Published 17th August 2022

How to bake sourdough bread and is it healthy?

Sourdough bread is a delicious, tangy bread that may have some health benefits. 

To bake the sourdough bread in this article, you’ll need a sourdough starter, which we’ll cover below. Sourdough starters contain natural yeasts and bacteria that slowly ferment and cause the bread to rise, or leaven. 

The sourdough starter takes around 5–8 days to make. Naming your sourdough starter is, of course, optional — but the one we used to test this recipe is called “Bubbles.” 

Your bread will have a subtle but characteristic tangy sourdough flavor, nutty whole grain undertones, and an open texture. 

It keeps well for 3–4 days and tastes great topped with lashings of nut butter, sauerkraut, or lettuce and tomatoes. 

Hands-on time: 10 minutes

In this article, we’ll cover how to make a sourdough starter and look after it. We’ll also go through the stages of sourdough baking and share a recipe for a 50:50 whole grain sourdough tin loaf from the book 10-Minute Sourdough, written by Vanessa Kimbell, founder of The Sourdough School.

We'll also check out what the latest science says about the potential health benefits of sourdough bread.

But first, let's dive in to sourdough baking. You can make this bread in just over 12 hours, no kneading required. 

Stages of sourdough baking

The basic stages of sourdough baking are:

  1. Make your starter. You can follow the recipe below and mix flour with water to make your own starter. Or you can ask a friend or local bakery to share some of their starter with you.

  2. Maintain your starter. If you bake once or twice a week, you’ll need to keep your starter in the fridge. Before you start mixing your bread dough, you’ll need to refresh your starter by feeding it with flour and water to get it to peak microbial performance.

  3. Mix your starter and ingredients. There are plenty of sourdough bread recipes. The basic components of a sourdough bread are the sourdough starter, flour, water, and salt. You can mix up the flours and other flavor inclusions like herbs, spices, cheese, nuts, oils — the world is your oyster. Below, we share Vanessa’s 50:50 tin loaf recipe from her book. This is a no-knead recipe, which means it doesn’t involve a lot of hands-on time. You don't need any specialist equipment. Just scales, a bowl, and a 900-gram (g) or 2-pound (lb) loaf tin. 

  4. Let your dough rise. The recipe below uses a one-stage rise, which saves on time. In other recipes, you’ll let your dough rise once, then shape it and let it rise for a second time.

  5. Bake your bread. Ovens vary, so it may take some practice to get the exact timings right. In this recipe, you’ll bake your loaf in the loaf tin. If you want to make round boule loaves, you’ll need to invest in some extra equipment, such as a proving basket, or banneton, a sharp knife or specialist lame to score your loaf, and a dutch oven to bake it in. 

  6. Enjoy! 

Vanessa Kimbell’s sourdough starter recipe

From 10-Minute Sourdough by Vanessa Kimbell: 

“A strong starter is essential for baking successful sourdough. It’s very simple to create a sourdough starter. All you need is warm water, organic flour — and a little time.”

Sourdough starter recipe: 

Ingredients

  • warm water (about 82 degrees Fahrenheit, or 28 degrees Celsius) 

  • organic stoneground wholegrain flour

Equipment

  • a measuring jug 

  • a thermometer 

  • two clean jars

  • a spoon

Day 1: 8 a.m.

Make the starter.

  1. Place 110 g warm water and 100 g organic stoneground wholegrain flour in a clean jar. 

  2. Stir until they’re well combined and no dry flour remains. Mixing vigorously adds oxygen to the mixture, which the yeast needs in order to thrive. 

  3. Cover the jar with a loose-fitting lid and pop it somewhere warm for 24 hours.

Day 2: 8 a.m.

Refresh the starter. 

  1. Add 50 g organic stoneground wholegrain flour and 60 g warm water to a new, clean jar. 

  2. Add 100 g of the original starter (which is hopefully starting to bubble) into this jar, and stir well. This is now your starter. 

  3. Discard the remaining starter from the previous jar (you can use this in other recipes).

  4. Wash the jar with hot water so it’s ready for the next time you refresh. This will give you 210 g of starter. 

  5. Cover your new starter loosely and leave it somewhere warm for 12 hours.

Day 2: 8 p.m.

Repeat the refreshment process above to refresh your starter again.

Continue to repeat this process twice a day for a further 3–6 days until your starter is ready.

Refreshing your sourdough starter. Image from 10-Minute Sourdough, Octopus Publishing.

Use the best organic flour you can afford. Although it can be a little more expensive, using organic flour will give you a better result and a more robust starter, as the microbes needed for sourdough will not have been compromised by fungicides, pesticides, or herbicides.

Note: You don't have to stick to just wholegrain wheat flour. Experiment with mixing wholegrain wheat flour with spelt, rye, emmer, einkorn, khorasan, or barley flour — or a mix of all of these — to make your own flour blend.

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When will my starter be ready?

This can vary depending on your environment and how microbially active your flour is. You might start to see activity in your starter within a few days.

Your starter is ready when it’s bubbly and lively. It should double in size within about 5 hours of being refreshed. 

