A step by step sourdough guide.

There are a load of different techniques that can be used when it comes to making sourdough bread. This is the way I make it.

I first started developing this recipe during the first lockdown of 2020. I was furloughed from my job so I ended up making sourdough most days. Luckily I had managed to buy a sack of flour at the beginning of the lockdown. This meant that I could get a lot of practise – my first loaf looked like a pancake!

This step by step guide walks you through making one loaf of sourdough with an open crumb & an impressive ear. You can also adjust this recipe to use different flours, liquids, flavourings & inclusions. The sky’s the limit!

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sourdough loaves

A Note On Temperatures & Timings

The ideal room temperature to ferment sourdough is 78°f (25.5°c). If your kitchen is colder, you should allow your starter/loaf longer to ferment whereas if it’s warmer you should allow less time. Either way a consistent room temperature should be maintained. Using an infrared thermometer is a great way to keep an eye on dough & room temperature.

It is also important to measure the water temperature when making the dough. A digital food probe works best.

The time schedule used in this recipe is a rough guideline. Both your starter & dough can take either less or more time to ferment than outlined below. Knowing when each step is finished is key.

Baker’s percentages

When making sourdough, the amount of each ingredient is calculated using baker’s percentages. This is the amount of each ingredient (water, salt, starter & inclusions) in relation to how much flour the recipe uses. This makes it easy to scale the recipe up if you want to make more than one loaf

The percentages in this recipe are:

·      66% Hydration (Water)

·      2% Salt

·      15% Sourdough Starter

I’ve found that using these percentages makes a dough that is easy to work with but still produces a loaf with an open crumb. Increasing the hydration will produce a loaf with a more open crumb but in turn, is harder to work with.

Equipment Used

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Feeding The Starter

If your starter has been in the fridge, it’s best to take it out & feed it at least 4 days before you plan on using it. I feed my starter every 12 hours using a 1:1:1 ratio (equal amounts flour (50/50 white & wholemeal), water & starter). The flour I use for feeind my starter & to make my loaves are Shipton Mill’s Canadian strong white bread flour & strong wholemeal flour.

To read my step by step sourdough starter guide, click here.

Sourdough Baking Terms, Techniques & Processes

shaped sourdough loaf

Autolyse

The first stage of making the dough is the autolyse. This is where the flour & most of the water are mixed until just combined then left to hydrate for at least 30 minutes but I prefer an hour. This will make your dough easier to work with & will produce a lighter loaf.

Slap & Folds

This technique is used to build strength & develop gluten in sticky, high hydration doughs. We use it in this recipe after adding the starter & after adding the salt & remaining water.

How To Slap & Fold

Gently grab the underneath of the end of the dough that is furthest away from you, holding the dough from both the left & right side.

Lift the dough up off the work surface then slap the dough’s bottom edge back onto the work surface.

Fold the dough that you are holding over the top of the dough that is on the work surface.

Rotate the dough 90° & repeat.

Bulk Ferment

The bulk ferment starts a soon as the mature starter is added to the dough & ends when the dough is shaped.

Bulk ferment is the dough’s first rise & is followed by shaping & an overnight, cold ferment in the fridge. The purpose of a bulk ferment is to develop gluten, flavour & to aerate the dough. Perhaps the most important stage of making a loaf of sourdough, it’s important to know when it’s complete.

The timings will vary every time you make a loaf of sourdough. How long the bulk ferment takes can be affected by the room/dough temperature, the flour used & the hydration of the dough.

When the bulk ferment has finished, the dough will be aerated & the volume of dough will have increased by roughly 20-30% & will wobble if the bowl is gently shaken. The top of the dough will be slightly domed & you should also be able to see lots of small bubbles around the sides of the bowl (this is why it’s useful to use a clear, glass bowl). I’ve found, on average that bulk fermentation takes between 4-6 hours at 78°F/26°C. Although it can take up to 8 hours at this temperature.

It’s important to ferment your dough for the correct amount of time. If the dough is either under or over proofed, then the final loaf will be affected (oven spring, crumb, shape, etc.).

Coil Folds

During the bulk ferment, gluten is developed in the dough using a series of folds. There are two methods for doing this. Either stretch & folds or coild folds. For the purpose of this recipe, we’re using the latter.

The coil folds are done at 30 minute intervals until the dough passes the “windowpane” test, I’ve found the average amount of folds to be 4-6. The dough is then left untouched until the bulk ferment has finished.

How To Perform A Set Of Coil Folds

  • With wet hands (this stops the dough from sticking) gently loosen the dough from the sides of the bowl
  • Using both hands, gently lift the dough up from the middle until one side is released from the container/bowl.
  • Fold the released side back under the dough.
  • Turn the bowl 180° and repeat the folding process.
  • Now turn the bowl 90° & repeat.
  • Finally, turn the bowl another 90° and repeat one last time.

The Windowpane Test

The best way to assess the gluten development in your dough is by using the windowpane test.
Here, you take a small piece of dough & stretch it between your fingers. If it stretches thin enough so that you are able to see through it, enough gluten has been developed. If it tears, more coil folds are required.

The Windowpane Test

Inclusions

A great way to add extra flavour into a loaf of bread.

