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What Flour To Use For Sourdough Bread (Complete Guide)

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When someone discovers that I make sourdough bread regularly, one of the most common questions that I am asked is about what flour I use. The conundrum of what flour to use for sourdough bread baking is an understandable one.

Perhaps you’ve tried doing sourdough before, and found yourself unsuccessful in keeping your own sourdough starter bubbly and happy. Or, maybe you killed it all together. It’s okay, there’s no judgment. I know how much of a difference the right flour can make in both your sourdough feeding schedule, and in baking chewy, fluffy sourdough bread with that perfect open crumb.

cut loaf of sourdough bread with open crumb

Because this is a complete guide to what flour to use for sourdough bread, it’s a little lengthy. If you’re looking for a more specific answer on something, I hope this table of contents makes it a little easier to jump around.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. Understanding Flour Types
1. Whole Wheat Flour
2. Bread Flour
3. Rye Flour
4. All-Purpose (White) Flour
II. Choosing The Best Flour For Sourdough
1. Protein content of different flours
2. Types of flour and bread rise
3. Hydration level and flour types
III. Sourdough Recipes and Flour Types
IV. Other Considerations With Different Flours
1. Achieving the best oven spring
2. The bulk fermentation process
V. How To Make Great Bread With Different Flours
1. Using All-Purpose Flour
2. Using Whole Wheat Flour
3. Using Rye Flour
4. Using Spelt Flour
5. Using Bread Flour
VI. What flour is best for making sourdough bread?

This post contains affiliate links, which means I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you. See my full disclosure here.

understanding flour types

Before we dive into the best flours to use for sourdough bread, we need to understand what types of flour are available. Choosing the right flour really is crucial for baking sourdough. Different types of flour have different protein and gluten contents, which can affect the texture and flavor of your bread. In this section, I’ll explain the different types of flour and their characteristics.

whole wheat flour

Whole wheat flour is made from the entire wheat kernel, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. It has a nutty flavor and is higher in fiber, vitamins, and minerals than white flour. However, its high bran content can make it more challenging to work with in bread baking. Whole wheat flours (or whole grain flours) are best used in combination with white flour to achieve a balance of flavor and texture. When it comes to feeding your starter, you’ll find that whole wheat flour is eaten up more quickly, requiring you to feed your starter more often.

If you grind your own wheat into fresh milled flour, then that flour is whole wheat. This is important to know because many people who grind our own wheat (another great homesteading skill) also find themselves wanting to get into sourdough. But it is generally more difficult to maintain a starter and get the classic sourdough rise you’re looking for when using any whole-grain flours. You can still bake great-tasting bread when milling your own flour, but it is helpful to adjust your expectations as to what it will look like. You can use a sifting screen or something similar to remove some of the bran and germ. This will leave you with a more starchy flour.

bread flour

White bread flour is made from only the endosperm of hard wheat kernels. It has a milder flavor than whole wheat flour and a high protein content, which makes it more elastic and less tender. This type of strong white bread flour is commonly used in sourdough bread baking, sometimes in combination with whole wheat or rye flour.

Bread flour does help significantly with gluten development, because the protein level is at 12-14 percent. This is compared to all-purpose flour which is 10-12 percent. 

rye flour

Rye flour is made from rye grain and has a distinctive flavor that is earthy and slightly sour. It has a lower gluten content than wheat flour, which can make it more challenging to work with. However, rye flour is commonly used in sourdough bread baking, often in combination with another kind of flour.

Although I wouldn’t use it exclusively, the nutrient content of rye flour makes it a good choice for feeding a sourdough starter.

all-purpose (white) flour

All purpose flour is a blend of both hard and soft wheat flour. It’s designed to be versatile and suitable for a wide range of baked goods. It has a moderate protein content (10-12 percent) and can be used in sourdough bread baking. It may not produce the same depth of flavor as using whole wheat or rye flour, but it is great for making that simple sourdough bread we know and love.

