at 500ºF with steam, then the remaining time at 450ºF without steam (remove the pan or don’t add any more water). Essentially I bump the temps just a bit.

      Hope that helps!

  • Fredy Mac Mithos

    Greetings Maurizio,
    First of all, thanks a lot for you blog/site. It is very inspiring.
    I’m a newbie on sourdough breads but I have already done some tests with good results with another kind of breads. I’m trying this recipe of the beginners with some changes in the amounts of the ingredients and in flours. I live in Brasil where is very difficult to find bread flours or white flours unbleached and with “good” amount of proteins (gluten). Usually it does not get higher than 5%. Trying to solve this problem I bought a Flour of Gluten that has 28% of proteins to do a mix. My 100% of flours – 450g – were divided in : 100g Flour of Gluten, 314g of All Purpose White Flour (bleached), 18g Whole Wheat Flour, 18g Rye Flour. And the rest were 315g of water, 9g of sea salt and 94g of my starter (levain) made from Whole Wheat and Rye. I’ve just finished my first fold and I’m planing to do the last fermentation inside of my refrigerator which I’ve being noticed helps to keep the dough tight and makes easy the scoring with the blade. Let’s see how it will turn out … lol
    Unfortunately I will not be able to wait until tomorrow to bake it and I’m going to do it late this night.

    • You’re very welcome, thanks for the comments!
      5% protein is very, very low! I have never worked with flour anywhere near that level of protein. I think your approach is a great idea, you definitely need to get that number up to around 10-11% (which is typically “all purpose” here in the US) by blending.

      I’m very interested to hear your results, good luck!

      • Fredy Mac Mithos

        Hi there Maurizio !

        The bread came out of the oven beautiful … . The inner part very soft and cheewy for my surprise because I believe that it happens when a special amount of sugar is added to the dough. The crust was really cracking when pressed and also on bites. It was my first time using an iron cast pan. I’m posting 2 photos … 1 of the whole bread and a second one of it cut in half.

        Links:

        http://cl.ly/1v3F3f3w213h

        http://cl.ly/1q3l323K081R

        Thanks.

        • Fredy — that’s great to hear! You’re bread looks awesome, and I bet the taste was even better. Thanks so much for the update and happy baking!

    • Simone

      Fredy, I’m Brazilian also, living in RS! I can find flour here that are around 10% protein but sometimes I mix it with some Italian 00 flour. My main issue with sourdough recipes is hydration! My dough is always a shaggy mess! It doesn’t hold up its form! Are you getting good results with high hydration loaves and our flour? I’m slowly decreasing the hydration every time I bake but I’m afraid I won’t get all those beautiful holes I see in non-brazilians loaves…

      • Simone — thanks for the comments! You can definitely get an open crumb and a light loaf without having to push the hydration really high. With proper fermentation you can achieve a nice light loaf with your flour! If the protein percentage isn’t as high as US flour you might not get huge caverns and large holes but it’s possible to get a well-fermented, airy loaf. Plus, taste is most important! 🙂

        As I’ve mentioned before here and there hydration is related to your flour so decreasing it as you go is a great idea, you want to find that sweet spot for your flour.

        Happy baking!

  • Jared Talladay

    Maurizio- I just wanted to take a minute and thank you for all the work you put into your guides and website. I started on my own bread journey not too long ago and made my first sourdough loaf a couple days ago using this recipe. The fact that you take the time to respond to every single comment is admirable to say the least. My only problem with the loaf was that they didn’t rise in the oven, after reading the comments though, I think this was due to not enough strength after shaping. They didn’t hold their shape well, just kind of laid flat. Even still, what amazing flavor! I will be trying again soon, thanks again!

    • Jared — thanks, I’m really happy to help! I know it can be hard sometimes getting started with sourdough, a little help goes a long way.

      Yes, you definitely need sufficient strength when you shape your boules or they’ll just spread in the morning when you go to bake. Try shaping a bit tighter next go and see if that helps. Let me know if you’re still having problems.

      Happy baking!

  • Fredy Mac Mithos

    Hi Maurício.
    Just a simple question. Building a leven (levain) is made with water, flour and starter and is usually done in the night before or early morning of the baking day, right ? But if for some reason I’ve forgotten all of it and have a starter already fed and on its peak, may I use it and have the same effect since the starter is just flour and water fermented ?
    Thanks in advance.
    PS.: Sorry Maurizio I started this post spelling your name in a portuguese way … lol

    • Fredy — that’s correct, your levain is made with water, flour and some small starter amount, created in the morning or night before. You can definitely see your starter as a levain, in essence, and if you forget to make a separate levain you could just use a portion of your starter to mix with your dough for a bake.

      The reason we create a separate levain is because it may use a different mix of flours or hydration percentage to reach different results, or it may use a large seed percentage of mature starter so it ferments at a faster pace. At many bakeries they actually do not keep a separate starter and they feed their starter with enough flour and water so there’s enough to mix with their dough when they need it but also enough to keep the culture going.

      I hope that makes sense! In essence both the starter and levain are just fermented flour/water, but the levain can be made with different ratios of each for different end results.

      No worries, Maurizio has an Italian, Spanish and Portugese spelling 🙂

      • Fredy Mac Mithos

        Maurizio, thanks for your answer. What you explained just met my thoughts. I tried a sourdough for the last 2 days and it was a disaster…lol I don’t know what I did wrong, specially after the last one that turned out beautifully as you could see on pictures but I will try again nest week-end. I’m right now in the kitchen making a Traditional French Baguette and also on week-end I’m planing tô do it “sourdough”.
        I was yesterday reading about your trip tô Japan and I have tô say that I’m crazy tô visit. My initial interest in gastronomy was because of a Japanese restaurant that, unexpected, came tô my hands tô take care of it. Then I had tô learn about fish, rice, vinegar, miso, sushi, sashimi, sukiyaki and etc. I took classes and more classes with japanese chefs (Itamae). It was a journey of pleasure.
        Thanks for all.
        Greetings.

        • Ah sorry to hear about those 2 past loaves! Keep practicing, it will get much better trust me!

          I would love to work in a Japanese restaurant for a short while, to gain some more experience with all the wonderful ingredients they use. It’s such a different set of ingredients that make for incredible flavors. Sounds like you had a fantastic time!

          Hope your next bake is a great one — happy baking!

          • Fredy Mac Mithos

            I have another question or could be an advise but I will make a new post because it could be inserting for others.

  • Fredy Mac Mithos

    Hi Maurizio.
    I will try your recipe and schedule method tonight but I had a question. What do you think about the French Technic of “slap & fold” the dough ? I saw the French Boulanger Richard Bertinet baking a sourdough bread using this technic and I did the same in the past on a french baguette and could noticed that doing this way the dough gets fast structured for the last bulk fermentation. The result in a sourdough bread gets any difference between the 2 ways ? I meant, slap & fold or just the “letter fold” .

    Thanks in advance.

    • I really like the slap and fold method, in fact I use it quite often. You’ll see me refer to it here on some of my recipes, it’s a great way to introduce some strength into the dough early on (and some air, also). I will typically do a short session of this, 3-5 mins, and then a few folds during bulk depending on how the dough feels. I’m going to work on a video here for my site showing how I do it!

      • Fredy Mac Mithos

        I will be waiting for the video.
        thanks.

  • Christian

    Hi Maurizio! Very appreciative of your awesome blog! I’ve been baking bread using the Tartine method for about 3 months with incrementally better results, but I feel even though the loaves come out well I really don’t know what to look for when it comes to proofing. I read about the finger dent method, which I use (again not sure how slow or fast it should bounce back, really. And big difference between room temp loaves and cold ones). So was just wondering if you could share your experience and any tips regarding proofing. Thank you!

    • Christian, really glad you’re enjoying my site! The “poke test” is used to help determine when the dough is proofed enough to bake, but not too much. If you gently poke the dough it should slowly spring back to its original form. If it springs back very fast then the dough has not had enough time to proof, give it another hour and check it again. If it doesn’t spring back at all then the dough has likely overproofed, bake it as soon as possible. If the dough slowly springs back to it’s original shape then it’s just right, bake it soon.

      It’s hard to determine exactly when to bake your bread when doing a cold retard (proof in the refrigerator) because the poke test isn’t always reliable here. The dough gets cold and stiff in the fridge so it will always have a tendency to resist springing back. You should still do a few gentle pokes, though, as it helps you build up an intuitive understanding of how the dough feels at various proof times. If the dough feels weak then you’re getting close to over proofing, if it feels incredibly firm, almost like a solid lump, then it needs quite a bit more time.

      When baking loaves that are proofed overnight in the fridge I like to start with 12 hours and adjust up/down from there. If you notice your bread has very sluggish rise in the oven and kind of spreads out then that is a sign of possible over proofing — reduce your proof time by 1-2 hours in the fridge next time. If your bread almost explodes in the oven with ruptures all over then this is a sure sign your dough has not proofed enough, give it 1-2 more hours in the fridge next time. If you get a nice rise with a clean opening where you slashed (scored) your bread and the interior has no gummy or dense areas that is likely the perfect proof point.

      The most important thing with this is to focus on proofing and try to keep everything else the same from bake-to-bake. If you change your flour, temperatures or levain percentage then you’re almost working with a completely new slate. It’s best to change only a single thing each time you bake so you can determine if that thing helped or didnt help.

      I hope that all makes sense, let me know if you’re still having issues — happy baking!

  • Adam Smith

    Dear Maurizio,

    Thank you for all the information on the site, so help full and well written. Following the beginner sourdough recipe I have got some good results, the bread is coming out absolutely delicious, but I would like to get a more open crumb and better oven spring.
    The loaves always seem to spread out a little bit and not rise like yours where they get the dramatic shape and pronounced ears. I’m wondering if I’m over proving the loaves (due to work constraints I prove at room temp until it passed the poke test). Or maybe I should try a different levain, my 50% rye 50 % bread flour starter doesn’t seem to like being fed whole wheat, could I just use my normal flour mix of rye and bread to build a levain. Or maybe I should scale the hydration down, I’m from the UK and I have been told our flour doesn’t absorb as much water as yours does in the US, although I have just got some new stone ground flour from a local mill i’m looking forward to using! I know that there is a lot to go on!
    Thank you so much for your help so far, without this site I would have thrown in the sourdough towel long ago!

    • Adam I’m glad I could help! There is definitely a lot going on and getting a dramatic rise with a nice ear is the byproduct of all the small steps in this recipe adding up to the end result. I’d recommend trying to work on a single thing at a time so you know if what you’re trying is leading you down the right path or the wrong path.

      I’ve also read that UK flour isn’t able to take on the same hydration as the flour found here in the US — that’s an easy fix, just reduce hydration till the dough looks similar to what I show here or until it’s comfortable for you. If the hydration is too high the dough will feel “soupy” and resist holding together, wanting to spread out quite a bit. You’ll also know if by the end of your bulk fermentation the dough in the container looks completely flat, there’s no rounded edge between the dough and the side of the container. It’ll look like a bowl of liquid and not strengthened dough, trapping gas.

      It’s possible you’re overproofing, but that’s an easy fix just reduce your proof time a few hours and see if things improve. Signs to look for with an overproof are sluggish rise in the oven, lots and lots of small holes in your crumb, and your loaves fail to expand upward, pushing open the area you slashed with your lame. The area where you score should look like the dough is stretching apart.

      Another possible cause here is you are not shaping with enough tension and so your dough is spreading too much. If you don’t get a tight enough skin on the dough it will want to spread instead of rising up through your score.

      I hope this helps! Try to work on one of these at a time and check the result, adjust as you go. Let me know how it works out!

      • jhaygood

        I’d add to your advice that once I started proofing in the fridge (as opposed to at room temp like Adam Smith above) I got MUCH better results in the oven. Scoring was a thousand percent easier and more successful – the dough has more resistance than at room temp so the blade slices right through instead of grabbing. And I believe putting the dough in the hot oven when it’s cold also adds to the spring. Worked great for me anyway after having similar issues.

        • Definitely. Scoring from a cold fridge helps immensely and the dough is always a bit “stronger” from the fridge, helping to keep it together when you load it into the oven — which is especially welcome when baking porridge or high hydration dough.

          Thanks for the comments!

  • jhaygood

    Hello, and thanks for all the great info. I have a fair amount of experience, making mainly yeasted doughs, an overnight poolish, using that to sort out various techniques and learn the ropes over the past few months. I recently started moving up to natural leaven and decided to try this recipe. I had a similar problem that I’ve had with other high hydration recipes where the dough is just SO sticky that it’s a real challenge to get it shaped, a decently tight skin, and into the basket! I mean it just grabs onto anything that touches it. Hands, scraper, bench, the works. I try not to introduce too much flour (I had some loaves end up with small veins of raw flour in some attempts) but I really have to use enough to form some layer or there’s no way to handle the dough. I watch some videos of hydrations or more and I see the dough lifting right off the bench. Clearly not the same thing I’m dealing with! The humidity here at my house today in Los Angeles was 58%. Could that be it? I cover the dough during bulk, should I leave it uncovered? Is it just not rising long enough in bulk to hold shape better (It’s not runny on the table, and it cooks up well, rises well in the oven, good spring, etc.) I guess I should just lower the hydration a little to get it to something I can handle, but I just wonder what may be going on. It’s an unwieldy beast… Mystified!

    • jhaygood

      These are out of the oven now – made these smaller loaves, four instead of two, about 550gms each (better size for passing out to friends…). They turned out well, but obviously my scoring technique needs work! They kind of busted out all over… Inside the crumb is good but a bit uneven, probably due to the shaping issues I was having? So the real issue is shaping, and dealing with the sticky dough. But the nice thing about bread, you can screw up a lot, and it still tastes good! Here are the loaves: https://goo.gl/photos/efLoMioR4ptDjt12A

      • They look great! I’d say the interior looks really nice, the crust is well colored and it looks rather thin — very nice all around. That busting on the crust can be alleviated somewhat by proofing a little longer, sometimes dramatic rise like that can be caused by underproofing just a bit (it can also be due to insufficient scoring, the rise needs to happen somewhere). Overall though I’d say you’re doing just fine!

        Shaping high hydration dough is sticky no matter what. However, building up enough strength in the dough and strong fermentation help reduce this and will help your dough want to stick together instead of stick to everything else. Strength, through mixing/kneading and stretch and folds, will reduce that shaggy, sticky dough that is common with high hydration loaves. Of course there is a balance there, though, you don’t want to strengthen it so much that it doesn’t relax enough before baking, allowing it to rise to full potential. That point of “strong enough” is found through experimentation and a lot of factors go into it. Over time you’ll develop an intuition for that point (you might already have this!).