Once you reach this stage, you've successfully created a starter, and you’re ready to bake! Now, it’s important to maintain your starter.

How to maintain your starter: 

“Your starter needs to be at peak activity for successful baking. If you aren’t baking every day, you will need to build up your starter before you bake. This is a two-stage process, known as a double refreshment, which will leave you with a second-build starter.”

Ingredients: 

  • 30 g starter

  • 60 g water ​​ (60–64 degrees F, or 16–18 degrees C) 

  • 100 g organic stoneground wholegrain flour

Day 1: 8 p.m. (first build)

  1. Place your 30-g starter in a clean jar with the water and whisk together well — this will oxygenate the water. 

  2. Add the flour and stir vigorously to combine the ingredients. 

  3. Cover the jar with a lid, keeping it loose so that the gases produced during fermentation can escape. 

  4. Leave the jar on the kitchen work surface at an ambient temperature of 68–72 degrees F (20–22 degrees C).

Note: You can use an elastic band on the jar to see how much your starter has risen. Line it up level after you feed your starter, and you’ll see how much it’s grown overnight. 

Day 2: 8 a.m. (second build)

  1. Take 30 g of your starter and refresh it again, following the instructions for the first build. 

  2. Leave the jar for a further 12 hours before baking. This process builds up the microbes in your starter so that it's ready for baking.

Note: This starter is quite stiff compared with other recipes. But don’t worry, it works great. Just keep mixing in the water and flour with the sourdough, and your bread will rise beautifully. You can add some extra drops of water if any unmixed flour remains. 

Vanessa Kimbell’s basic 10-minute sourdough 50:50 tin loaf master recipe

From 10-Minute Sourdough by Vanessa Kimbell: 

“A versatile, open-textured golden tin loaf, this is an everyday, entry-level sourdough. By making this, you will become familiar with the rhythm of making sourdough. Get this one right and you have got the foundational skills for all other sourdough bakes.”

Makes one large loaf (900-g/2-lb loaf tin)

Basic sourdough 50:50 tin loaf. Image from 10-Minute Sourdough, Octopus Publishing.

Ingredients: 

  • 375 g water at 80 degrees F (27 degrees C)

  • 100 g bubbly, lively second-build starter

  • 250 g organic stoneground wholegrain flour (11.5% protein) (Note: We used 50 g wholegrain spelt flour, 50 g wholegrain rye flour, and 150 g wholegrain wheat flour.)

  • 250 g organic white flour (13% protein) 

  • 10 g fine sea salt

  • butter, ghee, or coconut oil for greasing 

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil for drizzling

Timings:

WHENSTEPACTIONACTIVE TIME
Day 1: 8:00 p.m.First buildRefresh your starter1 minute
Day 2: 8:00 a.m.Second buildRefresh your starter1 minute
Day 2: 7:00 p.m.MixFirst stage of mixing your dough, leave for 30 minutes2 minutes
Day 2: 7:30 p.m.Bassinage (adding water)The second stage of mixing your dough, incorporating the remaining water, leave for 30 minutes1 minute
Day 2: 8:00 p.m.ProveTransfer your dough into the tin and leave, covered, on the side1 minute
Day 3: 8:00 a.m.BakePreheat your oven and bake1 minute
Day 3: after bakingAfter bakingRemove from the oven and finish1 minute

Before you mix your dough, you'll need to refresh your starter twice.

Mix:

  1. In a large bowl, mix together 350 g of the water and the sourdough starter. 

  2. Add the flour and salt, and mix your dough vigorously with a strong spatula for about 2 minutes. It will come together to form a stiff ball. 

  3. Leave to rest for 30 minutes.

  4. While it’s resting, refresh the remaining starter in your jar and set aside at room temperature.

Bassinage:

  1. When the gluten has had 30 minutes to develop, you can begin your bassinage. Bassinage is the technique of adding water to dough over a period of time.

  2. Add the remaining 25 g of water to the bowl. You'll be using your hands to mix this in. You can't make fast dough if you're covered in it, though, so before you begin, wet your hands in a jug of lukewarm water. Shake off any excess water — your hands should be just wet enough to stop the dough sticking to your skin as you mix it. This is a clean, fast way of working. 

  3. Place your wet hands in the dough with firm, open fingers, and gently close your fingers while twisting the dough anti-clockwise, drawing the dough through your fingers as you do so. This action mimics a dough hook. The dough should not stick to your wet hands if it has rested long enough. Every couple of movements, wet your hands once more, again shaking off any excess water, and turn the bowl. It should take less than 1 minute to mix in the water. 

  4. Cover and leave the dough for another 30 minutes.

Bassinage technique. Image from 10-Minute Sourdough, Octopus Publishing.

Prove:

  1. Grease a 900-g (2-lb) loaf tin and line with baking parchment. 

  2. Place the dough in the tin. 

  3. Cover with a shower cap or wax cloth, and leave to prove on the kitchen table overnight.

Note: If you don’t have a shower cap or wax cloth, you could use a wet tea towel or a piece of greased foil. Just make sure you leave enough space for the dough to rise without sticking to the cover. 

Bake:

The next morning, both your loaf and your starter should have doubled overnight. 

