How to Make Sourdough Bread, According to an Award-Winning Baker

The latest "Dear Test Kitchen" is fresh outta the oven.

February 28, 2019

Last week on Dear Test Kitchen, baker and James Beard award–winning author Sarah Owens swung by the test kitchen and taught us how to start our own sourdough starters.

This week, she’s showing us the very best way to use a starter: homemade bread. Which, I know, sounds sorta intimidating. Is the recipe itself pretty long? Yeah. Does it take a lot of time? Yeah. Is most of that time totally inactive? Yeah. Does Sarah make it all seem totally doable and even, dare I say, fun? Yeah! Should you go make some bread right now? Yeah, yeah!

Sarah's Table Loaf

More Very Good Loaves

Bread Starter Pack

Have you ever made sourdough bread before? Tell us your tricks below.

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  • jesssid
  • Chani
  • mary gamble
    mary gamble
  • Elaine
  • Michael Berry
    Michael Berry
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.


jesssid September 5, 2019
Thank you for this video, it's fantastic. I'm pretty new to sourdough, but loving it so far. I was curious what size her dutch oven is?
Chani May 24, 2019
Another question- 10g fed starter- fed how long before?
After you add 25g of water and flour to it- do you need to wait again for it to rise?
mary G. May 24, 2019
Hi Chani, if you don't have starter, you need to create some. There's a different post for those instructions. If you do have starter, then you need to refresh it (feed it) before you start your loaf(s). You then leave it out on your counter until it doubles in volume, (so, yes, you have to wait for it to rise). You can put a rubber band around the jar when you first feed it and then observe the rise. It might take a few hours or maybe overnight. Another test is the float test. If your starter is ready to use a spoonful will float in a glass of water. You want to use it when it's just been fed and is vigorous though.

I just fed my starter this afternoon and it doubled in 2 hours (was then ready to go). But it had only been a few days since I last fed it, so that may be why I got such a quick rise.

Chani May 24, 2019
She says the amount is for two loaves. Does she mean the amount in one recipe? Or from combined of what they each mixed?
mary G. May 24, 2019
Hi Chani, if you use the 10 x 4 x 6" bannetons the recipe above is enough for two smallish loaves (I've made it many times now). Even better for 2 loaves I think, is increase by one fourth.
mary G. May 8, 2019
Folks, just an update to say I have finally achieved beautiful slash marks similar to Sarah Owens's. Here are some key takeaways from my learning process:

1) *Definitely* use the super thin razor blade that Owens recommends. You can purchase razor blade lames on Amazon, but not all are the same paper thin variety as the Dorco variety for example, which gives far superior results.

2) the tiniest bit of oil on the razor blade tip helps with a non-stick slash.

3) they don't mention it in the video, but I believe they are flouring the surface of those loaves with rice flour. I learned this is the go-to flour bakers use to keep their loaves from sticking to the banneton/banneton liner - AND, importantly, the rice flour doesn't brown up during baking, which means your decorations are emphasized by the light/dark contrast between the bright white rice flour and the wheat flour which browns up in the oven.

It's been fun. Fortunately my many "mistake loaves" all tasted great no matter what they looked like!
Michael B. May 9, 2019
Mary G, glad you posted your findings and tips. I may give your suggestions a try next time I’m baking for an occasion, knowing, as you say, that it’ll taste great regardless of how its looks.
mary G. May 21, 2019
Michael B, keep us posted & good luck!
Elaine April 30, 2019
I’ve been wanting to try my hand at making sourdough for quite some time but didn’t have much success with purchased starters. After copious research and testing of various starter recipes, I found a hands-down winner in the Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking Traditional Sourdough. I like this recipe because it doesn’t require any special ingredients like grapes, rye flour, or raw honey and the process is simple and doesn’t feel as wasteful as there is no need to discard a portion every time you feed it. Just 2C (10 oz) AP flour and 2C (16 fl oz) whole milk, let sit for 72 hours stirring once a day and voila, your starter is ready to go! The dough does take considerable time as a sponge is made from a cup (16 oz) of the starter which has to proof for several hours. I generally make the sponge the night before and the bread gets started on its first proof the next morning. I’ve had great success with this recipe along with rave reviews and requests for the recipe. I even took the starter and all my bread making supplies with me when I drove from Michigan to Indiana to visit family for Easter. The morning of my return trip I got the sponge going, intending to make the dough when I got home. Unfortunately, My car broke down just south of Fort Wayne and had to be towed to a dealer for service the next day. Fortunately, the repair was minor and I got home later that day. One of the service technicians commented, “I see you’re a baker”, and it turned out he was a baker too! I decided to take a chance and make a loaf from the sponge that had been proofing for about 36 hours and it turned out just fine! I’ve also had to have the dough sit for its first proof much longer than it needed because of some delay or another and the dough tripled in size but still turned out just fine. In other words, this dough is very forgiving and any extra proofing just gives a tangier flavor. I ran out of AP flour yesterday when making the dough and substituted whole wheat for about half of the flour in the dough recipe. I also decided to pop the dough into a Dutch oven to bake. The bread turned out beautifully with a little more robust flavor. Needless to say, this is now my go-to for sourdough!
Michael B. April 29, 2019
Mary G, I don’t mess with scoring the loaves for that very reason.
Unless a uniform expansion is a must, I’d give the surface a misting of water and let it fracture where it wants.
mary G. April 29, 2019
Thanks for your reply Michael B. But I will continue trying to figure out scoring until I master it. Though I see some very pretty effects are possible using a stencil and flour and I will also be trying those :-)
mary G. April 28, 2019
The skin on my loaf was too tough to slice artfully, as Sarah Owens did hers (so beautifully). Though I used a razor blade lame for the big cut down the side of the loaf, it did not slice easily but instead raggedly - the dough caught and pulled on the lame for some reason. So, for the superficial cuts for the "wheat sheaf" design I next tried using a scalpel, and that worked slightly better, but my efforts again were nowhere near as beautiful as Sarah Owens. The surface of the dough resists the cuts.

