Making the perfect sourdough

If you love the deliciously sour twang that sourdough brings to brunch, then why not try and make this bread yourself?


Making bread is very easy, especially if you have a bread maker. Making a speciality bread like sourdough is simple, it just needs a bit of time.

It can seem a bit daunting especially when the recipe calls for a starter and levain. It all starts to feel a bit too complicated and a trip to the artisan bakery seems all too easy. But stop! It is easy, you just need to be patient and like with all good recipes, you need to follow it step-by-step.

What is a starter, Levain, Poolish?

These are all names for the same thing. It is a way of defining a pre-fermentation process that is needed for sourdough.

Let’s call it a starter.

A starter is just flour and water mixed together in a clean jar and left to naturally ferment. You need to make sure your water is free of chlorine. Small amounts of chlorine can be found in drinking water. Fill a jug with water and leave uncovered on the side overnight. This allows the chlorine is dissipated. You can use filtered water (if filtered with a carbon filter) or distilled water.

So here is where methods differ. Some call for dark rye, others dark rye and plain flour and then Paul Hollywood calls for strong white bread flour and an apple.

Even though the addition of the apple seems a little odd, Paul Hollywood’s starter recipe is the easiest to follow and you can find it here.

What is a sponge?

Again, another process with many names. This part is sometimes called a sponge or sometimes (in the US mainly) called a Levain.

Here you take some of the starter and you mix strong white bread into it. You often need to do this the night before as you need to cover with clingflim and leave to ferment into a thick, sticky, bubbling dough.

How to make sourdough

Once your sponge is fermented add in our other ingredients. A nice recipe for sourdough is from Hugh Fearnley – Whittingstall in the Guardian. It is the simplest and without too much maths and temperature taking.

A sourdough should be quite wet. It likes to rise slowly in a cool environment. Don’t try to rush it. Hugh suggests kneading in the morning and leaving all day whilst at work or out, or in the evening and leaving it overnight.

Knock it out and get it ready for the second prove. Shape it into a nice neat round loaf. If you have a proving basket flour it liberally and place the dough in there. If not place a cloth covered in flour in a shallow dish. Cover the dough with oiled clingflim and leave to rise in a warm place until double in size. Now it is ready to bake.

Preheat the oven to the highest temperature and have a clean spray bottle of water ready. You need to create a steamy environment in your oven. Alternatively place a roasting tray of boiling water in the bottom of the over just before you pop your loaf in.

Heat a baking tray in the oven for around 5 minutes. Remove, sprinkle with flour and tip the loaf onto it. You can slash the loaf and give it a pattern. After 15 minutes in the over lower the temperature to 200c and bake for another 30 minutes until it is nicely browned and sounds hollow when you tap it.

After all that waiting you need to wait another 20 minutes to let it cool before you can slice it warm. Perfect smothered in lots of butter.

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