Soft Sourdough Bread

Soft Sourdough Bread is a beloved staple for many, but it can be overwhelming if you’re new to baking. Learn how to make soft and fluffy sourdough bread using all-purpose flour and Easy Sourdough Starter. This beginner-friendly recipe is perfect for those just starting out.

Homemade sliced Soft Sourdough on a brown cutting board.

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Two loaves of Soft Sourdough Sandwich Bread; one on a cooling rack and the other half-sliced.

Sourdough Bread for Beginners: Getting Started

Sourdough bread making is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding culinary activities. From the simple act of mixing the ingredients to the aroma that fills your kitchen as the bread bakes, many home chefs find satisfaction in the process. However, if you are new to sourdough baking it can feel overwhelming as to where to start. Below you will find the essential steps needed to get you on the road to making Soft Sourdough Bread.

  1. Create and Maintain Your Sourdough Starter– The secret to phenomenal sourdough bread really boils down to having a bubbly and thriving sourdough starter. My Easy Sourdough Starter recipe has helped thousands of new bakers create amazing homemade bread. Once you’ve created your starter, learn how to maintain its health and vibrancy with the guide on How To Maintain Sourdough Starter.
  2. Gather Ingredients and Tools– Fortunately, sourdough bread making doesn’t require a ton of ingredients or an excessive amount of tools. However, certain kitchen equipment, while seeming optional, significantly streamlines the process (refer to the ‘Tools Needed’ section below for further details).
  3. Practice the Basic Techniques– Understanding the fundamental techniques of sourdough baking helps in creating irresistible loaves of bread. Techniques such as mixing, stretch and fold, proofing and shaping contribute to the overall success of sourdough making. However, with practice and patience, these skills become much easier. The good news, many times you can create amazing loaves of bread with a thriving starter, even when your techniques are off a bit.

Sourdough Sandwich Bread vs Traditional Sourdough

This Soft Sourdough Bread is perfect for making sandwiches, paninis, toast, bread pudding and even a lighter, fluffier French Toast. On the other hand, traditional crusty sourdough, like Sourdough Baguettes, are wonderful paired with bread oil for dipping, used as a base for Bruschetta, or transformed into bread crumbs and croutons.

Mastering Soft Sourdough Bread: Essential Tips for New Bakers

If you’re new to sourdough baking, one of the first things you might notice is that sourdough has a higher hydration level compared to other types of bread. This can make new bakers feel like they’re doing something wrong. However, this is completely normal. The high hydration makes the dough seem sticky and difficult to handle at first, but with practice, you’ll get the hang of it and learn to work with it effectively.

In addition to adjusting to the higher hydration levels, below you’ll find tips for overcoming various challenges that many beginners face when starting with sourdough baking.

Sourdough Starter

Traditional homemade sourdough bread starts with a healthy and vibrant starter. One of the biggest challenges for new bakers is creating and maintaining this starter. My Easy Sourdough Starter recipe, along with the informational post on How to Maintain Sourdough Starter, has helped thousands of beginners successfully create and sustain their starters.

Mixing the Dough

Soft Sourdough Bread requires just a few more ingredients than traditional crusty sourdough. Because of this, the order in which the ingredients are mixed can be important. However, mistakes can happen and often your bread will still turn out amazing as long as your starter is healthy and vibrant.

  1. Start by combining the starter, sugar, and warm water (about 105℉ to 115℉ or 40℃ to 46℃) in a large bowl and mix together until the starter dissolves.
  2. Add in the flour and salt and mix it in with your hand or a wooden spoon.
  3. Once the flour is mostly incorporated, add the oil and mix until everything comes together into a rough, shaggy dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for approximately 30-45 minutes.

Stretch and Fold

The stretch and fold technique in sourdough baking is crucial for developing gluten, aerating the dough, building strength, ensuring even fermentation, and making handling wet dough easier. However, even with the stretch and fold technique, the dough can still be sticky. One helpful tip when performing the stretch and fold process is to keep your hands slightly damp to prevent the dough from sticking.

For the stretch and fold technique, gently pinch one side of the dough, stretch it upwards, and fold it over the rest of the dough. Rotate the dough and repeat until all sides have been folded. This cycle of resting and then stretching and folding is typically repeated four times before proofing (aka fermentation) begins.

