Baking Naturally-leavened Sourdough Bread

At its minimum best, bread consists of only three ingredients: flour, water, and salt.

Since olive oil may be used to lightly coat the inside of a bowl or bucket while the bread dough ferments, then olive oil would officially be listed as an ingredient, but I don't use it within the dough recipe.

Two key variables are time and air temperature. Humidity can impact the amount of water used in the recipe.

Even though only a few ingredients and variables are required to make great bread, a wide variety of procedures can be used to ferment, proof, and bake the dough.

I like the biology and/or chemistry that occurs with producing a dough for baking. I'll leave the science out of this post.

This post contains some of the different ways that I have used to create a bread dough.


My starter was "born" in a Zingerman's bread baking class in Ann Arbor on January 30, 2010, and it has been "raised" in Toledo, Ohio since.

The starter began as 100 percent all-purpose flour, but within the first year or so, it became 100 percent white whole flour.

My recipe for refreshing my starter once a week:

The chilly, dry air in our house in the winter requires a bit more water when working the dough.

  1. add water to bowl
  2. tear pieces of last week's starter and add to bowl of water
  3. mix starter in water for 60 seconds
  4. mix flour into water
  5. dump mixture onto counter
  6. knead for six minutes
  7. place dough into lightly oiled bowl and cover
  8. ferment at room temp for at least 8 hours in chilly house in the winter with temps in the low 60s, and 5 to 6 hours in the summer with house temps 75 to 80 degrees or warmer

Light Bread Recipe

I normally make a 100 percent whole grain bread that consists of my 100 percent white whole wheat flour starter and a flour ratio of 70 percent white whole wheat and 30 percent spelt.

The first recipe below is for my "light" bread version, which still consists of my 100 percent white whole wheat flour starter, but a flour combo comprised of 50 percent white whole wheat and 50 percent all-purpose flours. This still produces a tasty bread with a bit softer crumb.


Half white whole wheat flour and half all-purpose flour.

includes baker percentages

Another option is 60-40 ratio of ap flour vs www.


  1. bowl one - mix water and starter
  2. bowl two - mix the two flours
  3. let salt sit on the sidelines for now
  4. add flour mix to the bowl with starter and water and mix/incorporate for 3 minutes or until a shaggy ball is produced
  5. dump dough onto counter and cover with bowl
  6. let dough rest (autolyse) for 30 minutes
  7. place dough back into bowl
  8. with wet hands, mix/incorporate the salt for 1 to 2 minutes, which can include some light kneading within the bowl and making a hook with one hand, placing hooked hand into dough, and turning bowl, so that dough twists around hand
  9. place dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover.
  10. after 10 minutes, dump dough onto lightly oiled counter and complete a stretch and fold, which means patting out the dough a little and one at a time, grabbing each of the four sides and stretching it and folding it back onto itself.
  11. after the stretch and fold, place the bundled dough back into lightly oiled bowl and cover.
  12. after another 10 minute rest, complete the second stretch and fold like above, and then repeat this process two more times. 10 minute rest followed by a stretch and fold for a total of 4 s&fs.
  13. (optionally, increase the 10 minute rest between each s&f to 15 to 20 minutes.)
  14. after the fourth and final s&f, place dough into lightly oiled bowl, cover, and let ferment at room temp for 4 to 6 hours. (4.75 hours on August 9, 2013 with outside air and house temps in the mid to upper 70s, windows open and our two window AC units off)
  15. after fermenting, dump dough onto a lightly oiled counter
  16. Chad Robertson's instructions for folding, resting, and shaping dough after fermenting
  17. gently shape dough into a ball
  18. cover and allow dough to bench rest for 20 minutes
  19. pat dough out gently
  20. complete a stretch and fold with an additional fifth fold over being the one that tightens the dough into a bundle
  21. place dough seam side up into proofing basket and cover with plastic bag
  22. proof at room temp for 2 to 3 hours or as in my case, I proofed at room temp for 1 hour and then placed the plastic-covered basket of dough into the refrigerator where it proofed for 10 hours
  23. I proofed in an oval banneton basket that used a linen liner and white whole wheat flour dusted on the liner and on the dough before it was placed into basket
  24. place baking stone or dutch oven into oven. I place the stone near the bottom of the oven and the dutch oven in the middle of the oven.
  25. preheat oven at 525 F degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. This is when I removed the proofed basket of dough from the frig.
  26. during the final 10 to 15 minutes of preheating the oven, place large metal mixing bowl into oven if baking with the stone
  27. sprinkle flour onto top of dough while it is still in the basket
  28. dump dough onto parchment paper. Surprisingly, the dough came out easily. No sticking to the linen. The final proofed dough was about 3/4 inch from the top edge of the small oval basket.
  29. Since the dough proofed seam side up, and after it has been dumped onto paper, it's now seam side down, slash the dough lengthwise down the middle, approx 1/4 inch deep.
  30. option: load spray bottle with hot tap water
  31. after stove has preheated and dough is ready, remove metal lid from oven.
  32. place parchment paper and dough onto stone or into dutch oven if using that
  33. cover stone with bowl
  34. option: lift bowl off stone a little and spray underside of bowl with the hot water. add steam. this may not be added, but for now, I'm doing this.
  35. lower bowl over stone, close oven door.
  36. lower oven temp to 500 F degrees
  37. set timer for 35 minutes
  38. after 15 minutes (20 minutes left on the clock) remove the metal bowl or the lid from the dutch oven
  39. lower oven temp to 475 or leave it at 500. play with this.
  40. after 25 minutes (10 minutes left on the clock) rotate the bread on the parchment paper to ensure the side closest to the back of the oven does not get baked too much
  41. after 35 minutes is up, the internal bread temp will register at least 200 degrees, so can either remove bread from oven or bake it a bit longer to darken the crust to taste. one option is to turn off the oven after 35 minutes, but leave bread in the oven for another 5 minutes. I like a dark crust from the carmelization of the natural sugars in the flour. The white whole wheat flour will create a darker than normal crust anyway.
  42. when done baking, remove bread from oven, place on cooling rack, and let rest for at least four hours before cutting.

