Third Time Lucky – Sourdough Loaf

Yes, my sourdough starter is now up and running and ready to make bread with. Apologies for the length of this post, it’s hard to explain what I did in just a few words, so if you’re not interested in the process, have a look at the photos and come back again soon for some quicker recipes – you’re always welcome here!

Third TIme Lucky Loaf!
Third TIme Lucky Loaf!

First up I tried a recipe from the very good River Cottage Bread handbook, but it involved proving the bread 4 times (yes, 4 times!) which felt rather too much like a chore to me. The gas oven did not behave well and the recipe also involved trays of water and spraying the bread.

I did get a lovely tasting loaf, but the process was amazingly labour intensive. A recipe from the lovely Moro Cookbook involved very little work but my brain told me as I did it that it wasn’t going to work for me. And it didn’t. Flat as a very thick pancake bread.

I would have liked more holes in it, but it tasted wonderful...
I would have liked more holes in it, but it tasted wonderful…

I also struggled with proving and baking trays and came across a few folk who had used oven dishes with lids (or casserole dishes or Dutch ovens). Some dusted them with oatmeal to stop the bread from sticking and one person used greaseproof paper. I wish I could track her recipe down to acknowledge properly, but I can’t find it again…..apologies to the person who had this great idea.

Sourdough 2 (2)

So, with no further ado, I used a recipe from the River Cottage website, with a few tweaks of my own and the oven dish/greaseproof paper method of baking. Result? A beautiful looking and tasting loaf of sourdough bread. Now, if someone can advise me on how to make the bread denser and more sour tasting I’ll be a very happy bread baker!

For the sponge

•About 100ml active starter

•250g strong bread flour (white, wholemeal or a mixture)

•300ml warm water


For each loaf

•300g strong bread flour (white, wholemeal or a mixture)

•1 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil (optional)

•10g salt

The night before you want to bake your loaf, create the sponge: take about 100ml of your active starter, and combine it with 250g fresh flour and 300ml warm water in a large bowl. Mix well with your hands, or very thoroughly with the handle of a wooden spoon, then cover with clingfilm and leave overnight. In the morning, it should be clearly fermenting – thick, sticky and bubbly.

Moby Dick - a beast of a sourdough starter
Moby Dick – a beast of a sourdough starter

Now make your loaf: add a fresh 300g flour to the sponge, along with 1 tbsp oil, if you like (it will make the bread a touch softer and more silky, but is not essential), and 10g salt (which is essential). Squidge it all together with your hands. You should have a fairly sticky dough. If it seems tight and firm, add a dash more warm water. If it’s unmanageably loose, add more flour (but do leave it as wet as you dare – you’ll get better bread that way).  I did this and the next stage in my mixer with the dough hook.

Turn out the dough on to a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and silky. This takes in the region of 10 minutes, but it can vary depending on your own style and level of confidence. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn it so it gets a light coating of oil. Cover with lightly oiled clingfilm, or put the bowl inside a plastic bag, and leave to rise. Don’t expect it to whoosh up to twice its original size in an hour, as a conventional loaf does. Sourdough rises slowly and sedately. The best thing is to knead it in the morning then simply leave it all day (or knead in the evening and leave overnight) in a fairly cool, but draught-free, place, until it is more or less doubled in size and feels springy when you push your finger gently into it. Knock it back (deflate it) on a lightly floured surface.

The dough has risen - hallelujah!
The dough has risen – hallelujah!

You now need to prove the dough (i.e. give it a second rising). You are also going to be forming it into the shape it will be for baking. If you have a proper baker’s proving basket, use this, first dusting it generously with flour. I lined a bowl (which was roughly the same size as my oven dish) with greaseproof paper and sprinkled it with a little flour). When the dough had doubled in size (it only took a couple of hours as it was a warm day) I lifted the bread out with the paper and placed both the paper and bread into the oven dish (which I had heated for about 20 minutes) slashed the bread with a sharp knife, sprinkled it with a little flour and put the lid on the pot.

I cooked it on the high temperature the entire time for about an hour and removed the lid for the last 20 minutes of cooking.  Leave to cool completely (it’s hard to resist, but your bread really will have a better texture if you allow it to cool), enjoy!


