Classic Sourdough Bread Recipe + Variations
Here it is: The core, classic sourdough bread recipe using our Wild Alaska Sourdough starter. Everyone has their own method for baking sourdough bread, and I'm sharing my favorite after countless tests and experiments.
This bread is perfectly crusty with a soft interior, a mild tang (or more if you try the cold ferment variation!) and some subtle nutty sweetness from the Alaska barley flour.
Following the recipe you'll find some optional variations. I invite you to have some fun with the recipe and its variants. Experiment, try new things, make it your own, and share your creations with the people you love!
Classic Sourdough Bread
One 9" loaf
You're ready to begin when your starter is bubbling vigorously. First you'll mix the levain, a powered-up version of the sourdough starter, then combine the rest of the dough ingredients.
Adding some hearty flour like barley gives the bread a wonderfully crispy crust and delicious depth of flavor - you can also use rye or whole wheat, depending on what's available in your kitchen. Enjoy!
Combine the levain ingredients to make a shaggy, wet mixture. Let sit for 12 hours or overnight. The levain is ready when the top is domed and bubbly.
Mixing the dough
Mix the water into the levain, then add the remaining flour and salt. Add flour 1 cup at a time and mix just until the dough comes together and is loose and sticky. Let the dough rest for half an hour, covered, at room temperature.
Knead the dough by hand for at least 15 minutes, or to manufacturer's specifications if using a bread machine or mixer. Kneading is complete when the dough is smooth, supple and elastic. This can take a while, so be patient!
Place the dough into a large container and set out, covered, at room temperature. Bulk fermentation can take 4-6 hours depending on the temperature; you can speed it up by placing the dough in a warmer area, up to about 80 degrees.
Every 30 minutes, stretch and fold the dough. Using wet hands, pull one side of the dough away, folding over the top and tucking back in, then turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat until you've gone all the way around. Do four rounds of stretch and fold, a total of 2 hours, then let sit for the remainder of the bulk fermentation.
This stage is complete when the dough has nearly doubled in size.
Shaping and proofing
Turn the dough out onto a work surface. Shape the dough into a round by gently spinning the dough with your hands or a bench scraper. Next, create a "tight" texture on the surface of the dough by dragging the round shape toward you multiple times, turning 90 degrees each time.
Once the dough is shaped, it's time for final proofing. Use a proofing basket or line a bowl with a tea towel, and flour the surface well so the dough doesn't stick. Place the dough upside down in the basket, cover with another tea towel, and let sit until it has risen again to fill the basket.
Preheat oven to 475 degrees.Flour the bottom of a Dutch oven, or line with parchment paper. Turn over proofing basket into the Dutch oven so that the dough's rounded side is up.
Use a razor blade or sharp knife to score the top of the bread into the desired pattern.
Wet the lid of the Dutch oven (not so much that it drips water). Put on the lid and place bread in the oven.
Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on. Then remove lid, turn oven temperature down to 425, and bake for another 25-30 minutes. Bread is ready when it has a dark brown, crispy crust all around.
Let sit on a wire rack for at least 1 hour to cool before enjoying.
Variation 1: Cold ferment
Longer fermentation time allows the sourdough microbes to produce more of the complex "sour" flavor that we prize in our bread. To achieve this, try a cold ferment. You can do this either during bulk fermentation, or during proofing.
Cold ferment in bulk fermentation step
After mixing and kneading your dough, cover the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours or overnight. Then let it come to room temperature and continue from the stretching and folding step.
Cold ferment in proofing step
After placing dough into the proofing basket, slide the basket into a large plastic bag and secure with a rubber band or zip lock. Place in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours or overnight. Then take it out while you preheat the oven, and continue from the baking step.
Variation 2: Add new flavors
Fold in tasty additions to make your sourdough bread even more amazing. Just mix them right in with the rest of the dough ingredients! Here are some flavor combination ideas to get you started:
- Roasted garlic + sage
- Kalamata olive + rosemary (my favorite!)
- Caramelized onions + thyme
- Jalapeno + cheddar