How to make sourdough bread

From perfecting the starter to baking your dream loaf, here’s how to make sourdough like a pro.  

Use a rubber band as your guide

The starter is an active mixture created by fermenting flour and water to make a ‘wild yeast’, which in turn helps the bread to rise as it bakes. To guide you on how active your sourdough starter is, place a rubber band around the jar level with the starter – the starter will rise above the band after it’s fed. When the starter drops back down to the rubber band level, it’s ready to be fed again. Storing your starter in a warm place also helps it grow and ferment.

Sourdough starter in a jar with a rubber band

Check if the starter is ready

To see if your sourdough starter is ready to use, drop 1/2 tsp of it into a glass of cold water. If the starter floats, this means it’s airy, light and ready to use to make bread. If the starter sinks to the bottom of the glass, don’t worry – just repeat the feeding process and this test until the starter is ready to use.
 

1/2 tsp of the starter dropped into a glass of cold water

The first proof

Once you’ve mixed your starter, water and combined flour, rest the dough for 30 mins. This is the first proof, also known as the ‘autolyse’, which develops the gluten and helps the dough rise. Salt can stop gluten from developing, which is why the salt is added after this.
 

Rest the dough in a glass bowl

Shape the dough

You want the dough to be a tight, neat ball when you bake it so the loaf holds its shape. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface, then use a pastry scraper, a palette knife or your hand to lift and turn the dough, dragging the dough back towards you, until it’s a tight ball. Dragging the dough helps to create a tight structure for perfectly round sourdough.
 

Two hands shaping the dough into a tight, neat ball

Overnight proof

This overnight proof is done in the fridge. The chilled environment allows the dough to rise more slowly than if it were in a warm place. The slower rising time helps the dough develop more acidity and gives it the distinct ‘sour’ taste. Before chilling, line a bowl with muslin or a clean tea towel and dust it with rice flour, then add the dough. This keeps the dough from sticking to the bowl and makes it easier to turn out – you don’t want to lose the tight ball of dough that you worked so hard to achieve!

 

Add the dough into dusted rice flour in a muslin-lined bowl

Cool before slicing

We know you won’t want to wait to tuck into your freshly baked bread, but make sure you let the loaf cool for at least 30 minutes before you cut into it. This helps the bread retain its shape while you slice it – otherwise, the insides of the bread can become mushy. Sourdough freezes well too, so if you’ve made more than you’ll eat, cut the loaf in half and wrap with baking paper and foil. Freeze it for up to 1 month.

Cooling off for 30 minutes before cutting the loaf

Ready to have a go? Check out the recipes below.