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Baking Bread

Beginner’s Sourdough Bread

It feels like everyone knows and yearns for good bread. Even if they don’t bake it, they have a supplier. And it’s because there’s something so fundamentally comforting about a good loaf – a combination, perhaps, of its mouth-watering aroma, chewy texture and thick crust.

Take Bristol; artisan bakeries have been popping up and, importantly, thriving across the city for several years now. Dripping with quality, these bastions of bread (and other such delights) are a component part of a sense of community not often found throughout major settlements.

The mythical aura surrounding sourdough is fading, but it has persisted far too long – not helped by farcically over-complicated recipes for ‘beginner’s sourdough bread’ you can find online. The very same recipes ask you to measure the temperature of each constituent ingredient.

What you need is a straight-forward recipe. Somewhere to start. Easy sourdough bread. Most of all, you need the reassurance that sourdough bread needn’t be as difficult or as involved as some make it out to be. It does take 2-3 days – that much is certain – but it can and should fit around your schedule.

A quick shout-out, if I may, to the Shipton Mill in the nearby Cotswolds for providing (at my expense, I assure you) some truly top-notch bread flour. And not forgetting Bristol’s genuinely world-class Hart’s Bakery for the inspiration and what remain the best pastries I have enjoyed anywhere in Europe – yes, France, that includes you.

Beginner’s Sourdough Bread Recipe

Makes 2 large loaves (easily halved)

Recommended Equipment

Most of the below isn’t strictly necessary. Having said that, all are useful for non-sourdough bread and will contribute positively to the quality of any bread that emerges from your oven.

  • Dough scraper
  • Two large bannetons/proofing baskets
  • Baker’s peel
  • Baker’s lame
  • Pizza stone

Ingredients

Day 1 (evening)

  • 150g sourdough mother
  • 75g tepid water
  • 75 light rye flour

Day 2 (morning)

  • 300g fed starter (from day 1)
  • 600-700ml tepid water
  • 1000g white bread flour
  • 20g salt

Day 2 (afternoon)

  • Bread flour for dusting
  • A little rice flour

Method

Day 1 (evening)

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine your sourdough mother with the water and light rye flour. Cover with a tea towel, or similar, and set aside somewhere warm until the next morning. Don’t forget to give the mother a good feed.

Day 2 (morning)

  1. Assuming this is your first go at sourdough, add 600ml of tepid water to the starter in your large mixing bowl. Bring together. As you become more experienced you can start experimenting with hydration levels, but doing so makes the dough trickier to handle.
  2. Add the bread flour and salt to the watery starter mixture. Make sure it’s well combined by hand or large metal spoon. Set aside somewhere warm for 1 hour.
  3. Keeping everything in the same mixing bowl, grab a “corner” from underneath and fold over the opposite side. Repeat twice for each corner (8 folds in total). Cover and set aside for 30 minutes.
  4. Repeat step 3 a further three times, before setting aside for a final hour of resting.

Day 2 (afternoon)

  1. Your dough should be showing clear signs of activity, with large bubbles of trapped air dotted about here and there. Turn it out onto a lightly floured side.
  2. Divide the dough in two, and shape into an oval or boule, depending on the size and shape of your banneton. It’s difficult to describe, so the links above will give you an idea.
  3. Take your bannetons – you can also use loaf tins lined with a tea towel – and generously scatter them with rice flour to avoid a sticky situation. Transfer your shaped dough to the basket and cover.
  4. If you still have time to bake on day 2, leave the dough to proof for 2-4 hours. How long you leave it for will depend largely on temperature – it is ready to bake – proofed – when it springs back slowly and leaves a small indent.
  5. If you haven’t time to bake, leave the covered dough to proof for 2 hours and transfer to the refrigerator until the morning. Wrapping it in a plastic bag will stop a skin forming.