To summarize, choosing the right type of flour for your homemade sourdough bread depends on your personal preference and the characteristics you want your bread to have. Experimenting with different types of flour can help you find the perfect combination for your taste buds and routine.

labeled flour container next to jar of sourdough starter

choosing the best flour for sourdough

As a sourdough baker, I know that choosing the right flour is crucial to achieving the perfect loaf. Here are a few tips on selecting the best flour for your sourdough bread, depending on what you want to achieve.

protein content of different flours

When choosing flour for sourdough bread, the protein content is an important factor to consider. Protein is what gives bread its structure and helps it rise upward. In general, a higher protein content is preferred for sourdough bread, because it helps create a chewy, airy texture.

Organic flour is also a great choice for sourdough bread. I only use 100% organic flour in all of my loaves, because it’s grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Believe it or not, the choice to buy organic can enhance the taste, and certainly the quality, of your bread.

Here’s a breakdown of the most common wheat flours and their protein content:

Flour TypeProtein Content
Bread Flour12-14%
All-Purpose Flour10-12%
Whole Wheat Flour13-14%

As you can see, bread flour and whole wheat flour have a higher protein content than all-purpose flour. I like to use a combination of a higher protein flour along with all-purpose. This is especially true if I am using whole wheat flour. And it’s because of the qualities whole wheat flour retains (see above), and the effect they have on sourdough.

Basically, when selecting flour for sourdough bread, consider the protein content and opt for organic flour if possible. Of course, budget is going to be a consideration, and that’s perfectly okay! If all-purpose flour is what you have to work with, don’t let that stop you from trying to make sourdough.

With this basic understanding of flours, you’re well on your way to baking delicious, rustic sourdough bread!

types of flour and bread rise

As a sourdough baker, I’ve experimented with various types of flour to achieve a nice rise in my bread. What I’ve found is that the type of flour used can greatly impact the bread rise.

One of the most important factors in bread rise is, again–the protein content of the flour. (Did you realize protein was such a big deal?)

Flours with high protein content, like bread flour or other high-gluten flours, are ideal for achieving a good rise in sourdough bread. This is because the protein in the flour helps to create a strong gluten network, which allows the bread to rise and hold its shape.

On the other hand, flours with low protein content, such as cake flour or pastry flour, may not provide enough structure for the bread to rise properly. This can result in a dense and flat loaf. Don’t use cake or pastry flour in your sourdough bread recipes! They are fine for quicker sourdough discard recipes that don’t require rise time, but not for artisan bread.

Another thing to consider is the freshness of the flour. Freshly milled flour contains more enzymes and nutrients that can help to improve the rise of the bread. However, it is important to note that freshly milled flour may require longer fermentation times to fully develop the flavor and texture of the bread. It will also create a more dense loaf (so less air bubbles/pockets). This is important to be aware of if you exclusively grind your own wheat.

In addition to protein content and freshness, the type of wheat used to make the flour can also impact the bread rise. Hard wheat varieties, like durum wheat, have a higher protein content and are ideal for bread baking. Soft red or soft white wheat berries have a lower protein content, therefore the flour is better suited for cakes and pastries.

These attributes of various flours can greatly impact the rise of sourdough bread. By selecting a flour with a high protein content and knowing its freshness, you can achieve a good rise and a delicious loaf of bread.

bubbly sourdough starter next to bowl of fresh flour

hydration level and flour type

It isn’t the flour type alone that plays a crucial role in your final product, it’s also the hydration level! Let’s explore how flour types and hydration work together.

What do we mean when we say hydration? Hydration level simply refers to the amount of water in relation to the amount of flour used in the recipe. The higher the hydration level, the wetter and more open the crumb of the bread will be. Higher hydration bread dough is typically more difficult to work with, while lower hydration is a little easier. However, you don’t want dough that is so low in hydration that it turns out dense and gummy.

Different flour types along with hydration level significantly affects the texture and flavor of your sourdough. A higher hydration level flour will require more water, while a lower hydration level flour will require less. 

Bread flour, which is high in protein, creates a strong gluten structure that can withstand the fermentation process. Any high-protein flour is going to absorb more water, resulting in a lower hydration level.

Whole wheat flour is another example of a higher protein flour. It adds a nice nutty flavor to bread, but the bran and germ in the flour can also absorb more water, resulting in a lower hydration level. 

All-purpose flour absorbs less water, but may result in a slightly denser crumb.

Rye flour can create a more tangy flavor, but it also has a weaker gluten structure and may require the addition of bread flour to achieve the desired texture.