68 thoughts on “Third Time Lucky – Sourdough Loaf

  1. Lovely photos and lovely dough! I’ve always wanted to try this and with your encouragement I may now. What did you use as the active starter? I’ve heard you can use natural yeasts in grapes, or just in the air around, but I can’t quite believe it.

    1. I followed Sawsan’s instructions (Chef in Disguise) just a mix of flour and water, then removing half and topping it up. I think it liked the mountain air as it got going within a few days and now it doesn’t really die back much (even after a day or two in the fridge) and starts bubbling as soon as I feed it. No sugar, no fruit! Now I put it in the fridge and take it out 2 days before I want to bake, feed it once, use it to make the sponge the next day, feed it and pop it back in the fridge and so on…it’s very accommodating and I don’t weigh, just use a tumbler of flour and equal volume of water to top up, so it’s not even complicated 🙂

  2. That looks wonderful. I have some good jam that would pair very nicely I think 😉
    Just a small point – do you end up with a massive amount of ‘starter’ or is it all used?

    1. You throw half away when not using it but just feeding, or you use about half to make the bread and are left with the other half which you need to feed if you want to carry on the process. I have a kilner jar which is constantly about two thirds full and I am currently working on different ways to use the starter rather than always throw away. But then again, it’s only about 100g of flour you’re chucking when you do need to throw it away, so not a huge deal.

  3. Love the risen dough photo and this sounds a little too involved for me. I hope someone has the solution for more sourness and density.

    1. It is a wee bit “involved” but now that I have more time, I’m having fun playing with my sourdough starter! Yes, I hope someone can help me out with the sourness and density…when you want a loaf like a brick do you think you can make one…heck no!

  4. Yay! congratulations on your wonderful success with the bread 🙂 the loaf looks wonderful!
    The starter will become more sour the older it gets and I read some where that if you place your starter in the fridge and feed it only once a week it will become more sour.
    I am really happy to be baking with you Tanya in this sourdough adventure 🙂

    1. Am really enjoying this and thanks for the advice – I am making some bread today and I had left the starter in the fridge for a few days before feeding it last night and you[‘re right – it does seem to be evolving nto something more sour!

  5. I love sour dough bread. Yours looks wonderful. I used to make breads when we lived on the farm, years ago. I just can’t see myself putting in the time and effort to make it for myself now.

    1. Thanks Diane – it was a very good loaf! But you’re right, it takes time. I’d wanted to get into the cycle of making sourdough for some time but in England it just wasn’t the right time to get it going. Let’s see how long it lasts, but for the moment I’m really enjoying experimenting and I do have more time (which is wonderful)!

  6. Oh, I do feel guilty as I have had two specially imported starters in my fridge for eons and time has been totally against me! But look at that fabulous result of yours: wow! Kudos, lady 🙂 ! Now, I just had a look at your blogroll and methinks you would be very happy to add one of the loveliest Oz bloggers from Sydney to it: she is THE sourdough expert and has so many fabulous variations in her past posts – Google ‘Fig Jam and Lime Cordial’ : her name is Celia: she has a lot of fab ideas, also does gardening, art etc et al! Try!!

    1. sugar!! . . . actually ‘fabulous’ isn’t even in my everyday vocabulary! . . .shall reread next time . . . hmmm 😦 ! But: the lady is great!!

    2. Thanks Eha – I’ve now subscribed to Celia’s blog and am making her bread at this very moment! Well, it’s rising right now, so fingers crossed 🙂

  7. Oh.. this is very exciting!! I have a little packet of start and one of these days I will be baking my first loaf! I am no expert, but doesn’t it become tastier as the sourdough “grows up” and has been in your kitchen for a while? Ahhh, who am I kidding, I haven’t a clue! This sourdough starter is going to be like the pasta making.. it will take my a year to get the courage to try! I hope not, but by now I know myself:D Way to go, your bread looks a stunner!! xx Smidge

    1. Hi Smidge – yes, people are now telling me I need to be patient and wait for a more pronounced flavour to develop. Patience is a virtue which, sadly, I don’t have a lot of! Am learning to slow down….Go on, give it a go, your pasta was beautiful and I bet your bread would be amazing 🙂

  8. That is one mighty fine looking loaf you made there, Tanya. I can’t believe it’s only your 3rd attempt. Sourdough is not an easy thing to master but you seem to be doing just fine. You’ve got me thinking about getting my starter going again. 🙂
    Eha’s right about Celia. Hers is a great blog and she knows her bread.