  1. Preheat your oven to 428 degrees F/220 degrees C/gas mark 7 for 30 minutes and place a shallow baking tray in the bottom of the oven.

  2. Drizzle the olive oil down the sides of the loaf before putting the tin in the oven. 

  3. As you place the bread in the oven, reduce the temperature to 356 degrees F/180 degrees C/gas mark 4, and carefully throw a little water or some ice cubes into the hot tray at the bottom. Close the door quickly to trap the steam this creates. 

  4. Bake for 45–50 minutes. It should have a beautiful burnished copper crust.

  5. Remove the bake from the oven, and leave it to set in the tin for about 5 minutes before removing from the tin and leaving to cool completely on a wire rack. 

  6. At this stage, you can return the loaf to the oven for a few minutes. This will create a lovely, crunchy crust on the parts of the loaf that were covered by the tin. By now, your starter should be ready for you to put it in the fridge until you next want to prepare it for baking.

  7. Once cool, store your loaf wrapped in a clean, dry tea towel. It’s best enjoyed within 3–4 days.

You can find more tips and recipes from Vanessa here

Is sourdough bread healthy?

There aren’t many large scientific studies that have investigated the effects of sourdough bread on humans. So, take the below with a pinch of salt and keep your eyes peeled for future research. 

Potential health benefits of sourdough bread include: 

  • Important nutrients. It’s easier for your body to access the fiber, polyphenols, minerals, and other nutrients in sourdough bread than in conventional bread, although the exact amounts of these nutrients depend on the flour. 

  • Blood sugar control. Some studies have found that eating sourdough bread leads to more moderate blood sugar responses than eating conventional bread. 

  • Digestion: The slow sourdough fermentation breaks down gluten and other components in flour that some people find hard to digest, like FODMAPs. But note that sourdough bread is not gluten-free.

  • Gut health: It’s not clear if sourdough bread can directly impact your gut microbiome — the community of trillions of microbes that live in your gut and play a key role in your health. But eating whole grains provides your gut bugs with fiber and other helpful nutrients. 

Exactly how healthy sourdough bread is for you depends on two main factors. 

The first is the type of sourdough bread that you’re eating, and the second is your unique body. 

The type and quality of the flour is important. White sourdough bread isn’t any higher in fiber than regular white bread.

Stoneground wholegrain wheat, rye, einkorn, emmer, and spelt flours all have a higher fiber content than white flour. Fiber is great for your gut and overall health. 

Opt for the best flour that you can get your hands on when baking at home, and consider switching to bread that has more whole grain flour. 

The other factor to consider is you. Eating bread causes your blood sugar to rise. By how much depends on a combination of your genes, gut microbiome, age, sex, and lifestyle. 

ZOE runs the largest nutrition science study in the world, with over 40,000 participants so far. Our research shows that blood sugar responses to food are highly personal. 

With the ZOE at-home test, you can find out how your body responds to different types of foods, including your favorite sourdough bread. We also analyze your gut microbiome. 

Based on your unique test results, the ZOE program gives you personalized nutrition advice so you can eat the best foods for your body. 

Find out more by taking our free quiz

Store-bought sourdough

If you buy sourdough bread at the store, look at the label to check what’s in the bread. Just because it says sourdough on the label doesn’t mean it’s the real deal. 

A good sourdough loaf shouldn’t have any preservatives or additives. It should really only contain flour, sourdough starter, water, salt, and perhaps a little bit of oil. 

The exception to this may be herbs, spices, seeds, and nuts that give a particular bread its flavor profile. 

To get your fiber boost, look for sourdough bread that has at least 6 g of fiber per 100 g, as Vanessa Kimbell recommends on the ZOE Science & Nutrition podcast

Summary

Sourdough bread relies on slow fermentation by natural yeasts and bacteria that cause the dough to rise. 

This is different from most bread in the store that uses commercial baker’s yeast and a fast production process. 

The slow fermentation in the sourdough bread process can make bread more nutritious, but how nutritious depends on the flour that you use. Whole grain flours tend to have more fiber and nutrients than white flour.

Sourdough bread has other potential health benefits, including improved blood sugar responses and easier digestion. 

The jury is still out on whether your favorite loaf can impact the microbes living in your gut. But whole grain sourdough breads packed with fiber are bound to be good for your gut health. 

We hope you enjoy Vanessa’s 50:50 whole grain sourdough loaf tin recipe. Happy baking! 

Sources

10-minute sourdough. (2021). https://www.sourdough.co.uk/courses/10-minute-sourdough-book/

Bread making technology influences postprandial glucose response: a review of the clinical evidence. British Journal of Nutrition. (2017).  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28462730/

Fermented foods: definitions and characteristics, impact on the gut microbiota and effects on gastrointestinal health and disease. Nutrients. (2019). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6723656/

Sourdough fermented breads are more digestible than those started with baker’s yeast alone: an in vivo challenge dissecting distinct gastrointestinal responses. Nutrients. (2019).  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6950244/

Sourdough improves the quality of whole-wheat flour products: mechanisms and challenges-a review. Food Chemistry. (2021).  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34020364/

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