SB 004| How To Make A Basic Loaf Of Sourdough Bread

In a previous Stella Bread Video, I demonstrated how to make a sourdough starter that could later be used to naturally levin any type of bread you desire. In this video, we take that starter and bake our first sourdough loaf, a 70% hydration boule that uses a large percentage of poolish starter for a quick rise, a small amount or whole wheat for a complex flavor, and a cast iron dutch oven to replicate a traditional hearth.

Many guests of The Cedar House and Stella ask how we make our sourdough bread that has become a signature part of our dinner service. This is the recipe and method that we use, the only difference being that our finished, formed loaves are baked in our wood fire oven instead of a cast iron dutch oven. The heat retaining capabilities of the dutch oven allow for a superior heat transfer and oven spring which is one of the major advantages to baking bread in a hearth oven. Enclosing the dutch oven with a lid during the early stages of baking introduces steam which is absolutely imperative for a strong oven spring and a crackly crust.

If I blindfolded my staff and had them do a blind tasting between this bread and the bread we serve at Stella, they would not be able to tell the difference. However, the straightforward simplicity of this method makes it a great introductory loaf of sourdough for the uninitiated, and a great base recipe to which you can add different flavored flours, herbs, spices, nuts, etc., to make your own unique sourdough loaf at home.

This video assumes that you have a strong sourdough starter and understand basic bread baking concepts as discussed in The Stella Culinary School Podcast.

The Recipe

  • 275g Warm Water
  • 500g Poolish Sourdough Starter
  • 400g Bread Flour (Unbleached)
  • 100g Whole Wheat Flour
  • 20g Salt 15g Salt (2%)
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There are 85 Comments

Nina's picture

I know that I've said it before, but.... Jacob!  What a beautiful dough, and of course then the finished bread.  
  When I make bread I use a large cutting board to knead and shape the loaf.  How important is using wood vs. other materials?
  Also, I have plenty of kitchenware, but not a cast iron Dutch oven.  Will a triple clad do?


"People who love to eat are always the best people." -- Julia Child

jacob burton's picture

Thanks Nina!

For the work surface, anything will really work, it all depends on what you're comforitable with. You want a fairly smooth surface that's just barely course (like sanded wood). Marble or a smooth plastic cutting board will also work.

As for the Triple Clad, I'm not sure, I've never tried it. Do you have a picture or a link I can check out? I'm not that familiar with Triple Clad.

Nina's picture

Here it is-   
Thanks Jacob

"People who love to eat are always the best people." -- Julia Child

jacob burton's picture

I've never used stainless steel. My guess it that it will work but you may run into some uneven heating, especially once the lid is removed. I would give it a shot, and worse case scenario, you would have to remove the loaf from the pot after the steaming step and finish baking on a regular rack. It should get you pretty close though, if not 100%.

Give it a shot an let us know how it works out for you. I'm sure there's a lot of other people out there that will have the same question.


esavitzky's picture

So Jacob,

You indicated that you dump most of your poolish the night before and add cold water and flour letting it feed overnight.  Are you waiting to make sure the poolish is strong enough to float first before the dump and pump, or do you just test it in the morning and go from there.

I realize you have changed things up since the FCS days and this would represent a change for me.  I still use a 1600 g poolish that from which I use remove 800g and then feed.  Using your approach, I would wind up using less flour, which isnt such a bad thing.  I looks like I can just transition to a 600g poolish, using 500g every time I want to make some bread.

So are you literally dumping all your poolish, with some lining the container, and then adding in 300g flour and 300g cold water and letting it feed overnight?

Nina's picture

I will do that Jacob and report back to you.  This may take a little while though, I won't be doing any baking for awhile.
@ Elliot, the bread that you posted in the forum topic called "posting photos" is really perfect.

"People who love to eat are always the best people." -- Julia Child

jacob burton's picture

@ Elliot,

Yes, I am dumping all of my poolish the night before and then feeding with fresh water and flour. The float test is done the following morning to ensure that their is enough yeast activity to levin bread.

The method that you use is more appropriate for a professional kitchen (which my original FCS method was based on) where you need to be able to expand large quantities of starter quickly. Also, using a "young starter" (meaning that most of the starter is made up of fresh water and flour before baking) will allow you to achieve more floral notes with less of an acidic bite. This isn't to say that acidic sour dough is bad, it's just a different style. I think it's easier to transition from this method to a super sour method, then for the newbie baker to try and make an acidic loaf of sourdough which can affect gluten structure, rise, etc.

You'll remember that when I first talked about sourdough in FCS we jumped in head first; I took a lot of my bread baking knowledge for granted, thinking that everyone would be ready to bake sourdough bread. Because of this I caused a lot of confusion and frustration.

