Baking sourdough bread

The final product: a perfectly baked loaf of sourdough bread, sliced and ready to enjoy with a topping of your choice.

If you’ve followed my sourdough bread odyssey, you’ll be ready to bake your first loaf.

I’ve baked quite a few times since the last part of the recipe appeared – pre-soaking the flours, and making the leaven – and I’ve learned some lessons along the way.

First off, the dough is quite sloppy and difficult to work. You’re going to need a plastic dough scraper and some dry stoneground unbleached flour to help you manage the dough once it has fermented and is ready for proofing. I also reduced the amount of water I used by 50g, to make the dough slightly stiffer and easier to handle, so when you pre-soak the flours, use only 800g of water.

I also reduced the amount of salt from 25g to 20g, and I found it impossible to dissolve 20g of salt in 50g of hot water. Logically, the solution becomes saturated before the salt all dissolves.

Oiling the baking vessel is essential. I had to dig the first loaf I baked, out of the baking vessel, with a knife, and soak the vessel for a few hours in water to get it clean. The loaf was so damaged, I had to throw it away.

The starter can be stored in the fridge between bakings. all you need do is bring it up to room temperature and feed it the morning of the day you plan to start the pre-soaking and leavening process.

The ideal baking vessel, is a round or square Pyrex dish with lid. If you want to go to the expense of buying two, you can bake the loaves – the recipe makes two – together, else you’ll have to bake one after the other.

This final part of the process takes the better part of a day, but in short bursts of activity, so it is best done when you are at home doing something else, and can set an alarm to prompt you for each next step.

Do not try to short cut this process, or you will get a less than satisfactory loaf.

Ingredients, Selection and Preparation

the pre-soaked flours

the leaven

reserved bran

Canola oil: for oiling the proofing and baking vessels

20g salt

50g hot water

1 tsp dried yeast: optional in case your leaven is not sufficiently robust

2 tbsp warm (25ºC) water

Unbleached stoneground flour: for dusting work surfaces and handling dough


On the morning of the baking day, test your leaven by dropping about a tbsp into a jug of warm water. Give it a minute or two, and if it doesn’t float to the surface, you’ll need to add yeast to your leaven, but only do so once you’ve divided the leaven in two, and set aside half which will be your new starter, going forward.

Mix the yeast with the warm water in a small bowl, and add it to one half of the leaven. It will be quite sloppy, but do not be deterred.

Add the leaven to the pre-soaked flours and mix thoroughly. Set aside for 20 to 45 minutes.

Heat the 50g of water, and stir in the salt. Once it is cool enough, add the mixture to the dough and work in thoroughly.

Set the dough aside, covered with a kitchen towel to rest in a warm spot, for 45 to 60 minutes. Wet your dominant hand, dig down the side of the bowl, and pull the dough up and over. Rotate the bowl a quarter-turn, and repeat the process. Do this for two full rotations of the bowl.

The stretching folds air into the dough and strengthens the gluten. As this process progresses, the dough will become more billowy and cohesive, and will stick more to itself than your hand or the bowl.

Repeat this process for four to five hours, tasting and smelling the dough each time. If it smells overtly sour, move immediately to the next step.

Oil two medium sized mixing bowls with canola oil, all the way up to the rim. Drizzle in some of the reserved bran, to coat the oiled bowls well.

Flour a work surface well, and turn out the dough. If it feels to wet at this stage, work in about a handful of unbleached stoneground flour. Keep the work surface, your hands, and the dough scraper well floured.

Divide the dough into equal portions, pushing one ball aside.

Using your hands and the dough scraper, shape the one portion of dough into a neat round.

Grab the far side of the dough round, stretch it way from you, and then fold back over the top. Do this on all four sides. Repeat the process, but pulling the corners of the now square dough ball.

Shape the dough into a round, and gather it up, aided by the dough scraper, and drop it into the prepared mixing bowl. Sprinkle the top liberally with the reserved bran. Cover and set aside in a draught-free spot to proof for two to three hours. Repeat the process with the other dough portion.

Once the dough is two to two-and-a-half times it s original size, you are ready to bake.

Heat the oven to 240ºC, and put the baking vessel with lid into the oven to heat for about five minutes.

Remove from the oven and paint the inside of the vessel with canola oil, all the way up to the rim.

Carefully tip one of the proofed dough balls into the bowl, and if necessary, smooth the surface with a wet spatula.

Sprinkle the top liberally with some of the reserved bran. Cover the vessel with the lid.

If you’re baking both loaves at the same time, repeat this process with the second bowl of proofed dough.

Place the baking vessels in mid-oven and bake for 20 minutes. Keeping the vessel covered retains the moisture in the dough, and allows it to rise before the crust hardens. Remove the lid, and drop the oven temperature to 230ºC. Bake for a further 25 minutes.

Check that the loaves are baked though by pushing a long, slim-bladed knife all the way to the bottom of the loaf. If, when you withdraw it, there is sticky dough on the blade, bake for a further five minutes, then check again.

By now, the loaf will be a deep mahogany in colour.Remove from the oven and turn out onto a cooling rack. Pick up the loaf and rap it smartly on the bottom. If it emits a hollow percussive sound, it is baked through.If not, return it to the oven and bake for a further five minutes before checking again.

As tempting as it is to try the warm bread, leave the loaves to cool overnight, each wrapped in a kitchen towel. This bread is best from day two onwards.

It keeps best stored in a brown paper bag, on the counter top.

It freezes well, so do freeze a loaf if you’re unlikely to finish what you have baked, in a week.

It also toasts beautifully, but tends to need longer than shop-bought white bread.

Preparation time: 9 hours

Baking time: 45 – 90 minutes

Yield: two loaves