A Sourdough Story

From this to this

Flour, salt and water

I can be a little obsessive.

I first made bread in a a commercial kitchen when I was 15, the ritual of arriving early into a quiet kitchen to get the days loaves started had me hooked. The bread itself was a recipe for a fluffy white roll that was lightly perfumed with nigella seeds, it is as farm from complex as you can get but so so satisfying. Bread was like magic, the way you activated yeast, added it to a dough, kneaded it until it took on a shiny springy composition, watching it puff up, pressing against sprayed plastic wrap only to knock it back, shape it, watch it rise again and bake it, was like a weird form of alchemy to me. I trusted in a process I didn’t understand.

I tried sourdough, instantly struck by the chewy dark crust, irregularly holed crumb, the sour flavour of lactic acid and yeasty breadiness . I knew I had to try and make it for myself, the issue is that I didn’t understand or have enough respect for the process and so had some very mixed results.

My main issue was an inactive starter.

To make sourdough you need a starter it turns the flour into the Carbon Dioxide which is going to supply the air bubbles in your dough and make it rise. Now what is a starter, simply put its a culture of wild yeasts and bacteria (the main players are; lactobacillus bacteria and  saccharomyces yeasts). You obtain a starter by either taking and cultivating some of another sourdough makers pre existing starter or by making your own, encouraging and cultivating wild yeasts and bacteria. I’ll make a seperate post with a method for making your own sourdough starter from scratch. To avoid an inactive starter, you have to feed it regularly like 1-2 times daily, discarding 80-90% of the starter every day so it doesn’t outgrow its container and to keep what remains at peak activity. A good starter will smell, “bready” and a little (not overly) sour.

Once you’ve got your starter nailed, you can move onto making the bread. Here’s some simple tips

  • Use a nice Unbleached Flour ( some bleached flours will kill your starter rather than feed it). Your flour or mix of flours will impact the taste, structure and rise of your dough, pick carefully.
  • Don’t skimp on salt, salt is important for flavour but it also is crucial to the texture of your dough
  • Mix your flour and water first then leave to autolyse, this will make it much easier to mix.
  • Fold don’t knead, the aim is to disperse bubbles and arrange gluten strands
  • Prove slow and low, the characteristic sour flavour of sourdough and the dark colour of its crust is a direct result of time
  • Bake at a high heat ( think pizza oven) with plenty of humidity. I’m a big fan of the dutch oven method ( baking in a preheated cast iron pot) which enables me to achieve this in a bad, cheap home oven. Trust me, you don’t need an expensive oven.
  • Find a recipe that you trust, and keep trying it. When your confidence grows explore changing, hydrations ( how much water you use), flours, and prove times
  • Invest in a banneton, or proving basket, you will achieve neater looking loaves, it is also very convenient.

You Don’t need an expensive oven

My tiny oven

A cast iron pot, the key to baking bread in a dodgy oven.

Without further ado here is my basic recipe for a Sourdough loaf:


  • 430g unbleached white flour
  • 300g water
  • 8g of salt
  • 90g sourdough starter ( fed using the same flour as above)


Note: This is a slow process

  1. In a large bowl, mix the water and flour, roughly, cover with a damp tea towel and let it sit for 30 mins undisturbed– Autolyse
  2. Using your hands, first incorporate the starter and then the salt, cover with a damp tea towel, seat aside for 30 mins
  3. ‘Fold’ the dough over itself, with wet hands grab onto the edge of the dough and stretch over itself, repeat this process going around the edge of the bowel until it feels tight. Cover and leave for 30 mins.
  4. Repeat step 3 anywhere from 4-6 times, leaving 30mins between each set of folding.
  5. Cover with a damp tea towel and ‘bulk prove’ for 3 hours
  6. Remove dough from bowl onto a lightly floured bench, make sure that there is enough flour that it doesn’t stick but not too much that it slides around without generating any friction. Gently knock it back (flatten it) and shape it into a tight ball by folding over the sides into a central point (seam) in the dough (round or rectangular depending on your banneton), let it sit and relax for 15 mins
  7. Seam side down, repeatedly drag the loaf toward you, hands in a v shape with your dough in the centre, until it is tight.
  8. Place in your liberally floured banneton ( or a bowl lined with a floured tea towel), cover with a damp cloth and leave it in the fridge overnight
  9. In the morning remove your dough from the fridge, let it come up to room temperature
  10. Place a le creuset pot ( or similair cast iron pot with a lid) in your preheating oven set at 220C
  11. Turn the bread dough out of the banneton (or bowl) onto a rectangular sheet of baking paper, sprinkle with semolina and score with a sharp knife
  12. Add a couple of tablespoons of water to your preheated cast iron pot (be careful of steam) and lower your bread on the greaseproof paper into it. Shut the lid and place in the oven
  13. Bake with the lid on for 25 mins and then for a further 5-10 with the lid off. These timings aren’t written in stone, you may have to give it longer or take it out sooner.
  14. Let it cool on a wire rack
  15. Enjoy slathered with good quality butter and a sprinkle of flake salt

Try coating the outside of the bread with some seeds that you’ve got lying around

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