Weekly Sourdough Bread

If you are going to make your own bread on a regular basis, the method has to fit in with your lifestyle and the time you have, and the type of bread has to be one that you and your household enjoy eating.

Sourdough freezes really well, so I usually make two loaves at least in one go. It’s more economic on the oven as well. Rolls and small breads can be made out of the same dough as the big loaves and defrost quicker for lunches. Soda breads, the fastest to prepare are best eaten fresh on the same day you bake them.  Don’t get hung up on sourdough if you don’t have time for it in your life right now but do have a go at baking other sorts of bread:  home made soda breads, pitta, naan, all done pretty quickly and so much better than most breads you can buy. Brioche is a classic bread that you can prepare the day before and bake on a weekend morning and it’s delicious!

I have squished this into a 4 sheet .pdf which you can download. I updated this in June 2013  : Updated weekly sourdough 

Sourdough Starter Thoughts

Feed, discard and keep it small. Lots of people successfully get a starter going and then forget it in the back of the fridge for several months. This seems to be quite common.

However if you do have a good starter and you know that you want to bake with it in the future, either dry some, freeze it or feed it once a week. I prefer to feed once a week as it doesn’t take long and the cost of 50 g of fresh flour is one that I am prepared to pay to keep my starter healthy and well fed. If you really don’t feel happy about discarding starter, then make pancakes or waffles with the little bit of old ferment, or just add it into any other dough you are making.

Drying sourdough is a useful back up and you can do it by spreading a couple of dollops of active sourdough out on a piece of baking parchment, leaving to dry for a few days and then crumbling up and storing in an airtight bag. Don’t forget to label it!

If you keep your starter fairly small when you are not using it then you won’t feel that you are wasting very much. You can keep even less going than I do. Some bakers only keep 50 g of starter on standby. Why refresh it when you are not going to use it? To give you an analogy – you wouldn’t want to sit around in your old underwear for months at a time, it would make you feel grumpy and not terribly enthusiastic about going to a party at short notice either.

By refreshing once a week I am never more than 36 hours away from baking true sourdough. I’ve uploaded a little film of some of my starter to share with you here on Flickr.

This is a fairly liquid starter (125 g/ml water to 100 g flour)  but you can see that it is quite thick and elastic looking and it is full of bubble-rich activity. If it gets too watery and sloppy and doesn’t cohere at all,  then the gluten has been destroyed by the yeasts and bacteria and it has gone too far and become too acidic, to make good bread with and you need to take a little and re-feed and wait.

I allow the starter at least  16 – 24 hours and two feeds to get back up to strength if it hasn’t seen action for more than five days.

You can of course, bake starting in the morning and finishing in the evening and not retard the bread at all, but it can take up to nine hours and the method detailed below is for people who are not at home on and off through the day.

Thursday Evening for Saturday Morning Bread

By starting on a Thursday evening I am ready to bake my bread on Saturday morning. I can switch the process around so I have a morning start instead bake towards the end of the day. The trick is to work backwards by 36 hours from when you want to bake.

I take the starter out of the fridge on Thursday evening.

First refresh :

I take 25 grams from the pot ( a dessert spoonful) and put it in a clean small bowl. I then add 50 grams of water and 50 grams of flour to it. Give it a stir. Cover and leave it.

Friday Morning

Second refresh and final starter preparation:

On Friday morning I take 50 grams of this and make a new mixture in a separate bowl. This is the one that will go in the final dough.

  • 50 g starter
  • 200 g bread flour
  • 250 g  room temperature water

Mix and leave until it has doubled in size and has distinct bubbles in it. It helps to use a straight sided container if you are not sure of your ability to judge when the sourdough is at its perkiest. You can use it when it has passed its peak but in an ideal world use it at the top if you can.

Usually mine is ready by about 6 pm. Depends on how early I got up of course!

This will give me 500 grams of starter. I always refeed the pot I keep in the fridge separately that way there is no risk of using it all up by mistake in a dough. I put back 25 g happy re-fed starter (from the first feed)  on Friday morning with 50 g water and 60 -70 g flour in the pot ( edit : emptied out of old starter). The reason for more flour is that it simply gives the yeasts and bacteria more food to nibble on while they are waiting to bake again.

Friday Evening – The final dough

I mix the following ingredients together thoroughly so that there is no flour left visible but I don’t do any kneading at this stage.

  • 500 g starter
  • 400 g room temperature water (20 C or as close as possible)
  • 650 g wheat bread flour (if you want big holes and big rise use some very strong flour in this –  maybe a ratio of 450g bread flour to 200 g very strong)
  • 150 g rye flour, spelt, or wholemeal flour  for flavour and crust colour

After half an hour to an hour I tip the rough mix out onto a lightly oiled board and pat and stretch it out and sprinkle

  • 20 g salt (you can use less if you prefer)

over the surface, and then I gently knead that in to the dough for maybe a minute or two. Then I put it back into a clean and lightly oiled bowl.

