An everyday sourdough bread recipe for beginners using the stretch and fold technique – learn the basics and create your first amazing homemade sourdough loaf with just a spoon of active starter; no kneading required and without a proving basket.Jump to Recipe
If you have never made bread before or you are a casual holiday baker, the whole process of bread making can be intimidating. I exactly know how it feels.
My first sourdough bread was a disappointment. It took the whole day! I mainly struggled with the dough sticking to everything, from the kitchen counter, my hands, the bread scraper, and of course, the dough got stuck to the proving basket too! In the end, the final bread was rather unhappy-flat looking sourdough loaf.
When my husband saw how disappointed and discouraged I was, he developed this recipe to simplify the process and help me to overcome some parts that as a beginner, I found difficult.
No matter the hassle, the truth is that there is something therapeutic and relaxing about bread making and mixing such modest ingredients to create a loaf of bread.
The magic starts with a tablespoon of bubbly sourdough starter. Give it some love, feed it regularly and this little treasure will pay you many times over. Once you take your own hot, brown and crusty sourdough bread from the oven you won’t understand what was the hesitation about.
We won’t get into the lengthy science. I know well what it is to be a busy parent so we want to give you only information you really need to be successful:
- What is a sourdough starter?
- How much starter do you need?
- The best flour for sourdough bread
- What is the purpose of Autolyse?
- Stretch and fold technique
- Bulk fermentation
- Shaping and building a surface tension
- What is bread proving?
- What does butter do in bread making?
What is sourdough starter?
People from different places use various terminology like mother dough, leaven, levain or starter sponge when they talk about a sourdough starter. These names refer to the mix of flour and water fermented by a naturally occurring yeast and bacteria.
Here is how we are using the terminology in this recipe:
Sourdough Starter = refers to our mother pre-ferment that we keep and continue growing; we use a small amount of it to grow the leaven.
Leaven (levain) = refers to the right amount of fermented flour and water that is needed to make a loaf. We make it in advance from a small amount of starter; it is all mixed into the dough.
Most common sourdough starter is made from 1 part of flour and 1 part of water. It means it has 100% hydration (our starter is 100% hydration).
For any casual baker it’s not practical nor necessary to maintain a large starter on a day to day basis. Over the years we slowly decreased the volume of our starter and for the past 2 years we’ve been effectively growing our mini 30 grams sourdough starter.
Of course you will need a bigger starter if you want to bake bread every day but if you make like us 2 loaves per week the mini starter is very economical as it provides enough pre-fermented starter to make a leaven for one loaf and at the same time creates minimal waste.
How much starter do you need?
You don’t need much. Our leaven is made from a small off-shoot of active sourdough starter. Two teaspoons (17grams) of sourdough starter is more than enough to build plenty of leaven.
The leaven is left fermenting overnight and eventually mixed into the dough to provide it with a starting population of wild yeast and bacteria.
The exact amount of leaven needed makes around 20 – 25% of the total weight of flour in the recipe.
This recipe contains 550 grams of flour in total that means you will need between 110 – 137.5 grams of active leaven.
To prepare an accurate amount of leaven, we simply take two teaspoons of active starter (approx 17 grams) and mix it with 55 grams of flour and 55 millilitres of water the night before. By morning or 12 hours later our leaven is ready.
Best flour for sourdough bread
Not all flours have the same properties. The variety and type you use will have a significant impact on your bread taste, its rising ability and texture.
The main difference is in the grain (wheat, rye, spelt, white, wholemeal) and the protein content. Flour with more protein can generally develop more gluten. Strong gluten strands help the bread hold its shape better and rise more upward than outward.
We believe that the best flour to start your sourdough adventure with is white flour with high protein content (strong wheat flour, white bread flour or alternatively a good quality all-purpose flour would do as well).
If you want to add some brown flour to your recipe we recommend replacing max 25% of the white flour with wholemeal flour.
