How to Make Sourdough Bread

Easy step-by-step directions with photos showing you how to make sourdough bread. This delicious Pain au Belle recipe is courtesy of Shannon Peckford at Sourdough School House and is perfect for beginner sourdough bakers!

Just like my sourdough naan and sourdough pumpkin muffins, this sourdough bread is naturally fermented using wild yeast. My love of sourdough started with baking bread, and I am so excited to finally share this go-to recipe from Sourdough School House.

two loaves of sourdough bread on white backdrop with sourdough bannetons in background
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Like many, became obsessed with baking sourdough bread as a result of our first lockdown in March 2020. Here in Ontario, we had family Zoom calls to learn how to bake sourdough at home. It was such a fun way to bring everyone together, have a laugh, and connect during the early days of the pandemic. My Dad has been making sourdough for a few years, and was happy to teach everyone his method! So all credit really goes to my Dad for getting me interested in sourdough – I really did not think it was going to be something I enjoyed so much. Now, baking sourdough is part of my weekly routine and I absolutely love the relaxing process. Not to mention, gifting warm loaves of sourdough is one of the best ways to make friends.

After my first sourdough encounter, I was hooked. I then had the opportunity to take Shannon Peckford’s Sourdough School House courses, to learn more about the whole art and science of sourdough. Shannon is an expert who has been making sourdough for 10+ years, and I am so honored to share her classic Pain Au Belle recipe with you here! This is the basic sourdough recipe that I have made again and again. Best of all, it’s customizable! So once you get the basic loaf down, you can start experimenting with adding inclusions and digging into some fancy bread scoring. Sourdough baking is such a great hobby, and you’re in for a treat if you are just starting out. I hope that this post on how to make sourdough bread is helpful for you – please leave any questions in the comments below!

Sourdough Terminology

Sourdough starter – is a living culture of wild yeast and good bacteria! Sourdough starter is made with fermented flour and water. It is fed on a schedule, and is responsible for the rise, sour flavour, texture, and health benefits of sourdough baking.

Levain – is active sourdough starter. Really, it is the same thing as a sourdough starter, the only difference being that levain is prepared in quantity for the recipe. Levain is a “pre-ferment” that is prepared in advance of mixing your bread.

Autolyse – the period of rest after mixing the flour and water together. This allows enzymes in the flour to become active and allows the flour to fully hydrate. The salt is not added until after the autolyse, allowing the yeast to work without the salt slowing down the process of fermentation.

Proofing – during proofing, the dough is allowed to rest while the yeast ferments. As the yeast ferments, it produces gasses that cause the dough to rise.

Delayed fermentation – after the room temperature final proofing, delayed fermentation involves transferring the dough to your refrigerator for at least 6 hours, or up to 36 hours. During this time, the dough develops a more sour flavour, and gluten content is reduced as it continues to ferment. This step also helps to fit sourdough baking into your schedule, since it gives flexibility on when you can bake it.

Bannetonbannetons are proofing baskets made with natural rattan. They help your sourdough loaf to hold it’s structure and shape as it’s proofing.

Boule – a round “ball” shaped loaf of bread

Batard – classic “torpedo” shaped loaf of bread

Bread lame – a blade used to score your loaf before it goes into the oven

Ingredients

  • Organic bread flour – check out this handy guide showing you were to buy organic bread flour. I like to use Anita’s Organic, but I have also heard One Organic Farm bread flour is amazing, as well as King Arthur Bread Flour.
  • Water – you will need filtered, clorine free water
  • Salt – regular sea salt

Bread Stats

LevainFinal DoughBaker’s PercentageDough Stats
27 grams starter480 – 510 grams water (80-85ºF)53-57%Makes 2 loaves @ 888 grams
135 grams water (80 – 85º F) 90 grams milk or dairy-free milk alternative10%Hydration – 67-70%
135 grams bread flour270 grams levain30%
900 grams bread flour (12-14% protein)100%
20 grams salt2.25%

NOTE: the range of water in the recipe. Flour absorbs water at different rates. Start with the lower amount, then only add the remaining water if your flour can handle it. Do not add it all if your dough is overly sticky.

Equipment

sourdough tools and equipment on light grey backdrop, from above. Clear glass bowl on a kitchen scale, spatula, levain, sourdough starter, and bread flour

Kitchen scale – a kitchen scale is absolutely essential for accurately measuring your ingredients, which means better chances for success with your sourdough baking!

Proofing buckets or large bowls – I use a large bowl covered with a cutting board, but these proofing buckets with lids are ideal for mixing bread in.