        The acids produced by fermentation strengthen the gluten in your dough, which has a similar effect as kneading/stretch and folds, to some degree. You want your starter strong and healthy. By the end of bulk you’ll notice your dough is shiny, holding its shape more and if you tug on it with a wet hand it’ll resist your tug a little more — more elastic instead of extensible.

        I hope those comments help, you’re bread really looks great!

        • jhaygood

          Thanks. There’s so much information of what affects what that it takes a while for it all to stick (the dough itself sticks just fine, as I mentioned…). Getting a sense for it only comes from experience and practice – I’m slowly getting my bearings. Also the process is so long that each ‘lesson’ only happens once or twice a week. I’m trying again today, and just going with the hydration as is, I’ll use a little flour and try to keep it to a minimum and hope my technique gets better. I tried a bit more folding this time during bulk to see if it helps with stickiness, etc. during shaping. We’ll see! Thanks again for the follow up.

          • Sure thing! Yes, you’re right, the problem is for us non-professional bakers we only get to give this a try a few times a week, at best. There’s a lot to practice and I know how you feel! Keep at it, each time things get better and better. Happy baking!

  • broot61

    Thanks for all of the great Information on this site. I’m hoping to bake a successful sourdough next weekend. Can you tell me what size bannetons you’re using for this recipe? I’m assuming that they’re 8″ (based on your equipment page), but from Amazon’s description the 8″ batton is suitable for 1lb of dough. Since this recipe is for 900 gram loaves, will I need larger bannetons? I’ll be baking the bread in the 3.2 L. combo cooker. Thanks again!!

    • You’re welcome! I just measured my bannetons and from rim to rip at the top, the inside diameter is 8″. At the top from the outside to outside it’s about 9″. I’d say these hold 900g just fine, the dough might rise a bit over the rim but I puff up my plastic bags so there’s no chance of them constricting the dough.

      900g will fit in the Lodge combo cooker.

      Hope that helps!

  • Kuzmatron

    What a great blog! Your starter recipe was a big help. I followed it to the letter and got great results. I’m going to do the beginner sourdough tomorrow and have one question about your recipe. Is it correct that the cold-proofed loaves go directly into the oven with no room temperature proofing? I’ve made many yeast breads before (though this is my first sourdough) and have never seen such a technique.

    • Thank you! Yes I’ll typically bake the loaves straight from the fridge. I take them out, score them and transfer them in. The cold dough is easier to slash and load, and I haven’t seen any less of a rise if the dough is brought up to room temperature.

      Have a great bake!

    • Kuzmatron

      Thanks, Maurizio. Given that this is my rookie effort, I’m sure I’ll benefit from the additional stability the chilling will provide.

      • Kuzmatron

        And the results. . .

        https://www.flickr.com/photos/143783435@N08/shares/7vVYKN

        What’s your assessment, Maurizio? Any suggestions for improvement?

        • Lookin pretty good! Nice rise and nice color on the crust. I’d suggest proofing a little longer, either in bulk fermentation, in proof or a little in both. That might help open up the crumb a bit more. If you notice rise on the next one is sluggish then you might have gone too far. It’s always a balance there, finding that sweet spot can be challenging.

          Great work, though!

  • Kiersten

    Hey Maurizio! I love your blog — beautiful photos and such a great resource for a sourdough beginner like me.

    I’ve been running into a recurring issue and I’m wondering if you might be able to help. I generally am producing somewhat flat, dense loaves. Here are photos from a couple of recent bakes: http://imgur.com/a/mFCH2

    And then my bake today: https://imgur.com/a/4f4od — which, while the height is a bit better, it’s perhaps the densest crumb I’ve seen yet.

    I have some suspicions that my shaping method could be improved…I feel like I have to add a ton of flour to prevent the dough from sticking to my hands, my bench scraper, and everything else, really! Any advice on that front would be awesome — and if you have any other suspicions I’d love to hear them. 🙂

    • Thank you! Glad it’s been helping 🙂 It’s hard to say exactly just from the photos but to me it looks like your dough could use more fermentation. Try to get in at a “final dough temperature” (as I’ve described above) around 78ºF and then try to keep your dough somewhere warm during the entire bulk phase. 78-82ºF would be ideal. You can use your turned-off oven as a nice and sealed bulk chamber, toggle the light inside on and off to keep the dough warm.

      If your dough is warm enough then you either need to extend your bulk a little longer or your proof step in the fridge. Look for my cues as I’ve listed above for when to end bulk, it might be longer than 4 hours as there are a lot of variables in play there.

      As far as the stickiness, you could try reducing hydration by 5-10% to see if that helps with it. Stronger fermentation will also help strengthen up the dough, so the steps above may end up helping.

      I’d suggest trying one thing at a time and see if that helps.

      Let me know how it goes, there is also the other possibility your dough is actually overproofing, but that would only be the case if you used a lot of levain (more than I list), temperatures are higher than what I list, or if you proofed for a very long time in the fridge.

      Keep me posted and I hope that helps!

      • Kiersten

        Awesome, thank you! I’ll let you know how it goes. 🙂

        • Samuel

          Hey Kiersten, I’ve been having the same problem–wet, sticky dough that seems not to “lift” much during bulk fermentation…certainly not 20-50%. Just curious, did you have any luck with A) longer bulk-fermentation or B) slightly higher temperature during bulk fermentation or both?

          (I think I’m going to try out less hydration for the next loaf).

          Cheers,

          Sam

          • Sam, sorry to interject here, but I’d say definitely go with a lower hydration next time if the dough feels overly sticky and wet to you. Dial it back as far as needed — each flour and environment is different! Good luck & happy baking!

      • Kiersten

        Hey Maurizio! Finally got a chance to tackle it again and had another frustrating bake, sadly.

        The FDT was right on, but I ended up adding a lot of folds in (6 or 7 because the dough seemed so slack) and extended the bulk to about 6.5 hours since I had it with me in the car and couldn’t keep it as warm as I’d like. (haha, anything to fit sourdough into my schedule!)

        The shaping seemed a lot easier than before, but when I baked it off after 17–18 hours in the fridge, it totally pancaked out like it has in the past. It’s still cooling but I’m not expecting a very good crumb on this guy: http://imgur.com/a/H6OIT

        Did I totally screw it up with all those folds? Something else you suspect?

        • Hey, Kiersten! Adding in more folds is not a problem — if the dough needs it then it needs it. In fact, adding more strength like that should actually help prevent pancaking in the oven so something else must be amiss.

          A crumbshot would help me diagnose a bit more but it could be possible you’re overproofing your dough, especially if you think hydration was more manageable with this last bake and it still pancaked. If the interior of the loaf had lots and lots of little holes and it was perhaps a bit more sour than usual i’d say overproofed is the culprit.

          Keep everything as consistent as you can as the last bake and reduce that bulk time and/or proof time. At 78ºF – 80ºF bulk for me lasts about 4 hours so if you were around those temps as well then 6.5 hours is quite a long time. In addition your proof was about 6 hours longer than what I typically do… Not to say your dough doesn’t need this but I would try to cut back both of these next attempt and see if it helps. Keep me updated!

          • Kiersten

            I’m guessing you’re right…the crumb was dense and kinda gummy. I’ll give it another shot! Thanks again for your help. 🙂

  • Rossella

    hello Maurizio. The leavened dough is baked straight from the fridge to the oven? it is not necessary to warm to room temperature. Thank you for your advice and forgive my english.

    • Hello! Yes, baked straight from the fridge. I don’t warmup my dough unless I feel like it needs extra time to ferment, which is rare for me. Happy baking!

  • crowgirl

    Hi Maurizio, thanks for your excellent directions! I am in the middle of my first batch at the moment, I am doing the stretch and fold part and everything is looking good. I have run into a snag though. I realized that 16 hours of proofing after I finish this part will take me to the middle of the day tomorrow when I really should be at work! If I have to either lengthen or shorten my refrigerator proof time, which is less damaging, a couple of hours less or more?

    • You’re welcome, thanks for the kind words! I prefer to go a little longer in the proof, especially with this recipe. The flour should be able to take the extra fermentation time with no problem. Try it out, you might surprised that it comes out just fine!

      Let me know how it goes 🙂

      • crowgirl

        Hi Maurizio, thanks for the advice.I wound up proofing it waaaay too long, like 24 hours rather than 16 as ended up working late, but I baked it anyway knowing it was over proofed, and it still came out perfectly edible and tasty! It makes really good toast, too! I used a red fife flour which I realized after was whole wheat, so that probably made it a little denser too. All in all even with the challenges, a success, and I will make it again with a better sense of the schedule. Also I didn’t have a vessel for baking it in so i just used a cookie sheet and put a pan of water in the oven with it. I will graduate to better equipment gradually.

        • Excellent! I actually find bread that’s overproofed to be really great tasting, especially toasted as you said! That’s an easy thing to fix next time and it sounds like you learned quite a bit from this bake, glad to hear that.

          Have fun on the next one!

  • Sarah Anderson

    I have never made sourdough bread before, but am very interested. This article should be able to help me get started since it is labeled for beginners. Hopefully I can get the first batch to turn out, and eventually reach restaurant quality. Thank you for posting this!
    http://www.klostermanbakery.com

    • You’re very welcome, glad it has inspired you! The taste is definitely worth it — happy baking Sarah!

  • prigb

    Is it okay if I use a Romertopf clay pot to bake the bread?

    • I’m not familiar with Romertopf but a clay pot will work really well! Just make sure it’s rated for the temperatures listed here and the lid seals up fairly well — that’s it!

      Happy baking 🙂

      • prigb

        Thanks.

        • Hi! I just looked up the Romertopf clay pot and yes, these will work very well for baking this recipe, and any recipe, here at my website!

          • prigb

            Thank you.

  • Nivedita Sahasrabudhe

    I have wanted to try making artisan style sourdough breads at home for years, but always been shy to dive into this complex world. Lots of reading over the last few years, but no action. Two weeks ago I started building a starter using Donna Currie’s post on Serious Eats. The part about never discarding any starter drew me in. I made the levain one morning, ready to bake bread the following day, but when I saw pictures of the resulting bread, I bailed. Wimpy blond loaf with boring uniform small holes throughout. Baked at just 350 degrees! Gasp! I’d rather go back to no-knead, I thought – which we’d liked for it’s texture and crust, but flavor was always lacking. Then, searching around for other beginner sourdough recipes, I found your lovely blog. Joy!

    Your post made a Tartine style bread sound eventually approachable. So much so that I just took the levain I’d made for Donna’s bread and tweaked it. Yeah, it was lower hydration, so I just added some water. 🙂 Not the same thing at all, but what the heck.. it was all suddenly possible. I also knew that my starter never looked the way everyone else’s looked all over the web. The only thing was it had gotten a lot foamier than when I started building it and smelled good. It never doubled as far as I could tell. I am usually a stickler for details. I suppose that since I didn’t have a whole lot of faith in my starter to begin with, so I just relaxed all the way – nothing to lose. Halved your recipe. Including levain – I’m realizing this only now. Even though I’d read your instruction to not halve that. You won’t tell my 8 year old that *I* can’t follow instructions either, will you? During bulk fermentation, did the prescribed three sets of stretch and folds. I thought perhaps should do a fourth set, since my starter was so-so and based on how it looked and felt, compared to yours, but decided to skip. Just went a little longer on bulk. Was reading a good book, so a 10 minute bench rest became 20+. Twice. Whatever. Looked up a Chad Robertson and Klaus Meyers video on shaping. Useful! Shaping went okay, but would have liked to get a tighter final shape. But I didn’t want to use too much flour nor be too aggressive with the bench knife.

    Poke test at the end of 16 hours was encouraging (based on never having done it before, hee hee) so I went ahead and baked it in an inverted dutch oven. (It was a pain to load. Might just go for upright dutch oven next time.) Slashing was okay. Again with more strength in the dough, it would have slashed better, I think. Loaf colored beautifully in the prescribed time and cooked to the right inside temperature. It even rose! It was not a flat pancake! Using only half the levain! There were many large holes inside. Other holes were smallish. The crust was a bit too thick and chewy. But oh my gosh the flavor was so good. Everything I’d dreamed of. Just flour, tap water and salt and some loosely followed instructions!!

    I will have to bake more of these now – after correcting all those issues, starting with the starter. Love the rubber-band trick and looking for streaks in noting starter progress. And the best part is, with 90% of your blog still to discover, I feel I might even nail it one day soon. You are *so* responsive to questions. I feel confident that whatever issue I might get stuck with will either already be answered here or that I have only to ask. Thank you so so much for your detailed, thoughtful and super-practical posts and responses. There is good bread in my family’s future thanks to your generosity in sharing your experiences.

    • Thanks so much for the comments and the detailed account of your bake with my recipe — and it sounds like it went really well! It’s totally find if your starter is a bit more “frothy” on top, I usually see this when I’m feeding with a bit more water than usual or the flour has changed and it’s displays different characteristics with the same amount of water. But anyways, sounds like you’re well on your way!

      I’m definitely around to help. Feel free to drop a comment on any of my recipes or use the Contact link at the top to shoot me over an email and I’ll be happy to help.

      Happy baking and thanks again for the kind words!

  • Aiyana

    Hi Maurizio! I hope these next few questions don’t come off as redundant if you’ve answered them already, feel free to shoot me down to a comment below, if so! First off, killer blog. You’ve saved many a premature grey hairs for me upon discovery- took me ages to figure out that my starter was failing simply because I was underfeeding! Duh. Thank you thank you. My question today- I have followed your beginner sourdough recipe to a tee, but now realize I won’t be able to bake my loaves the following day until much later, say around 4 pm. For this bake off, will they be over-proofed, ie with not as much as an oven spring? Or just with a more pronounced sour flavor. For the future, if my schedule doesn’t allow for me to bake my loaves after the 16hr cold proof, can I substitute with maybe a 4 hour room temp final proof, then bake? Or if I wanted to do an overnight cold-final-proof, dial back the water temperature in the dough for the bulk proof?
    I am trying to figure out the best way to handle timing issues… I hope that makes sense, thank you!

    Also- when you say dial back hydration level if the dough is too wet for what I am capable of handling, is it as simple as just not adding as much water to the flour, but everything else would remain the same (amount of flour, levain, salt…) And same for increasing hydration? Or am I misunderstanding the bakers math then?