    1. Ooh do go for it John – I can only imagine what amazing bread you would make! I’ve now signed up to Celia’s blog and am going to be trying out lots of her recipes 🙂 Say tuned…

  9. The sourness develops with age. I use Fig Jam and Lime Cordials basic recipe which is really easy and gives a great loaf 🙂

  10. Hi Chica, this is one of the things I’ve been wanting to try for a while. I was planning on doing it this weekend but ended up catching a cold from my son, pft 😦

    Looks lovely – really! Sourdough loaves are one of my absolute favourites. Love the crust, the flavour… everything about them is awesome!

  11. Your loaf certainly looks beautiful so I think you’ve got it down now, Tanya. Love the description of your starter as “Moby Dick the beast”. 🙂 One of these days I’m going to make my own bread, in spite of the fact that things like starter seem a bit intimidating. I don’t seem to have the time right now, but it’s on my list. Thanks for sharing your experience with sourdough.

    1. It is a big beast of a starter and could swallow things whole given a chance! I, like you, was put off by the time commitment and complexity of the sourdough process but now I’ve actually just gone for it, I am asking myself what the stress was all about. The first few times you make the dough is a bit strange as there is not really any kneading and it’s a bit messy if you don’t have a machine with a dough hook but I’m getting into a little routine and visits from Bread Man will soon be a thing of the past…go for it!

  12. A long time ago I gave the River Cottage sour dough a try too and found the four rises rather, um, much. I have to say I didn’t get through the whole thing and ended up binning it. How terrible is that. So, it is with great anticipation that I read through your recipe.

    Thank you thank you thank you! I will be starting this in the next few days. I love sour dough. Gorgeous stuff.

      1. We can crankk together as I am using my mixer with a dough hook and it’s so much easier for sourdough. Doing it by hand must be ever so wet and messy!

  13. I once keep a sour dough starter…but somehow the bread didn’t turn out as good as I expected so I had to let the starter go….Your loaf is beautiful and perfectly done. Really inspires me to make a starter again.

  14. I am going to have to separate a portion of Audrey’s bubbliness and make us a white sourdough starter. Moby looks amazing! He also looks like he has twice the raising power of poor weak amaciated Audrey…”to the kitchen batman!” :). Cheers for the great post and the linkie to the HFW recipe. I just saved Sawsan’s wonderful bread recipe and after this one I will give hers a go…isn’t sourdough baking fun?! 🙂

    1. I am totally hooked on this sourdough malarkey….Moby is a beast and performs even straight from the fridge (I made a mistake once and feared for the worst). I want to try one with some wholewheat in it to see the difference.

    1. It does smell pretty amazing and now I’ve got into a routine of making it….but it hasn’t diminished my longing to tear a big hunk of bread off before it’s cooled!

  15. AHA! This was back when I was haunting but not commenting…I have seen this wonderful recipe but most probably didn’t actually try to emulate it. I can tell you how to get sour…let your dough prove longer and you are there and if you would like I can send you a bit of Herman (who I couldn’t bear to toss in the rubbish bin and who lives in cryovaced stasis in my pantry) who would pucker the lips of a saint! I am going to give your technique a go with my kefir raised bread. I can never get the bread to where I am happy with the texture. Mine is always WAY too dense 😦

    1. Now that I’ve been making it for months (and months) it has a much better flavour – also it tastes completely different in England to Up the Mountain. Not so weird I guess as the air is quite different! Good luck with the kefir bread…I need to track down some kefir grains as I have never worked with them/eaten them (it?)…

      1. I could do you a swap. I have kefir grains dehydrated in the fridge as I tap here. This is exciting…maybe Moby will cross mailrooms with Kid Creole on their way to the other side of the world! I am just about to send off some kefir grains to New Zealand today so they are certainly getting around 🙂

      2. I am currently working on a full PDF with how to use it for another blogger that I am sharing some dehydrated grains with so no problemo ma’am! 🙂

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