Wholemeal flour contains all parts of the wheat berry; some small bits are sharper than others which affects the gluten formation. There is also a difference in how much water and how quickly the wholemeal flour absorbs it compared to the white flour. That’s why making bread with a higher percentage of wholemeal flour requires adjusting the ingredients.
What is the purpose of Autolyse?
Autolyse is a process of hydrating flour with water before all ingredients are mixed together.
Hydrating flour at the beginning has good benefits on the dough:
- Speeds up the gluten formation
- Hydrating the flour shortens the kneading time
- The dough becomes easier to work with
- You get a better oven spring
- It improves the flavour and bread quality
Here is a thorough article that will tell you all about autolysis.
What is the stretch and fold technique?
Bread with 70% + water content (relative to the amount of flour) is considered as a high hydration bread. Sourdough bread belongs in this category. The dough can be tricky to work with because it is more sticky.
To make our sourdough recipe better suited to beginners we slightly decreased the hydration to 68% to make the manipulation with the dough more manageable. And we have another trick that helps. The genius stretch and fold technique.
There are different ways to work with bread dough to develop gluten and elasticity. The traditional method is kneading which requires lots of elbow grease. I am sure that for most of us without a stand mixer, kneading can be hard work and it turns into a pretty messy job when working with sticky dough. That’s when the stretch and fold technique comes in handy.
Stretch and fold technique reduces the hand contact with the sticky dough, therefore it makes working with it much easier. You need to perform 4 – 5 rounds of stretch and folds spaced out 15 – 30 minutes; each stretch and fold consist of 4 folds, one for each of the four cardinal directions (North, South, East and West)
Bulk fermentation or first rise happens after you mix all ingredients together and perform the stretch and fold. This step takes 2 to 3 hours in a warm room (22 – 24 C) and it is critical for adding strength and structure to the dough.
Shaping and building a surface tension
This is an important part that will determine the final shape of your bread. I won’t lie, shaping sticky sourdough bread needs some practice. Bakers on Youtube make it look easy but without experience, it’s a different story.
The dough sticks to the countertop and your hands. If you give up too early and don’t build enough tension along the bread surface you will end up with flat focaccia rather than a nice round well-risen bread (don’t apply if you bake bread in a tin).
Shaping round bread varies from shaping oval bread. We recommend watching these videos below to get an idea about the different shaping techniques and most importantly, practice, practice, practice. It’ll get easier every time.
If you are using a proving basket, shaping for a second time will help your dough keep its shape.
What is bread proving?
Proving refers to a final rise after the dough shaping. It can take between 2 – 3 hours, and it’s usually done in a proving basket.
We understand that as a casual baker, you might not have a proving basket to hand or maybe shaping didn’t go according to plan and your dough is very loose. Don’t worry, we have you covered. Our tip is to prove and bake bread in a loaf tin (or any cake round or square tin for the matter).
Using a tin makes the final process simple. There is no need to transfer the proven dough from the basket onto a baking sheet and then to the oven. The tin will also help the bread keep its shape by creating support for loose dough.
What does butter do in bread making?
Looking at the ingredients, you might wonder why we added a small amount of butter into our dough when traditional recipes for sourdough bread don’t include any butter.
Butter or oil is usually used in bread like focaccia, burger buns or soft white bread. It enriches the bread taste and makes the bread crumb as well as the outer skin softer. An additional benefit of the butter or oil in the dough is that it makes bread fresher and softer for longer. It almost looks like it prevents the bread from drying out too quickly.
Enhancing bread with a small amount of butter is optional. We like adding a knob of butter to our sourdough mainly for its ability to extend the keeping quality of the bread. I also prefer that the loaf is a touch softer inside and easier to cut through the crust (you will still need a sharp bread knife as the crust is crisp).
Sourdough Bread Recipe for Beginners
- 2 tsp Active Sourdough Starter
- 55 ml Water
- 55 g Bread Flour
- 320 ml Water
- 495 g Bread flour
- 17 g Butter softened (optional)
- 10 g Salt
The night before making your bread
Prepare the leaven
- Take 2 tsp of your starter (17g) and mix it with 55ml of water and 55g of bread flour in a bowl.