Notes from a bake

More notes from another bake

Assembled two batches of the bread dough recipe late on a Friday night. Used 12 grams of sea salt again. During the day, created two starter feedings. I fed the starter the day before, on its 4th birthday, Jan 30. Then Jan 31, I used that starter to create two feedings.

Starters fermented for about 10 hours with house temp in the low 60s and outside temp around 28-32 degrees.

Used the fresh, room-temp starter to make the two batches of bread dough. Cool water from tap ran though the pitcher and then used, so it did not warm to room temp.

20 minute rest between all the stretch and folds for both batches.

Batch A, dough set up to ferment at 1:17 a.m. Batch B, dough set up to ferment at 2:00 a.m.

Approx 7.5 hours of fermenting time for both.

Weather overnight during the fermenting:

Dumped Batch A at 8:45 a.m. Rolled up, tucked in the sides into a squarish package. Bench rested for 20 minutes. Then a small stretch and fold and tried to create a log shape. The dough was bubbly. I busted some bubbles. I placed dough seam-side down into the cloth-lined oval-shaped basket.

Batch A, dough set up to proof at 9:08 a.m.

Dumped Batch B at 9:30 a.m. Bench rested as for Batch A, except Batch B proofed in a round, linen-lined, wicker basket that DD brought back from a bakery in Paris.

Batch B, dough set up to proof at 9:55 a.m.

Both doughs proofing on top of the piano in the dining room. Same house temp as overnight, low 60s. Outside temp is at least 32 degrees at 10:00 a.m., and it will warm to mid to upper 30s today. The snow has changed to sleet which will change to all rain for the afternoon. So possibly a little more humidity in the house, compared to a day with single digit temps.



Batch A after baking:

Batch B placed into the oven at 2:35 p.m.

No-knead method

I fed my starter two days ago. I used some of that to create a quick bread dough recipe. No instant yeast used. I'm trying Lahey's method to sourdough bread.

I set up the bread dough at 2:40 p.m.

I fed my starter again earlier, and I set that up around 1:00 p.m.

For today's bread dough recipe: I used:

I let the starter soak in water for about an hour, so that the starter would be mostly dissolved.


It was a super sticky, sloppy dough ball. Unsure if this will work.