    Okay, that’s all for now… I know I will be back. Thank you so much for taking the time out!

    • Aiyana — thanks for the kind words, really appreciate that! You’ve probably already baked off the loaves you mentioned but for future reference, yes you can definitely extend the length of your cold proof in the fridge. How long you can push it depends a lot on the temperature of your fridge, how active your dough was when you placed them in and also the flour you’re using. I find the flour used here in this recipe can take a pretty lengthy fermentation, but like you said, the end result may be a bit more sour and as it nears the maximum proof-time it will star to exhibit a more sluggish rise (as the provided food wanes and gluten breaks down). Personally I really like the taste of a very well fermented dough so this isn’t a problem for me, as long as you don’t go so far that it comes out more like a pancake and less like bread 🙂

      You can definitely use cooler water for your mix, and this would slow bulk down, but remember you still need to do a full and complete bulk fermentation step otherwise your dough will not have sufficient tension in it for shaping. Fermentation, and the produced organic acids, help strengthen the dough during bulk (as do your stretch and folds) so you still want to see the same signs I mention above in this post (rounded edges, etc.). When I want to extend my proof time I like to reduce my levain percentage a few points to slow things down, you could reduce this 1-2% to see if that helps. Honestly what I’d try first is just do a test batch and see if this dough can last the time you’re looking for before making changes — you might be surprised! Also, you can definitely do a room temp proof and bake it when it’s ready instead of doing a cold proof. The flavor profile will be different but you might prefer it this way (should be less sour). 4 hours might be a good duration, it depends on ambient temperatures and how active your dough is. Gently poke the dough occasionally and when your poke slowly comes back to fill close to the original surface of the dough it should be ready to bake (this is called the “poke test”).

      Yes, “dialing back hydration” just means adding less water. You could keep all else the same and just reduce the amount of water at mix time.

      I hope all that helps, I know it’s a lot to process. Let me know how it goes and happy baking!

  • Kris

    Hi Maurizio,
    I love your blog like so many others! I have made your beginners sourdough recipe several times and my results are always slightly different but delicious. My last loaves though, while looking beautiful were a bit gummy inside. Here I thought I was really getting the hang of it, as every step of my last bake seemed so much better than all the rest. Any thoughts on what I could have done wrong? I do not proof overnight, but do a 4 hour counter proof, to fit my schedule. Thanks, Kristie

    • Kris — thank you! Usually a gummy interior is due to under baking. Do you have an instant read thermometer? Next time you do this bake (carefully) insert the thermometer through the crust and see if the interior temperature is around 210º-212ºF. If the exterior is turning dark before the interior gets fully cooked you might have to reduce the temperature by 10-15ºF at each step so the outside doesn’t bake before the inside.

      If you don’t have a thermometer try it out anyways, just try to extend the baking time a little longer so your loaves fully cook. See if that helps and let me know! Happy baking 🙂

      • Kris

        Thanks for the tip! I do have an instant read thermometer that I can’t live without lol! I will try reducing the oven temp as you suggested as my crust was dark and beautiful. Could the amount of salt or type of salt make a difference? I just used table salt, and measured everything with my scale. Our climate here in my part of Canada sounds very similar to yours, except for the elevation, and I feel your recipe has worked great so far. I know my perfect loaf is out there somewhere, and I have taken great inspiration from your blog and instragram posts! Thanks for taking the time to help out me 🙂

        • You know, I have actually only ever made bread with sea salt. I prefer the taste and buy it in bulk so I’ve just always used that. I would assume table salt would work just fine but you could try sea salt sometime and see if you notice a difference (probably not). Just make sure you get fine sea salt, it needs to readily dissolve in water.

          You’re very welcome, thanks again for the comments and keep at it!

  • Amanda

    Hi Maurizio,
    Great blog! I am loving all your helpful photos and explanations. I have a few questions I hope you can help me with. I would really like to make a predominately whole wheat loaf and have been using the whole wheat recipe from the Tartine book (70% whole wheat, 30% white). I’ve made it a few times and it is decent but the crumb is a bit dense and the loaves are on the small side. Reading your comments here, you seem to really suggest starting with the mostly white loaf and moving on from there. I would really really prefer mostly whole wheat, so do you have any suggestions for what to pay attention to when starting this way? Also, I’ve been thinking about adding a bit of gluten to my whole wheat flour to lighten it up a tad – any thoughts on this? Finally, I’ve been doing the overnight proofing because that schedule works best, but I want to confirm that the dough does not rise at all in the fridge. Your loaves look so soft and lovely when coming out of the fridge and I don’t know if they are rising at all or it’s just the difference of white to whole wheat dough.
    Thanks for your help! Amanda

    • Thank you Amanda, I appreciate that! First off I wanted to say that I hope to have some more recipes coming soon that have more whole wheat/whole grain flour in them so keep an eye out for those.

      The reason I recommend people start with more white flour is just so they get a feel for the process and then from there they know for what to look for at each step, can do everything easily and comfortably and then move on. I don’t think this is necessary by any means and if you’d like more whole wheat then that is totally fine — personally I love recipes with more whole wheat in them. Tons of flavor.

      The biggest thing to be aware of with recipes that have a majority of whole wheat is that they will ferment much faster than a mostly-white dough. When making these recipes I like to usually reduce my levain percentage (instead of something like 20% ill go down to 15% or so) or expect to bake with a shorter proof time than what I list here. Just watch the dough and not the clock, as they say. If it looks like your dough is fermenting faster than what you’d expect shorten the timeline.

      I’m not sure what effect the added gluten would have (I’ve never used it) but you could, instead, use 30% “Bread” flour instead of “all purpose”, this would give you more strength in your dough if that’s what you’re looking for. I don’t think this will solve your dense loaf issue, though, but it might be worth experimenting with.

      Your loaves could be dense for a number of reasons but at the start you should expect your bread to be a bit more on the dense side when compared with mostly white loaves. This doesn’t mean your bread will be any less flavorful (in fact I find it more flavorful) or light and airy, it just means you won’t quite get the same rise and structure. If your loaves are very, very dense and gummy then it could be that they are under-proofed and need more time in the fridge or a little extra time in bulk fermentation. I would find this hard to believe, though, as I said whole grains usually ferment much faster. The interior of your loaves should look uniformly open (i.e. uniform holes throughout) without any gummy spots.

      I usually do not see too much rise coming out of the fridge either, I wouldn’t worry to much about that. My fridge is set to 38ºF but if yours is very, very cold (like 32-34ºF) then that would certainly slow things down too far. You could let your dough sit in final shape in their proofing baskets on the counter for 30m or so before tossing them into the fridge to counter any really cold temperatures.

      I hope those comments help! If you’re still having issues feel free to shoot me an email (Contact link at top) with some pictures of your next bake and we can explore further. Have fun with it, the outcome is (almost) always edible 🙂

      • Amanda

        Thanks for your help! My latest loaves were much lighter – still a thick heavy crust and a bit gummy, but I’m still only a handful of loaves in to bread baking. I’ll have to comb through your blog for ideas on those issues. 🙂

  • Nivedita Sahasrabudhe

    Hi Maurizio,
    Have you baked any of your loaves in a cold combo cooker or dutch oven? It seems that folks at King Arthur and thefreshloaf.com haven’t found any difference baking in cold dutch oven versus in a pre-heated one. That doesn’t make sense – wouldn’t a cold pot with such a large mass use up a lot of heat to get hot and then start radiating that heat to the dough inside? In any case, just curious if you’d tried it and what your experience was? It would make loading a lot easier! Thanks! If I try it I’ll report back.

    • I have never baked with a cold Dutch oven, I’ve always preheated it. I agree with you, it would seem like the cold DO would take too long to get up to heat and compromise oven spring in your loaves. Can’t be sure though since I’ve never tried it! Let me know if you do 🙂

  • Paul Martin

    Great article! Question: My oven only goes to 240C (464F), Can you recommend how I should adjust the oven times from the 20 mins covered/30 uncovered? Any rule of thumb? In the past I’ve adjusted the times only slightly, by ten minutes or so, but somtimes gotten a denser loaf.

    • Thanks! I would say make sure your oven is preheated for a full hour, possibly 1.5 hours, to ensure at least you have maximal heat in your baking stones (and Dutch oven if using). I would also not touch the temperature from 464ºF on your oven, just leave it at that temp the entire baking duration.

      In terms of time, I would say you’re probably right on: 10 minutes more should do it. Really how long you bake also depends on other factors (altitude, how quickly your oven gets back up to temp after opening, etc) so I would recommend, in addition to the above, lengthen your bake until your loaves look done to you. Internal loaf temps should be 210ºF+ so that is a good minimum, but beyond that cook until the crust is colored to your liking. I like to bake dark!

      Hope that helps 🙂

      • Paul Martin

        I’m going to use the dutch oven next time. Thanks again for your thoughful reply.

  • Matteo

    Ciao Maurizio! You’ve done a very useful web-site. Thanks!
    I’m studying a plan to bake during the week. I’d like understand if it’s possibile combine my working hours with baking hours 🙂 Could bulk fermentation last more than 4 hours ?

    • Thanks! Yes, it can definitely last longer than 4 hours, it depends on the temperature of your dough and also what flour you’re using in your bake. Warmer temperatures and more whole grain flour speed up fermentation whereas colder temperatures and more white flour slow things down. One technique you could use is to do a “cold bulk” where you actually place your dough into the refrigerator for the duration of bulk fermentation. You’ll still want to you do your stretch and folds to build strength but you could do a shorter bulk, say 2 hours, and then toss it into the fridge until you’re ready to proceed the next day with preshape and shape. Just be sure to let your dough come up to room temperature when you pull it out of the fridge before doing preshape (or you could divide and preshape the cold dough and let it rest in preshaped boules on the counter before final shaping).

      Hope that helps!

      • Matteo

        Perfect! Thanks a lot! I’ll let you know the result!

  • Anouk

    Hi Maurizio! You are a real master, learned so much from your site and only just getting started with sourdough. Already some experience with Dutch oven bread, but more no-knead + fridge fermentation. I’ve baked my first beginner’s sourdough bread and they did not come out that great. https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B2mY5b2Z9CxHYW5vdG5OT1ZNVW8 Flavor is good but crumb is too dense. Some clues: if I compare my dough with yours, mine seemed more wet (I used KA flour), it did not seem to strengthen as much after folding/stretching (I did an extra round). I monitored ambient temperature during autolyse and bulk fermentation (don’t own a food thermometer). Also, I forgot to let the dough rest for 20 minutes at ambient T before putting it in the fridge. When I took it out of the fridge this morning (38F), it had not risen much and seemed too dense. Maybe I should have let it rest at ambient temperature before putting in the oven? When I took it out of the oven, it had not expanded much. There are larger holes throughout the loave but overall it’s too dense. I need some more practice – thanks for your help!!

    • Anouk thank you so much for the comments, I’m really glad I could help! Your dough looks under-fermented to me, you definitely need to try to get some more activity in there. First make sure your starter is strong and it’s rising and falling predictably. When you make your levain and you’re about to use it, take a spoonful and drop it into a glass of water — it should float in there on its own. If it does not float then it needs more time to “ripen”.

      Once you levain is strong and ready to be used in your mix make sure you’re doing a full and complete bulk fermentation. Also, make sure your dough temperature is between 76-82ºF, a nice warm bulk is key to building significant activity in your dough. Look at the images I’ve posted in this entry and make sure your things look similar. By the end of bulk fermentation you want your dough to be gassy, the dough should giggle when you shake the bowl and it should have risen significantly. I can’t stress enough how important a full bulk fermentation is!

      Your dough should rise in the fridge overnight during your proof but it won’t be significant, I wouldn’t worry about that too much, however, your dough didn’t have enough fermentation (this is displayed through the majority of your crumb which has a bit of a dense structure to it and there are only several, large holes throughout).

      I hope that helps, keep me posted!

      I hope those comments help — the key here is to let your dough ferment much more!

      • Anouk

        Thanks for alllll the tips!! I will investigate further 😉 Quick question: you mention a nice warm bulk is very important, but how about doing a partly cold bulk then (like what I’ve read in other comments)? Do you need to make sure your dough has fermented enough before you put it in the fridge, or can you get some more ferment during proofing stage done at warm ambient temperature? Curious to know because some flexibility can come in handy (with a toddler around…).

        • I hear you on the flexibility with a toddler in the house 🙂 A cold bulk will work very well, you don’t really have to let it ferment before placing into the fridge, but you can if you’d like. Just think of placing your dough in the fridge as slowing things down a lot. So you could ferment on the counter for a few stretch and folds, then pop into the fridge overnight and then take out in the morning and let it go until its ready to divide. Or you could mix your dough and then toss it in the fridge right away and then let it ferment overnight and divide in the morning.

          There is a lot of flexibility there. Just remember you’re after the same thing no matter how you do your bulk: a full and complete bulk that strengthens the dough properly. You want to see rise in the dough, strength and elasticity. It will definitely take some experimentation but that’s where your intuition as a baker comes in!

          I hope that helps. I do plan to have a writeup coming soon where I do a cold bulk for a 100% whole wheat sourdough. Happy baking!

  • Payam Gerami

    Hi Maurizio,
    Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge.
    With the method that you described above, the only way I can bake bread is to stay home or around home on Saturdays, prepare the dough and bake on Sunday.
    I would really appreciate if you could give me some tips to better fit bread baking into my schedule.
    Would this method work:
    -Take out the starter from the fridge on Thursday around 8 pm and feed it around 10 pm
    -Make the leaven on Friday morning around 6:30 am and put it in the fridge around 5:30 pm
    -Take out the leaven from the fridge and make the dough in a 1-2 hour window (is that possible? how?)
    -Bake on Sunday morning

    • Payam, I’m glad to help! Unfortunately sourdough does take time, but you can usually work it around your schedule.

      I’ve never refrigerated my leaven, in theory it could work but I would prefer to not place it into the fridge as the cold temps could affect bacteria/yeast production.

      What you could do is:
      – Take your starter out Thursday at 8pm, feed it at 10pm and leave it out on counter.
      – Friday morning take a part of your starter and make a leaven to last 10 hours on the counter (you’d probably need to use something like 10-20% mature starter, something small depending on your ambient temperature
      – When you get home from work Friday at around 4-5pm do your mix and make your bread, this usually takes around 4-5 hours
      – Bake your bread in the morning on Saturday

      There really are endless ways to fit it into your schedule and it is possible! Shoot me over an email (the Contact link at top of this page) if you need some more examples.