An hour after mixing and adding the salt, tip the whole lot out onto a lightly oiled board. Do a little gentle stretching and folding of the dough and make into a smooth round ball. This takes less than a minute to do. You should see a few bubbles appearing in the dough at this point but not that many. If stretching and folding is new to you then basically what you do is pat the dough out into a large rectangle, divide it by eye into three and then stretch it out a bit more and fold as you would an A4 piece of paper going into a narrow envelope.

Place the ball of dough in a lightly oiled bowl and then place a piece of clingfilm over the dough, you can spray this with oil too if the dough is very tacky.   (Or if you find it easier, place the oiled clingfilm over the dough before you put it in the bowl). Place a second piece of clingflim over the top of the bowl and put the whole bowl in the fridge.

This only applies if you are putting the dough in the fridge overnight like I do at this relatively early stage in the process.  If you are keeping your dough out then just cover the bowl with a cloth or a shower cap.

If you don’t protect the surface of the dough like this you find the dough will discolour and might go a bit hard on top.

Saturday Morning – Bake

The following day, take the dough out as soon as you get up. Once it has warmed up a bit, take it out of the bowl gently onto a board. Don’t knock it back as you would with yeasted dough. At this point in time you want to preserve the aeration in the dough to a large extent. If the dough is very airy, and you want to do something,  then pat it out into a rectangle and do an A4 letter fold and mound the dough back into a rough ball, cover and leave to warm up a bit more. When the dough has lost that cold, slightly unresponsive fridge feeling   (it will still feel cool to the touch)  divide it into two parts and on a floured board, preshape it into two boules.

NB : When stretching and folding, use a light coating of oil on board and hands, when shaping however switch to a dusting of flour on board and fingers as you are eventually going to put your dough into a floured container.

Leave for 15 minutes and reshape more tightly, use just enough flour to stop the boules sticking to your hands. Lightly flour two baskets with rye flour, put the boules into these upside down. Leave to prove for another two or three hours. We used to be told to leave the dough to double in size, but now the advice from Dan Lepard is to leave until it has risen by about a half. That way you get a better oven spring effect and the risk of having overproved bread is reduced.

Testing the dough for readiness to bake :  The finger poke test isn’t that useful, though it doesn’t do any harm. If the dough feels very bouncy and rebounds when you poke it then it can be left a little longer to prove. If however the dent doesn’t come back then you should be thinking about baking fairly quickly. You should be able to see that it has grown and usually the dough feels soft to the touch and you can feel the bubbles moving if you press gently. Sometimes I sniff the dough and that gives me a clue as to what it is up to – you are looking for a ripe slightly acidic smell, something like warmed yoghurt mixed with an overripe apple. Sourdough doesn’t smell like commercial yeast. Yours might smell a bit cheesy or beery, that is all right too.  Over time the smells will build up into a ‘library’ in your head and you will recognise the distinctive perfumes of your particular sourdough.

Heat the oven to 220 º – 230º C  (200º C Fan) if your oven goes that high. If you have a stone then put it in at the beginning of this process. I use a potters kiln shelf as my ‘oven stone’ it is cheaper than granite and the one I have has lasted me for over two years now. It takes maybe 30 – 40 minutes to heat up. Edit: Please see my reply to Jo H about using fan ovens. 


Remember to put a little metal tray in the bottom of the oven so that you can have a go at creating steam in there. The steam is important in the first part of the bake as it helps the top to stay soft just long enough while the wild yeasts inside the loaf are doing their final gas production while they heat up and ultimately die. Modern ovens see it as their job to get rid of steam, so it is a fight between you and the oven to keep the steam in there long enough to do its job. I use boiling water always which I put in the hot tray once the dough has gone in the oven. You can pre-steam the oven, but I find it all comes out when I open the door to put the dough in so have given up doing that.


Sprinkle fine semolina on the dough in the basket. Then tip it out onto the back of a tray or a peel if you have one. The semolina will help it to slide into the oven and not stick to the peel.  You can also put a piece of baking parchment on your peel and slide the bread into the oven on that, removing the paper once the bread has set.

Slashing the dough

Have a small glass of water next to you while you slash the dough. These size boules can easily take a slash that is 1/4 to 1/2 an inch deep. The slash helps you to avoid the loaf bursting in erratic places and is used decoratively also. I wrote a bit more about slashing here in an earlier post and again here. Don’t get too hung up about it, it takes practice, mine come out very oddly sometimes, but I like them anyway! You can dip the knife or blade in the water between slashes if you find the dough is sticking or dragging. If you lightly dust flour over the top of the loaf (before you start slashing)  that will also help to create a contrasting pattern on the top of the baked loaf.

