High(er) Hydration Sourdough Bread

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My wife and I were out at dinner with a few friends the other night, and we got to talking about local co-op produce, cooking from more natural ingredients, and of course, baking bread from only the simplest of ingredients. Just four little elements come together to make something more significant, something alive. One of our friends said: “I want to make bread for the sustainability aspect of it, not so much as to make it a work of art or something to look at in wonder.” Sure that's true, at the heart of its bread is sustenance, something you eat to keep alive and keep you going. But isn't there more to a craft than just simply producing something edible?

I thought about his words for a while and wondered to myself: why do I keep testing, experimenting, tinkering, and trying, with my bread? Isn't it good enough to provide healthy nourishment? In a word, yes, it is good enough. But if it's a real craft, then the crafter is always trying to do better, always trying to transform the simple inputs into something greater.

I've set this goal for a particular taste for my bread, and a certain look when I serve it on the table (you can read more in my about page), but I also desire to use healthy local ingredients. In the past few posts, I've been talking about a locally grown & milled white flour north Albuquerque, New Mexico and I decided to order a 50-pound bag of the stuff from my local co-op. I think they were getting annoyed with me anyways… I kept emptying their small flour canister each week.

The flour is spectacular. I am not able to determine the actual protein percentage but it's enough to hold up to this 81% hydration recipe, and I think I can still even push it a bit farther. The taste though. The crumb comes out so tender and light, it's the best I've had outside of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco.

Let's get on with this week's bake I have a few small changes here, and there and they have helped me improve my bread for the better. In continuation with the last entry, I wanted to try a high(er) hydration sourdough bread, bumping it up by 1%. Small increments, right?

Prepare the leaven – 10:00 p.m.

My typical 100% whole wheat leaven, prepared the night before:

  1. 34g ripe starter
  2. 120g whole wheat flour
  3. 132g

After mixing the above in a glass container, cover and set in a slightly warm area in your kitchen overnight.

Mixing levain

Rest up tonight because tomorrow we start the baking!

Mix the flour and water, autolyse – 8:30 a.m.

I think my levain has adapted to these cooler temperatures at night; it indeed was ready to go at 8:30 a.m. Lots of activity throughout and a slight smell of sour in the morning.

Ripe levain

Gather up your ingredients and get ready to get your hands dirty.


WeightIngredientBaker's Percentage
800gAll-purpose flour (Sangre de Cristo white flour)80%
200gWhole Wheat Flour (Bob's Red Mill)20%


Dough ingredients


  1. Add 275g of the prepared leaven (you might have a little leftover) to a large mixing bowl
  2. Pour in the 760g water and mix until you completely dissolve the levain
  3. Add 800g white flour and 200g whole wheat flour and mix with your hands until incorporated
  4. Cover your bowl and let autolyse for 40 minutes (see my guide to the autolyse technique for more information)
  5. After 40 minutes add 20g salt and slowly pour the remaining 50g water on top. Squeeze & mix until incorporated
  6. Mix a bit longer until the mass becomes a bit “sticky.”
  7. Transfer to your bulk fermentation container
Final dough temperature:78°F (25°C)

I've started to take note of not only the final dough temperature after mixing but also the ambient temperature. This will hopefully help you adjust your timing based on your ingredient and ambient temperatures in your kitchen.

Bulk Fermentation – 9:30 a.m.

I've been having issues recently with a crumb that has been a little on the dense side for my liking. I've done a few bakes in-between my last entry and this one to try to figure out what's been happening and, after doing a little reading and chatting with fellow bakers, have discovered one of the causes. Thanks to some discussion with Francis over at the excellent Tartine Bread Experiment blog, I've concluded that I've merely been overworking my dough.

More stretch and folds during bulk fermentation does not equal a more open crumb.

You really can't rely on the “6-turns-and-it's-good-to-go” approach for bulk fermentation. You need to read the strength of the dough as it's developing and stop the turns once it's reached optimal strength more turns does not mean a more open crumb. Now, there are a lot of factors that go into this, but if you've been following along with me through these posts, try it out for yourself on the next bake and see if your crumb opens up a bit more:

When doing the turns for a set, if you get to the last turn and you're not able to easily grab the dough to turn due to its strength, you can stop doing turns and let your dough rest for the remainder of the bulk fermentation.