We'll talk more about different feeding cycles in the upcoming audio lecture (SCS 21) which will give you the option to choose which method and cycle works best for your schedule and the type of bread you want to produce.

In short, I would play around with dumping all your starter and see what you think. It will definitely save you flour, and if you want a more sour loaf you can delay fermentation or do a multi-stage build (something we'll also be talking about in upcoming episodes).

esavitzky's picture

Great.  Thanks.

I'll probably give it a shot this weekend.

esavitzky's picture


Gritted my teeth and dumped all but 200 g of my poolish Friday night and added in 125g of bread flour, 125g of whole wheat and 250g of water.  Let it sit overnight but the starter didnt float, even after about 20 hours.  Had to leave it in the fridge Sat night until I get back to ME tonight.

Should I just dump and feed again or just leave it out some more?  In the past, it usually took about 2-3 feedings in a row to get the starter to float.

jacob burton's picture

Pull out half and feed half back in. You want to make sure that your starter is fairly active before pouring out most of it and then re-feeding. You can also try the expansion method which goes something like this:

50g starter + 50g water + 50g flour + 12-24 hour fermentation (assuming a slightly inactive starter)

150g starter + 150g water + 150g Flour + 12-18 hour fermentationn = a fairly active starter.

From here, if the starter is really active, you can dump off a most and feed, let set overnight, or if it's less active, expand one more time by adding 225g water and 225g flour to your now 450g starter.

esavitzky's picture

I'll start by dumping half and adding feeding tonight and see what it looks like in the morning.

If it isnt active, I'll have to put it back in the fridge and wait till this weekend.

jacob burton's picture

Try feeding it half whole wheat and half bread flour if you're not already. The whole wheat helps to quicken fermentation of natural starters.

esavitzky's picture

That's what I did Friday night.  I will repeat tonight.

esavitzky's picture

"Holy Oven Spring Batman!" did you Jacob?

esavitzky's picture

My dough is just about finished with the bulk ferment.  If I wanted to wait till tomorrow, would it be OK to put it in the fridge now or should I have done that 4 hours ago?

esavitzky's picture

After a couple of weeks of trying to get my newly transformed poolish to behave and float, I decided that the bit of dough that rested at the top of the cup of water for about 10 seconds qualified as floating (just before it sank, however.)  I decided that floating is for down the road so I finally caved and made this recipe.

Probably the best boule I've made to date.  No sacrifice in taste with the additional whole wheat flour and the best spring and crust yet.  Even the crumb looks terrific and that's without the benefit of the extra CO2 I would have had if the poolish floated more consistently.

Here's the oven spring after 20 minutes:

The final product after another 30 mins.

And the crumb

I am so thankful for your help Jacob!

Nina's picture

@ Elliot....WOW!

"People who love to eat are always the best people." -- Julia Child

jacob burton's picture

Nice looking loaf Elliot. To answer your previous question, the best time to retard the dough is about an hour after proofing, although it looks like the bread turned out great. What did you end up doing?

esavitzky's picture

I wound up just letting the bulk fermentation complete and then proof for another 2 hours.  It was a late night but I had both recipes going at the same time.  Just wish I could get the starter to float more consistently.

Shane's picture

Approximately how long do you have to slap and fold until it forms a good gluten structure? I did mine for like 15 mins and it never became like that.... I added some more flour but it was quite frustrating. :/

jacob burton's picture

It should only take 5-10 minutes. Make sure you're not skipping the autolyse phase. Also, a stretch and fold + a few minutes of rest can help, but there's something wrong with your process if you're doing a slap and fold for 15 minutes and no gluten is forming. Are you using high gluten bread flour?

jacob burton's picture

Salt will tighten the gluten strands and will help give some structure to your dough. However, it shouldn't keep a gluten network from not forming at all. Can you explain the consistency of your dough and how it's acting? Did it pass the "windowpane test?"

Shane's picture

Before adding salt, the dough kept sticking to the table and didn't look like any "membrane" was forming. it didn't pass the window pane test either. The dough mass kept tearing when i tried to take it off from the table too. I left it for an hour and during that time, i realized I hadn't added salt so I just went and put salt in and slapped and folded. It looked a bit more like your dough ball this time.

jacob burton's picture

When making a hi-hydration dough like this one, the salt can make a big difference in the texture. Let me know how it turns out.

Shane's picture

The bread didn't keep it's shape at all. It became like a big flat bread with charcoal on top and the bottom not crunchy at all. I'll try again either today or tomorrow. Is it OK to bulk ferment in the fridge overnight?

jacob burton's picture

Yes, you can bulk ferment in the fridge, it will just take longer. How are you baking it and at what temperature. Are you using the dutch oven method?

