Introduction: Simply Sourdough - an Easy Guide to Fresh Bread

About: I am a Mad Scientist and IT gal with a passion for projects. I love figuring out puzzles, solving problems, and finding out new ways to get things done!

My husband loves freshly baked sourdough bread.  I hate the cost of fresh sourdough bread.  Depending on where you live, it can be between $4-6 to get a loaf that won't last much more than 2 days, and that does NOT exactly fit into our broke college budget.

I love baking, and being able to bake your own bread is definitely a handy skill to have!  Since we ARE trying to become more self-sufficient (and it is healthier to eat less processed foods,) I decided I would try my hand at making all of our own bread for a week or two based off a basic sourdough recipe.

Most of the time involved in the bread-making process is the dough rising, so it actually isn't that hard to work making a few loaves in a week into your schedule.  Here is my (husband-approved!) recipe.

Here's What You'll Need


Warm water
Cooking Spray

Several medium/large sized non-metal mixing bowls (metal bowls can react with the PH levels of the dough and alter the flavor)
A gallon sized zip lock freezer bag (I recommend the heavy-duty freezer bags with the double zippers.)
A silicon spatula
A baking sheet
Two kitchen towels
Measuring cups / spoons
Aluminum Foil
Optional:  Water spray bottle and/or cake pan.

Note:  To all you bread connoisseurs out there, this is not a TRUE sourdough as I used yeast to start.  However, it DOES give you the same sourdough flavor and texture, though much quicker and easier.

Step 1: Starting Your Yeast Farm

Sourdough bread is essentially made by cultivating your own yeast farm in something called a starter. Once you make a starter, you can keep it going for months if you keep it active by using it and feeding it at least once per week.

You can make your basic sourdough starter from:
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1-½ cups warm water
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast  
Take a gallon sized plastic freezer bag, one of the really heavy duty ones with the thicker plastic and double zipper seal. These are great for your starter because they allow you to easily mix and feed your starter in the future. Make sure it is big enough for at least four times the initial ingredients, as your starter will expand and produce gas as it ferments. I use a gallon-sized freezer bag and that works well for me.  If you plan on keeping your starter going, make sure to label the bag with the day you started it.

Dump in all of your ingredients and squish away until everything is mixed. Once all the ingredients are mixed, place the bag upright in a large bowl or other container where it can ferment. Close the zipper seal tight except for about 1-1/2 inches at one end to let your yeast breathe (that's where those bubbles come from!) and place the bowl in a spot that is room-temperature or preferably a bit warmer.

With it being the end of summer, we're using our laundry room which also has a bit of humidity to help the fermentation process. Cover the bag and bowl with a towel, and let it sit for 4-8 hours until the starter has doubled in size.  It will be ready to use when it looks sticky, stretchy, and bubbly.

Step 2: Creating the Sponge

What gives sourdough bread its classic taste is the lengthy fermentation process of the yeast. From the starter (which is a bubbly, sticky, stretchy batter by this point) you'll make the yeast's second stop for fermentation, the sponge.

What you'll need is:
  • 1 cup sourdough starter (leave the rest in the bag for step three)
  • 2 cups flour
  • ¾ cup warm water

In a nice large non-metal bowl (keep with the four-times-your-ingredients rule) combine all the ingredients and knead until they are all mixed together. You'll have a ball of slightly lumpy and sticky dough. If it is a bit too dry (some starters can be drier than others) you can add more warm water, about a tablespoon at a time, mixing well between. This is your sponge.

Cover the bowl up with a towel, and set it to ferment in the same conditions as the starter. Remember:  not below room temperature and light humidity if you have it! It will need to set out for another 4-8 hours, until it has tripled in size.

Step 3: Feeding the Yeast

If you don’t plan on using your starter again within the next month or so, you can either use the rest of your starter (should be about another cup) to make another loaf of bread right now, or you can throw it away.  If you plan on being awesome and making more bread within the next couple weeks or so, you’ll want to feed your yeast farm after every time you use it. 

Your pet yeast like to eat
  • 1 cup flour
  • ¾ cup warm water
Squish that around in your bag with the pre-made for a minute or two, and then set it back out (upright, in a bowl, under a towel) to ferment at room temperature. It will be ready in 4-8 hours, but it will keep for about a week or so before you’ll need to use it and feed it again to keep it healthy.

If a week goes by and you don't have the time to make a loaf, make sure to still feed your starter!  After all, yeast are living, breathing organisms.  Throw out a cup or so of the starter and feed it just like you would normally if you made some bread.

Step 4: Shaping the Loaves

Once your sponge is well fermented and quite large, about tripled in size, you’ll need to make it into the dough for your sourdough bread and shape it how you want.

To make the dough, mix together:
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • All of the sponge
Knead the flour mixture into the sponge until you have a think, slightly lumpy dough, about 3-4 minutes. Work the dough into the desired shape of your bread. Sourdough bread bakes best when shaped into low-rounded oval or circle loaves. Place the dough into a well-greased  bowl or container similar to the desired shape of the bread (I usually just wipe out the mixing bowl and give it a hearty spritz of cooking spray). Cover with a towel and set to rise in the same conditions as the starter for 1-2 hours, or until doubled in size.

Step 5: Baking the Bread

Once your loaf has doubled in size, your sourdough bread is finally ready to go into the oven. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees, and place a pan filled with ½ inch of water on the bottom rack of the oven. When the oven is all hot and steamy, gently transfer (careful not to squish the risen dough) from the bowl onto a lightly greased baking sheet (I find covering the sheet with tin foil helps with clean up!) 

Being careful not to burn yourself on the steam, take a water spray bottle and spray all over the sides of the oven to create a large amount of additional steam.  With a very sharp knife and a very quick hand, slice 2-4 quick cuts across the top of the dough.   Quickly put the risen loaf into the oven before the steam subsides. 

All this steam in the first part of the baking process is what gives artisan bread that delicious chewiness in the crust.  You don't HAVE to use the steam to get good bread, but it certainly DOES give you results that are a million times better!

After 10-15 minutes in the oven, remove the bottom pan of water and lower the temperature to 375 degrees. Bake your bread for an additional 20 minutes. Let cool on a wire baking rack, and enjoy!

Step 6: Enjoy Your Fresh Baked Bread!

Enjoy your freshly-baked, homemade, artisan sourdough bread!

  • Toast
  • French Toast
  • Sandwiches
  • Garlic Toast
  • Throwing at People
  • Cheesy Bread
  • With Tea and Jam
  • and plain on its own!
Store wrapped in a paper sack for maximum crustiness!

For more awesome recipes and fun projects, visit my blog, The Procrastibaker!
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