Kitchen thermometer – can be useful for accurately measuring water temperature and the temperature of your dough, to ensure you are not over or under proofing. The fermentation process is temperature dependant, so having a kitchen thermometer will be very useful.

Sifter – a sifter is useful to add a light sprinkling of flour to the top of your dough before scoring. This gold sifter from Sourdough School House is beautiful, or if you don’t have a sifter – I use a tea strainer!

Bench knife – for shaping your sourdough loaves, and for cutting the dough to divide into loaves.

Dutch oven or a Bread Baking Pan – you will need a heavy-duty dutch oven with a lid (to hold moisture in) or a bread baking pan to bake your sourdough. These can get quite pricey! On the expensive end is the challenger bread baking pan (which I have heard is amazing but not had the pleasure of using), or you can opt for a simple dutch oven like the one I found for $100! Either option is an investment that you will use for a lifetime!

Step by Step Directions

levain on white kitchen scale from above, with blue spatula

7:00 – 9:00 pm the night before

1. Prepare Levain – prepare the levain by mixing together 135 grams water, 27 grams sourdough starter, and 135 grams bread flour. Cover and let sit overnight at room temperature overnight.

9:00 am the next day

2. The Mix – Bring the dough together with a “partial” autolyse. In a proofing bucket or large mixing bowl, add the water (reserving 25 grams to add later with the salt), milk (or milk alternative), and levain. The levain will float on top of the liquid if it is active. Then, add the flour and mix until there are no dry bits of flour left.

Important note – hold the salt. The mix without salt is a “partial” autolyse. It is a rest period where the flour hydrates and the dough starts to develop without much effort. It can be as short as 30 minutes and up to 4 hours.

The longer the “partial” autolyse, the more extensible the dough will become, which does promote a more open crumb, but can also lead to dough handling challenges if you are new to baking or if you have a lower protein flour. Longer does not mean better. The Sourdough School House method recommends starting with a shorter autolyse if new or if you are unsure about the protein strength of your flour.

dough after autolyse, with salt brine on top from above

9:30 am (30 minutes after the mix)

3. Add brine – After the “partial” autolyse, add the salt with the reserved 25 grams of water. Dimple it in with your fingertips and mix well. The dough should be fully hydrated, no dry bits of flour and it should have some development, meaning it is smooth, cohesive, and can stretch well without tearing.

composite image of sourdough folding technique

10:30 – first turn
12:00 – second turn
1:30 – third turn

4. Bulk Fermentation – this is where the rise happens and dough development is made complete! The dough is developed with a series of “turns” or “folds”. You will complete 3 to 4 Turns/Folds over 4 to 6 hours. Time is temperature-dependent.

  • First turn – 1 hour after the salt was added.
  • Second – 4th turns turn – 45 minutes to 1.5 hour increments thereafter.

TIP: only add the 4th Turn if the dough seems weak and spreads out quickly after the Turn. The dough should RISE by 30-50% by the end of the Bulk.

dough divided into two with bench scraper, before shaping

2:30 pm

5. Divide + Par-shape – with damp fingers, gently release the dough from the proofing bucket/bowl onto a damp or lightly floured surface. Complete a light par shaping by following the steps below on how to shape a batard.

How to shape a batard

composite image showing how to shape a sourdough battard
  1. Open up the dough so that it is lying flat on your surface
  2. Fold down one side
  3. Fold down second side into a candy corn/ triangle shape
  4. Roll the dough up from either end (starting at either the small or large end) into a batard / torpedo shape. You can use your hands or your bench knife to gently pull the dough across the countertop, creating surface tension on the outside of the dough. You will know that the dough is done shaping when it is no longer sticky on the outside!
dough shaped into two battards, from above with bench scraper, and blue and white linen

2:45 pm

6. Final shape – after the par shape, let the dough rest for 10-30 minutes (covered with a tea towel). Then, perform a final shape, gently using the bench knife to scoop under and pull in the edges of the loaf. Be careful to retain the airy dough created during the bulk, whilst creating tension on the surface of the loaf to help it hold its shape, but still have a light and airy interior crumb.

two sourdough loaves in bannetons from above

7. Transfer to Banneton – transfer to a rice flour dusted banneton or tea towel-lined bowl (also dusted in rice flour).

Tip – use rice flour to dust the banneton or tea towel-lined bowl to ensure that the dough does not stick. Be sure to use rice flour (not bread flour) otherwise it will stick, and create a big mess!

two sourdough loaves in bannetons from 45º angle, each wrapped in clear plastic bag

8. Room Temperature Final Proof – This is the last chance to ensure the dough is fully proofed for optimum rise and texture. With this recipe, the final proof will be anywhere from 45 minutes and up to 4 hours, the length of time is EXTREMELY temperature-dependent. Place the bannetons in plastic bags to retain moisture. They will remain in the bags until ready to bake.