Proofing the Dough

Proofing, also known as fermentation, can be done either at room temperature or in the refrigerator. The amount of time needed to proof your dough will mostly depend on temperature and how vital and active your starter is. It is important to keep in mind that there can be variations in how long it takes to proof from one batch of bread to the next. Additionally, there are two stages of proofing/fermentation when making sourdough bread.

  1. First Fermentation (Bulk Fermentation)– Bulk fermentation is the initial phase where the dough undergoes its primary fermentation. During this stage, the yeast in the sourdough starter metabolizes the sugars in the flour, producing carbon dioxide and organic acids. This first fermentation can last several hours, ranging from 4 to 12 hours depending on factors like dough temperature, starter activity, and desired flavor development.
  2. Second Fermentation (Final Proofing)– Final proofing, also known as the second rise or final fermentation, occurs after the dough has been shaped into its final form (such as a loaf or rolls). During this stage, the shaped dough undergoes a final rise before baking. This stage typically lasts 1 to 4 hours, depending on factors like dough temperature, starter activity, and desired dough volume increase. The final proofing is important because it allows the dough to undergo a final fermentation, further developing flavor and texture. It also gives the dough time to relax and expand, leading to a light and airy crumb.

Shaping the Dough

After the first fermentation, the dough will need to be shaped before the final proofing. At this stage, it will have noticeably increased in volume, becoming puffy, aerated, and bubbly compared to its initial state.

  1. Before shaping, remove the dough from its container and place on a lightly floured surface.
  2. Lightly pinch the dough’s edge, then stretch and fold into the center a few times to tighten up the dough, before evenly dividing it in half.
  3. Gently flatten the first half into a rectangle, then tightly roll the dough away from you, beginning with the edge closest to you, to form a cylinder.
  4. Place in the loaf pan with the seam side down and repeat with the second half. Note: Before the final proofing, cover the loaves with plastic wrap misted with cooking oil to keep the dough moist and prevent sticking.

Scoring the Dough

Scoring the dough for this soft sourdough bread before baking can be tricky because of its high hydration level. Although not imperative, scoring the dough allows for controlled expansion during baking, which promotes even rising, optimal crust development, and a visually appealing finished loaf. Here are a few tips that can help make scoring the dough easier.

  • Chill the Dough– If the dough is too sticky to score, refrigerating it for a short period before baking and scoring(15-30 minutes) can help firm it up slightly, making it easier to handle and score.
  • Use Flour or Oil– Lightly dusting the surface of the dough with flour or oil can help reduce stickiness, making it easier to handle and score. However, be mindful not to add too much flour, as it can affect the texture of the final loaf.
  • Try a different Scoring Tool– Experiment with different scoring tools, such as a serrated knife or razor blade, to find one that works best for your dough consistency. Some tools may perform better than others depending on the dough’s hydration level and elasticity.
Close-up photo of the interior of a loaf from the Soft Sourdough Bread Recipe.

Common Misconceptions About Soft Sourdough Bread

  • Only strong flour is suitable for sourdough. (Misconception #1)– It’s not uncommon for new bakers to believe that only strong, high-protein flour (like bread flour) can be used for sourdough. However, blending different flours, such as all-purpose flour or even whole grain flours, can yield delicious results. Experimenting with flour types can lead to varied textures and flavors.
  • More kneading equals softer bread. (Misconception #2)– A common misconception among new bakers is that extensive kneading is necessary to achieve a soft bread texture. However, sourdough bread benefits more from allowing the dough to rest and using gentle stretch-and-fold techniques. This method gradually develops the gluten, resulting in a softer, airier bread without overworking the dough.
  • Fermentation time doesn’t impact texture. (Misconception #3)– New bakers are often unaware of the importance of proper fermentation. Under-proofing can result in dense, hard bread, while over-proofing can lead to a collapsed structure. Keeping a watchful eye on the dough during fermentation is crucial for achieving desired results. Tip: When the dough has roughly doubled in size and has a slightly domed top, it is generally done with the first fermentation. For the final proofing, perform the “finger dent test”: gently press your finger into the dough. If the indentation springs back slowly and remains slightly visible, the dough is properly proofed and ready to bake. If it springs back quickly, it needs more time; if it doesn’t spring back at all or collapses, it may be over-proofed.
  • Following exact timing for every step is critical. (Misconception #4)– For new bakers, sourdough baking can feel stressful, as it seems like exact timing is crucial. However, these timings are just guidelines. It’s more important to judge the dough’s readiness by its characteristics rather than by the clock. Factors such as room temperature, humidity, and flour type all affect fermentation and proofing times.
  • Sourdough needs to be baked at a high temperature. (Misconception #5)– Baking at very high temperatures creates a thicker, crisper crust, typical of traditional crusty sourdough. For a softer crust, baking at a slightly lower temperature is often more effective.

