Sourdough bread (at long last!)

sourdough loaf

As I promised yesterday here I am to blog my very first sourdough creation. YES! Let me introduce to you  my newly born, fresh out of the oven  sourdough loaf, and lovely it was too. Ok there is room for improvement (I would like it to be softer inside, for example, with bigger holes) but give me time, right? You can’t be perfect right from the start. If you recall, when I first embarked on the experiment I mentioned that there are many different ways of starting a sourdough. Well….the same applies when it comes to bake with it:  there are many different recipes and techniques out there! (and by the way: rest assured I will try them). Before I continue let me give you a word of warning: sourdough is definitely NOT for the busy, impatient , “right here, right now” person.  You basically need a day (if not longer) to achieve a baked loaf (not to mention all the nurturing that goes on beforehand: the feeding of the dough, etc.). There is a lot of faffing and waiting involved. So definitely not something to attempt unless you have bags of time and a lot of patience. Mind you: “good things come to those who wait”, like the Guinness advert teaches. I reckon it would be an ideal hobby to get into for a retired person. It is certainly an activity that would  fill your day (week?). By the way, for this particular loaf I used the Rivercottage version, which involves making a “sponge” the night before (see what I mean? You have to start preparation well in advance!). But there are so many variations and permutations out there! Really: quite an education! By the way my sourdough was particularly yummy toasted. So, dear Candi, have I tempted you to follow my example and start yor own “pasta madre“?? :-)

INGREDIENTS (From Rivercottage)

For the sponge

  • About 100ml active starter
  • 250g strong bread flour (white, wholemeal or a mixture)
  • 300ml warm water

For each loaf

  • 300g strong bread flour (white, wholemeal or a mixture)
  • 1 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil (optional)
  • 10g salt


The night before you want to bake your loaf, create the sponge: take about 100ml of your active starter, and combine it with 250g fresh flour and 300ml warm water in a large bowl. Mix well with your hands, or very thoroughly with the handle of a wooden spoon, then cover with cling film and leave overnight. In the morning, it should be clearly fermenting – thick, sticky and bubbly.

Now make your loaf: add a fresh 300g flour to the sponge, along with 1 tbsp oil, if you like (it will make the bread a touch softer and more silky, but is not essential), and 10g salt (which is essential). Squidge it all together with your hands. You should have a fairly sticky dough. If it seems tight and firm, add a dash more warm water. If it is unmanageably loose, add more flour (but do leave it as wet as you dare – you’ll get better bread that way).

Turn out the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and silky. This takes in the region of 10 minutes, but it can vary depending on your own style and level of confidence ( I used my break kneading machine).

Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn it so it gets a light coating of oil. Cover with lightly oiled cling film, or put the bowl inside a plastic bag, and leave to rise. Don’t expect it to whoosh up to twice its original size in an hour, as a conventional loaf does. Sourdough rises slowly and sedately. The best thing is to knead it in the morning then simply leave it all day (or knead in the evening and leave overnight) in a fairly cool, but draught-free, place, until it has more or less doubled in size and feels springy when you push your finger gently into it. Knock it back (deflate it) on a lightly floured surface.

You now need to prove the dough (i.e., give it a second rising). You are also going to be forming it into the shape it will be for baking. If you have a proper baker’s proving basket, use this, first dusting it generously with flour.  Place your round of dough inside, cover again with oiled cling film or a clean plastic bag and leave to rise, in a warm place this time, until roughly doubled in size. This might be only an hour or it could be three or four. Then the dough is ready to bake.

the sourdough ready to be baked

Preheat the oven to 250°C/gas mark 9 (or at least 220°C/gas mark 7, if that’s your top limit). Have ready, if possible, a clean gardener’s spray bottle full of water – you’ll be using this to create a steamy atmosphere in the oven, which helps the bread to rise and develop a good crust. (You can achieve the same effect with a roasting tin of boiling water placed on the bottom of the oven just before you put the loaf in – but the spray bottle is easier.)

About five minutes before you want to put the loaf in the oven, put a baking tray in the oven to heat up. Take the hot baking sheet from the oven, dust it with flour, and carefully transfer the risen dough to it by tipping it out of the proving basket/bowl, upside down, on to the sheet. Slash the top of the loaf a few times with a very sharp, serrated knife (or even a razor blade).

Put the loaf into the hot oven and give a few squirts from the spray bottle over and around it. After 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 200°C/gas mark 6, give the oven another spray, and bake for a further 25-30 minutes, or until the well-browned loaf vibrates and sounds hollow when you tap its base. Leave to cool completely, on a rack, before you cut it.

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