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  • Writer's pictureMcKenna

Sourdough Bread Baking Guide: The Overview

If you've ever been captivated by the aroma of freshly baked bread or intrigued by the idea of crafting your own artisanal loaves from scratch, you're in the right place.

Over the next few articles, I'll walk you through a step-by-step guide to creating a beautiful, classic loaf of sourdough bread. From the beginning stages of building a levain to cutting your first slice, we'll dive deep into every important aspect of the bread-making process. Along the way, I'll share tips, tricks I've learned, & FAQs you might run into.

I'll admit, the sourdough process can feel overwhelming & intimidating at first, but I promise, it's actually quite manageable & flexible for your schedule. This is why I've broken down each step into its own article. You can navigate the pages based on which step you're currently at & any questions you might have pertaining to that specific stage.

In this article...

I'll give you an overview of the entire sourdough process, from there, I recommend following the articles in order, using them as your personal tour guide. Each tutorial will have pictures, videos, & important tips to make the entire process as easy as possible for you.

I hope that by the end of them, you feel confident & excited to create your own bread. Sourdough baking is empowering, inspiring, & feels incredibly rewarding to provide food for you & your loved ones. If at any time you have questions, leave a comment & I'll get back to you shortly :)

Sourdough crumb shot against brick wall

What is sourdough bread?

Sourdough is a type of bread made from a fermented dough that contains naturally occurring wild yeast & bacteria. Unlike commercial yeast bread, which relies on packaged yeast for leavening, sourdough bread uses a sourdough starter as its leavening agent - in other words, the thing that brings it to life.

At the heart of sourdough bread is the starter, a living culture of wild yeast & mostly lactobacilli bacteria (among others). This starter is typically made from a mixture of flour & water, which provides the nutrients needed to cultivate the yeast & bacteria. As the starter ferments, wild yeast from the environment in your home, as well as the lactobacilli bacteria present in the flour, begin to colonize the mixture, creating a thriving ecosystem that produces bubbles of carbon dioxide gas & organic acids.

Nutritional benefits of sourdough

One of the main reasons I became interested in sourdough was because of its nutritional profile. I had just started nutrition school, was experiencing painful digestive symptoms, & avoided bread like the plague. It made me really sad. I didn't want to live the rest of my life in fear of something I loved so much. So I did some research on sourdough. I soon discovered that the fermentation process breaks down complex carbohydrates & proteins in the flour, making it a lot easier for our bodies to digest than other breads. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals with sensitive digestive systems or those who struggle with gluten intolerance.

For anyone, but especially those struggling with digestion, the fermentation process works wonders by increasing the bioavailability of certain nutrients within the bread, including vitamins, minerals, & antioxidants, making sourdough bread a more nutrient-rich option than most store-bought, dry-yeasted breads.

Sourdough in ceramic bowl with wooden spoon

Why start baking sourdough?

Aside from the nutritional benefit, there's something incredibly rewarding about creating your own bread from scratch. It's like caring for a child. From nurturing your sourdough starter to crafting beautiful loaves, the entire process is a reflection of your learned skill, care, & creativity. It's empowering.

We also can't forget the fact that sourdough bread has been a source of fuel & nourishment throughout our world's history, spanning across many cultures, for thousands of years. By learning how to make sourdough, we get the opportunity to connect with ancient traditions, embrace a slower lifestyle, & savor the simple joys of homemade foods.

An overview of the steps

Every baker has their own style, so these steps will certainly change from person to person. The point is that there’s no ONE way to make sourdough & it’s really quite forgiving.

Here are the steps that I stick to while making my classic loaf of sourdough bread. It's what I started with 4 years ago & really, hasn't changed too much. I'd like to note that these steps are assuming you've already built a sourdough starter, which you'll need in order to get going with step 1.

If you don't already have one, grab my sourdough starter guide, it's free & will take you through each step to building an active starter in about 7 days.

Once you have your starter rising & falling regularly, you're ready to make a loaf! Here's what you'll do...

1) Build your levain: Can take anywhere from 4-12 hours to be ready.

2) Autolyse (not required): 15min - 2 hours

3) Add levain

4) Add salt (can add this with your levain)

5) Bulking - stretch & folds: A series of 4-6 folds every 30 minutes, lasting about 2 hours

6) Bulking - untouched: Lasting about 2 hours

7) Pre-shape & rest: Left untouched for about 30 minutes on the counter

8) Final shape

9) Overnight proof: About 8-12 hours, or longer if preferred

10) BAKE: 45 minutes

11) Rest & slice: Leave to cool for at least 1 hour

As I said, this is a general overview. The entire process from building your levain to eating a slice can take anywhere from 20 - 32+ hours. But keep in mind that much of this time won't require work from you, just waiting, lots of waiting.

Girl holding loaf of sourdough bread

Before you continue

This is merely my method to baking sourdough, one baker among so many. As you continue practicing, I encourage you to experiment & find what works best for you. See what other bakers are doing & try different techniques. The cool thing about sourdough is that your process is unique to you, which is what makes your bread special.

Stay tuned for Step 1: Building your levain.


Holistic Nutritionist, CSCS


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