Try and be decisive about your slashes, and keep them as even in depth as you can. Angle the blade slightly to slit the ‘skin’ of the dough and the slashes will open more elegantly.

 Edit: I have been asked to show how to do the slash pattern for the one in the top picture so I have added An addendum to the ‘Weekly Sourdough Post”. This shows you a diagram and some extra photos from when I baked these loaves.

Once the loaf is fully sprung and taking on colour, you can open the door for about ten seconds or so to let the steam out and you can turn the temperature down to about 200 º C. (180º C Fan) Usually it takes my loaves about ten to fifteen minutes to get to this stage. If you forget to turn it down, then you will have a very beautiful deep russet crust and it is not a catastrophe by any means.

Bake the loaf (mine are around 850 grams each) for about 45 – 50 minutes in total. Tap the bottom to see if they are done, you are listening for a really hollow, slghtly echoey sound, not just a dull thud. Heft the boule in your hand and try and feel whether it feels light enough for its size, if in any doubt, put it back in the oven for another eight minutes or so. You can also weigh the loaf, it should lose about 10% of its original weight in the process of the bake, and if you have a probe thermometer you can use that, looking for a core temp of 92 º C, but I still find that holding the loaf in my hand is the best way for me to judge whether it is cooked enough for my taste.

When you are happy it’s fully baked take it out and leave to cool completely before slicing.  If you want to freeze one of them for later in the week, this is what I do: once the loaf is completely cool and as soon after that as possible, I wrap it in paper, the sort you can get from moving companies in a big pack. Then I stick a label on it and wrap it a second time in cling film. That way the label stays put in the freezer and the extra layer of paper protects the loaf from freezer burn and, when you are defrosting the loaf, it absorbs any odd bits of water that might be present.

Or alternatively….

If you want to bake early in the morning, then do the following, just stay up a bit later on Friday evening and allow the dough to prove in a warm spot. Shape the dough into two tight boules before going to bed and put them into floured baskets,  seam side upmost, to prove slowly in the fridge overnight.

The dough will need to be fairly well into its first prove, showing good signs of aeration throughout in order for this to work. It should look something like this if you cut into it.

Protect the boules in their baskets in the fridge by loosely wrapping them in teatowels or something like that.

In the morning heat the oven up first thing and take the boules out of the fridge and bake them from cold. Allow a bit longer for them to bake if doing this, another five to ten minutes and make sure there’s plenty of steam in the oven. Maybe also spray the tops of the loaves with some water as well.

70 thoughts on “Weekly Sourdough Bread

  1. Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial

    Jo, this is a wonderful tutorial and a glorious read! I’ve been baking sourdough for a few years now, but I learnt a great deal from your post, thank you! I think it’s one of the best sourdough instruction articles I’ve read…

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thank you Celia. I thought I’d concentrate on the bits I found puzzling when I was fairly new at this. I haven’t covered shaping and stretching and folding but they really need videos or good photos rather than even more words from me :)

  2. szanter

    Congratulations on your beautiful bread! Nice blog! Best regards! Hungary Terike

    [Edit: I’ve put the link to your blog with your name as the other url doesn’t work]

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thanks for visiting me Terike :) Your braids and faces on your breads are wonderfully exuberant and joyful. I must come back and look at them again soon! Joanna

  3. sallybr

    Oh, you did what I wanted to do for the longest time… writing something helpful for those just starting with the sourdough adventure

    this is a masterpiece of a post, and I am saving it and sending it around – I’m also going to link to it on my next sourdough bread post, if you don’t mind


    1. Joanna Post author

      This one is really aimed at people who have already started their sourdough adventures and are trying to figure out whether it will be something they can keep going or not. I think there’s possibly too much detail for a beginner here. I would be very delighted if you send a link round, that’s very kind of you Sally :)

  4. Nip it in the bud

    your sourdough looks so moorish but sounds so complicated to make (to virgin bread maker with an addled brain!). Maybe I’ll manage it one day – I’m sure Robin would give me a bit of starter mix to get me going …

    1. Joanna Post author

      The trouble with putting all the details in ( and I have cut it by half before I pressed publish) is that it is off putting, but if you have made regular yeasted bread then you can do this. It’s like yeasted bread only stretched out over a longer time frame and with gentler handling.

      If you want to have a go Robin would be your best bet, or I can put some in the post to you with abbreviated have a go instructions but Robin can do it all, probably better than me. His brioche is particularly fine :)

      1. Nip it in the bud

        errmm, I’ve never made yeasted bread either! I’ve dabbled with sour dough. Many moons ago when I had trouble tolerating wheat I tried all sorts of weird and wonderful flours without understanding the chemistry of bread making. The worst was with buckwheat flour which resulted in a brick like loaf which could easily have brained someone if flung in the wrong direction!

