Sourdough and Forgetfulness

Forgetful Sourdough Zeb Bakes

One of the best things about sourdough baking is that once you have persevered and got going with it, you can return to it and like riding the proverbial bicycle just get a starter going and well, make a loaf when you feel like it.

I found myself making up a couple of lots of starter to send in the post and was left with various bits of starter in various stages. I had one semi dried bowlful, another a bit past its best squidgy one and I looked at them and thought, chuck or bake, chuck or bake? So I baked.

I started late afternoon (not the best of times to think about making bread) and then around 7 pm when the dough was ready to shape, arrived at another decision point. Chill or shape, chill or shape?


So I shaped, then I tucked the banneton in the oven with the light on and ate supper. And then I fell asleep. I woke up and was just about to crawl off to bed at around midnight and I remembered the dough. I thought, oh it will have just collapsed, oh no, but in fact it was puffy and bubbly and so I heated up the oven and sleepily slashed it and chucked it in. Went back to the sofa, watched forty minutes of TV, read about yeast water on the Fresh Loaf, took the loaf out, left it and here it is this morning.

The point of this is to say that sourdough in a cool climate can work to the advantage of the scatty brained and forgetful. It will wait for you for a surprisingly long time, where a yeasted dough would just collapse in a hiss and a froth of frustration.  So if you are starting out on your sourdough experiments, it really does get easier as you practise, trust me! If you can find someone to show you how to shape and give you all their little tips, the things they do without thinking then that is invaluable, but you can pick up loads just from reading and thinking about it. We all get there in the end.

Have a look at Celia’s brand new tutorial if you want to see how it is done superbly in the hotter climate of Sydney, Australia. Or if you want to read a bit more about how I go about it when I am concentrating, ahem, have a look at this post Weekly Sourdough Bread.


Forgetful Person’s Sourdough

  • 150 g of starter
  • 320 g water to start with, maybe add more once you have mixed
  • 500 g bread flour
  • 10 g salt
  1. Mix all but the salt, if the dough is very tight then add water 20 g at a time and mix in till you have a dough you feel comfortable with.
  2. Leave for half an hour, tip dough out of bowl, sprinkle salt on and work into dough.
  3. Shape into ball and
  4. Put in lightly oiled bowl
  5. Leave somewhere sensible, in winter near a radiator or in an oven with the light on until the dough shows that it has started to grow, and you can see bubbles under the skin.
  6. Then either put in fridge till the next day
  7. or shape into a ball, this time using flour to shape
  8. and put seamside down in a well floured basket
  9. cover with a shower cap or a teatowel or cling film
  10. put somewhere warm
  11. try and remember it before you go to bed
  12. put the oven on for 20 minutes or so before you bake, nice and hot 220C at least,
  13. put a little tray in the bottom of the oven on a lower shelf
  14. tip dough out of basket, dust with flour if needed, slash the top with a sharp knife
  15. slide dough into oven onto tray or baking stone
  16. Boil kettle and put boiling water into hot little tray below
  17. Bake for 10 – 20 minutes  till bread is browning and is fully risen, and open door, let out steam for a few seconds
  18. Reduce heat to 200C and bake for another 20 – 30 minutes depending on the size of your loaf
  19. Leave on wire rack to cool
  20. Go to bed – 0100 knowing there will be fresh bread in the morning

45 thoughts on “Sourdough and Forgetfulness

  1. josordoni

    that is one stunningly beautiful loaf Joanna. I really have given up on SD for the moment, but I expect I will go back and give it another try My starter is dormant in the fridge …..

