Monday, 13 June 2011

My first loaf of sourdough

Readers will know that over the past three weeks I've been striving to create my own sourdough starter. If everything had gone to plan my starter would have been three week old this weekend, the Bourke St Bakery recommended age for your first loaf.

Unfortunately my first starter died and my second creation is just under two weeks old. However, I couldn't wait any longer and baked a loaf this weekend.

Making your own sourdough is a lengthy process! I started to prepare my starter on Saturday morning and didn't bake until Monday.

I had to compress some of the stages on Sunday afternoon as I was late back from work and heading out to meet some friends in the evening. I could tell that it wasn't going to be a classic, but there were some positive signs. I adore the shape and markings that the banneton gives to the loaf.

When it came out of the oven it wasn't the flat bottomed dome that I was expecting, but I wasn't too unhappy with the results. The loaf had the best crust of any bread that I've ever baked. It has a nice crunch that I experienced at Tetsuya's (although not as good obviously!). However, the bread inside was a bit dense and didn't have the 'sour' flavour you'd expect from a sourdough. A 1kg loaf is pretty big for one person to get through! I'm beginning to regret my decision not to buy 500g bannetons, but they looked so small in the shop!

Baking notes:
I fed the starter three times at 12hr intervals before using at 7am Sat, 7pm Sat and 7am Sun.

I'd planned to bake at 2pm on the Sunday afternoon, however, I was stuck in the office so didn't manage to start the process until just after 4pm. I'm not sure how much that affected the whole process.

Combine the starter, flour and water in a bowl. Mix, turn onto the worktop and knead for 10mins.

Rest in the bowl for 20mins, add the salt and kneed for another 20mins. It felt like a lot of sea salt and that it took 10mins until it had been fully combined into the dough. After the kneading you are supposed to be able to stretch a small piece of the dough to form a transparent window. I didn't achieve this stage and after 25mins of hard work I decided to give up.

A 1hr prove is called for next. As my evening out was impending I realised that I needed to shorten the times a bit so only gave it 45mins.

Knock back / flatten out, fold and then prove for another 1hr (or 45mins in my case).

Shape the loaves. I struggled a bit following the photos at this stage. I might check out some videos on YouTube, but I don't think anything would substitute for a hands on lesson with a more experienced baker.

Into the banneton for overnight retarding stage in the fridge. I was expecting the dough to grow a bit during this process, but it didn't seem to change shape at all. Perhaps I shouldn't be expecting it to do too much as the cold temperatures of the fridge will slow everything down?

My book builds up the pressure with "the final prove is where most home bakers fall down". After nearly two days of effort I certainly hope not! You need 26 degrees and 80% humidity apparently. I boiled a pan of water and stuck the dough and the pan into my oven, shut the door and headed out for a run.

When I got back the dough hadn't grown that much, but as my finger left and indentation that wasn't springing back I thought it was over proved. I got it into the oven as quickly as I could without scoring it. I left my pan of water in there for humidity and sprayed a few jets into the oven as well. I baked the loaf for 40mins, turning half way through. (I nearly took it out after 30mins, but decided it wasn't ready.)

I was happy with how much it rose in the oven. It makes me think there must be some natural yeast in my starter. The way it rose gave a slightly football shaped loaf which makes me think my shaping wasn't quite right.

Things to try next time:
- Hopefully my starter will be more developed and this will give me a better flavour and more rising.
- I need to knead for longer. I really want a KitchenAid. Must resist the urge.
- I want to use the correct timings for the bulk prove stages (and not shorten them to 45mins).
- I need to keep a closer eye on the bread during the final prove so it doesn't go over again.


  1. wow that looks awesome. GOod work.

    I'd love to try and make it but time restraints ><

  2. It looks great. Really well done! My first one was hideously ugly. Your first one could easily be sold.
    I'm not sure, but maaybe it wasn't proved for long enough rather than over proved?? Just because it hadn't grown much and your finger indent didn't spring back? (Slashing may help with the rising too.)

    Mixer...dough hooks....resistance is futile...

  3. Wow - great stuff! Would love to see your future results too!

  4. Thanks Brydie. You've been a wonderful source of knowledge and inspiration.

    I thought it was over-proved as the book says:
    When the dough is should spring back immediately yet slowly.
    If it holds the indent too long, does not spring back at all or deflates, the loaf is over-proved

    Although when I pressed my finger into the dough it certainly didn't deflate the indent was staying and not springing back. I guess it comes with experience!

  5. Office? Sunday? Old habits die hard?

  6. Hi Richard, I am a good friend of John from He Needs Food and he suggested I say Hi! I am a bit of a bread fan so loved your brave first attempt at sour dough, I don't have the patience sadly......

    It might be worth looking at ciabatta recipes as a quicker recipe for a sour tasting bread without having to feed a starter for 2 weeks.

    When you come to make the bread I make it last thing at night and leave it in the airing cupboard overnight to rise and work. The dough has to be warm so it can rise and yes you should score the surface so it can rise more.

    Then the next morning knock the air out of the bread and allow it to stand and rise again for 2 hours (somewhere warm and score the surface) then you can bake. By scoring the surface this gives your loaf crusty edges and makes the top look really rustic.

    I like your tip of putting water in the oven to steam and enhance the crust – I will try this and let you know!! Cheers - Rachel

  7. @BE - We had a project going live so I had to check everything was ok before the users came into the office on Monday. Even in the worst days of London working hours I never used to go in at the weekend.

    @Rachel. Thanks for stopping by. I'd like to make an olive oil / ciabatta bread once I've mastered the sourdough.

    Unfortunately I don't have an airing cupboard in my flat otherwise I'd definitely be using it for the warmth.

    Let me know how you go with your crust!

  8. Hi again. Ciabatta recipe is much easier than sour dough. All you need is time for the stages. The olive oil adds a really nice ripe taste to the bread so now I add 1tbsp of olive oil to my normal bread recipes. Will keep you posted on the crust! Cheers R