      I hope that helps!

  • Elias Ghitman

    Hi Maurizio!

    Such a great article and website. The way you layout the information makes it easy to understand and it definitely sparks confidence to give naturally yeasted bread making a shot. I actually gave it a second try last night but I had the same result. During the bulk phase the dough seems to die. It doesn’t rise or have any bubbles going on. I’m hoping you don’t mind giving me some advice.

    I’ve had my starter for about 3 months now … It would like to be fed three times a day but I don’t have time as I work 8 hours and typically end up at the gym after so every 12 hours is what works for me. It’s a 100% hydration AP flour starter. Since I planned to make the bread I fed it very early. That way it would be at peak action when I built the levain. I got the levain going and 5 hours later I thought I was on the right track cause the levain nearly tripled in size and was domed. I got it into the autolyse and pinched it in … it took a couple minutes of pinching and squeezing and folding to get the moisture of the reserved water and levain to incorporate. I contiued with your directions but it just never rose. The dough changed characteristics as I was folding it. It seemed to be doing what it should be but it never did rise. I let it contiue to bulk ferment on the counter til morning to see if it just needed more time but it didn’t rise any more although there were big bubbles on the surface. If this goes like last time, once I bake it it’ll taste good but because there’s no rise (or much of an oven spring) it stays super dense.

    How do I trouble shoot this? I can’t wait to have the process down … I’ve already promised my family olive bread and cheese bread and even chocolate bread. Maybe I should have waited on any promises LoL 🙂

    • Thanks, I appreciate that!

      It sounds like everything is going correctly for you, very strange that the dough doesn’t rise at all — you should see some rise. The fact that you see bubbles is a good sign, though. Does the dough feel overly wet? Like so wet it’s almost like soup? If it’s over-hydrated then you might not see any rise at all — just a thought.

      Have you strengthened the dough at all through stretch and folds in the bowl during Mix time and also Bulk Fermentation? Your dough does need some initial strength to it.

      75-77ºF is actually a really good temperature for bulk fermentation. In fact, I prefer it closer to 80ºF.

      I hope we can get to the bottom of this for you and your family!! 🙂

      • Elias Ghitman

        Hey there – thank you for the response… I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your guidance. I’ve made Challah and cinnamon rolls with commercial yeast but I’m become a wild/natural yeast snob; or trying to at least 😛 It’s a very different process but I’m starting to understand that the trick is in knowing how ones yeast responds in it’s environment and having the patients to figure that out.

        To answer your questions: The dough isn’t very wet. It’s sticky, so I had to wet my fingers to do the 4 folds but I definitely wouldn’t describe it as having the consistency of soup or batter. The more time that passed and the more folds I did the less it seemed like a mixture of water and flour and the more it felt like dough (if that makes sense).

        I’m thinking for next time – which will hopefully be this weekend – I’ll do a couple more stretch and folds to give more structure for the CO2 to do it’s thing… what do you think? Also, I have a sneaky suspicion that my roommate blasted the AC while I was out so I’m gonna put the dough in the drawer under the oven which should help the dough stay closer to 80 degrees. I’ll let you know how it goes.

        I will add that although there wasn’t much of a rise there was a fairly good oven spring so the loaf actually was beautiful and the crumb was okay. I can’t wait to see how it comes out once it get the rise going.

        • Sure thing! Yes give it a few more sets of stretch and folds, it sounds like that would help quite a bit.

          80ºF would be perfect. Sounds good, happy baking Elias!

  • Gabby Lambie

    HI Maurizio. I’ve spent the day attempting my very first sourdough bread! I’ve done so much reading in preparation (Tartine of course, Peter Reinhart’s books, The Bread builders etc)…Practiced with breads made from poolish and bigas while I waited for my starter to be ready for baking… looked at countless YouTube videos… but after coming across your website, I chose this recipe for my very first attempt! Your articles are so easy to read and so full of information. Thank you!
    The dough are safely tucked into the refrigerator for the night. Things went well until I got to the shaping. As I mentioned in another comment, my kitchen is quite warm as I live in the Caribbean and I found that during the bulk fermentation I got so much rise out of the dough! The dough completely filled the bowl I was working with and was about to overflow. So I cut the bulk short by half an hour. I thought since i saw the domed shaped you mentioned and air bubbles that it would be okay. I had also added one extra set of stretch and folds than the directions here called for because I thought the dough didn’t seem as ‘strong’ as I’ve seen and read described before.
    When it was time for the shaping the dough was basically a goopy mess. For the preshape I resorted to doing this swift, circular, swooping motion with just the bench scraper because my hands, wet or floured, were sticking to the dough way too much. They both flattened out a lot in the 20 min rest phase. I managed with the final shape after a couple attempts but I am sure I did not develop as much surface tension as I have with other dough in the past.
    Is the reason for my problems with the shaping that I cut the bulk fermentation too short? Should I just use a larger bowl next time and allow the dough to rise however much it wants to or can my warm kitchen make the dough ferment too much during a 4 hour rise?
    My fingers are crossed that I get some decent loaves in the morning when I bake. Can’t wait! I feel like it’s Christmas eve night!
    Thanx in advance for any helpful tips you can offer.

    • Wow that’s great to hear, happy you chose one of my recipes from all those excellent resources. Happy about that 🙂

      How did they turn out?

      The goopy mess could be caused by a few things. First when I hear that I usually think the flour has been over hydrated and/or you haven’t built up enough strength in the dough through mixing or during bulk fermentation. Because your environment is probably much, much more humid than where I live you might want to try to reduce the hydration of this recipe by 5-10%. If you don’t want to go that route you could try to strengthen the dough a little more during mix time by stretching and folding the dough a few more minutes in the bowl before entering bulk. Or you could also add 1-2 more sets of stretch and folds during bulk. Ultimately all these changes do the same thing: increase strength in the dough.

      Next time you try this give the dough a little tug with a wet hand when you think bulk should be over. The dough should resist your pulling on it, it should feel stronger than when you started bulk. That strength is a result of proper fermentation in the dough.

      I would suggest next time to try and use a larger bowl for sure, this will give you some space even if you still cut bulk at the same time. It’s good to have the option 🙂 Also, try to go for the full 4 hours and see if it makes a difference — if the dough is still way, way too sticky and slack then you should either reduce hydration or add more stretch and folds to increase strength.

      I hope that helps, let me know how it goes!

      • Gabby Lambie

        Thank you so much for your tips. I’ve been baking at least twice a week and been trying your suggestions. I reduced the hydration to 70% and added a few minutes of stretch and folds before the bulk fermentation. This has helped greatly and has also allowed me to practice my shaping technique. I’ve since increased to 72% and plan to work my way up to 75% then 80% (although i think it will be some time before I get all the way 80%! But I’ll get there! )

        Quite out of necessity one day, I ended up mixing a dough in the late evening, letting it bulk ferment for 4 hours, with 5 sets of folds at 30 mins intervals then left the dough in the fridge overnight before dividing and shaping. The following day, after about 12 hrs in refrigerator, I divided and shaped the dough immediately after removing it from the refrigerator, let them proof at room temperature and baked them. The thing i really ended up liking about this method ( i’ve used it several times so far) is that I’m shaping cold dough which i find to be a lot easier. However, when the loaves are going through the final proof, they sometimes don’t proof uniformly. As in, the poke test yields different results at different spots. And when I bake them, i get an incredible oven spring in half of the loaf, but the other side is noticeably lower. Should I let the entire mass of dough come to room temperature before I divide and shape? If i do, would that then mean that I’m extending the bulk fermentation to much? If so, could I instead let the dough bulk ferment for a shorter time after mixing, say 2 hours, then refrigerate, then it gets it’s extra 2 hours of bulk fermentation the next morning while it comes to room temperature (which would essentially take away the pro of my getting to shaping cold dough….) I’m interested in this method because it works well with my daily schedule and allows me to stay out of my kitchen during the hottest part of the day here – between 2pm and 6pm. I can mix and bulk ferment after 6pm, go to bed at a relatively decent hour, wake early the next morning and shape, proof and bake then be out of the kitchen. What are your views/ experience with retarding after bulk fermentation as opposed to after the final shape?

        Oh and i should also mention- the quality of my loaves has consistently improved . The crust is divine! the crumb is a lot more open than before. Oven spring is improved except for the when i overproof, and the overall aesthetic (ears etc) has also gotten better. I think for now my issues are really with the final proof- getting an even proof throughout and figuring out exactly when to stop the process so they aren’t over or under proofed- and my scoring needs some work too!

        • That’s great news! Glad my tips have helped.

          Sounds like a great method! I’ve never retarded my dough at that step in the process but it should work out just fine — I know many bakers do this for varying reasons. I’m wondering, could the area you placed your dough have an uneven cooling effect on it? Perhaps the back section of the dough is near the cooling vent or some such thing? I’m guessing that since the dough is one mass it must not be getting equally cooled due to some external factor.

          I wouldn’t let the dough come up to room temperature before dividing, but you could try it out and see how it works. Shaping cold dough is definitely much easier! I’d say divide the cold dough and preshape it. Let it rest in preshape for a while until it spreads out and relaxes, then shape and place into baskets for final rise before baking. If you keep the dough at the same temperature everything should equalize to room temperature.

          Really great to hear about such improvements! I’d really like to hear if you try any of my suggestions above and how they work out. I actually keep meaning to bake this way myself, like you said it could provide for a really convenient baking schedule some days!

          Please keep me posted & happy baking 🙂

          • Gabby Lambie

            Hi Maurizio. So a quick update from my last message- after dividing and shaping the cold dough following the overnight cold retard immediately after the bulk fermentation, I placed it in the microwave as I figured that would provide a more controlled environment for the proof and would be away any drafts of air. This worked well so once I’m only doing one loaf at a time I use the microwave for the final proof.
            Some other developments – after baking just about everyday last week I feel like I’ve made some breakthroughs. Firstly, I’m now doing the slap and fold for about 15-20mins after mixing to develop strength in the dough and it works wonders! So exciting! I was using the stretch and fold in the bowl before and never got the same results. This has definitely helped with shaping! Especially when I follow the regular steps and don’t do a cold retard after bulk fermentation. Even scoring is easier and I’m consistently getting more oven spring and more pronounced ears. It’s seems like a lengthy slap and fold time but I know the flour I’m working with isn’t near the standard of what you use. The only unbleached flour sold here is organic and it’s very pricey so I use a mixture of organic unbleached bread flour and local bleached baker’s flour (I know! The horror! Such sacrilege!). I stick with the organic brands for my rye and whole wheat flours. Seriously considering importing some King Arthur’s and trying it. Secondly, someone with a small cafe asked me to do some small sourdough rolls for her to try. She wanted them to be 120g before baking. Way too small to be proofed in a banneton. After much deliberation I opted to go with my overnight retard after bulk, shape the small rolls and use a floured linen towel to proof them in the way baguettes are proofed. I also reduced the hydration to 67% for the rolls as they were going to be proofed almost free-standing. I’m happy with the results thus far. To bake these I steamed the oven using your method of soaked wet kitchen towels at the bottom of the oven and sprayed some water into the open immediately after loading as well. Got some good oven spring on them so I will continue to use that method. I’m really liking these mini sourdough boules!
            Thanks again for your help!
            One question – have you had any experience with ciabbata and baguettes?

            • Sorry for the late reply! Somehow I missed the notification for this message.

              I really love the slap and fold method for building strength in dough, it does help significantly. The key really is to develop just enough at the beginning to still allow for a few sets of stretch and folds during bulk — a good combination of the two.

              No worries on not using organic flour, we have to use what we have available!

              Excellent modifications for the rolls, I would do the same thing. There’s no real way to have baskets that small for proofing, it would be impossible. Proofing on canvas or even on a baking sheet would work really well (this is what I do with brioche rolls). I’ve been working on mini-sourdough rolls as well, I hope to have a recipe up here at some point.

              Unfortunately at this time I don’t have much experience with ciabatta and baguettes, but I will get there. Baguettes are kind of a very special bread and I haven’t had the opportunity yet to significantly focus on them — soon 🙂

              Really glad to hear your progress, thanks so much for the update and happy baking!

  • Marie

    Thanks for sharing this wealth of information!

    What adjustments do you recommend for a 2.5qt Dutch oven?

    • You’re very welcome!

      If your Dutch oven is smaller then I’d say just reduce the total quantity in the recipe to make a smaller boule (leave the percentages the same, though). You might still be ok, but it could be a tight fit!

  • Lon

    Maurizio,
    First, great page and I am leaning on you heavily for bread techniques and recipes since finding your site. I followed your 7 day starter to the letter and then made my first ever attempt at bread with your beginner sourdough. Mine came out great for the first time but I noticed some differences between yours and mine.
    1. For cooking the same amount of time, I didn’t have the crust or dark brown color that you developed. Mine was more of a honey brown and the crust had a crackle to it but pretty thin. Do I need to cook longer uncovered to develop that?
    2. My interior, while tasting great and my wife loves the soft sponge of it, is not as airy and pocketed as yours. Is that from a weak starter? I had some scheduling conflicts with work so my bread was in the fridge for over 16, maybe closer to 20 hours…could that have impacted? What does being in the fridge longer/shorter do to the bread?
    3. I cut into it while it was slightly warm to the touch, after about 2 hours of cooling on the wire rack. I didn’t see in your instructions how long to wait for the interior to set. Can you amend?
    Any advice for my second batch?

    • Thanks, glad you’re enjoying my site! Answers below:
      1. Yes, bake longer if you want a darker, more well-done crust. Baking times and temperatures are very dependent on your oven, altitude and environment. Adjust things as necessary, most likely you’ll just need to bake longer.
      2. Achieving an open crumb is the result of many things, your longer proof was probably fine. I wouldn’t say it was due to a “weak starter”, as long as your starter is rising and falling predictably after feeding it then it should be strong enough. You want to let your dough ferment fully during bulk, shape with sufficient tension so your dough will have a tight skin on the outside (but don’t shape too tight that you press out all the gasses in the dough), and let your dough fully ferment during proof. I realize these are all general statements but really it’s a combination of all these things that result in an open interior! I’d say just keep practicing and your interior will open up more and more each time, especially as you become attuned to the subtle signs through the entire process. The longer you proof your dough in the fridge the more acidic tasting your bread will be, the more tender it will become, and eventually when the gluten breaks down the rise in the oven will be sluggish. There’s a balance there between proofing just enough to where your dough is properly fermented but not so far that your loaves fail to rise in the oven. With this recipe you should be able to go 20 hours no problem.
      3. You can cut it any time you’d like, really, but if you wait to let the interior set it’s easier to cut without crushing the bread. 1-2 hours is fine, but I usually wait until later afternoon or even dinner before cutting. Again, totally up to you! I know cutting warm bread is an amazing thing 🙂

      I hope those tips help!