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thanks, I was pleased with how it came out as I propped my eyelids open with matchsticks. I don’t know why sourdough baking happens at midnight, it just seems to :)

    1. Joanna Post author

      Micro bread is the answer or chopping it in half (see photos) and freezing it, or giving it away :)

  2. Rebecca (@beccasbonbons)

    ‘sourdough in a cool climate can work to the advantage of the scatty brained and forgetful’ – hurray!
    I can’t wait to start baking now :)
    Brilliant, informative post, as ever, and what a fab looking loaf!
    Thanks Zeb Bakes.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thank you – I hope it all starts to work for you – I am not sure how informative this was – I didn’t write about shaping and slashing and all that sort of thing, but maybe I can show you some of that soon. It was more of a bread confessional about how, what’s the word I’m looking for, off hand I have become, partly because I am not baking to a schedule, which is a different thing altogether and partly because I am seriously, horribly forgetful :)

  3. gillthepainter

    Too right Joanna. It can wrap itself round your daily life rather well if you know some of the basic tricks and are comfortable just leaving it be, without inflated expectations.

    Park it in the fridge, pose it next to candle light and it does just what you want it to, without a fight.

    Lovely midnight baking as usual.

    1. Joanna Post author

      That’s almost a poem Gill, a baking haiku – posing the dough next to candle light – what a lovely image :)

  4. Jan

    Joanna, I’m just about to go to bed and I have a bowl of brand new sourdough starter in my kitchen to which I have just given a third feed and whisk! I have a sourdough starter, in my kitchen!! She has been christened Princess Patsy because she is the offspring of a Queen – she has some bubbles and it’s absolutely fabulous darling. I feel as if I should sit here and keep her company:)

    1. Joanna Post author

      Oh ho! How exciting!!! Strangely enough I have a young starter pinned to the fridge called Sydney ben Celia – he will be springing kangaroo like into action later in the week :)

  5. ninopane

    Thanks Joanna
    a timely reminder that SD is a lot more flexible and forgiving. I have to admit I am not baking SD any where nearly as often as I would like. Part of this in done to being a pedant in the kitchen and also that I struggle to really get my head round timings so I end up going don the yeast route!

    1. Joanna Post author

      I tried pedantry and a small corner of my mind is still a bit pedantic and mutters dark things to me, like ‘you really have left that too long, you should start again’ but the pragmatic side which has the upper hand these days, says, ‘you are not going to have a career as a world famous baker, and the bread tastes good, so what are you fussing about with Joanna, just make it’.

      Having said that can I help with timings? The key thing is to know how warm your kitchen is, and the temperature of your dough. If you know that you can adapt your timings to suit, or create a temperature that works. Most recipe books tend not to say, these timings are for an ambient temperature of 22 or 24 C but I wish they did and explained how the timings will change accordingly.

  6. heidiannie

    I’m thinking of some sourdough rye. Of course – I’m always thinking of some sort of rye bread- but I’m going to make some today, I think. Thanks for the extra reminder of how much I really like sourdough. Your loaf is beautiful as usual!

  7. Cas

    That looks a great loaf, I am not being as successful through winter as I was in summer but maybe the idea of using the oven for proving will save the day (or the dough)

    1. Joanna Post author

      There are various things to try, one is to make sure you use a warm bowl, warm water and even warm flour to make the dough so that it gets off to a good start, not hot just not chilled. If you have a large plastic box you can upend it over your dough bowl and put a bowl of hot water under there as well to raise the temperature, or stand it on a rack over a heat pad if you have one. Or pop in oven with the door slightly ajar so the light comes on (if you have that sort of oven) that will make it warm enough to make a difference. If the starter itself is sluggish, try taking a spoonful, and feeding it with 50 g water/50 g flour and a spoon of fresh natural yoghurt. Then keep it out of the fridge and repeat, discard (or use in pancakes) all bar a spoonful and refeed. After a couple of goes of that, it should get much more active again.

    1. Joanna Post author

      I am just in confessional mode about what a sloppy baker I have become and I still get away with it, the good thing is that I hope I can carry on making bread like this for years :) Sydney ben Celia is earmarked for later in the week xx

      1. Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial

        But that’s the best thing about sourdough, I think. We barely fuss over it, and make decent bread nonetheless. When my friend Ali was baking her first loaf the other day, she said, “I couldn’t believe I only had to knead for a minute!”. :)

        It’s very early here, and you got my hopes up for a second – I thought you were coming to Sydney! Ah well, that’s the next best thing, I guess, a bit of Sydney gone to you.. xx

  8. frugalfeeding

    CANT WAIT, CANT WAIT! Hasn’t come yet, hopefully it’s ok by Monday morning! I’ll be following both your’s and Celia’s blog VERY closely!