I'm wondering if the surface of my dough was too dried out when I went to score it, and that's what caused the snagging on the lame, or if it simply wasn't "ripe enough" to score yet, or if a thinner razor blade would make better cuts.

Otherwise, the flavor and crumb of the loaf I made were outstanding, thanks for this video!
Denise January 18, 2020
I would like to know the answer too. Unless my blade/lame was a poor quality. I will be buying the dorco brand.
mary G. April 26, 2019
Hi Emma - could you pls clarify what size the proofing baskets are? Trying to figure out which size to buy from Amazon, thanks!
Author Comment
Emma L. April 26, 2019
Hi Mary! I just checked with our video producer and she believes the basket is a 10x6x4-inch.
Madeleine April 5, 2019
Could you please tell me what bread flour is. I mill my own spelt usually for my bread and I have on hand a whole-wheat flour. Is bread flour a flour mis you buy? Many thanks
Author Comment
Emma L. April 5, 2019
Hey Madeleine! Bread flour is distinguished by its high protein content, which makes the dough stronger and helps the bread get a better rise in the oven. It should be available in most grocery stores in the baking section.
Madeleine April 8, 2019
Hi Emma, As I don't buy flour and mill only my own from berries/Grain, how can I then create bread flour, which grains should I mill? Many thanks, Madeleine
Author Comment
Emma L. April 9, 2019
Unfortunately, I'm not enough of a flour expert to say for sure! I think your best bet would be to contact a small-scale mill and see if they can share any advice. (Carolina Ground is one I used to live near—and I really love all their products.)
Michael B. March 18, 2019
I don't know what the temperature in the video was but 475 degrees F works pretty universally for sourdough bread, if the goal is a flavorful nutty crust with some chew to it.
On the question about proofing baskets: just visit and you'll see every shape, size, and brand.
Veronica March 18, 2019
What temperature is the oven set at?
Susan N. March 18, 2019
That's what I was wondering.
Chandra B. March 13, 2019
Is there a link available for the specific proofing baskets used in the video?
Niknud March 3, 2019
I made this loaf this weekend and it was, hands down, the best loaf of bread (sourdough or otherwise) I have ever made. I had begged a bit of starter from a killer bakery so I had a good foundation but still... The crust was chewy, the crumb was light, the slashes were gorgeous. The video tutorial was super helpful - I can read a recipe fine but it was nice to see what the dough was supposed to look like at various stages. Seriously, this was one amazingly delicious loaf of bread.
S G. March 3, 2019
What's size banneton did you used?
Michael B. March 4, 2019
12 inch
Amy April 7, 2019
Looks smaller than 12 inches in the video.
Amy April 7, 2019
I'm guessing an 8" or 9".
Michael B. March 3, 2019
Great tutorial and terrific looking loaf. For sourdough I like huge rustic loaves. We have a collection of designer Dutch ovens but the one that rocks for sourdough is a 14 inch un-coated model you can buy most anyplace or order online for less than a fourth of what an enamel-coated one costs. It’s fire safe too if you want to bake outdoors. Warning: its heavy so leave it in the oven to load, and pre-heat the lid separately on a lower rack so all you have to do is slide it out and cap the Dutch oven to bake. I handle my dough less and shape it not. Anticipating how and where the crust will fracture is part of the fun.