      • Lon

        Maurizio, what about bake time, temp, and the final result of the bread. I’ve been trying to find it online but I’m probably asking the wrong questions. What does the crumb feel/look like when under/over cooked? Many thanks!

        • Usually when it’s undercooked the crumb will be very gummy and chewy. You can actually see it, too, if you look at the cross section of the loaf.

          If it’s overcooked then it will be very dry inside and the outside will be, well, pretty much burned. 🙂

  • crowgirl

    Hi Maurizio, I am attempting my second batch of sourdough and I have realized, I don’t have room in my fridge for the bowls of dough to proof. How long should dough proof for if it’s not in the fridge? Obviously a lot less time, but is there a calculation of hour equivalency at room temp? It’s quite warm here at the moment, should I just look for physical signs like height, bubbles etc instead? Many thanks, Carole. And also, thanks again for your wonderful, informative blog!

    • Oh no! Yes, definitely look for physical signs for when the dough is ready to go in the oven. If you’ve never heard of the “poke test” Google that and it’s a great method for room temp proofed dough. I find that it’s usually around 3-4 hours, but again, very temperature dependent!

      Glad you’re enjoying the site and thanks for all the comments! Happy baking 🙂

  • CalRic

    What a great site. Thanks. My question has to do with the lack of “bounce” I get. The last loaf I made rose really well in my proof basket and was quite high. As soon as I removed it and sliced the top it began to fall. As I put it in a steam oven, it just rose a bit, but not enough for a really open crumb. Am I letting it rise too much before baking? The shaped loaf held well during final proof. Thanks for your help.

    • Thanks! It does sound like the dough has over proofed (too much time in final rise). There could be other causes for this (including insufficient strength in the dough through mixing and/or fermentation) but when I see this type of behavior it’s almost always the case. Try reducing your proof time a couple hours and see if that helps next time. Also, if you push your proof like this you have to score a little more shallow than normal, if you score too deeply then you could cause a collapse as well. Pulling back on your proof time will allow you to score deeper.

      Hope that helps — let me know how it goes!

  • Katie

    Hi, Maurizio!
    Today I baked my first sourdough bread with this recipe. How exciting. Thank you for your very informative and helpful site and for being able to comment and answer questions! It makes the process less intimidating.

    That being said, I have a handful of questions about the bake that may help make it better the next time:
    It tasted great and had a lot of great holes, but it was gummy in texture. What makes it gummy?
    Additionally, it didn’t seem to rise as much as in the picture. It definitely hadn’t doubled in size in my bulk fermentation and I don’t know why, and it didn’t rise at all overnight in the fridge. It barely rose when it baked, so it was more flat when it came out of the oven. The crust didn’t turn the beautiful color like in the pictures, but it was still crunchy and tasty.
    My kitchen temperature is probably between 80 and 84 degrees fahrenheit.
    Finally, I put my starter in the fridge until next week, however, it still does not fall. I know I had asked you about the rising/falling in the 7 steps post, and you said it should fall eventually, but it never does. It will rise and rise and just not fall and if it does fall it will only fall about 1/8 inch.

    Any advice is so helpful for my beginning bakes. I want to get good at this, and am willing to put in all the work and attempts!

    Thank you again
    Katie

    • Katie

      My other questions:
      What does it mean when you say 100% hydration or 50% hydration?

      Additionally, do you have any sourdough books you recommend for beginning sourdough bakers? I think where I struggle and get intimidated is the lack of understanding and lack of knowledge regarding the science behind how sourdough works. I know a lot of it is trial and error but I feel as though I lack a basic knowledge so it is hard for me to understand why things are/are not working.

      Thanks!!

      • 100% hydration means we are using as much water as flour. Everything is calculated in relation to the amount of flour used. For example 100g water and 100g flour = 100% hydration (100g water divided by 100g flour times 100 for a percentage).

        Similarly, 50% is: 50g water and 100g flour (50g water divided by 100g flour times 100 = 50%).

        I’d say the best beginning book is Ken Forkish’s Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast. It has a great intro to baking bread in general as well as plenty of recipes and more advanced material.

        Let me know if you have any more questions (email me or comment). Happy baking!

    • Katie, sorry for the late reply! I’m really happy to help 🙂

      Usually a gummy interior is due to insufficient fermentation in the dough. Make sure you’re going for a full 4 hour bulk at around 78ºF – 80ºF. The warm temperatures are really key here with this recipe. It sounds like your kitchen is nice and warm so that’s a good thing. It’s ok if you didn’t notice much rise in the dough overnight in the fridge.

      I’m worried about your lack of rise during bulk, though. It might be that your starter needs a little more TLC before we attempt the next bake. Try to keep it out of the fridge for a week and do consistent feedings (2x a day if possible, once in the morning and once at night). I know you mentioned a few times now that it doesn’t fall but that’s ok (although I’ve never experienced this myself), let’s try to use other cues for when to feed it. It should start to smell more and more sour, acidic, alcoholic (slightly) when you need to feed it again, typically for me this is 10-12 hours after I feed 15g starter with 100g flour and 100g water — usually at around 77ºF.

      Keep this up for a week and see if your starter gains strength and maybe, just maybe, it might start to fall as well 🙂

      Also, if you could send me over a photo of your starter when you feed it that would be awesome. I want to see what it looks like from the top and side after 12 hours or so. Email me: maurizio (at) theperfectloaf.com.

      We’ll get you up and running here!

  • willockboy

    Maurizio,

    Many thanks for such a great site.

    I’ve just baked my second batch of “Beginner’s Sourdough bread” and really enjoy the taste and texture. However, can you help me with the texture of the dough at the start of the bulk fermentation. I’ve used far less water than your recipe but have still ended up with a “wet” dough. I assume that the quantity of water required will depend on the flour used and, in my case, it has been strong white bread flour.

    Can you give me an indication of the recommended feel and texture of the dough at the point of bulk fermentation?

    Your help would be appreciated.

    • You’re very welcome, thanks for the kind words!

      Conveying the “feel” of the dough at each step in this process is a difficult thing without actually touching the dough, I try and take as many photos of the process as possible to help with this, but the absence of true tactile interaction is tough. At the beginning of bulk the dough should feel shaggy, wet, weak (but still extensible due to the autolyse). If you fold the dough over itself it will want to spread back out, it won’t hold it’s shape very easily. As you (and fermentation) strengthens dough over the span of the bulk fermentation step you’ll notice the dough gets stronger, it will hold its shape more readily when folded, and if you tug on it you’ll notice some resistance, the elasticity of the dough will increase.

      This strengthening is crucial, and developing that sense for how the dough strengthens during bulk is a very important thing. Next time you bake this really observe the dough during this 4 hour (or so) period, take note of how it feels in your hand when you stretch it and how it’s texture changes (smooth vs. shaggy). Once you step back and really observe the dough you’ll begin to develop that intuition for when your dough is not strong enough and perhaps needs another stretch and fold or a longer bulk.

      I hope that helps!

      • willockboy

        Maurizio

        That’s really helpful and many thanks for taking the trouble to respond.

  • Jill Murphy

    Hi Maurizio,
    Thanks so much for this site. It has given me heaps of confidence to get started.

    I baked my first batch of “Beginners Sourdough Bread” yesterday – I was so nervous to get it right and excited to take the lid off the cooker to see the loaf having cracked open and looking quite beautiful. The result was amazing and I can feel this is going to become an obsession!

    I have been working with an Alaskan Sourdough starter for the past few months and whilst the taste is great the loaf is dense and heavy. It was such a thrill to cut into my loaf yesterday to the snap/crackle of the crust and see the big open crumb.

    • You’re very welcome and I’m really happy to hear that! Glad to hear that first attempt was such a good one. Baking sourdough does quickly become an obsession, trust me I know all about it 🙂

      Usually a dense/heavy crumb is do to insufficient fermentation in the dough. Try letting your dough sit out on the counter after shaping and in their baskets for an hour or so before you place it into the refrigerator, this will let fermentation continue for a while longer before slowing.

      if you’re still having issues shoot me over an email (through the Contact link at top) and we’ll get to squared away.

      Happy baking and thanks for the comments!

  • Alexandra

    Dear Maurizio, Thank you very much for your wonderful blog. Yesterday I started making my first sourdough bread and everything went very well. But this morning when I took the bread out of the fridge and tried to remove the bowl and floured towel, the towel would not come off! I am so sad! Why is the towel not coming off?! Any ideas?

    • Hi, Alexandra! You’re welcome, thanks for the kind words. Did you dust the towel with white rice flour? Using a light coating of white rice flour will help absorb moisture and let your dough easily fall from the towel. You don’t need a lot, but make sure you use enough to let the dough come off cleanly.

      Hope that helps!

  • lucia

    Hi, I’ve been wanting to bake sourdough bread for a long time and finding your blog has been an inspiration. I just have a few questions, if I dont have a combo cooker or dutch oven, what else can I use? Also, for the steam you mentioned happens in the combo cooker, could i spray water inside the oven? Thanks a lot, wonderful blog!

    • Really glad to hear that! There are a few things you could do, spraying water inside the oven is the first thing. Just get a (clean) handheld mister and spray in the oven when you load and 5 minutes after. Perhaps another 5 minutes after that.

      One better would be if you have a baking stone to place your dough on the stone then invert an oven-safe bowl on top (one that is tall and wide enough to let the dough expand) — this bowl will trap the steam generated in the same way a Dutch oven will.

      Finally, the one I use, is to have a pan on the bottom of your oven where you throw 1-2 cups of ice into when you load your dough. If you look at my Recipes link at the top, scroll down to my article on How to Steam Your Home Oven for more information.

      On all of these please be careful! There’s a lot of heat in that oven and steam can burn. Get a good pair of oven safe mitts, preferably ones that extend up your forearm.

      Happy baking!

  • theo theodosiou

    Hi Maurizio
    Amazing bread,mthanks for the inspiration.
    I was wondering how you could incorporate a mixer with a dough hook into your process and still achieve the same results.
    Do you think this would be possible? Have you experimented wih a mixer or have you always baked with a manual process?

    • Thank you!

      I’ve never used a mixer for bread only for brioche or other baked goods. You could certainly use a mixer for the upfront mixing process. Just mix the dough in your mixer to the same level of development as you would by hand, that is, not full development but more like “medium”. Then you can finish adding strength in the dough during bulk fermentation with stretch and folds.

      It’s hard to give guidelines on just how long to mix, but I would typically stick with first speed and go for maybe 5 minutes or so. That will require some tweaking.

      Hope that helps!

      • theo theodosiou

        Thanks for the prompt response, I will continue experimenting.
        Keep up the good work on this blog as your work is amazing.

  • Atoosa

    Hello Maurizio, Many thanks or our great blog!! I am making your beginner sourdough and I have followed your instruction, my dough is quite soft and when I put it on the floured surface it was hard to follow your instruction from there so I just put it in a proofing bowl and transfer it to the fridge, have I done something wrong? what will you suggest me to do for the next time? Many Many thanks!

    • You’re very welcome! Maybe your dough didn’t have enough strength to it? If it spread out and was very slack and weak feeling just make sure next time you do the listed stretch and folds to add strength to the dough as described above.

      Additionally, make sure your starter (and levain) are in strong working order. The key to making great sourdough is a strong starter! Follow my starter guides on my Recipes (link at top) page on how to get it fermenting and performing at its best.

      Hope that helps and let me know if you have any more questions!

  • Stanley Dorst

    Maurizio,
    I made my first loaf of this bread the other day. It ended up coming out fairly well in terms of taste, but I had to make adjustments because the dough hardly rose at all by the end of the time in the refrigerator. I had to let it sit out at room temperature for 2 hours to get to the point where the traditional poke test (minimal spring back after poking with a finger) said it was ready to bake (straight out of the refrigerator it didn’t hold an indentation at all, but sprang back immediately). Even then, there was not a lot of oven spring, and the crumb was not as open as yours.

    I’m wondering what may account for my problems. One thought is that my starter is 100% AP flour. Given what you have said about starter liking to have the same ingredients all the time, I wonder if using it in a recipe that includes whole wheat and rye made it unhappy, and not as active as usual. Another possibility is that I may have overdeveloped the dough with my stretch and folds — it was fairly resistant to being stretched by the last fold.

    I plan to try it again, of course. I’m wondering what you would suggest trying this time?

    Thanks for any suggestions you can give me.

    Stan

    • Stanley — good move on making those adjustments, it’s a good example of “reading the dough” and changing what’s necessary for your bake.

      There could be a bunch of reasons why your dough wasn’t as active as it could be. First is to make sure your starter and levain are in top shape and actively fermenting before you use it — this is critical. You want to build your levain from your starter when it’s mature and well expanded. Likewise, you want to use your levain when it’s well fermented (it’ll smell like ripe fruit, slightly sour but not sharp).

      I like to gradually change feeding flour from type to type but it’s not absolutely mandatory, as long as your starter is strong it should be fine. Feeding your starter all purpose is totally fine, but you could try a mix of all purpose and whole wheat or all purpose and rye if you want to see even more fermentation activity.

      A few ideas: make sure your dough temperature is warm enough. I always shoot for a final dough temp between 78-80F, and I try to keep my dough there during the entire bulk fermentation. Keeping the dough warm helps increase fermentation activity significantly. Lengthen your bulk fermentation until your dough looks similar to mine in the photos above. Your dough should have risen significantly, jiggle in the bowl and potentially have bubbles on top — you can really push bulk, especially with strong flour like the ones used here or King Arthur Bread Flour.

      I love Giusto’s flour, it’s an incredible product, but you can definitely get some great bread with King Arthur (also love their stuff!).

      I hope these suggestions help! Let me know how it goes the next bake — happy baking Stanley.

  • Debara Ragsdale

    Hi Maurizio,
    I played around with natural yeast doughs a few years ago. I had more success with a Desem than with a wetter start. Recently my daughter made a sourdough starter which is pretty strong. I came across your website, which is great, and I made your beginner sourdough loaf. I used a stone and created steam similar to you with a large pan filled with lava rocks and a chain. The crumb is the best I have ever achieved, but the dough is a little undercooked but the crust is quite dark, a little darker than I prefer. Any ideas to help get the bread cooked thoroughly with a lighter crust. Thanks for sharing all of your research.