  1. 10:00 a.m. – Turn Set 1
  2. 10:30 a.m. – Turn Set 2
  3. 11:00 a.m. – Turn Set 3
  4. 11:30 a.m. – Turn Set 4
  5. 11:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. – Rest on counter untouched

Note that a “set” here is four stretch and folds for me. I reach under my dough, pull up, and fold over the other side — I do this four times for one set.

For my dough and my temperatures I only had to do four sets of turns, with a few hours of rest afterward.

By 2:00 p.m. the dough had risen almost to the top of my bowl and was ready to be shaped (about 30% rise). It should be jiggly and fluffy but don't push the bulk fermentation too far, or you mostly end up with one massive bowl of levain, and it won't be usable. Trust me; I have done this a few more times than I'd like to admit.

Dough ready to be divided

Pre-shape – 2:05 p.m.

Take the dough out of the container onto your work surface and sprinkle some flour on top before dividing. Divide the mass into two halves and lightly spin each half with your dough knife in one hand and your other hand. Let this pre-shape rest for 30 minutes.

Lightly dust your two linen-lined bowls with white rice flour.

Shape – 2:35 p.m.

For this session, I decided to shape one boule and one batard. For me, it's much easier to shape the boule (but it's not my preferred shape), and I wanted to ensure I had one shaped each way to test both.

Proof – 2:45 p.m.

After shaping, gently place the dough into their baskets and the fridge for an overnight proof.

High(er) Hydration Sourdough Bread

Score + Bake – 7:45 a.m. (the next day)

I baked these loaves in my oven following my guide to baking with a Dutch oven.

Place your combo cooker (I place the shallow side up on the left, and the deep side down on the right) in your oven at the bottom 1/3 position and turn it on to 450°F (232°C) to preheat.

I baked the dough straight from the fridge; this helps prevent spreading in the oven.

After one hour, take one of your loaves out of the fridge and cut a piece of parchment paper to place on top of the basket containing the dough. Take your peel and then put it on top of those two and quickly invert it, so the dough is now resting on the parchment paper and the peel.

Get your razor blade out and score the top of the loaf to allow the bread to expand while rising in the oven. For the batard, I do a crescent shape along the center, and for the boule, I did a square-top as described in the Tartine books.

Place the dough into the combo cooker and bake covered for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, take the lid off and continue to bake for an additional 35 minutes, until done.

High(er) Hydration Sourdough Bread Thin and Crispy


I might venture to say these are the best set of loaves I've ever made, even better than the loaf in my fermentation post. The overall shape of the two is just how I had imagined, and the crumb is so very tender. The local Sangre de Cristo flour is something special; I am thrilled to have this resource near me.


The crust was colored so nicely and was stunningly thin. Cutting this bread was very easy as the knife just slid right through.

High(er) Hydration Sourdough Bread


Finally, my open crumb has returned. This loaf was so light and airy that any more openness and it might start dropping sandwich ingredients. I'm happy here and will continue to work on evening things out, which is the ultimate goal.

High(er) Hydration Sourdough Bread


Tender, moist, custardy, slightly sour, very complex. As I mentioned, this is some of the best white flour I've tasted, and I'm going to be sticking with it as long as I can get a sufficient supply. These loaves are not going to last very long.

High(er) Hydration Sourdough Bread

And with bread like this, I couldn't help myself; I had to make a “whatever I have in the kitchen that sounds good” sandwich. I tossed on some local goat cheese, 1/2 a ripe tomato, chard & arugula, roast beef, and sliced avocado. The moist and light crumb of this bread, combined with the slight hint of sourness, really stood up well to the roast beef.

High hydration sourdough sandwich

Buon appetito!

If you use this recipe, tag @maurizio on Instagram so I can take a look!

Maurizio Leo
Maurizio Leo
Maurizio Leo is a home baker, James Beard Award winning and New York Times Bestselling author, and the creator of the award-winning sourdough website, The Perfect Loaf. He has spent the past decade baking sourdough bread in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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