Tools Needed

Ingredients Needed

  • Sourdough Starter– The sourdough starter is what makes the bread rise naturally. It’s made up of wild yeast and bacteria. The yeast helps the dough rise by producing gas, while the bacteria add a tangy flavor and improves the dough’s texture.
  • Sugar or Honey– Sugar in soft sourdough bread does a few things. It feeds the yeast to help the bread rise better. Sugar also helps the crust brown and adds sweetness.
  • Warm Water (about 105℉ to 115℉ or 40℃ to 46℃)– Warm water hydrates the flour and activates the yeast. Warmer water speeds up fermentation, while cooler water slows it down. Also, proper hydration helps develop gluten, giving the bread its structure and chewy texture.
  • All-Purpose Flour– All-purpose flour is the main ingredient that gives the bread its shape and size. It has proteins that turn into gluten when mixed with water and kneaded. Gluten traps air bubbles, which helps the bread rise and gives it structure. All-purpose flour has the right amount of protein to make soft, tender sourdough bread. Bread flour, which has more protein, can also be used for a chewier texture. As you become more and more comfortable with this recipe, feel free to experiment with other flours such as whole wheat and rye.
  • Salt– salt enhances the flavor and controls how fast the yeast works, so the dough doesn’t rise too quickly. It also makes the gluten stronger, which helps the dough be stretchy and hold its shape. Plus, salt helps keep the bread fresh by preventing the growth of unwanted bacteria.
  • Oil– Oil is what gives the bread its soft and tender crumb by coating the flour particles and slightly weakening the gluten development. Additionally, oil helps the bread stay fresh longer by slowing down the staling process and it adds a rich and delicious flavor. I personally enjoy using extra virgin olive or avocado oil.

How To Make Soft Sourdough Bread (condensed Instructions)

Mixing the Dough

  1. Combine sourdough starter, sugar, and warm water in a large bowl until the starter dissolves.
  2. Add flour and salt, mix with your hand or a spoon.
  3. Add oil, mix into a rough dough. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and rest for 45 minutes.

Stretch and Fold

  1. Stretch and fold dough for 1 minute. Cover and rest for 30 minutes.
  2. Repeat stretch and fold three more times.

Bulk Fermentation

  1. Let dough rest for approximately 4 hours at room temperature or 12 hours in the refrigerator.

Shaping the Dough

  1. Remove refrigerated dough and let it come to room temperature.
  2. Grease two loaf pans.
  3. Turn dough onto floured surface, divide in half.
  4. Flatten and roll each half into a cylinder, place in loaf pans. Cover and proof for 1-4 hours.

Baking the Loaves

  1. Preheat oven to 375℉ for at least 30 minutes before baking.
  2. Score loaves and bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown.
  3. Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
Overhead photo of a partially sliced loaf from the Soft Sourdough Recipe.

Storage and Freezing Instructions

Room Temperature Storage

There are several options for storing soft sourdough bread at room temperature. You can wrap it in plastic wrap, place it in reusable bread bags, or store it in bread storage containers. Whichever method you choose, this recipe will stay fresh for 2-3 days when stored properly.

Freezing Instructions

If you want to store the bread for a longer period, freezing is a great option. To freeze soft sourdough bread, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and then place it in a resealable freezer bag or an airtight container. Label the container with the date to keep track of freshness. Frozen sourdough bread can last for up to 2-3 months.

When ready to enjoy, thaw the loaf at room temperature for several hours or overnight. For a quicker option, individual frozen slices can be toasted to desired doneness.