    Deb R.

    • Deb, so sorry for the late reply I’ve been out on travel! That’s great to hear! You could try lowering the heat 15-25ºF from what I’ve listed here so the bake goes longer without scorching the crust. Each oven is different and it almost always requires a modification. Additionally, if you’re baking on a baking stone (or Baking Steel) you could reduce the preheat time or preheat temperature a bit so the stone isn’t quite so hot.

      I’d try reducing the overall baking temperature first, that’s usually what fixes the issue for me! Happy baking 🙂

  • Alicia Rudin

    Maurizio!
    I found your blog while searching for a way to make my own sour dough starter. I’m a reasonably experienced bread baker when using dried yeast and thought adding sour dough to my repetoire (sp) would be fun. I followed your directions to make my starter and have mostly followed your directions to make my first batch of sour dough. Thanks! The first two loaves turned our beautifully! I’m looking forward to baking more! Thanks!

    • Hi there! Thank you so much for the feedback and I’m really happy to hear this! Here’s to more sourdough — happy baking!

  • Alan S

    Hi! Excellent site!
    May I ask some questions?
    After mix the levain with the autolysed dough can I just dissolve the salt in the 50g reserved water and pour it on the autolysed dough and mix it?

    Can I let the bulk fermentation on the same bowl I used to mix?

    How to reduce the acid taste on the dough? Mine got a bit more sour than I expected.

    How do you keep the parchment paper from sticking at the bottom of the bread? Mine got almost impossible to remove.

    Thanks!

    • Alan — thank you so much!

      Yes, you can definitely dissolve the salt in the remaining water and add it to the autolysed dough (after the autolyse period is over). I don’t usually do this (but I do know a lot of bakers will) because I am sometimes pushing hydration and I may not add all the water but I still need to add all the salt.

      Yes, you can continue to bulk in the same mixing bowl — not a problem.

      To reduce the acidity you can do a few things: reduce the amount of whole grains used, reduce the length of proof in the fridge (this is what I will typically do), and finally reduce the levain percentage in the mix. There are other things that can be done but these three are the easiest to modify.

      That’s interesting. My parchment never sticks to my bread, it just slides right off. You could lightly flour the top of your dough when it’s in its proofing basket before you turn it out onto the parchment paper. I would recommend using white rice flour here or cornmeal.

      Hope that helps, happy baking!

  • Alexandra Furmansky

    Hi Maurizio!

    Your breadnlooks stunningly beautiful – one word- perfection!
    I am a beginner here and chose your beginner’s recipe for my first attempt. However, I did push for higher hydration ratio (from your “my best recipe”). So all the ingredients amounts were as suggested in you begginer’s recipe, except for water – to add higher hydration ratio. I used a generic supermarket bread flour, organic arrowhead WW and rye flour. The final dough at the stage of pre-shaping did not hold the shape at all. I did see a lot of bubbles, but it seemed to be it was overgudeated.
    About my starter – it is 7 days old WW flour 100% hydration starter. I already made it when I found your starter recipe. So it was different than yours. It was very active at the time of using it, more than doubled and passed a float test. The levain was also very active when I put it in the flour after autolyse.

    I would love to make a successful first sourdough read with the recipe but still want to increase hydration ratio; I do agree with your opinion on what house hydration ratio gives to the bread.

    Please help me with your advice of what did I do wrong? And what highest hydration ratio is appropriate for this recipe?

    Thank you so much!

    • Thank you so much Allie! Really appreciate that.

      Sounds like your starter and levain are/were in great shape — that’s good news. If your dough was overly wet and didn’t have sufficient strength it could be that the flour you are using just isn’t able to take on as much water as you used. I would recommend dialing back the hydration 5-10% and then try again. It’s best to slowly increase the amount of water in your dough until you know for sure your flour can handle it. This recipe can take on only as much water as your flour can support. In other words you could definitely crank it up to 85% hydration or more but your flour has to be able to handle it.

      Just reduce hydration next attempt and see how it feels. If the dough feels super stiff and dry add a bit more next time, and a bit more the next, and so on. One thing to keep in mind is as you increase the amount of water you will also need to increase the strength in the dough to follow suit. Add in one or two more sets of stretch and folds during bulk as you go up in hydration.

      Hope that helps let me know if you have any more questions!

    • Allie F

      Hi Maurizio! Thank you so so much for the advise – it’s incredibly helpful…when I was analyzing my first attempt, I had a feeling one of the reasons could be – the flour, but did not know about this property of flour – how it takes the water. Intuitively rather, I did reduce the hydration ratio to 78.6 the next time, that happened yesterday, and today, I baked my first sourdough bread! Yay!

      I have to tell you that the taste and aroma were absolutely perfect! It was incredibly flavorful and it was a complex taste! So good! So I used this recipe with higher hydration ratio.
      It definetly held its shape better, but I still think it did not have enough strength to hold it fully. I used the same flour but now I know I should probably change it (will try KING Arthur).
      The loaf has a beautiful open crumb but it did not rise as well as on your picture and possibly due too poor oven spring. I think the steam did not work out for me and maybe together with not being very strong – that’s the result.

      I also saw your comment from earlier time to somebody – to make suitable changes, according to your own starter, dough behavior, etc. I have noticed that it took longer to go smthriugh all the stages if I kept the temperature as recommended so I made them a bit higher.
      And a few questions based my first experience:
      1) The bread was a bit too chewy, it was not dense at all and was very moist, yet too chewy, what should I do to make it less?
      2)So with the hydration ratio of 78.6 – I did 4 sets of F&S…maybe I had to do more? And also spaced about 30 min apart?
      3) In order to see the dough increased substantially in size, I added one more hour of bulk fermentation, and actually the most increase happened during this last hour. I saw different sized bubbles, but the edges did not have this pronounced dome shape as I have noticed on your dough. Is this because of lack of strength? I saw plenty of bubbles all over. And saw them in the bread after it baked.
      4)And the last, the crust was a bit too think, what is your suggestion? Is it related to baking part of the process?
      Thank you in advance for answering my questions. You are very very helpful! Your blog and website is like a textbook! Super!

      • Awesome, so glad to hear that! Answers:
        1. Did you bake the loaves out fully? Usually a chewy interior is due to under baking — make sure you bake until the interior is above 210ºF. Another cause of an overly chewy crumb could be the use of too much high protein flour (I find this to be the case, at least) or too much distatic malt (if used).
        2. Spacing the folds 30m apart is good. It’s hard for me to say on the number of sets of stretch/folds… It really depends on the flour, hydration and how the dough is that day. Try giving it one more set next time and if the crumb is more closed then back off. It will take some experimentation!
        3. Yes it sounds like the lack of a domed shape is because there wasn’t as much strength in the dough. This is ok, but I like to see about as much of a dome as you see here in my photos. To me it sounds like you could have give the dough one more set of s/f like you mentioned.
        4. Hard to say on the crust thickness… I like to bake my loaves really hot in the beginning and then back off the heat towards the middle and end, I think this helps. Also I think sufficient steam in the oven also helps prevent the exterior of the dough from getting too thick, too fast.

        Hope that helps and I’m happy to give advice where I can! Happy baking 🙂

        • Allie F

          Thank you so much for detailed answers! They certainly help. I did change the bread flour to KA brand. The next time I’ll bake, I will use it. As to the temperature of the baked bread, I measured and it was 211F, so most likely, that unfortunate bread flour as it was majority of the flour, gave me a bunch of issues. So hopefully my next. Alexandra will be more successful! Again thank you for you help

  • nickretallack

    The instructions aren’t clear about how much flour you’re supposed to put in at the autolyse stage. Is it the amount from the dough formula minus the amount used in the levain? Do you have to figure in the 18g of levain you are discarding? Can you make this more clean what the actual measurements are?

    • All of the flour in the Dough Mix section goes into the autolyse stage.

      The levain is built separately and does not affect the Dough Mix. Make the levain as indicated in the Levain Mix section, let it ferment for the called for amount of time, then add the called for “levain” in after the autolyse stage.

      Hope that helps. I’ll add some words above to make this more clear, thanks for the message!

  • Vicki Lee

    Just made my first sourdough with only using yeast from my starter – thank you so much for your detauled blog and pictures! I ended with a great crust and crumb, so happy. Only issue I had was my dough really stuck to the linens in my proofing basket. I’ve read dusting with rice flour might help, I think I will try it next.
    Looking forward to trying more of your recipes!!

    • That’s so great to hear! You’re very welcome 🙂 Yes, use some white rice flour (or a 50/50 blend of white rice and white wheat) to dust your proofing baskets so the dough will release easier.

      Keep me posted on how it’s going and thanks again!

  • Kelly G

    I am so, so glad I found you! I’ve been messing around with a high-hydration “easy, no-knead” sourdough (that had good flavor but was sooo dense) because I thought “real” sourdough was too hard! I read these instructions several times over the course of 2 weeks and finally had the time to take the plunge last weekend. It’s a bit time consuming, but not hard at all! And so worth it! Thanks for the detailed instructions!

    • Thank you so much for the message, I really appreciate that! Really glad to hear my site has helped 🙂 Happy baking Kelly, let me know if you have any questions!

  • Terry T

    Ciao Maurizio,

    I gave your Beginner’s Sourdough recipe a try over the weekend. The end result was a good looking batard loaf with a crust as I expected, but a little too sticky and doughy on the inside. I think I’ve found a mistake already – I used all 200g of the levain build where it looks like I should have included only 184g. I also did not treat temperature as an ingredient as you suggest – I have no idea what my final dough or finished loaf temperatures were. Could you pls share advice on keeping the inside less sticky and obtaining a better rise during the baking process? I should mention this was my second attempt at baking sourdough. I love your blog! Thank you!

    Terry

    • Ciao, Terry! Thanks for the kind words, much appreciated. A couple of things could have happened with your bake. First, using all the levain could have over proofed your dough in the end, which would cause a very soft interior with compromised rise. This essentially means your dough fermented too much (or for too long with that much levain). Once your dough ferments too far the structure of the loaf will begin to degrade as gluten strength is compromised. The second thing that could have happened is you might not have baked your loaves fully, which is usually the case when I see a gummy or extra soft interior. If you have an instant read thermometer I’d suggest taking the internal temperature of your loaves near the end of the process to ensure they are around 210ºF.

      Work on these two things next time and see if your bread improves. Keep me posted & happy baking!

      • Terry T

        Ciao Maurizio! I followed your suggestion which resulted in a much improved spring & interior. Also, the internal temp of the loaves finished right around 211ºF. The wife & kids have asked me to produce the same loaves with a lighter (less browned) crust. Any suggestions on this would be much appreciated! I’d also like to mention that your recipes are very easy to follow – structured and logical. I find them easier to use than those from the fancy sourdough books. Thank you!

        • Super glad to hear that and thank you for the kind words! It’s going to be a balancing act for you, you need to bake the loaves just enough so the interior is cooked but not too far that the exterior colors too much for their liking. Do some experiments and play with finding that perfect bake-point and take note of how the loaves look (and perhaps smell) so you know when to call it done. You could also try reducing the overall bake temperature at the beginning so the loaves don’t color too much too fast. Really the key here will be removing the loaves before they bake too much. Hope that helps!

          • Terry T

            Hello again Maurizio! I’ve had the chance to practice this loaf a few more times (I am pretty much restricted to baking on weekends). I’d appreciate your help tweaking the crumb – it is a little too damp for my taste. A few details: my final bake temps have been around 210ºF. My oven springs are very nice and my starter is well maintained and looking healthy. I use King Arthur APF for the white portion, and Arrowhead Mills for the whole wheat and rye portions. I live in South Florida just a few feet above sea level in a subtropical humid climate. Also, I notice the lame dragging a little as I score the loaf. Maybe the dough is too wet or perhaps I need to improve my scoring skills. Maybe I need to scale back hydration? Any advice much appreciated!

            • Hey Terry! Yes, I’d say reduce hydration by 5% and see if that helps. It should definitely dry up the crumb a bit and it sounds like you’re baking it out sufficiently based on that temperature so that’s not a problem. Try reducing that hydration and see how it comes out!

              • Terry T

                Hi Maurizio! Reducing hydration by 5% improves the loaf, but the bread is still more moist than I would like. I’ll experiment with reducing it a little further. I wanted to know your thoughts on reducing the amount of time in the DO with the lid on. Also I’m open to experimenting with a different flour (currently using King Arthur for the APF and Arrowhead Mills for the wheat / rye parts). Maybe my choice of flour just cannot hold that much water. Thanks again!

  • Bruce Ferguson

    Hi Maurizio,

    I have been following your instructions and have now baked about 10 loaves. My starter is doing really well and I am getting really good oven spring, but when I cut the loaf I generally have one or two really giant holes and then the rest of the loaf is a bit too dense. It’s like all the gas went into one giant pocket and the rest had none.

    I have a picture but don’t know how to post that on here. I can send it to you if that helps explain what’s going on.

    I love the site and have pointed several other people here for help. Keep up the good work.

    Any advice would be awesome.

    Thanks
    –Bruce II

    • Hey, Bruce! Almost always having a few, really large holes means your dough is under proofed and needs more fermentation time. Make sure your bulk fermentation step is going far enough (typically around 4 hours) and the dough temperature is warm enough (78-80ºF or so). You want the dough to look really bubbly by the end, it should have risen significantly and generally looks alive and jiggly. After bulk your dough still needs sufficient proof time to fully develop — make sure your bulk fermentation is as described in the post above!

      • Hi and thanks so much for the reply.

        I did all my bulk fermentation inside the oven with the light on. I kept the thermometer in there and it was around 80 degF the entire time. At 4 hours it still was not bubbly so I ended up going almost 6 hours. At that point it had a number of large bubbles on the top. I then divided, shaped and let it proof for 12 hours in the fridge (overnight). It definitely could be under-proofed but I not sure where to add more time, bulk or final proof.

        Thanks again and keep up the good work.

        • At those temps I doubt your dough would have been underproofed if your starter was lively and your levain was used at the correct time. If you have a picture of the crumb please send it over via email!

          • Hi,

            Thank you so much for the info. You were spot on and it just needed to proof a bit more. The answer for me was to let the dough sit on the counter in the bannetons for about an hour before going in the fridge.