When added into sourdough a maximum of 20% of the flour weight should be inclusions.
This could be grated cheese, toasted seeds or even porridge.

Lamination

When you add inclusions into your dough, they can hinder gluten formation. To get around this, inclusions should be incorporated using lamination in place of the third or fourth coil fold.
To laminate, the dough is stretched into a large, thin rectangle then the inclusions are scattered over the top. The dough is then folded back up & the bulk ferment/coil folds are continued.

How To Laminate

  • Allow the dough at least 2 coil folds before laminating.
  • Gently transfer your dough to a large work surface that has been lightly sprayed with water.
  • Spread your dough gently & evenly from all sides to form a large rectangle. This should be as thin as possible.
  • Place the ingredients that you want incorporating into the dough (inclusions) over the entire surface of the sourdough.
  • Fold one side of the dough into the middle.
    Pressing down lightly on the dough between folds helps to prevent large air pockets.
  • Next, fold the opposite side over the folded side.
  • Now take one of the remaining sides & fold it into the middle.
  • Finally, take the last side & fold it over the side you just folded.
  • Gently place the dough back into the bowl

Pre Shaping

Before shaping the dough, a pre shape is used to help develop tension in the dough’s surface. It also makes shaping the dough a bit easier & improves oven spring.

How To Pre Shape

With the help of a dough scraper, gently tip the dough onto a clean, unfloured work surface.

Using a metal bench knife & a hand dipped in water, gently work the dough into a round shape. (Don’t shape it too tightly as this could damage the gluten in the dough.) Dust the top of the dough with rice flour & leave to rest for 20 minutes.

Shaping

Once the dough has fermented & pre shaped, it needs shaping. Here’s how.

Lightly dust the inside of a banneton with rice flour.

Using the bench knife, gently loosen the dough from the work surface then carefully flip the dough over.

Pull the bottom side of the dough up & fold it into the middle. Press down lightly to make sure the dough has stuck (press down lightly with every fold).

Now take the left side, stretch it slightly & fold it roughly ¾ to the right.

Next, stretch the right side slightly & fold over the left side.

Take the top side, stretch it away from you then fold it into the centre of the dough.

Now “stitch” the sourdough. Starting at the top, pinch a small amount of dough from both the left & right sides. Fold the dough from the right side over the centre, followed by the left side. Repeat this process in the middle section of dough then the bottom section. (Imagine the pattern of a laced up shoe).

Finally, starting from the bottom to the top, carefully roll the dough over itself. Use a bench knife to gently pull the shaped dough towards you, dragging the bottom of the dough on the work surface. This seals the underneath & helps create tension.

Dust the surface of the dough with rice flour, turn the dough upside down (so that the dough is seam side up) & place into the banneton.

Cold Prove

When you’ve shaped your dough & placed it into a banneton, it needs to be refrigerated overnight, or at least 12 hours. This slows down the fermenting process & develops the sour flavour that is associated with sourdough. Keep in mind that the longer the dough stays in the fridge, the stronger the sour flavour. I tend to go for a 12-15 hour cold ferment but feel free to go for a longer one!

Scoring

Before we bake the dough, we need to score the top with a baker’s lame. This is basically a razor blade attached to a handle.
The purpose of scoring is to control how the dough splits as it rises in the oven. To give your loaf an impressive ear, you’ll need to score your dough slightly off centre at a 30° – 45° angle, at least 1cm deep.
If you give your dough 30 minutes – 1 hour in the freezer & dip your lame in water before scoring, it will make the process a lot easier.

Scoring The Dough With A Baker’s Lame.

Baking

When you bake sourdough, to get the best possible rise & crust the baking environment needs to be super hot with a good amount of moisture. For this reason I’d recommend using either a Dutch oven or an oval casserole dish with a lid in an oven that has been preheating for a good 45 minutes.

For the first 25 minutes of the cooking time, the bread is cooked covered to keep the environment full of steam. Steam is what makes your dough rise & cooking it covered prevents it from getting too dark.

The bread is then cooked for a further 20-25 minutes uncovered to finish baking & to give the bread a nice amount of colour. The darker the colour, the more flavour the crust will have. This is up to personal preference but don’t burn it as it will taste bitter!

Cooling Down & Storage

Once baked, the sourdough needs to be cooled down completely. It’s definitely tempting to slice it warm but the bread needs a good hour or two to cool. Slice into it too soon & the crumb will be gummy & doughy.

