How to make sourdough step by step.

Following on from my last post, where I showed you how I made my starter from scratch (you can read that by clicking here) in this post I am going to take you step by step through the way I make a loaf of sourdough bread.

This is going to be a long post. So bookmark it if you don’t have time right now. Or make a cup of tea to get comfy with if you do!

Allow me to preface this by noting that the way I make MY sourdough is exactly that: this is what works for ME. It may work for you also, or it may not. You may have to tweak it a bit to suit you or you may find that you try my way and end up thinking “Bollocks to that!” and you’ll keep searching for a way that works for YOU.

I say this because I began my sourdough baking journey following the instructions of the King of Bread himself, Paul Hollywood and it just didn’t work for me.

I got 2 – 3 sort of alright loaves but they never rose much and although they had a good crumb and a lovely sourdough flavour, they were just so frustratingly flat and I wasn’t really able to use them for much more than slicing into fingers and using to accompany dips and cheeses and champagne. I KNOW right, bummer huh? But I couldn’t throw them in the bin!

So after a month or so of repeatedly trying and keenly anticipating a better bake every time but never really getting one, I grew frustrated enough to almost want to throw my starter out. But it was a good, thriving, happy starter and it wasn’t the starter that was the problem, it was something else I hadn’t figured out just yet.

So instead of throwing it out, I fed it a scoop of flour (but no water to keep it nice and thick) and I stored it in the fridge until I was ready to try again.

Meanwhile I returned to baking our bread using commercial yeast and I took to the internet and a new sourdough baking book (The Bread and Butter Project) to equip myself with new knowledge.

I credit my successful new sourdough recipe and method to three main sources:

1. The starter recipe from Paul Hollywood (but not his method unfortunately, sorry King.)

2. The quantities of starter, flour, water and salt and the basic process of her sourdough bake from my blogging peer, Clare Reilly who writes at The Life of Clare

3. The process from start to finish, from The Clever Carrot who I discovered via the “search” tool on Instagram around about the same time I was gearing up to take my starter from the fridge and try again.

If you look at the photo at the top of The Clever Carrot’s post you’ll see a beautiful loaf of sourdough that may intimidate you, “I’ll never be able to make a loaf like that” you might down-talk to yourself (just as I did) but look what I can do only a month down the track…

loaf_one

loaf_two

I took the month-long refrigerated starter out of the fridge, discarded half of it, fed it up, put it back into the temperate climate of my pantry and waited a day until it had sprung back to really bubbly, happily fermented life.

And now I’ll tell you how I bake a loaf of sourdough. I’ll put the steps into little sections, followed by pictures to accompany. Please note that I took these pictures during different bakes, so some are during the day and well lit and others are at night and not so well lit. But they do match up with the steps.

Mix and rest the dough. Time frame: 1 hour.

  • Into a medium sized bowl, add 300g of water and then 150g of starter. Stir and then measure out 500g strong white bakers’ flour (I use Wallaby brand) then stir into the water/starter mix until it resembles a “shaggy mess.”
  • Cover with a damp cloth and set aside somewhere with a stable temperature (I put mine onto the stove top) and leave for one hour.
  • Now feed your starter at least a 1/4 cup fresh flour and a 1/4 cup water, mix well then cover and store where you keep it.

500_gram_flour

flour_into_starter

mix_dough

first_rest

Add salt and perform the first knead, then rest. Time frame: 1 hour.

  • Firstly: look at the difference in the texture of the dough in the first picture – it isn’t so much a “shaggy mess” anymore. It has become damp and elastic in quality.
  • Add in 3 teaspoons of good quality salt (I use Maldon) then perform your first “pull and fold” style of kneading.
  • You simply hold the bowl with one hand, and with the other: grab the dough from underneath, pull it up a little then tuck in towards the centre of the dough and you repeat this for two revolutions of the bowl. So about 8 – 10 individual pulls and folds.
  • Use the cloth to rinse off any bits of dough stuck to your fingers, then wring out and cover the bowl again.
  • Set aside another hour.

shaggy_mess

add_salt

pull_fold_1

pull_fold_2

Perform second and third kneads. Time frame: 2 hours.