        1. Joanna Post author

          Ah. Do you eat bread now? Lots of people have stopped eating it on account of gluten intolerance and allergies and for other dietary reasons. If you are unsure about handling dough, sometimes it is easier to practise on yeasted dough, simply because it develops more quickly and bounces back more easily if you are overenthusiastic with the kneading and shaping. I make both sorts at home as you have probably noticed. I can’t imagine making a loaf with 100% buckwheat flour, I have done ones with rye but that is not to everyone’s taste at all. There’s a very good .pdf of a book called How Baking Works by Paula Figoni which you can download from the net if you want to know more. It’s American so some of the terms are different from the ones we use in the the UK but it’s very clear.

          1. Nip it in the bud

            yep fine with bread now. In fact having been so sick the first four months of this pregnancy our baby was grown entirely on bread and water!
            Maybe when I finish work I’ll get the urge to bake …

            1. Nip it in the bud

              Hi Joanna, the new flurry of comments this week popped up in my inbox and it prompted me to ask Robin if he could give us some starter to get us going. Tonight he appeared on my doorstep with it so there’s no going back! Let’s hope it lasts better than the houseplants – he assures me it will cope with neglect and once I’ve got G to have a read of your guide too (2 sleep deprived brains = one normal brain) we can get started. I’ll let you know how we get on …

              1. Joanna Post author

                How lovely to have some Robin starter, you should ask him to make you brioche (!) Good luck with the baking if you need any help drop me a line and love to you G and the little one xx

            2. Nip it in the bud

              thanks heaps Joanna – will pass your cheeky suggestion on to Robin. I said I was going to read your guide and he thought it was a fine idea ”Joanna’s a great baker” I quote

  5. C

    What a brilliant guide to making bread and making it fit in with your life! Gorgeous, gorgeous bread too – I’ve never had oven spring and beautiful, even aeration like that! I’ll definitely have to bookmark this post or keep it safely on my computer. I have to confess that after months of religiously feeding my starter pretty much daily it has languished in the back of the fridge since September…..

    …just been to look at it – dark separated layer on the top, otherwise ok I think – no visible mould. I might pour off the liquid and give it another go at life, a little yogurt might not go amiss either I guess! Trouble is, I’m enjoying my version of Dan’s maslin soda bread so much I don’t want to eat anything else!

    1. Joanna Post author

      The hooch on the top of your starter is harmless and you can either stir it back in or pour it off. If it’s got to that stage then take literally a teaspoon’s worth, give it some reasonably fresh rye flour and a spoon of yoghurt probably wouldn’t go amiss and water. Leave for 12 – 18 hours, then take a spoon of that and so on…. until it looks right again. But if you are happy with the maslin soda bread, then I’d stick with that. It’s a very good bread that one :D

  6. Jeannette

    Thank you for writing this, Joanna, it is just what I need! Although I have been making sourdough bread for a couple of years I am in need of a bit of help at the moment as my starter has been languishing at the back of the fridge for over 4 weeks now, the longest time I have ever left it and I have been wondering how it will fare when I get to baking again,(if you remember I have just had a knee replacement so haven’t been doing much in the kitchen). I shall bookmark this as something to consult when I am ready to start again, hopefully not too far off as I am missing my lovely sourdough bread.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi Jeannette, lovely to hear from you ! Why not just give it a couple of feeds and see how it reacts? You don’t have to bake with it. One of the things I wanted to write about was that as starters get older they seem to behave more predictably than when they are young. I know you make beautiful bread when you are up and about. :) hope the knee settles down soon, it must be very frustrating not being able to do what you love doing. Sending you my best wishes for a speedy recovery xx Joanna

  7. caro

    Really good article Im printing it out and keeping it for reference – not a regular sourdough bread maker my starter starts and finishes at the back of the fridge have successfully brought it back to life several times but until i get the time am going to stick to soda bread thanks again and thanks for the lovely pictures from in and around Bristol – Im originally from that part of the country and your blog is like a post card from home for me thankyou

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi caro! thanks for stopping by to comment. Sounds like you know what you’re doing on the bread front. :) I’m really pleased you like my snaps from around the city. It’s changed quite a lot since I was first down here in the 70s, particularly round the Docks and the Waterfront.