Sourdough bread is best eaten on the day that it’s been cooked but kept airtight it will last for several days. Don’t worry if it starts to dry out, it makes great toast!

inside sourdough bread open crumb

More Sourdough Recipes

Step By Step Sourdough

There are a load of different techniques that can be used when it comes to making sourdough. This is the way I make it.
Prep Time12 hours
Cook Time45 minutes
Total Time12 hours 45 minutes
Course: Lunch
Cuisine: English
Servings: 1 Loaf
Author: Ben Racey

Equipment

  • Glass Mixing Bowl
  • Digital Food Probe
  • Digital Scales
  • Laser Temperature Gun
  • Plastic Dough Scraper
  • Metal Dough Knife
  • Oval Banneton
  • Baker's Lame
  • Dutch Oven/Oval Casserole Dish (With Lid)
  • Spray Bottle
  • Wire Cooling Rack

Ingredients

To Feed Starter

  • 50 g Strong White Flour
  • 50 g Strong Wholemeal Flour
  • 100 g Water 78°f/26°c
  • 100 g Ripe Sourdough Starter

Making The Loaf

  • 400 g Strong White Flour
  • 100g g Strong Wholemeal Flour
  • 330 g Water 78°f/26°c
  • 1 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 75 g Mature Sourdough Starter
  • 11 g Maldon Salt
  • Rice Flour To Dust

Instructions

  • Feed your starter as you normally would but use the quantities of flour, water & starter above. This makes enough starter for 1 loaf with some remaining so that you can continue feeding it.
    Leave at room temperature until it has risen to its’ peak & just before it starts to fall. This should take between 4-6 hours.
  • An hour before you think your starter has finished rising, combine both flours, the olive oil & 300g of the water. Mix by hand until just incorporated. Leave at room temperature for 1 hour.
  • Next, add the sourdough starter & mix by hand until combined. Transfer the dough to a clean work surface & ”slap & fold” for 2-3 minutes.
    Transfer the dough back into the bowl & leave at room temperature for another hour.
  • Place the salt & the remaining 30g of water over the dough & mix until combined. Transfer to a work surface & slap & fold for 2-3 minutes or until the dough is smooth & less sticky.
    Place back into the bowl & leave at room temperature (around 78°f/26°c).
  • Coil fold the dough every 30 minutes until the dough passes the windowpane test. (I find that 4-6 coil folds tends to do the trick).
    Leave undisturbed for the remainder of the bulk ferment (2-4 hours).
    The bulk ferment starts as soon as the starter is added to the dough & will take anywhere from 4-10 hours (depending on room temperature, dough hydration & flour used).
    When the dough has finished fermenting, it will have increased in volume by roughly 20-30%, the top will be domed & you will see lots of tiny bubbles in the dough.
  • Once the bulk ferment has finished, gently tip the dough out onto a clean work surface, with the help of a dough scraper.
  • Using a metal bench knife & a hand dipped in water, gently work the dough into a round shape. (Don’t shape it too tightly as this could damage the gluten in the dough.) Dust the top of the dough with rice flour & leave to rest for 20 minutes.
  • Lightly dust a banneton with rice flour.
    Using a bench knife, gently loosen the dough from the work surface then carefully flip the dough over.
    Pull the bottom side of the dough up & fold it into the middle. Press down lightly to make sure the dough has stuck (press down lightly with every fold).
    Now take the left side, stretch it slightly & fold it roughly ¾ to the right.
    Next, stretch the right side slightly & fold over the left side.
    Take the top side, stretch it away from you then fold it into the centre of the dough.
    Now “stitch” the sourdough. Starting at the top, pinch a small amount of dough from both the left & right sides. Fold the dough from the right side over the centre, followed by the left side. Repeat this process in the middle section of dough then the bottom section. (Imagine the pattern of a laced up shoe).
    Finally, starting from the bottom to the top, carefully roll the dough over itself. Use a bench knife to gently pull the shaped dough towards you, dragging the bottom of the dough on the work surface. This seals the underneath & helps create tension.
    Dust the surface of the dough with rice flour, turn the dough upside down (so that the dough is seam side up) & place into the banneton.
  • Cover the top of the banneton with clingfilm & place into a fridge for 12-15 hours.
    The longer the dough is left in the fridge, the more sour the final loaf will be.
  • Place your casserole dish or Dutch oven into your oven & preheat to 230°c for 1 hour.
    The casserole dish I use can be used upside down so that the dough sits on the lid & the casserole dish itself acts as a lid. This means there’s plenty of room for oven spring.
    Whilst your oven is preheating, place the banneton with the dough in into a freezer.
  • Remove the banneton from the freezer. Place your prepared piece of parchment over the top of the banneton then a chopping board/flat tray. Flip the banneton/chopping board over so that the dough is now sat seam side down on the parchment.
    To score the dough, hold the lame so that the razor is at an angle to the dough. Between 30° & 45°. Starting at the top end of the dough, slash the dough all the way to the bottom end. The score should be off centre to the right & at least 1cm deep. For best results, try to score in one cut. Dipping the razor in water before scoring helps produce a clean cut.
    Using the parchment, slide the dough into the preheated casserole dish. Spray generously with cold water & place the lid on the dish.
  • Bake in the preheated oven, covered for 25 minutes then remove the lid & bake for a further 20-25 minutes, until the loaf is a deep, brown colour. For the best flavour, the dough should be fairly dark but not burnt.
  • Transfer the dough to a wire rack & leave to cool completely before slicing. This will take a couple of hours.

Notes

Cooking In An Aga.

Place your Dutch oven/ casserole dish onto the grid shelf which is on the floor of the roasting oven. Cook as above.
Left in an airtight container, sourdough bread will last for several days.
The full details for each step can be found in the post above.
The flours that I use are Canadian flours from Shipton Mill. Most strong bread flours will work though.

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