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Chicago Sourdough - 81% with timestamps

Working towards a more open crumb usually means dealing with a slightly higher level of hydration in your dough. However, high hydration doughs are not something to be feared. Not if you approach them the right way.

Today's Sourdough is based on a recipe from Chicago. It requires a dough of 81% hydration.

For this recipe, I'm presenting the stages timestamped. It's proved to be a useful way to deal with the requirements of the various stages. Obviously, you can introduce your own starting time - but the intervals between the stages are significant and I'd advise you to keep to them, if at all possible.


'Room temperature' is my kitchen. It's January and I'm in Wales in the UK. It's not exactly tropical. The kitchen in my 500 year old house is a tantalising 17⁰C.

'A Warm Place' in my house is a cupboard beyond the bedroom that houses the hot water cylinder. That place is a constant 24⁰C.


30 gms unfed starter (I'm using a rye flour-based starter)

For the Levain
30 gms of filtered water at room temperature.
27 gms of strong white bread flour (I'm using 13.5% protein)
3 gms of rye flour

For the dough
253 gms filtered water at room temperature
255 gms strong white bread flour (as above)
70 gms rye flour
7½ gms crushed sea salt (I'm using Cornish sea salt)

STAGE 1 : 7 a.m. Building the levain

Start to build your levain. I'm feeding my starter at a ratio of 1:2:2. That means one part starter to two parts water and two parts flour. For the flour content, I'm using 90% white bread flour and 10% rye flour.
So, I'm mixing
30 gms of unfed starter
27 gms of strong white bread flour and
3 gms rye flour.

Once mixed, I'm putting the jar into my warm place (see above) and leaving it there for 5 or 6 hours until it has doubled in volume.

STAGE 2 : 10 a.m. Autolysing the flour and water

Into a large bowl, add 255 gms strong white bread flour, 70 gms rye flour and 253 gms of water at room temperature. Mix until all the flour and water has been incorporated.


Cover and set aside at room temperature for 3 hours.

Adding the levain

STAGE 3 : 1 p.m. Adding the levain

The levain has had six hours. If it hasn't doubled, feel free to give it a further hour. Butm for the purposes of this staged approach, let's consider that the levain is ready.

Add 65 gms of levain to the dough and mix thoroughly. Work the dough with a wet hand for a few minutes. If you're familiar with the Rubaud method, then this is a good technique to employ during these stages. There is a video demonstrating this technique here: Ignore the quantities and the recipe, just focus on the technique of mixing the dough. There is no need to work the dough for more than a minute.

STAGE 4 : 1.30 p.m. Adding the salt

Add 7½ gms of crushed sea salt to the mixture. Again, work the dough with a wet hand using the same Rubaud method of working the dough. There's no need to work the dough for more than a minute.

STAGE 5 : 2.00 p.m. Countertop fold

Prepare a folding dish. I use a class Pyrex roasting dish but you can adapt anything that comes to hand in your kitchen. Give it a coating of olive oil to make handling the dough easier.

Spritz your worktop with water. Gently tip out the dough onto the work top. Pull the top section out away from you and then fold it back over itself. Then, turn the dough through 90⁰ and repeat. Keep rotating and repeating until you have worked through all four points of an imaginary compass. Again, if you'd like to see this demonstrated, click here:

Carefully transfer the dough to the glass roastng dish or whatever you are using. Cover it with a shower cap of place it inside a plastic bag and leave it until the next stage.

STAGE 6 : 2.30 p.m. Lamination

Gently tip the dough out onto a spritzed work surface.

Working from the middle of the dough, gently pull the edges of the dough so that you are spreading it out as much as you can without breaking the dough. Eventually, it will cover most of your working area.

Then fold the left hand side in to the middle and then the right hand side over that. Now, fold the top down half way and then gradually fold the top over to the bottom. We call this the 'letter fold'. Again, there is an excellent video demonstrating this technique here:

STAGE 7 : 3.15 p.m. Coil and Fold #1

We're now going to perform three sets of 'coil and fold'. Really, the key to this is to handle the dough gently and with wet hands. We tuck our hands under the dough and lift one end, folding it under itself and then repeat the process with the other end. Then turn the dough through 90⁰ and repeat. We end up with a smooth parcel that is recovered and left for 45 minutes.

If you've never coil and folded - here's a useful demonstration:

STAGE 8 : 4.00 p.m. Coil and Fold #2

Repeat Stage 7

STAGE 9 : 4.45 p.m. Coil and Fold #3

Repeat Stage 8

STAGE 10 : 5.00 p.m. Bulk Fermentation

It's now been 4 hours since we added the levain. We now need to allow the dough to rest for about a further hour or so until it has increased by 70% volume from where we were back at 1 p.m. (70% is not a precise figure - somewhere between 60% and 70% will be fine).

To do this, we cover the dough and place it in our 'warm place' (see above)

STAGE 11 : 6 p.m. Shaping

The timing here will depend on the time it takes to increase to 70%. It's unlikely to take less time, but it may take more.

Flour your work top generously. If you've never used rice flour, then you really should. It's fabulous flour for shaping...nothing sticks to it.

Gently tip the dough out onto the board.

Bringing the edges into the middle create a ball. Then gently flip it over so the smooth side is uppermost. Then, with the palms of your hands, slowly drag the dough across the worktop to create surface tension in the dough.

Prepare a banneton - again, flour it generously.

Gently place the dough seam side uppermost in the banneton. Cover with either a shower cap or place inside a plastic bag, seal it and place it in the refrigerator at 4⁰C for at least 12 hours and up to 16 hours.

Ready for the refrigerator

STAGE 12 : 9 a.m. Baking

Preheat your oven to 240⁰C.

Heat your baking container. Whether this is a Dutch Oven or an enamelled pot or a baking stone with added steam, you'll be familiar with the way that they need to be prepared for baking.

Incidentally, I bake my oval sourdough in Pyrex glass. As long as you respect the need for it to be heated up and cooled down gradually, it's a great medium for bread baking.

You do not need to bring the dough to room temperature.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and invert the banneton onto a piece of parchment paper or onto a silicone sling.

Inverting the banneton

Score as desired.

Gently lower the loaf into the baking container and bake at 240⁰C with the lid on for 30 minutes.

Remove the lid, drop the temperature to 230⁰C and continue baking for 20 minutes until the loaf is a golden brown, hollow when tapped underneath and has an interior temperature of 98⁰C - 99⁰C.

Cool on a rack for at least 2 - 3 hours to allow the crumb to set.

Happy baking...