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The Basic Principles of Working with Sourdough

Maintaining a sourdough starter requires a little extra time and effort, when compared to purchasing bread at the store. However, the return in terms of flavor and nutrition makes it all worth while. Whether you’re completely new to bread baking or you have experience baking yeast breads, you may be surprised at how easy sourdough can be!

Time Commitment

The hands-on time commitment for sourdough is really very little. There are two aspects to the sourdough time commitment: the feeding of the culture and the rising/baking of the bread.

The time commitment dedicated to feeding the culture is literally only minutes per day or even per week, if the starter is stored in the refrigerator. The time commitment in baking bread is primarily taken up in the long rising period needed.

The overall time commitment in baking the bread will be 30 to 40 minutes of prep along with a hands-off rising time of 4 to 24 hours.

Working with Different Flours

When you receive your dried sourdough culture, activate the sourdough starter and feed it with the flour type indicated. A rye flour starter should be activated with rye, a wheat sourdough starter with wheat, etc.

It is perfectly acceptable, however, to use a different flour or combination of flours as the ingredient in the sourdough bread recipe. For instance, if a recipe calls for 2 cups flour, you may wish to use 1 cup rye flour and 1 cup wheat flour, regardless of the type of starter used. Be aware that your starter has been consistently fed with one flour so it is used to that flour as food. The starter may act differently in baking when a new flour is introduced. If your bread doesn’t turn out perfectly, don’t throw it away. Try one of these Uses for Stale Sourdough Bread and try again another day. 

Baking with gluten-free starters and flours can be very different from working with wheat and other gluten-containing flours. To bake gluten-free sourdough bread, begin by reading our article, An Introduction to Working With Gluten-free Sourdough.

Dough Basics

If you have never worked with bread dough then you are in for quite a treat. If you have been baking for a while you know the joy of getting your hands into the dough to create a beautiful finished loaf.


Always start with the least amount of flour called for and slowly work your way up, gauging the texture of the dough as you go. Adding flour gradually allows for adjustments due to the hydration level of your starter as well as the humidity on a particular day.

Moist dough is preferable to dry dough. The dough should just come together in a ball that pulls away from the bowl, but it should also remain moist.


Kneading is simply the act of working the dough until the gluten is developed enough to be elastic, which in turn traps the gases needed to make the bread rise.

Use a clean, flat surface for kneading. Sprinkle a small amount of flour over the work surface to begin. Gently push the dough away from you using the palm of your hand. Now roll it over on top of itself and repeat.

Continue kneading the dough for 5 to 20 minutes, until the dough feels elastic and stretchy.


Proofing is simply giving the dough time and warmth to let the sourdough culture leaven the bread.

When working with sourdough (as opposed to baker’s yeast), a second proofing is not required.

Once the dough is kneaded well, shape it, place it in the pan and cover it with a damp cloth or paper towel. Place it in a warm location (70° to 85°F) to rise.


Preheat the oven. Slash the loaf with a very sharp knife  to create a bit more rise in the oven. Then bake until the internal temperature has reached 210°F. Remove the bread from the pan and cool completely before cutting.

Ready to Get Started with Sourdough?

Watch our helpful How-to Videos!


Sourdough bread slices on wooden cutting board

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