Fermented at room temp in the low to mid 60s for ~8.5 hours. Then I placed the dough in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, I let the dough warm for about 90 minutes. Dumped, shaped, and proofed for 2 to 2.5 hours in a linen-lined, oval-shaped basket. Then baked as normal.

Stats immediately from the oven:

Another way

I fed the starter on Mar 14. Then I fed the starter twice, side-by-side on Mar 16. Late in the evening on Mar 16, I assembled two bread dough doughs from one of the starters. I added the leftover starter to the other whole, fresh starter, and placed it in the frig.

Bread recipe for both bread doughs:

Dough assembly procedure

Baking procedure

Making Zingerman's Farm Bread Style Bread

I used my starter to make bread that was similar to Zingerman's Farm Bread. The procedure and most of the recipe came from the Zingerman's class that I took back in 2010.

My recipe was slightly different because the flour used in my starter is 100% white whole wheat. The Farm Bread recipe calls for a small amount of whole wheat flour, but since my starter is already whole grain, I used 100% all-purpose flour in the recipe.

The recipe calls for the levain to represent 15%, according to the baker's percentage. But I used 30%.

House temp was around 65 degrees.

The amount in the recipe made one loaf. I kneaded the dough for 10 to 12 minutes even though it was a single loaf recipe.

Fermented in lightly oiled bowl for one hour.

Stretch and fold.

Fermented for another hour.

Stretch and fold.

Fermented for 1.5 hours.

Dumped and rounded with the metal scraper.

Bench rested for 15 minutes.

Flattened and stretched out the dough a little. Then rolled and tucked the dough into a log, like a sleeping bag. But I didn't get the ends tucked in well enough.

I pitched the seams closed.

Since this was a stiff dough, I removed the liner from my oval-shaped Brotform banneton basket.

I scattered flour onto the coiled wooden cane rods, and I placed the log of dough into the basket, seam-side up.

I covered basket with plastic.

Proofed for 3 hrs and 10 min.

During the last part of proofing, I preheated the baking stone at 500 degrees for 40 minutes.

Anyway, the rest of the procedure was the same as before.

Bread turned out well. Looks, feels, smells, and tastes very much like Zingerman's Farm Bread.

The dough was very stiff. Next time, I'll try 65% hydration, since I used a fair amount of my white whole wheat starter.

Another version

Used 65% hydration. 304 grams of water.

House temp only 60 degrees. Outdoor temp around 55 degrees. Chilly the past three days.

After the final stretch-and-fold, fermented for 2.5 hours, instead of 1.5 hours.


This is my sourdough bread starter after a "feeding."

In the above photo, jars of cranberry butter that my wife made and canned exist in the background. Occasionally, she also makes ricotta cheese. A nice treat is my homemade bread toasted and topped with the cranberry butter, along with dollops of the ricotta.

Using the no-knead method.

Bread proofed on a couche (linen canvas) that laid on a small, wicker-like, oblong-shaped basket that I bought at the Goodwill store.

Baked two to share elsewhere with friends.

Bread dough done proofing in cloth-lined, oval, banneton basket.

Dumped the proofed dough onto parchment paper and rolled it over to make to situate the dough in the same way that it proofed. Before placing dough into the oven, I sliced the dough, using a pattern that Zingerman's uses on its farm bread.

Flour, water, salt, and starter measured and readied to be assembled. Drank a beer while making bread.

When making a double-batch or a very large bread, I fermented the dough in a two-gallon, food-safe, plastic beer fermenting bucket.

My version of a large-ish, wheel-shaped bread.

Sometimes, I use my bread to make pizza bread. This time, I used my wife's homemade, canned pizza/pasta sauce.

Eggplant, tomato, pepper, and onions, pizza bread toppings that came from our garden. The goat cheese chevre came from Turkey Feet Creek farm, which is available for sale at the downtown Toledo farmers market, Phoenix Earth Food Co-op, The Andersons, and possibly at other Toledo area stores.

I top our pizza bread with olive oil and sea salt. If we have a fresh basil plant, then I'll add basil after the bread comes out of the oven.

It's fun to slash the bread in different ways.

Tasty winter treat: homemade bread and my wife's homemade lentil soup.