Then store in the fridge. Time frame: at least overnight.

  • Now comes two more hour-long rests with pull and fold kneads in between.
  • So after you’ve added the salt and rested an hour: pull and fold, then cover and rest another hour.
  • Then pull and fold and rest another hour.
  • Then pull and fold one last time, then cover with the damp cloth and store in the fridge overnight or at least half the day if baking on the same day.

cover_fridge

Shaping and resting the dough. Time frame: 1/2 hour.

  • Take the dough out of the fridge, lightly dust a work surface with flour and transfer the dough using a scraper.
  • Look at the dough now: smooth, shiny, firm but still damp and pliable and with a lovely gluten structure that you’ll see as you scrape it from the bowl.
  • Sprinkle the bottom of your baking dish with semolina and set aside.
  • Press down on the dough gently. Pat it into a somewhat rectangle shape. Turn it over.
  • Begin folding it in toward the centre like you’re making a rosette. You’re essentially shaping it into a ball.
  • Now turn it over and using as swift and as gentle touch as you can: twist it around and around so that the surface tension between the dough and the bench will drag the folded edges into the base of the dough and tidy it up.
  • Drop the dough into the middle of the baking dish and then turn the oven on to 250C. Put the rack on the bottom to make way for the height of the baking dish.
  • Leave it to rest whilst the oven heats up. About 20 minutes.

overnight_dough

dough_bench

flatten_dough

square_dough

rosette_dough

turn_dough_over

tidy_dough

dough_pot

Slash and bake. Time frame: 1 hour.

  • Now 20 minutes has passed. The oven is hot. Push into the middle of the dough: it should feel well structured, it should spring back.
  • Take a sharp knife and as quickly and as lightly as you can: slash a cross across the top of the dough. You want the slash to be a few millimetres deep (it will unfurl as it bakes.)
  • Now put the lid* onto your baking dish and bake at 250C for 20 minutes.
  • *Note: if you don’t have a baking dish like the one I use, you can put the dough into any kind of oven-proof heavy based dish and spray it with water using a water bottle a few times just before baking.
  • You do not need to spray the dough if you are using a dish with a lid; as it’s the lid on that creates the steam which will result in the lovely crunchy crust we associate with sourdough.
  • After 20 minutes, turn the heat down to 200C and take the lid off (if using a dish with a lid) – you can see what my loaf looks like after 20 minutes in the last picture of this section.

test_dough

dough_slash

dough_first_twenty_mins

  • Now set your timer for another 20 minutes and bake then turn your dish and bake for a final 20 minutes.
  • The reason I suggest turning half way through the last 40 minutes is to prevent any uneven browning due to hot spots in the oven. And also that you can learn how the loaf progresses in your particular oven.
  • Here is what my loaf typically looks like after the second set of 20 minutes:

dough_second_twenty_mins

  • After 40 minutes is up, take the loaf out using a gloved hand and tap it on the base: you are listening for a hollow sound. If it’s hollow sounding then you know it is baked all the way through.
  • Transfer immediately to a cooling rack and cool completely before slicing. If you’re tempted to slice earlier, it will potentially alter the texture of the bread.

bread_cooked

final_bake

loaf_3

Once it’s cooled.

  • Slice it with glee – look at what you have done! You have baked a loaf of sourdough in your own oven using your own starter. All from scratch. You LEGEND.
  • Store in a clean linen cloth.
  • That evening… start the process all over again. You’re a baker now.

crumb_shot

bread_sliced

Questions and Answers.

What equipment will you need?