Now you understand the characteristics of each type of flour and how they interact with water to achieve a specific result. You can see that the amount of water needed in the recipe depends on the hydration level of the flour used. This is why you can’t really sub some flours one for one. Or at least not without seeing some variability in the final outcome of your dough.

But don’t get overwhelmed! Experimenting with different hydration levels and flour types can lead to unique and delicious sourdough bread variations. 

two sourdough artisan loaves on cutting board

sourdough recipes and flour types

As we’ve discussed, when it comes to making sourdough bread, the type of flour you use can make a big difference in the final product. Depending on the recipe, you may choose different types of flour. Not all breads are created equal, and certainly not all sourdough recipes are created equal. There are several different flours you might consider for a variety of sourdough recipes.

When experimenting with different flours in your sourdough recipes, it’s essential to keep in mind that each type of flour has a unique protein content and gluten structure that will affect the final product’s texture and flavor. I’ve spent a lot of time experimenting with different flours and combinations over the years, and you should feel free to do the same. You just might find the perfect recipe to suit your taste preferences and baking style.

What sourdough recipes work best for which flour?

  • All-purpose flour: This is a great choice for beginners, as it is readily available and produces a consistent result. All-purpose flour has a moderate protein content, which makes it versatile enough for use in many different types of bread. I use all-purpose flour for feeding my starter, and in conjunction with bread flour when making loaves. And you can’t go wrong with all-purpose flour in other sourdough baking recipes, from sourdough chocolate chip cookies to sourdough cinnamon rolls.
  • Bread flour: Bread flour has a higher protein content than all-purpose flour, which makes it ideal for sourdough breads with rise time like my sourdough chocolate chip bread or sourdough cinnamon swirl bread. The extra protein helps the dough develop a strong gluten structure, which leads to a chewy and flavorful loaf.
  • Whole wheat flour: Whole wheat flour is made from the entire wheat kernel, which gives it a nutty flavor and a slightly coarser texture than white flour. It can be used on its own or mixed with other types of flour to add flavor and texture to your sourdough bread. It’s delicious when added to a recipe like sourdough discard pancakes. However, I would not personally recommend using it for exclusively feeding your sourdough starter.
  • Rye flour: Rye flour is a popular choice for sourdough bread in Europe, where it is often used to make dense, flavorful loaves. Rye flour has a lower gluten content than wheat flour, which makes it more challenging to work with but can lead to a unique and delicious final product. Rye flour also makes a great kickstart if your sourdough starter needs a boost. If I have rye flour on hand, I like to feed my starter with it from time to time.
  • Spelt flour: Spelt flour is an ancient grain that has gained popularity in recent years due to its nutty flavor and nutritional benefits. It has a lower gluten content than wheat flour but can still be used in sourdough recipes with good results. I prefer spelt to substitute in quicker non-rise recipes like sourdough banana pancakes or sourdough banana bread.
three different types of wheat flour in bowls

other considerations with different flours

achieving the best oven spring

When it comes to baking sourdough bread, achieving a good oven spring is crucial in creating a beautiful loaf with a crisp crust and an airy crumb. Here are some tips on choosing the right flour that helps you achieve the best oven spring possible:

1. Opt for high-protein flours like bread flour or whole wheat flour, which have more gluten than all-purpose flour. Gluten is the protein that gives bread its structure and helps it rise. Using these types of flours is very helpful in creating a dough that rises properly and has good structure. 

2. Baking your sourdough bread in a dutch oven can help create a great oven spring by trapping steam and creating a humid environment. Preheat your dutch oven in the oven for at least 30 minutes before baking so that it’s hot enough to create steam.

3. Scoring your dough with a razor blade before baking can help control the rise of your bread and create a beautiful pattern on the crust. Make sure to score your dough deeply enough to allow for expansion during baking. A combination of deep and more shallow cuts is best.

4. Baking your sourdough bread at the right temperature is crucial in achieving a good oven spring. Preheat your oven to at least 450°F and bake your bread for the first 25-30 minutes with the lid on your Dutch oven to trap steam. Then, remove the lid and continue baking until the crust is golden brown.