  9. drfugawe

    Here in my house in Oregon, Grapplestein is quite used to ‘mating’ with his starter friends (when I don’t have enough of one to do the bread of my choice) – isn’t it amazing how he can be in Oregon and in the UK at the same time! Perhaps this is the very definition of a promiscuous sourdough starter.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Well he may be about to meet Sydney daughter of Priscilla, Celia’s starter…but I am going to let her come back to life first…. (I am match making here)

  10. Ann

    What a lovely loaf! I hate to think what would happen if I went off and forgot the dough in our heat! I have one recipe which leaves the dough in the banneton in the fridge overnight and bakes from cold in the morning which I find very useful. George is out on the counter for a feed and being very frisky (in spite of having been languishing in the fridge for quite a while) – must be all this chat about starters mating!!
    I’d be interested to hear if you ever do anything about using yeast water. I started reading up about it once and put it in the too hard basket.

    1. Joanna Post author

      I imagine in hot climates it is harder to control Ann. Hamelman refers to people salting the starters to reduce activity. I find that if it is too warm, even in the oven, with just thr light on, the dough starts to dry a little on the bottom of the banneton. I notice this when I come to slash the dough. Waves to George! Glad to hear he is well and happy :)

  11. lovinghomemade

    That looks great. I tried with sourdough but I am too forgetful (and lazy) to manage to look after the starter properly! There is a great crockpot method for bread that means you don’t need to worry about timings which is brilliant – you can find it on my blog if you’re interested. Happy baking!

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thanks! The good thing is that you can always try agsin if the mood takes you. It is quite easy to either get a little stsrter from someone who bakes or make your own from scratch. I agree that however one bakes it has to be a method thst one is comforteble with. i bake in a pot sometimes but find it more awkward. Going to pop to your blog :)

  12. cityhippyfarmgirl

    That’s the wonderful thing about sourdough, is that it’s is such a flexible beast. I autolysed for 2.5 hours yesterday- (oops), yep no worries. salt thrown in and she’s off. A warmer sydney summer does make it quick and easy to get things going, but winter time is ok as well, just done a little differently.

    1. Joanna Post author

      What sort of temps do you have indoors Brydie? Or do you mainly have air con in your homes. I have no idea really how your climate compares to mine. It never gets as cold as here, does it?

      1. cityhippyfarmgirl

        Nowhere near as cold. 22C at the moment outside, a top of 26C expected and humidity- geez it feels about 100% today as it was raining this morning. Inside my kitchen I’m not sure what it would be, something similar, early 20’s? No air con for us :-) The middle of winter could still see a day reach 20C in Sydney, where I am anyway (closer to the water) is fairly mild. It makes for easy living, but I actually enjoy big coats and scarves and very rarely get the chance to use them properly.

        1. Joanna Post author

          You will have to come and visit Europe soon and then you can swathe yourself in coats and scarves and knitted silk underwear :) Sounds like great temperatures for sourdough in Sydney !

    1. Joanna Post author

      That’s very sweet of you. I have become very lazy about photos too since I was given an iphone at Christmas and just snap away, more confessions…

  13. Jeremy Cherfas

    You’re a lot more dedicated than me. I would have taken the banneton out of the oven, stuck it in the fridge, and assured it I would be back in the morning. good-looking loaf though.

    1. Joanna Post author

      I quite like waiting for the bread late at night, dog snoring away in his basket, while I read three day old newspapers, but logically you are right… however always a risk I would then forget it till the following night if I put it in the fridge.. has been known to happen !

  14. Claire @ Claire K Creations

    Oh wow it looks great! I think I’ll bake my next loaf a little longer. Good thing you remembered before you went to bed!

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi Claire and thanks for visiting me! Lovely to meet Celia’s mates via their blogs, I was drooling over your chocolate mud cake last night before I went to bed ….

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