  1. A set of scales.
  2. A medium sized mixing bowl.
  3. A dough scraper.
  4. A lame (pronounced “lah-may”) which is the sharp razor used to slash, you can ask at kitchen wares stores for these. Or you can use a sharp knife.
  5. A heavy based baking dish.
  6. A spray bottle if your baking dish doesn’t have a lid.
  7. A few clean linen cloths that you’ll dedicate to baking bread.
  8. A bag of strong bakers’ flour.
  9. A packet of good quality salt.
  10. A packet of semolina.
  11. A cooling rack.
  12. A bread knife.

Can I leave the dough in the fridge longer than overnight?

Yes you can. Some people report baking loaves that have been left in the fridge for days with great success. I can not attest to this as I have never done it. But I have left my dough in for longer than just the next morning, more like half way through the next day and it’s been fine.

Do I have to put the dough in the fridge at all?

No, you don’t have to. I began my baking by proving overnight just on the bench top and I had good bakes. But in “The Bread and Butter Project” book (which is the work of the iconic Sydney sourdough bakery, Bourke Street Bakery) they describe how resting the dough in the fridge helps to slow the yeast activity and it does impact the final result.

I work days I don’t think I can do this.

Yes you can! Mix your dough when you get home from work, rest it, knead it, rest it, knead it and so on until just before bed time then store in the fridge. When you get home from work the next day: shape it and bake it. You’ll have fresh bread with dinner and breakfasts and lunches the next day.

Once you get a loaf on the go, you start the next one, so you’re always a loaf ahead of your needs.

How long will this loaf last?

It’s a small-ish loaf. If you have a family of at least four, who like to eat toast and and sandwiches, it will only last a day. So either double the recipe or start baking a loaf a day. This is what I do and it’s been a great way to refine my skills.

How do you store your baked loaf?

In a clean linen cloth on the bench top.

What if my family doesn’t eat a lot of bread?

Just keep your starter in the fridge and feed it at least once a week, or the night before you plan to bake. Pull it out, discard a little, feed it fresh flour and water, bring back to room temperature and it will be good to go the next day.

Will this recipe work with spelt or wholemeal flour?

Yes it will. But the end bake will not be the same, in my experience. I have baked with 50/50 white/wholemeal and 50/50 white/spelt and I never get that lovely sourdough crumb (the holes in the bread) but I still get a great tasting loaf with the benefits of being raised on a natural ferment.

What makes sourdough “better” for me?

It comes down to two key things:

1. The starter: which is a fermented food.

2. The long, slow rise process (called the “bulk ferment”) which allows the starter to begin “digesting” the flour in the dough and as such make it more readily digestible for us as well as liberate many of the nutrients in the flour via the enzymatic activity. It is often tolerated well by those who previously considered themselves intolerant to wheat/bread.

But also because it’s about as non-adulterated as you can get bread. Next time you’re at a supermarket, pick up a bag of soft white bread and read the ingredients list. Look at the colour of it: anemic, pale. Feel the texture of it: you could squeeze it back into a ball of dough it’s that soft. Ugh. No thanks.

I really hope this has helped you as reading The Clever Carrot helped me. These step-by-step visuals can be so reassuring and I hope I’ve delivered.

If you’re keen to see more, you can go to Instagram and find me: katierainbird and search the hashtag #180adventuresinsourdough where I have documented all of my learning so far, including videos of this very step-by-step process.

I want to assure you that I have made mistakes and had really disappointing results. Bakes that just didn’t work. I felt frustrated. I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. I wanted to give up. Bread baking is this seemingly elusive skill  – but it’s actually so simple. It’s just flour and water and salt. And some nurture. Some attention. Some patience.

You will increase your skill with every bake. Each time you perform a pull and fold you’ll become more instinctively aware of the dough and what it feels like when it’s “good”. Your shaping will become neater and tighter. Your slashing will become quicker. Your understanding of what a good bake actually constitutes will just naturally seep into you.

Before you know it, you’ll be mixing, kneading, resting, shaping and baking like it ‘aint no thang.

Just start. And just try. And just keep trying even after you’ve made a doozy.

Thanks so much for reading. K180, x