  8. Melanie

    What a wonderful, informative post!! I am going to print this off too, to keep with my growing bread book collection. So when you put the 25g happy fed starter back into the fridge on Friday morning you give it water and flour and put it in the fridge right away?? I’d never heard of that before. I thought you were always supposed to let it sit at room temp after giving it food.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Maybe I should do a pdf version of this to make it easier for printing. I’ll try and do one tomorrow. [I’ve added a .pdf version in the post at the end of the first paragraph for you Mel]

      That’s a really good point Melanie! I’ve thought a bit about this and I have heard people doing it both ways. Some people say you should never put the starter in the fridge as some of the colony bacteria won’t thrive at cold temperatures and others will become dominant, some people leave the starter out till it starts to bubble properly before storing it. In an ideal world you would feed your starter 2 – 3 times a day, every day and keep it at room temperature, but I can’t maintain that sort of schedule.

      So what do I do? well, sometimes I leave it out for a bit, but other times I put it away straight away and to be honest I haven’t noticed a lot of difference. If you are a bit forgetful like me then it is safer to put it away, rather than leave it out for hours and then have to discard and feed all over again before storing it… Does that help? I am just sharing what I currently do, it may well change before too long again.

      1. Melanie

        Thank you, thank you for the PDF! I have already printed it so that I can carry it around and ponder it at my leisure.

  9. Yvette

    I would love to have the time to bake my own bread…at the moment ….crumbs! have a wonderful weekend a great read and informative post!

    1. Joanna Post author

      It can be hard to fit the bread making into a busy schedule I agree! Thanks for reading Yvette and have a wonderful weekend too ;)

  10. Mariana

    Gosh Joanna. Sounds like the ‘bread’ people have all their questions answered. I wish I was more interested in making bread, but the truth is, I’m just not. I’ve tried. Half the battle with anything is being interested in the first place. If that’s missing, then it really becomes a battle. So interesting isn’t it. I hear people all the time say how ‘easy’ it is to make bread. Yet, I am far more at home ‘caking’ or ‘jamming’. If you were closer we could open up a truly sensational bread and jam shop. Hehe. I can see the effort and knowledge that has gone into this post, so from a complete bread-making imbecile, I respectfully say ‘congratulations’ to you. Mariana

    1. Joanna Post author

      That’s very nice of you to read this Mariana, espcially if bread making isn’t your thing in the first place. I am not sure why I like it so much, except I think it’s magical and I wanted to be a magician when I was little like lots of kids. Cakes and me are getting better but I am still wary of their ability to blow up in my face.

      I wrote thiis as an update on where I had got to with my regular baking. This one plus white bread for toast for Brian are the two I make most frequently. It’s not that hard to write about what you do all the time. Breaking it down so it is manageable to read is hard though and even then it came out a bit long for a blog post.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thanks Gill. There are a lot of write ups in blogworld and of course many more in baking books. I haven’t written one before as it really is all out there to be read already. I was asked though by various people about this business of looking after starters, seems to cause confusion and worry, so that was the starting point for this post. Glad you liked it xx

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thanks Kari, we all do it differently and I change my routines too when I read other people’s posts and books, there’s always something new to learn, I love it :)

  11. Tony Inga (@TonyInga)

    Excellent post and your hints and tips are a great help to a novice baker such as myself.
    I follow a similar regime to yours using Mick’s Pain de Campagne recipe, the only differences being I do the stretch and fold over 4 hours the evening before baking and my my overnight prove is done in the garage as my starter isn’t butch enough for the fridge!

    Thank you for writing this, and yes I am going to look at WordPress this weekend!

    take care


    1. Joanna Post author

      Mick’s book and recipes are excellent, aren’t they? There’s a link to his site in my Bread Elsewhere Page (top of the blog). I think if I have a choice I prefer to do the first prove in the fridge and the second prove at room temperature. The bread has a milder flavour that way and my husband prefers it. Having said that my sister likes her sourdough sour! So I would do longer cooler proves for her.

  12. heidi

    Thanks for writing this, Joanna!
    I’m away from my sourdough at the moment, but this is going to be very helpful in getting the whole process started back up.
    Have you ever thought about writing “how to” pamphlets or on websites?
    You’d be better than most of those authors!

    1. Joanna Post author

      That’s really kind of you Heidi, you always say such sweet things. I hadn’t thought of writing for websites, but I suspect there are zillions of people doing them and if it was work, maybe it would stop being fun? My sourdough is languishing in the fridge, I must feed it tomorrow and practise what I write ;)

  13. cityhippyfarmgirl

    Joanna what a brilliant post. I love reading the little differences people do to make awesome loaves of bread. This post makes me want to run to the kitchen and go bake bread!
    …and the underwear analogy?… :-) love it.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thanks Brydie – I’m pleased you liked it – though I’ll probably do something completely different next time I bake, but the general principles are there I hope :)

  14. Maggie

    Wow – thank you so much for a very instructive and helpful reminder of how to make sourdough. I am in Oz at the moment visiting daughter who has just had baby – wonderful country – I love it! And my poor old sourdough starter is languishing at back of my fridge – Gill gave me some ages ago, and between her help, reading your blogs and Mick;s book – oooh not forgetting the wonderful Azalea – so kind – I have made some quite decent bread – eventually! But I was starting to fret about this starter …. and reading the post above makes me feel better! I shall be very upset if I lose it. I love reading your posts, and all the comments that such friendly people make – all very helpful. And I ‘love’ Zeb!!! Thank you. PS I do not usually post, never have anything interesting to say, but felt I had to say something in this one – sourdough has – had before we came here – taken over my baking!!

