Monday, 31 October 2011

Project Sourdough: The sponge method

 I mentioned in my very first sourdough post how I found the array of different methods and techniques quite confusing. I plumped for the Bourke St Bakery method and apart from a bit of tinkering round the edges I've been sticking quite faithfully to it.

However, yesterday I tried out the River Cottage sourdough method having bought the book following a tip from my baking oracle Brydie.

The River Cottage bread handbook describes a 'sponge' method for baking sourdough. You start the night before by creating a wet mixture with all of the water and half of the flour known as the sponge.

On Friday night I dutifully made my sponge and left it covered on the kitchen worktop over night. I was a little bit concerned that such a large volume of flour only called for a single ladle of starter.

For the sponge:
650ml water
500g strong white flour
A ladle full of starter

I shouldn't have worried as the next morning it had gone mad. Look at all that activity. The yeast wasn't just having a party. It was having a Glastonbury sized festival!

For the dough:
600g strong white flour
25g salt

You add the remaining flour and salt and knead the dough. I did a mix of hand kneading and putting it into my mixer. (Still a bit unsure of the mixer.)

Once the dough has been kneaded you form a round and put it in a bowl and cover it. You leave it for about an hour.

After an hour it has grown quite considerably. (Which my photos aren't conveying very well.)

Knock it back, form it into a round again and pop it back into the bowl. You repeat this process twice more so that the bread has had four proving sessions.

After the dough has risen for the fourth time you shape it. I popped the loaves into my bannetons for their final prove before baking. The dough had been so active that I didn't try my usual oven / humidity room trick and left them on the kitchen worktop to rise. (It was quite a warm Saturday which helped.)

I had very high hopes for my loaves. Would I be able to achieve the elusive light and more open texture I've been striving for?

What I liked:
- The method felt quite simple.
- I loved how I could see the yeast physically active, whether it was my crazy sponge or how much the dough was rising. (The warmer spring weather could be helping this.)
- I managed to shape and bake my first decent round loaf. It didn't go all misshapen in the oven.
- It's the first time I'd felt happy with the result of loaves coming out of the bannetons.
- I think they are attractive looking loaves.

What I didn't like:
- With the four rising periods you can't stray too far from home as you have to knock back the dough three times.
- The crust wasn't the best I've made. It could be a little thicker.
- I didn't get the open texture I was hoping for, again! (I might do a separate post on this.)

Overall this method isn't that different from the Bourke St Bakery technique, but I really liked it. I'd go as far as to say I preferred it. I think the trick will be to work the timings into a daily routine which will probably involve cutting down on the four proving periods.

Have you tried the sponge method?


  1. Ritchie, whats going on in the last photo? looks like an interesting method. I am finding my timings are starting to change also with the warmer whether.

  2. In the last photo I was flattening out dough after one of it's proving sessions before forming it into a round again.

    The dough was really airy and the method in the book was to gently prod the dough with your fingers. A bit like shaping all the divots for a foccacia. (A very bad explanation I'm sure.)

  3. hmm...interesting.