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Seven Steps to Great Sourdough Bread Overnight

Seven Steps to Great Sourdough Bread Overnight

Two naturally-leavened sourdough loaves made overnight. Front: White flour sourdough proofed in a brotform. Back: Whole-wheat miche. |Image by Chris R. Sims (Simsc) licensed under the Creative Commons 

I have found making sourdough bread overnight an easy evening routine. Here are seven simple steps for baking bread first thing in the morning.

After my sourdough class at Abigail’s Oven, I went right home and went to work making bread. The process lasted into the night, then I recalled Martha Levie’s suggestion that making the dough and letting it rise overnight, then baking it in the morning. 

Emilie Raffa agrees. In Artisan Sourdough Made Simple she wrote:

“Simply make the dough, let it rise overnight, and bake in the morning. It requires very little effort with big rewards. The crust is golden and crunchy, and the velvety crumb is perfect for sandwiches and toast.”—Artisan Sourdough Made Simple, Kindle Edition.

Personally, I have found the overnight method an easy evening routine. Married with Abigail’s Oven Country Loaf recipe, these simple steps deliver baked bread first thing in the morning.


The Day Before

Activate the Starter 

  • A few hours before dinner, mix a cup of flour with 3/4 cup water into your starter. Stir and allow to the stater to activate in a warm place for about four hours.
  • In the winter, mine goes on top of the fridge, out of the way. The coils on a refrigerator give off some warmth. In summer, our home is plenty warm I just leave it out on the counter.
  • If that does not fit into your schedule, then activate it in the morning before you go to work.  Just put it in the fridge before leaving for work. Then take it out of the fridge at dinner time to warm it up some.


Make the Dough

  • A  few hours before going to bed, whisk ¼ cup (50 g) active starter together with 2 cups (480 g) lukewarm water. Remember to replenish your starter with ¼ cup of water and 1/3 cup of flour and set it aside
  • Stir in 4 cups (500 g) of flour. My personal choice is a mix of two cups of bread flour combined with 1½ cups freshly milled whole wheat or einkorn and ½ cup freshly milled rye). The dough will be quite stiff and will benefit from some mixing with your hands until the flour is fully incorporated. 
  • Cover and let this rest for 30 minutes. This resting period is called the autolyse; it allows wet ingredients and flour work to form the gluten in the dough that hold gases during the long fermentation but before adding the salt. It will help produce a better rise and a more complex flavor in the finished loaf.
  • Meanwhile, mix  1 Tbl salt with 2 Tbl water and work this into the dough after the autolyse using a stretch-and-fold technique to further develop gluten. To stretch and fold take a corner of the dough in the bowl with wet hands, pull the dough up and then fold it up on itself, rotate the dough, and repeat. This should make a smooth, elastic dough. Repeat this process every 30 min until it has been done four times.
  • After the fourth stretch-and-fold, cover the bowl with a damp towel.


Bulk Rise

  •  Let it rise overnight at room temperature (70°F [21°C]) for 8 to 10 hours.
  • Because this dough rises slowly while you sleep, you won’t be tempted to rush the process and check progress too often. Just go to bed and let the magic happen.

    Bulk ferment from the fourth stretch and fold to the next morning. Twelve hours of magic every time!

  • The dough should be doubled in size, but to be sure, give it a test by poking the dough with your finger. If it springs back to the surface without a dent, it needs a bit more proofing. But if it leaves a dent and doesn’t spring back, it may be over-proofed. However, if it springs back just a bit and leaves a slight dent the dough is ready to go in the oven.


Baking Day


  • In the morning place the dough on a lightly floured surface.
  • To shape in a boulle, start at the top and fold the dough over toward the center. Then roll the dough like a jelly roll, turn and repeat several times until the dough tensions together as shown to the right.
  • Using a dough blade or your hands, turn the dough in a flat circle until it shapes into a ball.
  • Flip the dough over letting it rest for 5 to 10 minutes while lining an 8-inch (20-cm) bowl with a towel dusted with flour.
  • “With floured hands, gently cup the dough and pull it toward you in a circular motion to tighten its shape.
  • “Using a bench scraper, place the dough into the bowl, seam side up.”Artisan Sourdough Made Simple


Final Rise:

  • Cover the baker’s basket or bowl and let rise for 30–45 minutes.
  • The dough is ready when it is puffy but has not yet doubled in size.
  • Preheat the oven to 465°F (240°C).
  • Cut a sheet of parchment to fit the size of your dutch oven but leaving enough excess around the sides so you can remove the bread.


Score the Loaf:

  • Invert the bowl onto parchment (I hold my hand under the bowl with the parchment on my palm).
  • Dust the top of the dough with flour. With your hands gently rub the surface spreading the flour evenly.
  • Using a bread lame or a razor blade, score the dough with any way you’d like.
  • Use the parchment to transfer the dough to the dutch oven.



  • Bake the dough on the middle rack of your oven for 20 minutes, covered (or uncovered in an oven with a pan of boiling water on a lower rack, which is how I do it).
  • If baking without water, remove the lid and continue to bake for 10 minutes to crisp the crust, otherwise total time with heat is 30 minutes.
  • Then turn off the heat, but leave the loaf in the oven for 30 more minutes as it cools and the crust hardens.
  • Transfer to a wire rack for final cooling before slicing.


While many folks like to eat bread hot, sourdough needs to cool completely before slicing to avoid a gummy center. Personally I like it the second day, especially when I have added rye, which takes a day to develop flavor throughout the loaf.

In the comment section below tell us about how your first loaf turned out.

Author: Darryl Alder lives with his wife in Riverside Lodge, which is their home along the Provo River in Utah. He is a retired career Scouter and outdoorsman who spent many hours over a campfire using a Dutch oven and loves sharing recipes for the kitchen and the campfire alike. You can read many of his recipes on this site by searching for Sourdough Saturday or Recipes in the  right-hand sidebar of this blog

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Best bread ever easy to make & so soft

brenda s crum

Can’t wait to try this recipe. Thank you & God Bless


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