From here, you have two options! I always choose option a (delayed fermentation) as I prefer this method and enjoy the additional benefits of a longer fermentation.

4:30 pm

a) Delay Fermentation/Cool Retardation – after the room temperature final proof, transfer the dough to your refrigerator for at least 6 hours and up to about 36 hours. The longer in the fridge, you will get a more sour flavour and reduced gluten due to fermentation.

b) Bake Right Away – if you just can’t wait, or if the additional health benefits and flavour /texture benefits of sourdough are not important to you, you can bake at this point. FYI: We STRONGLY recommend using a Delay Fermentation Method.

TIP: In the Sourdough Series 101, Shannon teaches more delayed fermentation options to fit sourdough into your life. The method discussed here is my favourite method, but the others are good to learn to help fit sourdough around your schedule!

sourdough on parchment paper with a design scored in it from above, with bread lame

9. The Bake

Preheat oven – A hot oven is KEY. At least 45 minutes before baking, pre-heat your oven along with the Dutch Oven/Bread Cloche to 500-550°F, as hot as your oven will go.

Score – Remove your loaf from the refrigerator. On a piece of parchment paper, flip the banneton upside down to gently dump out your dough. Score as desired using your bread lame.

Bake – Immediately after scoring, load your loaf into the hot Dutch Oven/Bread Cloche (be very careful).

Reduce temp – reduce the temperature to 450°F and bake COVERED (with the lid on) for 18 minutes.

Remove the lid – remove lid and bake UNCOVERED for an additional 15-18 minutes or until the internal temperature is over 205°F check the colour of the loaf when it is baking UNCOVERED and reduce the temperature down if it is getting too dark

two sourdough loaves after baking, from above

10. Cooling – have patience. The cooling process is part of the process. Let the loaf cool on a wire cooling rack for at least 2 hours if you have that much self-control. Slice and enjoy!

two loves of sourdough shaped and scored as pumpkins
two loaves of sourdough bread on white backdrop

FAQ

Can I add in whole grains?

Whole grains are a great addition to any loaf for flavour, texture and nutritional value. Feel free to substitute up to 30% of the bread flour with your favourite whole grain or combination of whole grains. I love red fife, spelt, a little rye or even just straight up whole wheat. Notice how the whole grains affect the feel and texture of the dough as you move through the process. You may need to add a little extra water to the mix up front as whole grains tend to soak up more water. As well, you may notice that the bulk fermentation and final proof is a little faster, due to increased enzymatic activity in the mix. Experiments can be a lot of fun and give you the opporunity to add your own special flare to a recipe.

How can I make this vegan/ dairy-free?

You can make this recipe vegan by using your favourite milk alternative (any nut milk, oat milk, etc.) or simply use water in lieu of the milk. If using water, use only 80 grams water in place of the 90 grams milk, or you may end up with a wetter and more difficult to handle dough. Note: in these photos, I used unsweetened plain almond milk!

How do I learn how to score bread?

Practice, practice, practice! And watch videos. I learned quickly by watching lots of videos on Pinterest and Instagram. I also found investing in a good bread lame helped a lot and made it much easier!

Sourdough Mini Magic Workshop

Ready to learn more? Don’t have a sourdough starter yet? The sourdough mini magic workshop would be the perfect place for you to start! Learn the process of making sourdough bread in this comprehensive workshop and learn how to get consistent results.

This 4-Part Sourdough Workshop Includes:

  • How to build and maintain a sourdough starter
  • The 7 Step Sourdough School House Framework 
  • Bread Tutorial Using the 7 Step Framework 
  • Bonus Blueberry Coconut Muffins Sourdough Discard Recipe + More Bonuses!
  • Comprehensive Workbook
  • 24/7 access

No experience is necessary, all skill levels welcome! Total value $90 USD, all for the price of $27

Please tag me @nourishmintkitchen and share on your IG stories if you make this recipe, I would love to see your creations!

Pin this post to save the recipe for later!

Pain Au Belle

Shannon Peckford
Easy step-by-step directions with photos showing you how to make sourdough bread. This delicious Pain au Belle recipe is courtesy of Shannon Peckford at Sourdough School House and is perfect for beginner sourdough bakers!
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 1 d 4 hrs
Cook Time 36 mins
Total Time 1 d 4 hrs 36 mins
Course Side Dish
Cuisine French
Servings 2 loaves

Ingredients
  

Levain

  • 27 grams sourdough starter
  • 135 grams water 80 – 85º F
  • 135 grams bread flour

Final Dough

  • 480 – 510 grams water 80-85ºF
  • 90 grams milk or dairy-free milk alternative I use almond milk
  • 270 grams levain
  • 900 grams bread flour 12 – 14% protein
  • 20 grams salt

Instructions
 

Day 1 – Preparing Levain

  • 7:00 – 9:00 pm the night before – prepare the levain by mixing together 135 grams water, 27 grams sourdough starter, and 135 grams bread flour. Cover and let sit overnight at room temperature.