Top Tips for Soft Sourdough Bread

  • Much of the success of sourdough comes down to a vibrant and healthy sourdough starter. You’ll know your starter is ready when there are abundant bubbles and a noticeable rise. Depending on how often you use your starter, it may take 3-4 days of feeding before it is ready to make bread.
  • Doing the bulk fermentation in the refrigerator can help the bread develop amazing flavor. When taking this approach, make sure to pull the dough from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature before shaping and proceeding with the second fermentation. This step ensures easier handling of the dough and ultimately leads to superior results.
  • Make sure to preheat your oven for at least 30 minutes before baking. Doing this helps in achieving the best oven spring, as it guarantees the bread dough starts baking at the right temperature. The abrupt surge of heat from the preheated oven prompts swift expansion of the dough, resulting in enhanced volume and a fluffier texture in the final loaf.
  • It is important to keep in mind that baking sourdough from-scratch is a lengthy process. It can take up to 3-4 days to get your developed starter ready for making bread and the act of making soft sourdough bread can take 2 days. With this in mind, it is best to plan in advance.

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes sourdough bread softer?

The key ingredients that help to make soft sourdough are sugar and oil. Sugar not only feeds the yeast, promoting better fermentation, but also helps retain moisture, resulting in a tender crumb. Oil adds fat, which tenderizes the dough and keeps the bread soft for longer. These ingredients work together to create a softer, more tender sourdough bread.

How do I choose the best flour for making soft sourdough bread?

Opt for all-purpose flour or a blend of all-purpose and bread flour. All-purpose flour has a moderate protein content, which provides a good balance between structure and softness. If you want a slightly sturdier texture without compromising softness, mix in some bread flour. Avoid using 100% whole grain flours, as they can make the bread denser and less tender. Instead, incorporate whole grain flours partially to maintain the desired texture.

Can I use just bread flour to make soft sourdough bread?

Yes, you can use all bread flour to make soft sourdough bread, but you’ll need to make a few adjustments to ensure the bread remains tender. Bread flour has a higher protein content, which can lead to a chewier texture. To maintain softness, increase the hydration by adding 25-50 grams more water to the dough.

What is the best proofing method for soft sourdough bread?

For soft sourdough bread, the ideal proofing method combines bulk fermentation, whether at room temperature or in the refrigerator, followed by a final proof at room temperature.

How do I maintain the right sourdough starter for soft bread?

I highly recommend using both my Easy Sourdough Starter recipe and the instructional post on How To Maintain Sourdough Starter. Together, they simplify the essentials for maintaining a healthy and vibrant starter, making it easy for new sourdough bakers to succeed.

Is the stretch and fold necessary part of making sourdough?

The stretch and fold process is very beneficial when making sourdough bread. It helps develop gluten for a lighter texture, promotes even fermentation, and strengthens the dough for easier handling. While other methods exist, incorporating stretch and fold enhances the final loaf’s quality.

What does over-proofed sourdough look like?

During bulk fermentation, over-proofed sourdough tends to spread out excessively in the bowl or proofing container, losing its initial volume and shape. In the final proofing stage, it may collapse or flatten when gently touched, lacking the resilience and springiness of properly proofed dough.

Does steam need to be present to help create soft sourdough?

Steam’s role in soft sourdough bread depends on your desired outcome. While steam aids crust development in traditional baking, it’s not always necessary for softness. Soft sourdough relies more on ingredients like sugar and oil for tenderness. However, some bakers still use steam to maintain oven moisture, enhancing a softer crust. Use steam based on your personal preference and desired bread characteristics.

Homemade sliced Soft Sourdough on a brown cutting board.

Soft Sourdough Bread

Soft Sourdough Bread makes perfect sandwich slices that are fluffy and light. With the Easy Sourdough Starter and just a few ingredients, this recipe simplifies the basics, making it incredibly easy for beginning sourdough bakers.
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Course: Bread
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Soft Sourdough, Soft Sourdough Bread, Soft Sourdough Sandwich Bread
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Stretch/Fold and Proofing: 14 hours
Servings: 2 Loaves
Author: Heather

Ingredients

  • 300 grams Easy Sourdough Starter *bubbly and active
  • 50 grams sugar *or honey
  • 650 grams warm water *105°F to 115°F (40°C to 46°C)
  • 1000 grams all purpose flour *unbleached
  • 25 grams salt
  • 40 grams oil *I use either avocado or extra virgin olive oil