    1. Joanna Post author

      Congratulations on the grandchild Maggie. What an exciting time for you all. Even if your starter expires while you’re away it isn’t that hard to create a new one from scratch, I have heard of people reviving them after several months of neglect, so enjoy your trip and thanks for visiting the blog :)

  15. Pingback: Weekly Sourdough Bread « Zeb Bakes | bread | Scoop.it

  16. Ray K

    That looks a really helpful tutorial. I shall give it a go next weekend to compare with my own method. Thanks for sharing – really appreciated.

  17. Marianne

    I am so impressed with everything that you post – it is always a joy to read. I am starting out on my sourdough journey, and I greedily read anything I can – your post is so very very informative – thank you so much. But I I wonder if you would mind just clarifying a couple of things for me please? I apologise for appearying dense!! The amount of dough makes 2 loaves – would you bake the two loaves at the same time on different shelves? Would the loaves work as well baked in tins? And ….the ‘pot’ that you refer to, …Re the paragraph – FIRST REFRESH – is there some starter left in the pot after you have taken out the 50g…. so that when you put back 25g of ‘happy re-fed starter’. you are topping it up? Thank you very much.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi Marianne! Wow thanks for your lovely comment and welcome :)

      I’ll try and answer your questions. First of all can I say that I don’t always make my bread this way, this is a specific set of times etc to try and ‘hit’ a time to bake. This is of course what professional bakers always have to do in order to get their bread on the shelves at the right time. More often I mix the dough in the morning and it does both its proves during the day and I can check it as I go through the day and bake it about 7 hours or so after mixing.

      This makes two biggish round or oval loaves or however you shape it. I can squeeze them onto the stone, but it is tricky you are right, and quite often I bake one after the other, you can keep one cooler by putting it back in the fridge or a cool room. Sometimes a long shape called a batard is easier to fit more of on the shelf, but then you have to leave them to prove in a cloth, called a ‘couche’. Or you could divide the dough into three and make three smaller loaves, or you could simply half the quantities and make one loaf.

      I don’t think it works as well baked in a tin. I am not sure why that is, but try it and see if you like it. I think you don’t get the same crust and you end up with a closer textured loaf as the dough is more constrained than if it can ‘spring’ in all directions.

      On refreshing the starter: (I’ve edited the post above and altered the pdf to make it clearer)

      The key point is not to hang on to old starter, particularly if you are not baking on a daily basis. Always put back/ or keep your freshest and most active starter topped up with fresh water and flour. Don’t keep the old stuff, chuck it out. You can also do it this way:

      1st Refresh : Take out what you need to start building up for the dough as above.


      scrape out all but about 25 grams from the pot and feed the pot separately from that point. Leaving it overnight on your worktop, and then in the morning, throw away and refeed and put it back in the fridge that morning.

      I was just trying to save you having to throw out starter, as people don’t like doing that and I think it is one of the reasons why people don’t have success is that they hang on to it and use it in their bread when it is too old.

      The starter is, as I understand it, a mixture of wild yeast and lacto-bacteria. These are live organisms requiring food and water and heat to be really active. Very crudely and there is more to it than this : The yeasts produce gas, the CO2, which is what makes the bubbles in the dough, that is the by-product of all their activity, the lacto-bacteria produce acids as their by product which give sourdough that tangy flavour. The sourdough yeasts are tolerant of the acids, and can live in that environment which is why the whole thing works, but if it gets too acidic the yeasts are not so active. The acids also have an effect on the texture and structure of the dough.

      Hope this helps and doesn’t confuse more. In the Bread Elsewhere section at the top of the menu I have put links to some inexpensive resources that are all very useful. Best wishes, Joanna

  18. Anne

    aaaarggghhh: I only saw your post this monday evening ! Had I read it on Friday, I would have been able to follow the recipe for my week-end baking. The week will be long until next week-end… Also wondering if I should invest in a baking stone. Anne

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi Anne! I think you were a little bit busy elsewhere ! ;) Lots of time to play with different recipes and I imagine you are well equipped now with those too ! My kiln shelf came from Bath Potters in Radstock, Somerset, I don’t know what delivery charges would be, but the shelf was a reasonable price. I can email you a link to their site if you want to try one of those. I have seen some very expensive pieces of granite and I hear that they take ages to heat up. I don’t know how worth while it is, I like the kiln shelf because I can slide stuff straight on to it and I don’t get the dark bottom to the loaves that I get on a tray, but I don’t know if it makes that much difference to oven spring, I usually cook pitta, for example, on a Mermaid tray and it works fine, whoosh up they go!

