Weekend Baking: Sourdough French Bread

When Janice Buckner sent me home with a jar of her prized sourdough starter, she made sure I was equipped with plenty of recipes that would inspire me to continue to bake with the fermenting mixture of flour and milk that she has kept alive for over 35 years. Learn more about Buckner and her sourdough starter in my previous post.

After making sourdough coffee cake and sourdough pancakes, I was ready to take on a loaf of sourdough French bread.

I felt some trepidation as I pulled my large jar of all-purpose flour from the pantry. I’ve done a lot of bread baking over the years with traditional dough that uses yeast to grow. The bread I was about to make would grow only with the power of the bubbling sourdough starter. Jan had marked the recipe as one of her favorites, but there were few directions accompanying the recipe.

The bread-making process begins by allowing a sponge of the sourdough starter blended together with flour and water to bubble at room temperature for 30 hours. Yes, that’s right — 30 hours.

After that, it’s clear sailing. Just stir in some sugar and salt and more flour before kneading the dough to a smooth, satiny finish. Unlike most yeast doughs, this sourdough will feel slightly tacky as it gets formed into a round loaf.

I baked the rotund loaf on a preheated pizza stone. If you don’t have a clay pizza stone or baking tile, just use a baking sheet. Professional bakers of sourdough French bread use ovens with jets of steam to make the crust crisp. I create steam by setting a shallow baking pan on the rack positioned under the bread as the oven preheats. Once I have the loaf in the oven, I pour water into the pan, creating steam and moisture as the bread bakes.

This sourdough French bread has a thick, crunchy crust. The inside texture is moist and chewy with a slight tang — well worth the wait!

Sourdough French Bread

  • 1 cup sourdough starter
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups water

Combine sourdough starter, flour and water in glass mixing bowl. Blend well. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow to sit out at room temperature for 30 hours. Sponge will be very thick and full of bubbles.


  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • Flour to make a workable consistency

Stir enough flour into the sponge to create a stiff dough. This is the time you can introduce other varieties of flour, such as whole wheat or rye, to develop different texture and flavor. The amount of flour you will need will vary with weather and the kind of flour you are using. Knead until satiny, 10 to 12 minutes, adding flour as needed.

The “feel” of this dough after kneading in the flour is different than that of most yeast doughs. It will feel slightly tacky when lightly touched. Shape dough into one large round loaf on a cornmeal-covered pizza peel, baking sheet without sides or a piece of stiff cardboard. Sprinkle top of loaf with extra flour and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise until nearly doubled in size.

Place pizza stone or a baking sheet on rack in middle of oven. Turn on oven to preheat to 400 degrees.

A few minutes before putting bread into the oven, place a shallow baking pan on the lowest rack in the oven, under the preheating pizza stone or baking sheet.

Sprinkle flour over loaf. Use very sharp paring knife or a razor blade to cut a 1/2-inch-deep X into the top of the loaf. Carefully slide the loaf onto preheated clay pizza stone or baking sheet. Pour enough water into the pan on the lowest rack to a depth of 1/4-inch.

Bake in preheated 400 degree oven for 40 to 60 minutes or until richly browned. Loaf should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom with finger. Slide loaf onto wire rack to cool. Makes 1 large round loaf.


13 thoughts on “Weekend Baking: Sourdough French Bread

  1. Pingback: Vegetarian Haggis and Recipe Roundup | The Heavy Table - Minneapolis-St. Paul and Upper Midwest Food Magazine and Blog

    • Jan, my loaf is gone. I’ll need to make another one soon so I can toast a slice and spread a thick a layer of peanut butter over the top. My mouth is watering!

  2. After reading Lauraine Snelling’s “Red River of the North” book series, about 4 years ago, I have been collecting and trying different recipes using sourdough starter also. Sourdough pancakes or waffles are expected when the grandkids come to visit! I have a peach nut bread recipe that my husband really likes. I will send to your email on the coffee cake recipe I printed.

    • I would be interested in in your collection also Teresa, Haven’t had a started since the 80’s but have been toying with the idea of starting one again. I had a campfire cookbook with recipes in it at one time but have since lost it. :(

  3. Is it absolutely imperative to add sugar? I’ve been making French bread per a recipe from a friend living in France, and she insists there nothing in French bread except yeast (or starter), water, salt and flour. Would this bread still be a success if I omit the sugar? Thanks!

    • Marianne, the sugar helps the sourdough starter bubble and grow. You can make the bread without the sugar — it may take longer for the bread dough to rise. Enjoy!

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