            Cheers.

            • Awesome Bruce, thanks so much for the update (here and via email)!

  • Eric D

    Hi Maurizio,

    I’ve been somewhat obsessed with making fresh sourdough since recently watching the “Air” episode of the “Cooked” series on Netflix and decided this was the weekend I was going to have a whack at it using your beginners sourdough recipe. First off, thank you for the amount of detail you provide. I love to cook, and like many others I’m sure, there’s just something intimidating about baking fresh bread … your website definitely helped me get over that hump. I baked this morning and I’d say that overall the bread came out pretty darn good! The color, crust and taste was great … very exciting as this was my first ever attempt! My only complaint (for lack of a better term) is that the bread was a little dense and the crumb was not as open as in your photos, I guess a touch chewy. It certainly didn’t keep us from devouring one of the two loaves at dinner but I’d obviously like to improve. What are your thoughts as to the cause of that? I followed your recipe pretty much exactly, the only place I off-roaded a bit was that I waited 30 minutes to add the salt (from your “best sourdough” recipe) and then did the 2-3 minutes of folds. Other than that I went by the book. I built my levain Friday night around midnight and incorporated it around 1:00 the next day, it looked nice and active. I got me a Thermapen (awesome!, I also brew beer so I could easily rationalize the spend) and paid close attention to the temperature of everything along the way. I even adjusted my water temp as I keep my flour in the fridge and didn’t take it out early enough for it to fully come to room temp. For all the steps where you specify a warmer temperature of 75 (my house is usually around 68-70) I kept things in the oven on its “proof” setting … it seems to keep the temp around 80. The one thing I did notice is that my FDT was a touch high at 82 … although I admittedly have no idea how that impacts the final result. Anyway, I’m now hooked and look forward to your feedback so I can continue to improve. Thank you so much!

    • Eric — you’re very welcome and I’m glad to hear your loaf turned out great! A FDT of 82ºF is just fine, it just means the dough might ferment faster than what I’ve discussed here. Just keep in mind that higher temperatures (within reason) usually means faster dough development & fermentation, and conversely, lower temperatures slows things down. There are a lot of factors that go into attaining a nice open crumb and usually I find insufficient fermentation the first thing people struggle with, but if you kept your dough at a warm enough temperature and you saw plenty of rise and activity that is a good sign. From there it’ll be focusing on shaping properly (creating a tight skin on the dough but not one that’s overly tight), fully proofing your dough, a proper score on top (enough of a score so your dough opens nicely instead of rupturing) and finally a full bake then you’ll be on your way to a nice and light loaf. I know these are all general terms and advice but it’s very hard to give you any single piece of advice that will lead you down the right path! If you need more specific help after running into a roadblock snap some pictures of your bakes and send them over to me (through the Contact link at top) and I’ll see if I can help you further!

  • Jan

    Hi Maurizio.

    I have been using your site for some time to get tips on techniques used for handling sourdough bread. It is a great source of information to which I have often directed others sharing the same interest in bread as I do.
    I have been experimenting with bread on and off for some years now, and I have tried several different approaches to my bread exactly the way I want it. I am a very meticulous person which is probably also what causes me to never be fully satisfied with my end result. However, having found your site filled with excellent descriptions, details and pictures I have finally been able to get the bread I want… almost.

    I even bought a Lodge combo-cooker since I’ve seen it used by several bread enthusiasts and by you as well. However, I’m beginning to suspect that the combo-cooker is the source of my only remaining problem. But how can that be if you do not have the same problem I have.

    My problem is, that the bread I bake seems perfect in most ways: It has the soft, open crumb, the desired hint of sour notes, the delicious thin, crisp crust, and a great taste. But the one thing I can’t seem to get right is, that the bottom of the bread (the bottom crust?) is really, really hard. Its so hard that I have problems cutting through it with my (admittedly quite dull) bread knife, and when I chew the bottom crust I fear that I may break a tooth. The rest of the bread is fantastic though.

    I hope you have an idea of what may be causing this if I supply you with a description of my approach – which is very much the approach you describe, only slightly modified.

    For my experiments I always make the bread using the same formula for easy comparison.

    The bread I make is a 790 g bread of 73% hydration (when I include the flour and water of the levain in the calculations), and the formula is:
    100 g (25%) mature levain (risen to 250% in 6 hours)
    300 g (75%) wheat flour (12% protein)
    100 g (25%) whole wheat flour
    8 g (2 %) salt
    280 g (70%) water

    18:00 – Mix flour and water. Set to autolyse.
    19:00 – Mix in remaining water, salt and levain. Mix well.
    19:30 – Stretch & fold – until the dough gets kind of tight, not easily stretched. This is usually after 8-10 stretches.
    20:00 – Stretch & fold – the same, however, 6-8 stretches is enough
    20:30 – Stretch & fold – 4 stretches
    21:00 – Stretch & fold – 4 stretches
    21:30 – Stretch & fold – 4 stretches or less
    At this time the dough is smooth and holding together nicely. In fact I can only stretch a few times before it gets too tight. So I leave it untouched for the remainder of the 4 hours.
    23:00 – Shape batard, put bottom-side up in floured banneton, in a bag, retard in fridge (4C / 40F) until next evening.
    The dough is great to work with at this time, and shaping a batard is really easy. I fold the top corners in towards the middle. Then I fold the top in toward the middle – overlapping the 2 corners. Then I turn the bread 180 degrees and repeat. Finally I fold the top half fully over the bottom half, tightening the skin a bit more if needed, as I press the seam together.
    The dough is easily transferred upside down to the banneton, which I floured generously with rice-flour.
    17:00 – Place Lodge combo-cooker in the oven. Set temperature at 260C (500F).
    18:00 – Take the banneton out of the fridge, reverse onto a floured pizza peal (no parchment paper), score bread, and slide into the shallow Lodge skillet. Lid (deep part of the combo-cooker) on, and bake for 20 minutes.
    18:20 – Remove the lid (deep part of the combo-cooker).
    18:50 – Remove the bread from the oven, and set to cool on an oven rack.
    20:00 – Eat the bread.

    So what do you think? Could the combo-cooker be the cause of my problems? Its easy to suspect that the problem comes from the intense, and constant heat distributed from the very solid cast-iron skillet of the combo-cooker. But why then can I not find anyone else having the same problem?
    I tried several ways of accounting for the problem:
    – Moving the combo-cooker as high as possible in the oven
    – Retarding with the banneton in a plastic bag instead of just covered with a towel.
    – Reducing the baking time to as little as 15 minutes covered and 15 minutes uncovered
    – Removing the bread from the combo-cooker completely after 15 minutes, baking the remaining time on the oven rack.

    While all of these approaches did help a little, its just not enough. The bottom crust is still too hard for my liking (and for my teeth).

    Any ideas will be most welcome as I would be sad to abandon the combo-cooker completely (not even knowing if this would solve my problem).

  • Jan

    Hi Maurizio.

    I have been using your site for some time to get tips on techniques used for handling sourdough bread. It is a great source of information to which I have often directed others sharing the same interest in bread as I do.
    I have been experimenting with bread on and off for some years now, and I have tried several different approaches to get my bread exactly the way I want it. I am a very meticulous person which is probably also what causes me to never be fully satisfied with my end result. However, having found your site filled with excellent descriptions, details and pictures I have finally been able to get the bread I want… almost.

    I even bought a Lodge combo-cooker since I’ve seen it used by several bread enthusiasts and by you as well. However, I’m beginning to suspect that the combo-cooker is the source of my only remaining problem. But how can that be if you do not have the same problem I have.

    My problem is, that the bread I bake seems perfect in most ways: It has the soft, open crumb, the desired hint of sour notes, the delicious thin, crisp crust, and a great taste. But the one thing I can’t seem to get right is, that the bottom of the bread (the bottom crust?) is really, really hard. Its so hard that I have problems cutting through it with my (admittedly quite dull) bread knife, and when I chew the bottom crust I fear that I may break a tooth. Its not really thick though – only a millimeter or so. So it doesn’t seem like the bread has collapsed in any way. And the rest of the bread shows no signs of this either.

    I hope you have an idea of what may be causing this if I supply you with a description of my approach – which is very much the approach you describe, only slightly modified.

    For my experiments I always make the bread using the same formula for easy comparison.

    The bread I make is a 790 g bread of 73% hydration (when I include the flour and water of the levain in the calculations), and the formula is:
    100 g (25%) mature levain (risen to 250% in 6 hours)
    300 g (75%) wheat flour (12% protein)
    100 g (25%) whole wheat flour
    8 g (2 %) salt
    280 g (70%) water

    18:00 – Mix flour and most of the water. Set to autolyse.
    19:00 – Mix in remaining water, salt and levain. Mix well.
    19:30 – Stretch & fold – until the dough gets kind of tight, not easily stretched. This is usually after 8-10 stretches.
    20:00 – Stretch & fold – the same, however, 6-8 stretches is enough
    20:30 – Stretch & fold – 4 stretches
    21:00 – Stretch & fold – 4 stretches
    21:30 – Stretch & fold – 4 stretches or less
    At this time the dough is smooth and holding together nicely. In fact I can only stretch a few times before it gets too tight. So I leave it untouched for the remainder of the 4 hours.
    23:00 – Pre-shape (no divition since its only 1 bread). Leave on the counter under the bowl.
    23:30 – Shape batard, put bottom-side up in floured banneton, retard in fridge (4C / 40F) until next evening.
    The dough is great to work with at this time, and shaping a batard is really easy. It still sticks as it should when I fold it, but working on a lightly floured surface, I can work it quickly without problems. I fold the top corners in towards the middle. Then I fold the top in toward the middle – overlapping the 2 corners. Then I turn the bread 180 degrees (not upside-down) and repeat. Finally I fold the top half fully over the bottom half, tightening the skin a bit more if needed, as I press the seam together.
    The dough is easily transferred upside down to the banneton, which I floured generously with rice-flour.

    The next day at 17:00 the bread has risen to about 150% (that is increased by half in volume). And when poking the dough the mark slowly comes back out in 3-5 seconds.
    17:00 – Place Lodge combo-cooker in the oven. Set temperature at 260C (500F).
    18:00 – Take the banneton out of the fridge, reverse onto a floured pizza peal (no parchment paper), score bread, and slide into the shallow Lodge skillet. Lid (deep part of the combo-cooker) on, and bake for 20 minutes.
    18:20 – Remove the lid (deep part of the combo-cooker), reduce temperature to 220C (430F) and bake for another 30 minutes.
    18:50 – Remove the bread from the oven, and set to cool on an oven rack.
    20:00 – Eat the bread.

    So what do you think? Could the combo-cooker be the cause of my problems? Its easy to suspect that the problem comes from the intense, and constant heat distributed from the very solid cast-iron skillet of the combo-cooker. But why then can I not find anyone else having the same problem?
    I tried several ways of accounting for the problem:
    – Moving the combo-cooker as high as possible in the oven
    – Retarding with the banneton in a plastic bag instead of just covered with a towel.
    – Reducing the baking time to as little as 15 minutes covered and 15 minutes uncovered
    – Removing the bread from the combo-cooker completely after 15 minutes, baking the remaining time on the oven rack.

    While all of these approaches did help a little, its just not enough. The bottom crust is still too hard for my liking (and for my teeth).

    Any ideas will be most welcome as I would be sad to abandon the combo-cooker completely (not even knowing if this would solve my problem).

    • Jan, thanks so much for the comments about my website and I’m really glad to hear you’re very close to your ‘perfect loaf’ — that’s awesome! Your approach looks spot on to me, I wouldn’t say anything you’re doing there is causing the thick crust on bottom.

      I have to say that most times when I use my Dutch oven I too will get a thicker bottom crust than I’d like. When I moved to baking just on stones (or a Baking Steel) the majority if this problem went away for me. I think you might not hear about it much is because everyone has a personal preference for this part of their bread and it may not bother them so much.

      The approaches you’ve taken look really logical to me but I’m guessing it’s due to the intense heat constantly applied to the dough from the DO. One thing I’d suggest first off is if you’re using a baking stone in your oven to place the DO on during baking try not using the stone. Just bake with your DO on a rack — this will help reduce some of the heat in the DO.

      Another suggest: don’t preheat the DO for as long as you need to preheat your oven. Perhaps try placing the DO in the oven 1/2 or 3/4 way through the preheat so it’s not quite as hot.

      Another: try sprinkling something on the bottom of the shallow side of your DO so your dough is lifted a bit above the DO. Something like raw wheat germ/bran or even coarse cornmeal will work really well.

      Perhaps a combination of these things will help also.

      Those are my suggestions! If you give them a try please let me know how it goes, I know others will ask this same question 🙂

      Good luck & happy baking!

      • Jan

        Thank you for taking your time to read my post, which I admit was quite long. I just wanted to make sure you had all the details required for you to identify any problems in the process. It is very gratifying to hear that you experience similar results with the DO since I was having difficulty finding any other explanation for the result I get.

        I will definately try your suggestions, and then I will report back on the results. However, my next test will be to use the exact same formula and approach as I have described, only instead of using the DO I will use my round mediocre pizza-stone using a wok as a “lid”. I’ve tried this before and the wok actually closes nicely around the pizza-stone so I know it works. It is a bit more cumbersome than using the DO though but that’ll do.

        The bread will be shaped and retarded this evening and baked tomorrow. I will update you on the result of this approach as well.

        Thanks again for sharing this resource and taking the time to respond to everyone even if it must take up quite a bit of your time.

        • You’re very welcome, Jan, I’m happy to help! Keep me posted 🙂

  • Alison Peebles

    Hi! I loved making this bread for the first time last weekend. I not only want to make it again, but I want to bake MORE of it.
    Any advice on doubling the recipe?
    Do I need to increase the size of my starter? ie, not discard as much?
    Do I do two batches of what you just wrote out or can I double the recipe and let it all bulk ferment together?
    Any advice would be great!
    Cheers,
    -Alison

    • So glad to hear that! If you want to double the recipe you’ll do just that: double everything called for. Make sure you have enough starter to cover the levain requirement (i.e. make sure you have enough “mature starter” called for in the Levain Build section) by scaling this up the night/day before — keep the same percentages of what you’re feeding your starter just increase the quantities (i.e. total grams for each).

      And yes, just mix everything together, bulk together, and then divide out into 4 loaves instead of two.

      I hope that helps, let me know if you have any more questions!