      1. Anne

        Thanks for your comment on baking stone. I fear that if I start with the baking stone, I will then be looking at a peel then something else . Is it worse it for one loaf a week? I might live with the “dark bottoms” for now !! Have you also tested using your starter after one refresh rather than 2 ? I only keep 30-50 g starter in my fridge, take it off on friday evening, feed it with 100-90 ml water and 100 g flour. Next morning it has more than doubled in size, is really bubbly and makes a lovely hissing sound when you insert the spoon in it ( true ! ), I then put 30-50 g back in the fridge and keep 200g starter for one loaf, adapting any recipe I fancy doing for 200 g starter. That way, I never waste any !

        1. Joanna Post author

          I do two refreshes from habit and my starter is quite slow to get going sometimes. if your starter is always lively and raring to go then one refresh is fine. Lots of variations in how to go about this. the key thing is always refresh with a lot more new material than old. :)

  19. Marianne

    Thank you very much for the clear and concise explanation. You are a very kind person – you spend so much of your time explaining and clearly you have a lot of knowledge which you share with us on here. Lucky me for finding you!! And thank you to Anne – cos her question was the next question I was going to ask – re the kiln shelf. I have a pizza stone that i use (when I have been making my yeasted bread shaped into a boule) but it takes up a lot of room and you really can only get one loaf on, and now I know why the bottoms of these loaves get a ‘dark bottom’!!!

    1. Joanna Post author

      The shelf takes up space too! And you have to store it somewhere when you don’t want it in the oven. Also worth trying is the method where you bake in a closed pot and see how you get on with that, it gives you great oven spring, because all the steam gets trapped inside the pot, so the top stays soft for longer and can stretch more, I think the La Cloche from Bakery Bits works in a similar way.

      i wrote a post somewhere about baking in a pot. i think it’s the one called Grapplestein (about a starter I was gifted from Oregon).

  20. Maggie

    Gday Joanna – from a rather greyish – but warm Collaroy near beautiful Sydney. I have stopped worrying about starters launguishing at back of fridge, and am so enjoying being here in this wonderful country with daughter and lovely new grandson called Tate! However, now and again my mind slips back to bread ….. (they have a rather yummy bread here called Turkish – will have to find a recipe when i get home …) and so i then have a sneaky look at your blog! Just to say, reading the entry above re baking in a pot – Ages ago I found a recipe and method for something called a Hedgehog loaf …. and this great guy described how he uses a large Pyrex bowl to cover and bake the dough for the first 30 mins , then takes bowl off very carefully and continues for another 30 mins or so I think…. I know, it was called (hope I can say this on here) Mildred’s Hedgehog Loaf! It is a yeasted bread, not much, and made with a ‘sponge’ the night before. It is very very good. Thank you ‘Mildred’.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi Maggie – you sound like you are having a wonderfully happy time :) I wonder what is in your Turkish bread? We have a Turkish Bakery in Bristol where they make wonderful flat breads stuffed with vegetables or meat filling and baked on a huge round griddle. Hedgehog loaf sounds good, a pyrex bowl would work, just a bit awkward lifting a hot bowl off the bread in the oven for me, I would worry it would slip out of my hands, so I prefer a lid or a handle of some sort but the principle is exactly the same. You can get a ‘hedgehog’ look to a loaf by snipping the top with scissors in little cuts instead of slashing. It looks very sweet!

      1. Maggie

        Joanna, the Turkish bread looks like a ciabatta, but it is longer and wider, and a bit fatter and softer!!!! So really, not much like it, just the shape. I dare not look too closely at the ingredients… (if indeed they are on the packet ) but it tastes lovely. Lots of the cafes (never been to such a place which has so many lovely cafes) serve turkish toast, with vegi mite, peanut butter (yum) or jam. I wonder if any of your Australian friends might read this post, and they might know how to make it. So it is not filled with anything when you buy it, .. Maybe I will google it.

        Thank you for replying.

        My daughter here, likes sourdough bread, and they very often buy it – and so, we are going to make a starter together …. she might have to finish it, but it will be fun to do that. Then – if and when she has time she too will have a go! She tells me confidently that she makes bread – or used to – all the time – ‘in the breadmaker’!!!! But it is a start!

        thank you again.