By combining these tips, you’ll achieve the best oven spring possible for a beautiful, delicious loaf of sourdough bread.

the bulk fermentation process

During bulk fermentation, the dough is left to rest and ferment as a whole before being shaped into loaves. This process allows the dough to develop flavor and texture, and is an essential step in sourdough bread baking.

I typically let my dough rest at room temperature for 6-12 hours during the bulk fermentation process. The duration varies depending on the type of flour used, the temperature of the room, and the desired flavor and texture.

Fresh ground flours tend to ferment more quickly and result in a more sour flavor. I’ve also found this to be true with rye flour. In addition, rye and freshly milled flours tend to not rise as much.

A combination of organic all-purpose flour and bread flour has yielded me the most consistent result when it comes to bulk fermentation. I like using white flours because they make the dough bubbly yet elastic. In a warm environment, it doesn’t require a lot of rise time. And after it’s done bulk fermenting, I can place my shaped loaves in the fridge for some cold fermentation to deepen the flavor.

But as we’ve been talking about, don’t be afraid to experiment and find what works for you.

close up of freshly baked sourdough bread

How to Make Great Bread with Different Flours

I have plenty of reasons for being a sourdough bread enthusiast. And because I am an enthusiast, I’ve done a little experimenting with different types of flour. Experimenting has allowed me to get better results with my bread! So here are some tips on how to make great bread using whichever flour you have available.

using all-purpose flour

All-purpose flour is a great choice of flour for sourdough bread, especially if you’re just starting out. It has a moderate protein content, which helps the dough develop gluten and rise properly. You can make a great sourdough loaf with just all-purpose flour by itself. However, you may need to adjust the amount of flour depending on what your recipe says. If it calls for mainly bread flour, be prepared to add a little more all-purpose flour to help the dough come together. If you do have bread flour on hand, consider blending the two together if you’d like a more chewy loaf.

using whole wheat flour

Whole wheat flour is a nutritious option that adds a nutty flavor and texture to sourdough bread. A whole wheat or fresh ground flour made from hard wheat varieties will have a higher protein content than all-purpose flour, and is recommended for sourdough bread over soft wheat varieties. For the best results, mix whole wheat flour with some all-purpose flour. If you use whole wheat flour, consider letting the dough rest and rise for a little extra time.

using rye flour

Rye flour is a good option for sourdough bread because of its distinctive depth of flavor. However, rye flour has a low gluten content, which makes it more difficult to work with. Sourdough made with rye flour alone will be very sticky and difficult to work with. It’s best to blend rye flour with bread flour and/or all-purpose flour for better dough elasticity and oven spring. And keep in mind that rye flour ferments faster than other flours.

using spelt flour

Spelt flour is a nutritious and flavorful ancient grain that is becoming increasingly popular for sourdough bread. Spelt flour also has a slightly sweet and nutty flavor that adds a unique touch to the bread. Using spelt flour on its own for sourdough bread is possible, but it will be difficult to get the bread to hold it’s shape. A lower hydration recipe (using less water) is best when using spelt flour, and I highly recommend mixing in a strong bread flour for best results.

using bread flour

You can’t really go wrong when using bread flour for making sourdough. However, if you use bread flour alone and don’t add enough hydration, your dough can more easily end up too stiff. If you’re using only bread flour in a recipe that calls for a blend, you will want to slightly reduce the amount of water in the recipe.

large tote full of all purpose flour

What flour is best for making sourdough bread?

In conclusion, to answer the question I am always being asked: all-purpose flour blended with bread flour is my favorite option for making sourdough bread. It gives a classic flavor, and allows for great oven spring and open crumb. Although I love baking with whole wheat and ancient grains, I find that white flour produces the most consistent results when it comes to sourdough. The good news is, the fermentation process makes it a lot healthier.

But just because that’s my preferred choice, doesn’t mean it has to be yours. I know that going to such depths on all the different kinds of flours may seem a little overwhelming, but I promise, sourdough isn’t as scientific as it seems. It is absolutely true that the type of flour you use for sourdough bread will affect the flavor, texture, and overall quality of the bread. But you can relax and enjoy experimenting with different types of flour, knowing that a less than stellar loaf is still completely edible, and probably still just as delicious.

Happy baking, and if you’re still in the research phase of sourdough and need a starter, skip the process of making your own and grab some in my shop!

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