banner image

Easy sourdough for novice bakers

Sourdough loaf
The following recipe includes quantities for a 72% hydration dough with 1.6% salt.

This assumes that your starter is equal parts water and flour. Hydration can also be affected by the type of flour used.

If this is the first time you are making a sourdough loaf then use only 600g of water and increase the hydration level as you get accustomed to handling slack dough and your confidence increases. It is important not to add flour during the stretching and folding before preshaping.
The bottom line is that you need to be able to handle the dough. If it is sticking to everything and clinging to your hands at the preshape stage then it needs some flour folded in. it should be sticky but pull away from your hands and snap back. It should “prefer” to stick to itself rather than anything else.

Baking on a pizza stone gives the best results(use a baking sheet/tray if you don’t have one). Use baking parchment under the loaves to facilitate transfer from the pizza peel to the stone. If you don’t have a pizza peel, you will need to find another way to get the loaves onto the hot stone. If you can safely bring the hot stone to the work surface you could slide a large fish slice under the baking parchment and quickly transfer the loaves one at a time to the stone.
Use the edges of the baking parchment to move and position the loaves on the stone, leave a gap between them. The quicker you can get them into the oven, the better the oven spring will be.

Steam in the oven during the first fifteen minutes of baking is essential.
I have tried many different flours for this but my favourite is a mixture of strong white with about one third of Shipton Mill light malthouse. The long fermentation really brings out the malty flavour.

Ingredients (makes 2 loaves)

Flour 900g (can be plain, all purpose, bread flour, wholemeal, granary or a mixture of several)
Water 620g
Salt 16g
Starter 200g


Place a large mixing bowl on the scales and weigh the water into it. Zero the scale and weigh in the starter. Zero the scale again and weigh in the flour. Finally, weigh in the salt.

Mix this into a rough dough making sure all the flour is hydrated. The dough will look very rough and shaggy. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave it to stand for 30 minutes, during this time the gluten will start to form.

Wet the surface of a board, or counter top, and tip out the dough. Scrape out any dough sticking to the sides of the bowl. Stretch and fold the dough several times, using a scraper to lift the edges of the dough from the board if necessary. The dough will be very sticky at this stage but DO NOT add any flour, it will become less sticky as the gluten develops further. Stretching and folding encourages it to form long strands. After each stretch and fold the dough will attain more structure and hold its shape for longer.

Return the dough to the bowl, cover and leave to rest for at least 2 hours. The timing is not critical and the dough should be left at normal room temperature. At this stage it can be left for several hours.

Stretch and fold the dough again as before. It will be a little less sticky than before and will prefer to stick to itself rather than your hands. Cover and leave for another 2 hours.

Stretch and fold again, return it to the bowl, cover and stand for 1 hour.

This time prepare the kneading surface by lightly dusting it with flour. Turn out the dough and divide into two equal parts. Stretch and fold one of the portions, turning the dough back into itself until it forms a tight ball. Repeat with the other. Sprinkle very lightly with flour and cover with a clean tea towel. Allow the preshaped loaves to rest for 1 hour. They should keep their shape and not spread out very much.

During the resting period prepare the moulds by lining with a linen liner or a linen table napkin. Dust the linen with flour to prevent sticking.
To do the final shaping take each loaf in turn. Turn the dough over, stretch it out but do not flatten it. Turn the edges into the centre and keep doing this until it forms a smooth and tight ball. Roll it gently until it becomes elongated and then place it in the mould with the seam uppermost. Dust the sides of the loaf with flour to prevent sticking. Repeat for the other loaf.

Place the shaped loaves in the refrigerator uncovered if not baking the same day. They will be fine refrigerated until the following morning. If baking on the same day, cover and leave to rest for around 2 hours.

The loaves are ready for baking when the finger dent left after pressing does not spring out immediately or completely. There should be a slight dent left but there should also be some recovery. If the dent does not spring back at all then the dough is over proofed and the crumb will be dense after baking and may collapse in the oven but will still be edible. If the dent springs out immediately and completely disappears then prove for a little longer.
Heat the oven and pizza stone to 220 0 C. If you do not have a steam oven place a roasting pan at the bottom of the oven and bring some water to a boil. If possible, also fill a spray bottle with water.

Tip the loaves out onto baking parchment placed on a pizza peel. It is possible to brush off excess flour but speed is of the essence, the quicker the loaves go into the oven the better the oven spring. Take a very sharp knife or razor blade and make one long slit lengthways down the centre of each loaf.
Place the loaves on the hot stone. Pour the boiling water into the roasting pan and spray water into the oven. Close the door and bake for 15 minutes then reduce to 200 0C for a further 25 minutes. If using a steam oven program it for 15 minutes at 220 0C with 100% steam then 25 minutes at 200 0C 40% steam.
The loaves should be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped.

I have baked these loaves both in a steam oven and a fan oven with a pan of water. There is no difference in the end result, I use my steam oven for convenience.

Remove from oven and leave to cool completely before slicing. I wrap the loaves in an ultra clean tea towel and spray with water in order to get a less tough crust. This results in a crispy crust that is not too thick and is easy to slice. This loaf freezes very well.