        1. Joanna Post author

          If you pop over to Celia’s blog at Figjamandlimecordial or to Brydie’s blog at cityhippyfarmgirl, links on the links page, I am sure one of them will know. I don’t know if they will see your comment here. Turkish bread often has mahlab in it, the ground up kernel of a type of bitter cherry and is made with a little sugar and egg as well. I would look at the ingredients list and do some investigating :) Joanna

  21. emilysincerely

    Your sour dough looks wonderful. I have been planning on starting some sour dough starting the last week in Nov. I can’t wait. I can’t wait! Emily

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  25. Jo H

    Hi Joanna, I’ve found a renewed belief in my ability with sourdough since finding your weekly sourdough method. Thanks very much, I was starting to despair of ever achieving good results inspire of attending two excellent courses and having brilliant teachers. I could never replicate the results at home. Your method is helping hugely. However I have one question I’m still having trouble with judging when the loaf is cooked. I have a fan oven which I put on maximum 230degrees to heat up, I pop the loaf on the hot baking tray and pour in the water to create steam. I leave the loaf for 10 mins at top whack then turn it down to 210. After another approx 20 mins its very brown and looks ready to burn. I remove it then cos I can hear a hollow sound, but once it’s cool it’s quite heavy and appears underdone inside. Should I trust the cooking for longer? I see your instructions say 40 mins but I think I’ll end up with a burnt offering… Any advice? I find baking bread very Zen!

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi Jo

      My first thought is that if your max or top temp is 230 then the oven will always be working very hard to keep up to that temperature.

      All our ovens are different and the temps they give are often not ‘true’. Some people suggest checking the temps with a thermometer in there. If the bread is heavy and you feel it is underdone then it probably is. I just had a look at the post again and I see I haven’t given different temperatures for fan and conventional top bottom type heat – which is what I use – and maybe I should add something so thank you for pointing that out to me.

      I heat the oven up to a nominal 230 C. I use a top=bottom heating setting on my oven not a fan one to bake bread. In reality it probably is 220 at the most. I have a potter’s kiln shelf in the oven which heats up during this time. I bake the bread in the lower part of the oven using the second shelf from the bottom. I have a little tray on the shelf below in which I put the boiling water to hopefully create steam. Once the oven and the shelf are hot I put the dough in. The temperature will drop once the door is opened, so I leave it on whatever it says for about ten minutes. Then if the loaf has sprung, I turn it back to 220, which would be maybe the equivalent of 200 Fan? for ten minutes, so twenty minutes in all at this temperature. During this time the loaf top becomes quite brown. Then I usually turn it back by another 20 degrees to 200 again maybe 20 degrees lower, so for your oven maybe 180 ?

      Quite often I feel the bread is not quite done and I put it back in the oven for anything up to another ten minutes or so.Sometimes I leave the bread in the oven with the door open and the heat off for another ten minutes.

      A typical 750 g loaf will take 45 – 55 minutes to bake using this recipe. if you are making smaller loaves from the dough, say 500g then they need around 35 minutes. The crust will be quite dark, that is the style of the bread. I have to say I have never managed to burn a loaf of sourdough yet, though I have sometimes had a very thick crust that I wasn’t too keen on.

      To start with what size of loaf are you baking? If it is a 750 g or so dough weight then you definitely need to bake it for longer to my way of thinking. If you want a light coloured loaf then the way to achieve this is to start at a lower temperature and cook the bread for longer or try baking in a closed pot for the first part of the bake and then take the loaf out and finish it off on the tray.

      The hollow sound you are looking for is a really really hollow one, not a dull thud – hard to describe. Another way to test for doneness is to weigh the loaf quickly, it should lose approximately 10% of its weight. So a 750 g uncooked loaf should weigh around 680 – 700 g when baked. If in doubt as to its doneness just put it back in the oven and lower the heat. Many people use a thermometer to test the core temp of their loaves which should reach a temperature of at least 92 C – I just asked on Twitter and that is what the professionals advise :)

      When in doubt put it back for another five minutes or more. The mantra is most people overbake cakes and underbake bread. Hope this helps!

      1. Jo H

        Hi Joanna, yes that’s a huge help. My most recent loaves have been the large 750g type and I’m now sure that I’m guilty of underbaking. I will try your baking method as set out above and will invest in a thermometer too. If the combined brains of Twitter say 92 degrees then that is what I shall aim for. I’ve always been confused by the temperatures and fan ovens as I was told tha for most cooking you should put the item in as you turn on the oven. This works for cakes and all other stuff. If one pre-heats the oven then it burns. I am very grateful for your help and I’ll let you know how the next loaf goes, I’ve just started the starter and flour (thurs night feed) and will be baking this off on weds with my new confidence to leave it alone! Thanks again. Jo

        1. Joanna Post author

          I have heard good things about thermapen but a cheaoer one would be ok, mine is cheap! I still put my loaves back in for longer even if the temp inside is right. Try the oven off door open thing too x

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