- Cover and leave to ferment overnight.
The next morning
Hydrate the flour (autolyse) 9am
- Mix 320 ml of water with the 495 g bread flour. Combine both components until just incorporated, don’t knead. Ensure that you have no dry bits of flour left in the bowl.
- Cover the bowl and leave for at least 30 minutes (1 hour is ideal) so the water can hydrate the flour. This is called “autolyse”, but it’s simply the process of allowing the flour to become hydrated.
Making the dough 10 am
- Pour your active, bubbly leaven over the hydrated flour, then sprinkle the salt all over the top and work the leaven into the hydrated flour. The dough is very messy at this point. At first, it looks like the two mixtures struggle to blend but they will eventually combine.
- Optional – adding butter: Once your hydrated flour and leaven is combined, scatter the softened butter over the dough. Then continue stretching and folding until all the butter has been mixed in.
- Cover the bowl and leave to rest for at least 15 minutes.
Stretch and Fold 10:30 am
- Perform 4 rounds of stretch and folds spaced out 15 minutes apart.
- Grab back of the dough, pull up and fold the dough down towards yourself; turn the bowl a quarter-turn and repeat the process.
- Do the stretch and fold for each of the four sides (top, bottom, left and right).
Bulk Fermentation 11:30 pm – 2 pm
- After 4 rounds of stretch and folds, leave the dough to rest in the bowl for around 2-3 hours or until it has approximately doubled in size.
Shaping 2 pm
- Line a tin with baking paper.
- Lightly dust the counter, and the top of your dough with flour.
- Remove your dough from the bowl with the floured side facing down on the countertop.
Option 1: Shaping for a 2lb loaf tin
- Lightly flour your hands, gently shape the dough into a rough rectangular shape approximately double the length of the loaf tin (using your fingertips and gentle pulling).
- Grab the left side of the dough, give it a gentle tug and fold ⅓ over to the right side.
- Grab the right side of the dough, give it a gentle tug and fold ⅓ over to the left side.
- With your fingers press the layers of dough along the bottom edge together to create a straight seam.
- Start rolling the dough from the top edge towards the bottom seam. Tighten it with your thumbs along the way and create an oval “sausage” shape.
- Position the oval shaped dough with the seam side down and gently tuck the left and right side in.
- Quickly without a hesitation transfer the dough (seam side down) into the loaf tin and lightly dust with flour. Cover the tin.
Option 2: Shaping for a 20cm cake tin
- Lightly flour your hands, gently spread the dough with your fingertips into a rough round shape.
- Grab the back edge of the dough, gently pull and fold towards the middle.
- This fold creates a corner at 1 o'clock which you will then grab, pull and fold into the middle.
- You will repeat the grab, pull, and fold movement working your way around the dough
- Work your way around the dough twice so you are left with a nice round ball.
- Pick up the ball you have made and flip it seam side down.
- With a hand cupping motion, spin the dough ball on the counter as this will make the ball tighter. You can use a scraper if you feel it helps with twisting.
- After you have created some tension in the dough, the top side will be visibly smoother, quickly without a hesitation transfer the dough (seam side down) into the tin.
- Lightly dust with flour and cover the tin.
Final Prove 2:30 pm – 5 pm
- Leave the dough proving for 2-3 hours, or until you can see that the dough fills your baking tin. To see whether the dough is ready you can wet your finger and poke the dough. If the dimple springs back quickly, leave it rising longer. You know it's ready when the dimple is slow to spring back, and a small dimple remains.
Baking 5 pm
- Preheat oven to 230 C
- Dust the top of your loaf with flour and score the bread so you control where the bread spits during the oven spring (scoring is optional, only do it if you have a very sharp knife)
- Bake for 25 minutes at 230, then reduce the temperature to 200 C and bake for another 20 minutes. The top should get quite dark brown and crusty.
- Allow the bread to cool for at least an hour before cutting.