Basic Sourdough Boule

Submitted by: Tom F
This is basic sourdough bread made with flour, water, and salt (and, of course, sourdough starter, which is made from flour and water). Actual prep time is relatively short, but there are long periods of resting, bulk proofing, and final proofing which stretch to total time to 16 to 24 hours.


  • 433 g Flour
  •  333 g Water
  •  67 g Starter
  •  8 g Salt


  1. Feed your starter: About eight hours before you are ready to mix the dough, prepare your starter.
  2. Initial Mixing: In a large bowl, mix flour, water, and starter until all the ingredients are incorporated into a shaggy dough. Note that the dough is 77% hydrated, which means that it will be almost like a batter.
  3. Autolyse: Let the dough sit for 40 minutes. This is the autolyze period, which allows the flour to hydrate and to stimulate gluten development
  4. Add Salt: After letting the dough sit for 40 minutes, add mix in the salt with a few grams of water so that it is fully incorporated into the dough. Let the dough rest for another 40 minutes.
  5. Stretch and Fold: Forty minutes after adding the salt, begin stretching and folding. Pick up an edge of the dough and pull it and then fold it over the top of the dough, pick up another edge and do this again. Repeat the process about four times.
  6. Repeat Stretch and Folds: Report the stretching a total of four times at 40 minute intervals. This helps develop the gluten. Cover the bowl with with plastic or a wet towel to prevent it from drying out during the stretch and folds (I use a shower cap).
  7. Bulk Proof: After the last stretch and fold, let the dough rise for about eight hours. The dough should rise to about twice the size. Do not let it rise too much, which will reduce the amount of rise later. The amount of time it takes will vary with the temperature of your kitchen and the strength of your starter.
  8. Shape the Boule: Shaping a boule is a bit of an art and takes practice to get good at.
    Shape it by turning your dough out onto a lightly floured surface and forming a boule by pushing the dough inward to form a domed boule. Be careful not to get flour inside the boule as this will not bake and leave streaks of raw flour in your final bread. The goal is to create surface tension that creates a smooth outer surface to the dough and helps boule hold its shape. Use a bench knife to aid in shaping of the dough sticks to the surface.
  9. Flour the Banneton: Because this is a wet dough, you will need a sufficient amount of flour in your banneton to keep the dough from sticking to it.
  10. Final Proof: Put the boule in the banneton and let it proof for a second time. For best results, proof the dough in the refrigerator for eight to twelve hours. Note that the dough will not rise much in the refrigerator. It will rise in the oven.
  11. Bake: Bake at for 30 minutes at 500 degrees Fahrenheit (260 degrees Celsius) in a preheated Dutch oven. Put the Dutch oven in your oven when you turn it on and let it heat up with the oven. Take the boule out of the refrigerator and drop it carefully into the hot Dutch oven (be careful–don’t burn yourself). Bake it with the lid on the Dutch oven.
  12. Cool before Slicing: After 30 minutes, turn the boule out onto a cooling rack. Let it cool before slicing.


Disclaimer: Whilst we hope the information provided is helpful and informative, we cannot guarantee that all details will be 100% accurate.  There are many schools of thought and conflicting ideas on many of the sourdough processes and methods.  This site is simply meant as a broad guide to baking sourdough, and is not a scientific reference.

Also, please forgive the mixed US and UK spellings throughout. We have a team from various countries working on this site.This site may contain affiliate links. 

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A special sharp knife, or tool which holds a razor blade, in a curved or straight manner. You use it to score the dough before baking.

Dutch Oven

A Dutch Oven is generally understood to be a covered earthenware or cast-iron container for cooking casseroles. They are ideal for bread as they can accommodate bread dough and be covered to help generate the steamy environment requiredto encourage the dough to rise. Enamel roasters with a lid, covered pyrex dishes, or even a flat tray with a bowl over the top of the dough, are equally effective.

Bakers’ Percentages

Sometimes called baker’s math, this is a method to express the different ingredients as a percentage of the total amount of flour. It makes scaling a recipe or building a recipe very easy once you know the total weight of the flour, and also allows you to know the ‘hydration’ of your dough.

Example: If you build your dough with 1000 gram flour, 670-grams water, 20-gram salt, and 8-gram yeast. According to bakers percentages, that will be 100% flour (the amount of flour is always 100%), 67% water, 2% salt, and 0.8% yeast.
You divide the amount of the different ingredients with the amount of flour.

Banneton / Brotform / Proofing Basket

A type of basket or container used to provide structure for shaped loaves of bread during proofing. Banneton baskets are also known as ‘Brotform’ or ‘proofing baskets’. It is normally used for doughs that are too soft or wet to maintain their shape while rising. They come in a range of sizes and shapes. Look for ones that fit the size of loaves you want to bake.