Shane's picture

I bake it at 260C for 20 mins (with some water on the bottom of the oven without the fan on) and then 215C (with fan on). I set the timer for 30mins but it burns if I bake it for that long. I'll try baking it on the lower shelf next time.

jacob burton's picture

Your loaf will never steam properly using that method and you need a thick base like a backing stone or a dutch oven that will charge with heat and transfer that heat to the bottom of your crust.

Home ovens are well ventilated for safety, which means the steam will quickly escape and do nothing. You need to find a way to enclose your loaf if you want the bread to bake properly.

Shane's picture

I'm doing all I can do to steam the bread and there is quite a lot of steam coming out when I open the oven so it's working. And the crust is pretty good too.

For the soggy bottom, I can't really afford such equipment. (I'm a university student! :P) I'll try using the base of a cake pan. Of maybe flip the bread over for a few minutes at the end of the baking...?

Shane's picture

My dough relaxes way too much when I leave it for 10 mins to bench rest. It passed the windowpane test really well so the gluten structure should be ok... Why is my dough this relaxed? It becomes tight again after a couple of stretch and folds.
I've posted a photo of my lazy dough on my blog:

jacob burton's picture

You're definately missing a step somewhere because that dough is FLAT. Here might be some issues:

  1. You're using the wrong flour. Make sure  you're using a high gluten bread flour.
  2. You're not feeding your starter often enough which means it's producing a lot of alcohol, making your starter wetter then it should be.
  3. Also, one of the reasons for the bench rest is to let the gluten relax so you can re-tighten it. Try doing a stretch and fold plus a tension pull every 10 minutes or until it can hold its shape.
eezergood's picture

Great work guys, have used your tutorials to help me training my staff. Can see positive results already!

jacob burton's picture

Thanks so much for the feedback. Out of curiosity, can I ask what kind of establishment you run?

coldchardy's picture

Hi Jacob,

Just to clarify.  When beginning the starter do I understand correctly that I dump 500g after the initial (first) ferment and then add 125 w plus 125 wholemeal plus 250 water?  Do you just throw the initial "dump" in the bin and then use the subsequent "dumps" for breadmaking? 


may.schiller's picture

Hi Jacob

I have a question about the baking process. 

I have a regular oven at home and don't a own a casserole like on the video.
What is the best way to bake the bread?

All the best

jacob burton's picture

Hi May,

If you want to make this style of bread (meaning an artisan loaf with a crust that crackles) you need to introduce steam some how. Some people will spray the inside of their oven with water, but unfortunately, most home ovens vent really well, so the steam doesn't stay for that long. You might just have to invest in a dutch oven.

jacob burton's picture

YES! Those are awesome! You would use it just like the cast iron dutch oven, meaning you would want to pre-heat it first. My ONLY issue with this item is it's a little less versatile than a cast iron dutch oven; its really only manufactured for baking bread. But I have used one of these and they are absolutely amazing.

Marco099's picture

item I'd like to buy someday. I do have a Le Creuset 7 1/4 qt. dutch oven that I can use. Do you know if the enamel coating (vs. cast iron) would prevent the bread from crusting properly? 


Oh, I saw a SC21 episode about sourdough ferments not yet created. Is this a recent note, or something you've just not had the time to create yet?

jacob burton's picture

The enamel should work fine since it's still good at retaining heat. The general concept is, the bread releases steam during the initial stages of baking and is trapped by the lid. It's this steam which is crucial for forming a "crackly" crust that is so hard to replicate in a home oven. During the second half of baking, the steam dissipates and the retained heat from the dutch oven radiates onto the bread causing it to brown.

I did put a link to "SCS 21" but I'm still working on it (over a year later). I'll actually be posting it soon. I took a break from the audio lectures for a while because I wanted to build up our video archive, but now it's time to refocus on audio.

nrdavis125's picture

Finally got the sourdough started situated and floating.  Doing a final dump and feeding tonight, and am going to also season my new 7 quart Lodge cast iron dutch oven tonight, so tomorrow is it's maiden voyage, so to speak.  Quite excited to try to duplicate this fabulous bread that you made.  Many many thanks from Michigan.  I am a home chef that will never cook in a professional kitchen, but that doesn't stop me from using the techniques I learn here to (vastly) improve the meals I cook for family and friends.  Many many thanks Jacob and to all posters here, whom I learn so much from.......

Ari's picture


First of all I want to say that I enjoy your web-site very much, thank you,
my question is, when making two loafs, when would be the best time to cut the dough into two separate pieces?

jacob burton's picture

Hi Ari,

Divide the dough right after bulk fermentation. The general process is bulk ferment, divide, form, proof, bake.

Let me know if you have any other quetions.