Day 2 – Mixing Dough

  • 9:00 am the next day: the mix – Bring the dough together with a “partial” autolyse. In a proofing bucket or large mixing bowl, add the water (reserving 25 grams to add later with the salt), milk (or milk alternative), and levain. The levain will float on top of the liquid if it is active. Then, add the flour and mix until there are no dry bits of flour left. * see note 1
  • 9:30 am add the brine –  After the “partial” autolyse, add the salt with the reserved 25 grams of water. Dimple it in with your fingertips and mix well. The dough should be fully hydrated, no dry bits of flour and it should have some development, meaning it is smooth, cohesive, and can stretch well without tearing.
  • 10:30 am – 1:30 pm Bulk Fermentation – this is where the rise happens and dough development is made complete! The dough is developed with a series of “turns” or “folds”. You will complete 3 to 4 Turns/Folds over 4 to 6 hours. Time is temperature-dependent.
  • 2:30 pm Divide + Par-shape – with damp fingers, gently release the dough from the proofing bucket/bowl onto a damp or lightly floured surface. Complete a light par shaping by following the steps below on how to shape a batard.
  • 2:45 pm Final shape – after the par shape, let the dough rest for 10-30 minutes (covered with a tea towel). Then, perform a final shape, gently using the bench knife to scoop under and pull in the edges of the loaf. Be careful to retain the airy dough created during the bulk, whilst creating tension on the surface of the loaf to help it hold its shape, but still have a light and airy interior crumb.
  • Transfer to Banneton – transfer to a rice flour dusted banneton or tea towel-lined bowl (also dusted in rice flour).
  • Room Temperature Final Proof – This is the last chance to ensure the dough is fully proofed for optimum rise and texture. With this recipe, the final proof will be anywhere from 45 minutes and up to 4 hours, the length of time is EXTREMELY temperature-dependent. Place the bannetons in plastic bags to retain moisture. They will remain in the bags until ready to bake.
  • 4:30 Delay Fermentation/Cool Retardation – after the room temperature final proof, transfer the dough to your refrigerator for at least 6 hours and up to about 36 hours. The longer in the fridge, you will get a more sour flavour and reduced gluten due to fermentation.

Day 3 – Baking

  • Preheat oven – A hot oven is KEY. At least 45 minutes before baking, pre-heat your oven along with the Dutch Oven/Bread Cloche to 500-550°F, as hot as your oven will go.
  • Score – Remove your loaf from the refrigerator. On a piece of parchment paper, flip the banneton upside down to gently dump out your dough. Score as desired using your bread lame.
  • Bake – Immediately after scoring, load your loaf into the hot Dutch Oven/Bread Cloche (be very careful).
  • Reduce temp – reduce the temperature to 450°F and bake COVERED (with the lid on) for 18 minutes.
  • Remove the lid – remove lid and bake UNCOVERED for an additional 15-18 minutes or until the internal temperature is over 205°F check the colour of the loaf when it is baking UNCOVERED and reduce the temperature down if it is getting too dark

Notes

1 – hold the salt. The mix without salt is a “partial” autolyse. It is a rest period where the flour hydrates and the dough starts to develop without much effort. It can be as short as 30 minutes and up to 4 hours.
Keyword how to make sourdough bread, pain au belle, Sourdough bread, sourdough bread step by step
graphic with image and text: how to make sourdough bread

About

My name is Jasmine! Im a Certified Holistic Nutritionist and absolute foodie from the Kawartha Lakes in Ontario Canada. Here on NourishMint Kitchen I share healthy recipes, tips for natural living, holistic health and mindfulness. You can expect to see lots of photos of lake life, delicious food, the outdoors and our black lab Otter here!

4 thoughts on “How to Make Sourdough Bread

  1. 5 stars
    Wow! Your sourdough always looks so beautiful and delicious Jazz! 😍 and your tiktok video was so therapeutic 💛

  2. This recipe looks amazing !!! Love your pumpkin loaf for Thanksgiving! The pics look amazing ! I will definitely be trying this recipe

    1. Thank you so much, Daniela! I hope you enjoy – be sure to come back and let me know how it turns out once you make it!

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