They are often made of natural rattan, or wood fiber. You can also use any container lined with a well-floured tea towel.

Oven Spring

The final burst of expansion of dough upon being introduced to a hot oven and where the yeast activity is increased during the first few minutes. At approximately 60C/140ºF degrees the yeast is killed off, but up until that point, dough can expand in the oven in the first phase of baking if it’s not over-fermented and still has dough strength. Many factors can impact oven spring including the length of fermentation, gluten development, and the hydration of the dough.


An alternative to traditional kneading used to develop gluten. The process is performed periodically in the bowl throughout the bulk fermentation. Take a side of the dough and gently stretch it up and over, to fold it upon itself, rotate the dough 90º, and repeat, then turn the bowl 45º and the same stretch and fold. Once all four corners of the dough have been stretched and folded, gluten development and a smooth, elastic dough are underway. Also, see ‘Folding’ and ‘Coil Folds’.

Bulk Ferment

Most loaves have two fermenting cycles. One before and one after the loaves are formed. Bulk fermentation is the first cycle, with a long fermentation period of the dough after the initial mixing of flour, water, starter, and salt and often comes during and after a period of kneading or ‘stretch and folds’.During this stage we are aiming to create dough strength, structure and flavor. The dough should feel alive, strong, airy, spongy and the surface shouldn’t feel sticky.

The bulk fermentation generally takes place at room temperature, unless otherwise noted in the recipe and is a longer period of time (4 -12 hours) than the final proofing period. This step may be referred to as the first prove or first rising. Acetic acid, an organic acid is produced by bacteria in the sourdough culture during the fermentation process. The presence of acetic acid helps to gives sourdough its characteristic acidic tang. The warmer the environment, the faster the development of the dough will be

Window Pane

The window pane test is one of the best ways to tell if you’ve sufficiently stretched and folded your bread dough. Pull a small piece of the dough and using both hands and your fingers stretch the dough very thin if it holds its shape without tearing the gluten is well-developed and your dough is ready to be pre-shaped, shaped and rest for it’s final prove.

Starter / Starter Culture / Sourdough Starter

A mixture of flour and water used to leaven bread that contains bacteria, yeast, and organic acids. Made either by inoculating with an established colony of bacteria or by capturing wild bacteria and yeasts over a longer period. Sometimes also called Leaven / Levain.



Autolyse (pronounced auto-lees) is a process in which a portion of (or total) water and flour in a bread recipe are gently pre-blended and set to rest for a period of time.

This resting period gives the dough special processing characteristics and improves the overall quality of the baked goods.

During autolyse process, several events can occur in the pre-mixed water/flour mixture:

  1. Continued flour hydration. Water molecules work their way into damaged starch, intact starch granules and proteins.
  2. Protein bonds continue to develop as a consequence of adding water, creating more gluten strands without mechanical work. This leads to better gluten structure and gas retention.
  3. Flour enzymes (mainly proteases) acquire time to adapt and work on the gluten by breaking down protein bonds.Protease activity is higher at low pH (acidic conditions). This is why autolysed doughs that contain yeast or pre-ferments (e.g. poolish) often experience greater protease activity. Such doughs are more extensible, weaker, softer and show less resistance to deformation than autolyzed non-fermented doughs.2
  4. Finally, as a result, the dough feels less sticky and very smooth after the autolyse.

As a general rule, the longer the autolyse time:

  • The shorter the dough mixing time (less mechanical development of gluten-forming proteins in needed). This means less energy consumption during mixing.
  • The shorter the dough stability duration
  • The less tolerance to overmixing. Breakdown is more pronounced once peak (maximum strength) is attained.
  • The smaller the P value in the alveograph test
  • The more extensible and less elastic the dough becomes at the end of autolysis
  • The better the sheetability and machining of dough during lamination of croissants
  • The easier and faster the dough expands during oven spring (better volume)
  • The lower the need for dough conditioners
  • The better the flavor and aroma of the finished product
Leaven/Levain/Sourdough Starter
  1. A substance, in this case a wild yeast starter, that is used in sourdough baking to make dough rise.
  2. Some methods of baking, such as ‘Tartine Method’ require a sourdough leavening agent be made from a sourdough ‘mother culture’ (aka your Starter). This technique is often employed to boost the yeast activity of the sourdough starter by feeding a small amount of starter a larger quantity of flour and water. For instance, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of sourdough starter, a leaven can be prepared 8-12 hours before the dough will be mixed by combining 1 Tablespoon of sourdough starter with ½ cup flour and a scant ½ cup of water. This leaven can then be used as the sourdough starter and will be quite active come baking time.
  1. cause (dough or bread) to rise by adding leaven.