Traditional Fermented Sourdough

Published: February 28, 2023 • Last Updated: March 9, 2024
Author: Laura
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traditional fermented sourdough

This is the ultimate, traditional, fermented sourdough boule. A ‘boule’ is a round, crusty loaf of bread with golden, textured outer layer with a soft, chewy middle. If you’re looking to make sourdough in the most traditional way that has been done for centuries, this recipe is for you! This fermented bread will make your heart sing!

What I love about this loaf

  • This is THE quintessential fermented sourdough loaf in look, taste and texture.
  • If you’re looking to achieve the trademark “ear” (the part of the dough that flips up during baking) that many sourdough enthusiasts love, this is the loaf.
  • If you want your loaf to have a beautiful “belly” (the part of the dough that opens and stretches at the score line), this is the loaf.
  • This makes one large loaf (about 2 lb 15 oz) or two smaller loaves (about 1 lb 6 oz each).
  • I love that it is so easy to score it beautifully because of the freezing method. It holds it shape and gives your the freedom to be creative!

More recipes you can try: Sourdough Dinner Rolls Sourdough Discard Crackers

The step by step:

The first step in this traditional, fermented sourdough boule is to create the levin. Levain is a preferment. This means you combine active starter with water and flour. Does that sound familiar? You’re combining an exact amount of each, to create the exact amount needed for the recipe. How does this differ from using a starter? Your sourdough starter is something you’ll continue to maintain, while the whole levain will be used in the recipe.

scale levain

Here is the levain newly fed (left) and fermented and ready to use (right).

sourdough levain fermented

Once the levain is ready, it’s time to start making the dough! Combine the levain with part of the water and all of the flour. Use a dough hook or your hands to combine. Let this sit for 30 minutes up to 2 hours.

mixing sourdough

Dissolve the salt in the remaining water and add to the dough. I use Redmond Real Salt (code LAURA15).


Every 30 minutes or so, complete a set of stretch and folds. Towards the end, I like to do coil folds. Do 4-5 total of stretch and folds (and/or combination of coil folds). The total time from start to the last stretch and fold should be about 3-4 hours (depending how long your first section was).

stretch and fold

About 30 minutes after your last stretch and fold (or coil fold), it’s time to shape the dough! After an easy pre-shape (roughly shape it into a round ball), let it rest for about 10 minutes, covered (I often just turn the bowl over on it). Complete the final shape, making sure to create surface tension here. This is key to getting good oven spring. Place it in a floured banneton, cover and refrigerate.

shaping the dough

On baking day, while the oven is preheating, put the covered banneton in the freezer. This is the best tip! A short freeze is going to help firm up the loaf and make for a good score.

scoring the dough

Bake your beautiful classic sourdough loaf! The loaf in front is one large loaf and the two in the back is the same recipe with the dough divided into two before the pre-shape.

fermented sourdough dutch oven loaves

Want more recipes like this? Check out my Sourdough Essentials Cookbook

Items used for this recipe:

  • scale
  • banneton (proofing basket)
  • Dutch oven
  • parchment paper

Find all of these and more on my baking favorites page!

Watch me make this recipe here!

With this type of recipe, I find it very helpful to watch it being made as well as reading through the instructions!

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5 from 2 votes

Traditional Fermented Sourdough Boule


Levain (see substitution note below)

  • 50 grams active sourdough starter (1/4 cup)
  • 75 grams all purpose flour (1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon)
  • 75 grams water*


  • 575 grams water (divided, 525 used first, save 50 grams) (2 1/2 cups total)**
  • 750 grams all purpose flour (5 3/4 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon salt


Make the levain

  • Six to eight hours before making the dough, create the levain. Mix the levain ingredients and let rise until at least double. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, this can be done in the morning to make the dough in the afternoon or made at night to make the dough in the morning.

Make the dough

  • Add the risen, bubbly levain to a large mixing bowl. Mix 525 grams (2 1/4 cups) water with the levain. Add the flour and combine well, using a dough hook or your hands. Cover the mixture and let it sit covered for 30 minutes (this can sit for up to 2 hours). Dissolve the salt in the remaining 50 grams (1/4 cup) of water.

Work the dough

  • After the 30 minutes, add the salt water to the dough. It will be very wet so incorporate using your hands until well combined. Stretch the dough and rotate the bowl several times. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes. Complete 4-5 sets of stretch and folds, with 30 minutes in between each set. Doing coil folds for the last 1-2 helps strengthen the dough. Let the dough rest for another 30 minutes.

Shape the dough

  • Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter. If creating two loaves, split the dough into two even pieces now. Do an initial pre-shape, forming the dough into a loose loaf shape. Sprinkle lightly with flour, cover and let rest for 10 minutes.
  • Final shape: fold the sides of the dough inward creating a ball. Turn the ball over and tucking in the bottom, scoot the dough towards yourself several times. This should create surface tension on the dough so it holds its shape. The dough should be round, taut and smooth. Place the dough into a floured banneton. Cover well and place in refrigerator. Refrigerate for 12 hours and up to 3 days.

Score and bake the dough

  • Preheat the oven to 500°. While the oven is preheating, place the banneton in the freezer. The dough can freeze for up to 30 minutes. When the oven is preheated, remove the banneton and turn the dough onto parchment paper. Using a sharp blade, score the loaf with at least one long cut being 1/2 inch deep, at a 30° angle.
  • For one large loaf: Bake at 500° for 20 minutes, covered. Reduce the temperature to 450° and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and bake an additional 15-20 minutes. Let cool for at least one hour before slicing.
  • For two smaller loaves: Bake at 500° for 18 minutes, covered. Reduce to 450°, remove the lid and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes. Let cool for at least one hour before slicing.


*Levain substitution: If you don’t have the levain prepared in advanced, you can use approximately 220 grams of active starter as the levain. If using active starter,  proceed to “Make the Dough” step.
**This is a high hydration dough. It is 76% hydration. If you are not used to using this type of dough, you can leave out 50g of water. This will put it at 70% hydration. Beginners often find high hydration dough sticky to work with. Building tension through coil folds as well as proper shaping of the dough is key. 

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Recipe Rating

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  1. 5 stars
    This recipe is amazing, it’s the only sourdough recipe I use anymore!! It makes a big loaf with amazing flavor, everyone raves about it every time I share!!

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