Day 3 (morning) or ready to bake

  1. Pre-heat your oven and pizza stone to 260C for around 30 minutes. Make sure there’s a tray beneath the stone that we’ll use to create steam, and with it a better crust.
  2. If baking on day 3, remove the first loaf from the fridge 15 minutes before baking. If you’re baking straight away, you’re good to go.
  3. Once the oven and stone are hot, boil the kettle and pour its contents into the tray at the bottom of the oven. Ready your baker’s peel and cover it generously with rice flour.
  4. Working quickly, turn your dough out onto the prepared peel, slash the top deeply with sharp knife or baker’s lame, and get it straight in the oven. Set the timer to 25 minutes.
  5. After 25 minutes have elapsed, turn the oven down to 230C for a further 20 minutes. Remove your cooked loaf from the oven, and repeat the cycle for loaf number two.

Cost: Including postage, 16kg of speciality bread flour costs me around £23. Factoring in a few other ingredients, two large loaves made according to the recipe above will cost about £1 each.

That feels like a good price to me, considering a large loaf of sourdough might set you back anywhere from £4-6 out in the wild. But if you’re on a tight budget, and don’t have access to fancy flour, a quick search tells me you could make both loaves for under £1.

12 replies on “Beginner’s Sourdough Bread”

Local bakeries will have their own and are often willing to give you some – that’s how mine started. If doing your own in takes a few days to get going, and there are plenty of guides online!

So the first step to making sourdough, is to already have sourdough.

I’m in agreement with Lindy McGuiness. It’s not really a beginner’s recipe if it requires non-basic agreements, or if your instructions are to “look up guides online.”

In other times, it wouldn’t be as big of a deal.

That feels like a somewhat unfair assessment. It’s a beginner’s recipe for sourdough bread – it’s not something I’d attempt as a beginner to the kitchen environment. I mean, a loaf of sourdough bread is always going to require a sourdough mother. I have no experience of creating one of these from scratch – I admit as much – and suggest an online search. No point me offering advice about that which I know little about.

Either way, thanks for reading.

Not impressed by this being a beginner recipe when I am in the middle of isolation in the hills of Wales. I.e. what are the tools and stuff and how many are truly essential? I actually do need help to make a starter as the nearest real baker is over 40 miles away. Please help as I would love to have a go.

Haha, oh dear – sorry! The tools are listed at the top of the recipe – the only truly essential things are the ingredients, an oven, and bannetons/loaf tins. You can, basically, treat it like normal bread should you wish. I got my original starter from a local bakery, but there are so many guides online for starting your own! Feel free to email me if you can some specific questions!

Thanks! No problem. Was feeling grouchy as isolation seems to make everything more difficult. Happier now thanks for making laugh

Hi there Nick, v good and clear instructions. Strangely enough I read my new Good Food Mag, which popped through door today and there was an article abt sourdough, the fakes and the real, and a recipe which really puzzled me, such a small amount of starter ….anyway I got my starter out from back of fridge and have fed it …. just now. It has been in fridge for abt a month and is perfectly fine, the original starter pot came from a lady that I “met” here on internet, on a bbc good food site on sourdough. (Now closed down) . She sent it in post in a little plastic bag when it had gone flat … so if I increase the volume of mine, I could send some to the 2 followers , like she did, Gill the Painter was her “name”. V v helpful and kind. She said her starter (came from Dan Lepard originally) was bomb proof, and I think it certainly is. I am not very good at sourdough , and hubbie doesn’t like it anyway, but I am good at keeping my starter, or “mother” alive,! I keep it in a small ikea round plastic pot, lid tightly on, in fridge and feed it when I remember or when I have another go at sourdough, which i will with your recipe. So … in a nutshell, I cld send some to the ladies. But I won’t be offended if I am not allowed to,,!! Great to hv u back again.

Maggie

I’ve just been getting back into making sourdough and am waiting patiently for your recipe loaf to come out the oven. I have a feeling I did the final proof for too long but I’m sure it will still taste good. I made my mother from scratch and it was ready to go within 5 days. The recipe I found was on Pinterest and only involved plain flour and water (no organic red grapes as some did!). Great to have you back. RL

I hope it worked OK! Bread can be so dependent on the conditions particular to your own kitchen/house/climate etc… Having said that, I’ve never gone too far wrong with this recipe!

Just made the loaf. V v good. I put it into a loaf tin, cos I did add a teeny bit more water but it was great in the tin. Cooked it for a bit longer and had to use an instant read thermometer to make sure it was cooked. (Abt 206F) Maggie.

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