How to Make Sourdough Bread, Part 2: The Dough

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Welcome to the second part of my sourdough baking series. This is the part where you make and bake amazing, nibble-worthy loaves of bread.

Yesterday, I made the sponge for my bread using my sourdough starter. I let it sit overnight, covered, to develop flavor. Today, I used that sponge to bake dense and chewy loaves of sourdough bread.

The method couldn’t be simpler. Basically, I added a little salt and more flour the the sponge, then kneaded it into a stiff dough and formed it into loaves. The dough pretty much does the rest all on its own.

Start this early in the day, when you don’t mind hanging around the house for a while. Sourdough can take its time to rise. The results, however, are well worth the wait.

Homemade Sourdough Bread


Sourdough sponge
2 cups flour
2 tsps. kosher salt

How to Make Sourdough Bread, Part 2: Use the sponge to make the dough

So when last we left our sponge, it was sitting on the counter, covered in plastic wrap.

After 12-24 hours, it will have a thin layer of liquid on its surface. This means that the sourdough starter has been hard at work all night, and the alcohol you see on the top of the sponge is the evidence.

Your sponge should be dappled with little air holes, like this:

Turn the sponge out into a large mixing bowl.

It should be smooth and creamy.

When you give it a sniff, it should have a pleasant, sour aroma.

Toss in the flour.

Mix the flour into the sponge with a wooden spoon to form a dough.

When most of the flour is incorporated and it’s getting hard to mix with a spoon, finish kneading it together with your hands in the bowl.

When all of the flour is incorporated, keep kneading the dough in the bowl until it’s smooth and elastic. It should be tacky, but not overly sticky.

Round the dough up into a plump little ball in the bowl.

How to Make Sourdough Bread, Part 2: Set the dough aside for its first rise

Cover the bowl with a damp dishcloth or a few papertowels. Set it aside in a warm spot to rise until it’s doubled in size.

Depending on your particular starter and the temperature in your house, this could take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours. Be patient. It’s developing marvelous flavor.

When it’s about doubled in size, it should look like this:

How to Make Sourdough Bread, Part 2: Form the loaves and let them rise

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Sprinkle it with a little coarse cornmeal if you like. Set it aside while you deal with the dough.

Punch the dough down to smoosh the air out of it. Knead it a few times, then round it up into a smooth ball. Put the ball on a board. (Your dough should be tacky, but not sticky. If you do find that it’s sticking, toss a little flour underneath it.)

You’re ready to form your loaves. I made two long, French-style loaves of bread. If you prefer a different shape, you could totally make a large rustic boule, small rolls, sandwich bread, etc. You’ll just have to fidget around a little with your baking time and temperature to account for the shape you choose.

Divide the dough in half and round each piece up into a ball.

Stretch one piece of dough out to start to elongate it.

With your hands, work it into a long tube. When you have a basic tube shape, fold the dough over on itself a few times to firm up your loaf.

Do the same thing with the other ball of dough. Place both loaves onto your prepared sheet pan.

Set the pan in a warm place and let the loaves rise until they’ve about doubled in size. This took about 2 hours for me.

How to Make Sourdough Bread, Part 2: Bake the bread

When the loaves have about doubled in size, they may still be a little flat. Don’t worry about that. They’ll puff up in the oven.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Fill an ovenproof pan half full with water and set it on the bottom rack of your oven. This will release steam and help improve your crust.

Right before you slide your loaves into the oven, brush their tops with cold water (again to help improve the crust). If you like, you can also cut a few diagonal slashes in the dough with a razor blade, for that signature french-loaf look.

Bake at 450 degrees for 25 minutes or so, until the bread is golden brown. When you tap the crust with a finger, it will be very hard (don’t worry…it will soften up after you remove it from the oven).

When it’s done, take your pan out of the oven, and slide the loaves onto a rack to cool.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, which will conclude my sourdough bread series with an ooey-gooey bang.

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Copyright 2008 The Hungry Mouse/Jessica B. Konopa. All rights reserved.

Stonewall Kitchen, LLC

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Jessie Cross is a cookbook author and creator of The Hungry Mouse, a monster online food blog w/500+ recipes. When she's not shopping for cheese or baking pies, Jessie serves as an Associate Creative Director at PARTNERS+simons, a boutique ad agency in Boston. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and two small, fluffy wolves.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Did you see my adventures in sourdough slideshow? We are so on the same page – I’m doing a piece for Examiner column on Boston Food Bloggers – want to participate? If I find enough I might make it a regular feature.

    I have some very old starter – each time I feed it I make something with the cup I take out – like sourdough pancakes, popovers (in muffin pans!) and buttermilk biscuits.

  2. I’m a new reader, but had to drop in and say that I particularly love the last photo. Is there anything in this world better than butter on fresh bread? Hardly… 😉

    Steph – fellow bread baker

  3. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. My starter is alive and kicking, and I followed all of your instructions to a t. I had to add a handful of extra flour so that the dough wasn’t so sticky for its first rise, and instead of two long loaves I did one long loaf and four buns. It smells wonderful, and everything rose before it was baking, but once it got in the oven it flattened out. After 25 minutes in the oven my loaves were crusty on the outside, but still doughy on the inside. So right now it’s in the oven for a little bit longer, but I’m not sure what I did wrong.

    Any tips for a confused baker?

    • It sounds to me as though the dough was a little too wet, and you let it rise for just a little too long. The dough (once you are mixing the final flour in) should pull away from the sides of your mixing bowl and leave the sides clean. The dough will be sticky to the touch but pull away from the sides. Yes it IS possible to over “proof” your dough, by letting it rise too long. This will make the dough flatten out in the oven if that’s the case. There isn’t a general rule on time, as it depends on the amount of active yeast in your starter, and the relative warmth of the area you are letting it rise in, as well as humidity. You just have to basically watch it, check it every 10-15 minutes until the loaf(s) are quite literally Doubled in size. If for some reason you have let them rise too much, just punch them down, reform your loafs, and let them rise again. This is the basis for “French bread”…. it results in a finer texture to the bread, but the rise time of the additional doubling will increase also. Sourdough is truly a labor of love!

  4. I just started my sponge and am letting it rest on the counter. I am using some starter i have been nurturing for a while now. I am confident my starter is fully active (it was very foamy).
    Tomorroow I will make my loaf of sourdough bread. I will serve it with our easter dinner. Thanks for your helpful site ( was tired of pancakes).

  5. Just made my first loaves using my own home-made starter. Turned out great. I first heard about natural yeast from a baker in Coos Bay, Oregon and was determined to give it a try. One cup of flour and one of water, and after a couple of days it was bubbling like mad. I ‘fed’ it each day for a week. After taking out one cup of starter, I now have 2 loaves and starter left over for the next time. Thanks so much for your very clear instructions.

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