Instructions

Mixing the Dough

  • Weigh and combine the sourdough starter, sugar and warm water in a large bowl. Mix together until the starter dissolves.
    Note: Remember to tare your scale before weighing your ingredients.
  • Add in the flour and salt and mix it in with your hand or a wooden spoon.
  • Once the flour is mostly incorporated, add the oil and mix until everything comes together into a rough, shaggy dough. Cover the bowl with an oiled piece of plastic wrap and let the dough rest at room temperature for approximately 45 minutes.

Stretch and Fold

  • After resting, gently pinch one side of the dough, stretch it upwards and then fold it onto the center of the bowl. Repeat this process for approximately 1 minute, working around the perimeter of the bowl. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for another 30 minutes.
  • Repeat this process of stretching, folding and resting a total of 4 times.

Bulk Fermentation (First Fermentation)

  • Once the final stretch and fold is completed, let the dough rest either at room temperature or in the refrigerator to complete the first fermentation. It will take approximately 4 hours at room temperature or 12 hours in refrigeration to proof. See Note #1 below.

Shaping the Dough

  • Note: When fermenting the dough in the refrigerator, be sure to remove it and let it come to room temperature before shaping. This step ensures easier handling of the dough and ultimately leads to superior results.
  • Grease two loaf pans and set aside.
  • Turn the proofed dough onto a lightly floured flat surface.
  • Gently pinch the edge of the dough, then pull and fold it into the center a few times to firm up the dough before evenly dividing it in half.
  • Carefully flatten the first half into a rectangle shape. Starting with the edge closest to you, roll the dough tightly away from you, creating a cylinder.
  • Place the prepared dough into a greased loaf pan with the seam side down. Repeat with the second half of the dough. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let proof (second fermentation) at room temperature for approximately 1-4 hours. See Note #2 below.

Baking the Loaves

  • Within the last half hour of the second and final rise, preheat the oven to 375℉. See Note #3 below.
  • Once the loaves have fully risen, remove the plastic wrap and score the tops by making a slash along the length of the loaves with a sharp knife or lame. See Note #4 below.
  • Bake the loaves in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, or until they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the top.
  • Remove the loaves from the oven and let them cool in the pans for 10 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. 
    Note: Do not store until the loaves are completely cool.

Notes

Notes
Note #1– If you’re short on time, opt for the convenience of doing the first fermentation in the refrigerator and then baking the next day. This method slows down the process, giving you more flexibility with your schedule. For instance, you can prepare the dough on a Saturday, let it ferment in the refrigerator overnight, and then shape, perform the second fermentation, and bake it on Sunday.
Note #2– Keep an eye on the dough during the proofing process. The time needed for proofing can vary depending on factors such as room temperature and how vibrant the starter was. Look for visual cues such as increased volume and a slight jiggle when gently shaken to determine when the dough is adequately proofed. Also, a poke test can be used by lightly pressing your fingertip into the dough. If the indentation springs back slowly and leaves a slight impression, it’s ready to bake. If it springs back quickly, it needs more time to proof. If it collapses or doesn’t spring back at all, it may have over-proofed.
Note #3– A well preheated oven is crucial for achieving optimal oven spring because it ensures that the bread dough begins baking at the correct temperature. The sudden burst of heat from the preheated oven triggers rapid expansion of the dough, leading to increased volume and a lighter texture in the finished loaf. In other words, preheating for 30 minutes yields superior results. 
Note #4– Because Soft Sourdough Bread has a high hydration level, scoring the dough can be a bit tricky for beginners. Here are some tips to help you achieve clean and effective scoring:
  1. Use a very sharp knife, lame or razor blade. This will help to create clean cuts.
  2. Hold the blade at a shallow angle (about 30-45 degrees) to the surface of the dough. This helps the cuts open up properly during baking.
  3. Make confident, swift cuts across the surface of the dough. Avoid hesitating or sawing motions, as this can drag the dough and lead to irregular cuts.
Don’t worry if your first few attempts aren’t perfect. I have been scoring bread since my days of working in a bakery years ago and at times still struggle with scoring high hydration breads. 
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