      • Alison Peebles

        Ok – another question then – we noticed our loaves cooking in half the time in the second stage. We take the lid off and it takes at MOST 15 min for the bread to turn a nice caramel brown and reach 210-212 degrees. we left one in longer and the bottom got burrrrnt.

        Should we just accept that our oven is different? Are we loosing any quality by having it cook up so quickly? It still tastes delish!

        • No loss in quality in my opinion. Each environment and each oven is different, adjust as necessary! I live at very high altitude (5280ft) so that would explain why my bake times are perhaps a little longer than others you might see and even your own. You could either reduce the overall temperature to bake longer or keep it as is and bake it in a shorter time.

          Hope that helps and really glad to hear it tastes great!

  • Jackie

    Hi Maurizio,

    Thanks for this guide. I tried following it over the weekend and my resulting loaf is a bit flat, and I was wondering where I might have had an error it. My starter was pretty active (bubbles throughout the jar) when I started the levain. Since it’s colder now (around 68-70 degrees room temp), I fermented the levain and dough in the oven with the light bulb on. At the end of bulk fermentation, i see a few large bubbles at top, which i think is usually the sign that it is ready (volume also increased). After shaping, this was proof in the fridge for 12 hours and baked after scoring.

    The loaf once baked has very little oven spring so I’m wondering did I overproof or underproof. During bulk fermentation, when I do feel the bowl that the dough is fermenting on is on the warmer side when I touched it. I wonder if perhaps the resting temperature is too high, and resulted in too much fermentation within the four hours? Between beginning and ending of proof, there was no change in size of the dough. Do you happen to have any insights as to what might have gone wrong?

    Thanks!

    • Hi, Jackie! There are several places where things could have gone wrong and it’s hard to diagnose exactly without more details and some photos of the interior. Depending on the ambient temperature during bulk it’s possible you over proofed the dough but that is rarely the case. I bulk my dough at 80ºF or so and can take it for 4 hours (for a mostly white loaf with this much levain) typically. If you have an ambient thermometer stick it into the oven so you can monitor the dough temperature periodically during bulk — this will help eliminate guessing at that step.

      However, if the interior of your bread has lots of little holes with no gummy spots anywhere and the dough didn’t rise much in the oven then this is usually a sign of over proofing. Conversely, if your dough had perhaps a few larger holes with areas that were much more dense and closed then this is a sign of underproofing.

      It’s likely also that your dough just wasn’t shaped tight enough and so it spread when baked instead of rising to its potential. Make sure when you shape you round the dough enough so it has a nice and tight surface on it, this is what holds the dough in shape as it rises in the oven.

      I hope this helps! If you are still having issues try to take a few photos at each step next time and shoot them over to me in email (Contact link at the top) and I’ll help you diagnose further! Happy baking 🙂

      • Jackie

        Thanks Maurizio! As you described, the loaf was underproof. There were excessively large holes towards the top of the boule while bottom was dense. Some parts were gummy and it looks like the rim around the boule may have been under baked as well. This was surprising to me considering the fact that it bulk fermented at a rather warm environment for at least 4 hours. I’m assuming next time I can either increase the bulk fermentation time or increase the hours the fridge (maybe from 12 to 16 hours)? Does it make a difference as to whether I increase bulk fermentation time or proof time?

        • You can elongate bulk or proof, or both. It’s very important to get to a full and complete bulk fermentation of the dough, you can only sacrifice so much time at that step before things fail to progress properly in later stages. Anywhere between 3.5-4.5 is usually a good rule of thumb but this depends on the amount of levain used, ambient temperature and starter/levain activity. Look for the signs I talk about in this post on when to cut bulk fermentation, then you can extend your proof time as long as necessary to get the dough to the correct level of proof. One thing you can try is to let the dough sit out for 30 minutes to 1 hour before placing into the fridge (once they are shaped and into their baskets, covered). This gives them some more “floor time” before slowing things down significantly in the fridge.

          • Jackie

            Thanks for your tips Maurizio. I baked again over the weekend and the result was much better with longer fermentation time. I had a 13 hour autolyse (overnight) and 5 hours of bulk fermentation followed by 3 hours of proof (I did not retard the dough). I got the oven spring I wanted and the crumbs have scattered semi-large holes. The holes are mainly located in outer edges of the bread whereas certain areas (although less now than before) can be a bit densed. It seems maybe I should either proof longer or maybe more S&F to develop additional strength. I had to pre-round twice because the dough was flat after the first pre-round. I will continue to experiment this weekend.

            • Sounds like you’re on the right track! I’d definitely try to increase the proof time based on your description. Go for another hour proof and see if that helps. You might also want to reduce the autolyse time as that will increase the slackness (extensibility) in your dough quite a bit, this means you’ll have to do more kneading, stretch and folds, or as you did, pre-shapes, to get the dough strong enough. Happy baking!

  • Mario

    An amazing step by step illustrated process. I have used it often and love the bread it creates. I have slightly modified the recipe to suite my taste, a little less whole wheat a little more bread flour. I use my cast iron dutch oven to bake in. I really do appreciate the time and effort put forth creating this. Many thanks.

    • Thanks so much Mario, I really appreciate that! Really glad to hear your bakes have been going so well and that was the point of this post: to give readers a starting point from which to modify and make the bread they enjoy. Happy baking!

  • Melissa

    I am so new to sourdough baking, and this tutorial was exactly what I needed! I have a homemade starter that I have been nurturing for about 7 weeks and last weekend I tried my first bread bake with a different recipe (not one of yours). It was an absolute flop, but I wasn’t discouraged because I have read that your first one is pretty sure to fail. I believed that until I found your site and I truly believe that if I had started here with you I would have had wild success! I didn’t feel like I was just following a recipe I really felt like you were teaching how to see, smell, hear, and just experience the process of making sourdough bread. By the time I moved on to bulk fermentation I could tell just by using all my senses that this was absolutely different from what I had attempted last weekend. I, and my 5 kiddos who have been sharing this journey with me, yelled with delight and did our new “happy sourdough” dance when we took the lid off the dutch oven and it looked like bread! The crust even continued to crackle when we took it out to let it cool on the racks. I have found my culinary calling! Thank you so so much for this tutorial! I’m sticking to it and already have two more loaves bulk fermenting with the first two loaves barely out of the oven! This is so much fun! I will definitely recommend this to other sourdough newbies.

    • Right on Melissa, super happy to hear that! Thanks so much 🙂 When I first started baking sourdough so long ago I felt like there was so much to learn and I found that the dough really talks to you, in a way, and if you have all your sense open to what it’s saying you can really learn a lot about how it’s progressing. Sounds like you did just that 🙂

      Really glad to hear you baked your own sourdough right at home with your family — love that! Thanks for recommending my site to others as well, really appreciate it.

      Happy baking!

  • Elizabeth Meadows

    Hi Maurizio,
    Like everyone else here, I’d like to start by thanking you–such a useful site for beginning sourdough bakers! I’m curious, why is one supposed to leave the top of the combo cooker in the oven? My oven doesn’t have room for top and bottom next to each other, and I wonder if it’s affecting the quality of the bread.
    Thanks again for all the thought, detail, and guidance you put into this site!
    Elizabeth

    • You’re very welcome Elizabeth! You don’t have to leave the other side of the combo cooker in the oven, I do just because it’s easy and also perhaps it provides a little extra “masonry mass” in there (helps retain some heat in the oven to offset the need for us to open and close it so often). You can definitely carefully take it out.

      Thanks for the message and happy baking!

  • Erin

    Hi Maruizio,

    I made this bread over the weekend and it turned out beautifully! Thank you for such detailed instructions. One question: I’d like the flavor of my bread to be a bit more sour (the loaf I made was slightly sour, but I like a good punch). How would you approach that? Longer ferment time for the levain? Increase the amount of starter used?
    Thanks so much!
    Erin

    • Eric — awesome! Glad to hear it. You can increase the sourness in your bread a few ways: you can let it proof longer in the fridge at cold temperature (to increase the acidity in your dough). You can increase the whole grains in your dough, say 5% rye flour, as this increases the acidity produced as well. You can also increase the amount of levain in your dough but this also effects the overall fermentation time (speeds it up) so be aware of that.

      For me, I usually push the amount of time the dough is in the fridge. Hope that helps!

  • Azrehan

    Hi Maruizio,

    Love the site. Thanks for sharing all this knowledge. I also bought Tartine Bread on iBooks for $3 and have a combo cooker on order and have bought my thermometers. I have a few questions though as I am totally new at this.

    Firstly, I have 100% rainwater at home which is untreated apart from a leaf strainer and finer non-chemical filters at a few stages. Do you think I’ll need to treat this water in any way, e.g. the resting you mentioned for chlorinated tap water?

    Secondly, I am thinking about trying out a loaf using a cast iron pan I have and a tagine top which perfectly fits on it until my combo cooker arrives from the US to Australia. I may have to reduce the loaf size as there is not as much room in the tagine top compared to a combo cooker. Have you heard of anyone trying this?

    Thirdly, I have a lump charcoal BBQ called a kamado joe – similar to a big green egg. We have had great results cooking pizza in this as the heat from underneath is great, and we have a heat deflector. I am thinking of trying this out after doing a few oven bakes, as the inside house temperature gets up to 40C in our part of the world and cooking outside is how we live in summer. The Kamado can also be closed off completely, so I might be able to get the steam effect you talk about without using the combo cooker. Any thoughts on this?

    • Thank you! I’m not 100% sure on the rainwater, but I would imagine the water would be totally fine to use for baking. I usually like to say if the water is safe to drink then it’s safe to bake with. I don’t think it’ll need any additional treatment (also, if you’re feeding your starter with this water and it’s doing well then you can be sure you won’t have any problems).

      I have not heard of anyone using a tagine to enclose the pan, but really anything that will trap steam will work really well. I believe this is exactly what a tagine is used for, so it should work really well.

      Your Kamado should work very well. The key will be trapping steam in some way and also regulating temperature well enough so it doesn’t get too hot at any point in the bake. To me this would be just like using a wood fired oven which has been used for a long, long time to bake bread!

      In short I think all your proposed ideas will work very well! Happy baking and hello from across the globe 🙂

  • Anthony

    Hi Maruizio,

    Thanks for all of the great details on your site!

    I’ve been baking for one month now and feel like things are going well in several areas but I’m having an issue with the bottom crust being way too thick. Like, afraid I might break a tooth thick…

    I use a quality Dutch oven and following the baking temp:times closely. Wondering if I’m not kneading or creating tension properly in earlier steps?

    Any thoughts/ideas you have would be most appreciated!!

    Anthony

    • Anthony — you’re very welcome, glad you’re finding it useful! I find that my bottom crust is always significantly thicker when I use a Dutch oven versus my method for baking on a baking stone / baking steel. One thing you can try to do to help alleviate the problem is to reduce the preheat time of your Dutch oven (put it in halfway during your preheat, or less). Additionally, you could coat the bottom of the pan lightly with coarse wheat germ or cornmeal to help create a barrier between the dough and the pan. And finally, you could place a rack below the Dutch oven with a baking sheet to help insulate the bottom of the pan just a bit so it doesn’t get too hot during the bake.

      Hope this helps and happy baking Anthony!

  • Daniel

    Hey Maruizio,

    I have baked this bread over the weekend and although it came out very delicious there were a few flaws I wanted to get your advise on.

    1. The crust was very (very) tough
    2. I didn’t get a beautiful oven spring (I suspected the bread to be under-proofed)
    3. The bread had very large holes and inconsistent holes and was overall quite dense (in contradict to the above, this is normally a sign of over proofing?)

    Things to note:
    1. I replaced the Rye with Spelt (last minutes I realised I was out of Rye)
    2. The 100% hydration starter was very liquid (I normally use 66% hydration starter) so my end result mature starter didn’t reassemble your starter (in the picture)
    3. In the morning, the refrigerated proofed loafs didn’t seem to raise at all, as I let them sit for another 1-2 hours in room temperature
    4. When I engraved into the proofed loaf before baking, I noticed that I completely lacked the interact web structure as seen in your pictures.

    I will try the same recipe next week again (with Rye this time) and let you know how I get along, but if you have any ideas how I can improve I would greatly appreciate your input.

    Thanks for your awesome blog.

    Daniel

    • Daniel,
      Scattered, few large holes usually is an indicator of underproofing. Make sure your bulk fermentation step is complete, the dough should look similar to my photos above. You want to really see activity in that dough by the time you divide — keeping things at a warm temperature (as listed above) really helps with this step.

      You can certainly reduce the hydration of the starter/levain a few percentage points if it helps. Just keep in mind if you use your stiff starter (66% hydration) your dough might require additional water than what I list here because your starter is on the drier side. Not a problem, just adjust the quantities to suit.

      Let me know how that next bake goes!

  • lin

    Thank you so much for your blog. It was a huge help in demystifying the whole process — from growing my own starter to baking my first loaf! Quick question about the “envelope” folding section — do the east/west sides of the dough need to overlap completely or just meet at the middle?

    • Super glad to hear that, thanks for the message! If you are referring to bulk fermentation then the folds need to go all the way over the dough to the other side. If you are referring to the final shaping of the dough, fold the bottom part of the round up to the middle, the left side up and over about 2/3 to the right side, the right side up and over about 2/3 to the left side, and the top up and down to about the middle.

      Hope that helps and happy baking!

  • Alexis Dupré

    If I was to use Spelt flour instead of Whole Wheat flour, would you suggest keeping the same hydration ratio?

    • I find that spelt is not able to take on as much water as traditional whole wheat. I would be cautious to add too much water in the dough when using spelt. Try reducing the hydration a few percentage points and work it up if the dough feels like it can handle it!

  • Walker

    Hi Maurizio, really enjoying your blog and many thanks for your work here! One issue for you — I tried this Beginner recipe for Thanksgiving and got a decent result, but was too dense for my taste and did not have an airy crumb. My starter was bubbling and very airy, but my levain never quite got to the same vigor, which I think may have been the issue (I even gave it about 1.5 hours longer than indicated).

    However I’ve noticed a few other videos recipes where the levain is mixed into a bowl of water in order to ‘disperse’ it, after which the dry flour is added to the now watery levain (so seems to preclude an autolyse). What’s your experience with this step? What I did, I believe consistently with the recipe, was to mix the autolysed dough with the levain and water, but perhaps I did not incorporate the levain throughout the dough well enough (which may have been why my final crumb had some air pockets but also some denser sections).

    Is it possible to use both an autolyse and a water-dispersed levain in the same recipe? Many thanks again!!