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- Get me to schedule a call on zoom / facetime for a bread class (email me)
- Before our first call, please take the time to review Our Bread Library below!
Our Bread Library has 3 parts:
Starting Your Sourdough Starter is where you can find my Quick Guide to starting a starter culture and answers to your starter questions.
Your First Loaf is a Quick Guide that will take you from Starter to Leaven to Loaf!
RESOURCES is where you’ll find the blogs, websites and books I wish I had when I was starting out!
Starting Your Sourdough Starter
This section is a living document and needs your feedback! Please write to me here
Before you begin, please review this guide to food safety in one of my favourite sourdough baking blogs.
Here is my Quick Guide to starting your sourdough starter.
– Just mix equal parts water and flour, this is your 50/50 flour water mixture. Cover and keep at room temperature. Thats it!
Do I need to be exact? How much am I using here?
This doesn’t have to be an exact science at this point. If you have a weighing scale, I’d suggest you start with 300gm flour and 300gm water. But far easier to just use one coffee mug of flour and enough water for a porridge like consistency.
What kinds of flour to use?
ANY wheat or rye flour – whole grain or refined, all purpose or bread flour…anything! Bread in mind that whole grain flours will contain more wild yeast than refined or plain or all purpose flours and so whole flours make more active starter cultures.
What kind of container to use and how to cover it?
Glass / plastic / ceramic are best, steel is safe too but not copper / aluminium (sourdough starter is mildly acidic). Cover with a cloth or a non-airtight lid.
Where to place it?
ANYWHERE thats around room temperature – not too hot and not too cold! Dark or light makes no difference. Remember this is a live culture, so the warmer the place is the more activity you’ll get and vice versa.
End of Quick Guide
Answers to your starter questions:
“My starter (whom I’ve named Bubloo) has a layer of liquid floating on top. Is Bubloo going to be ok?” Yup! That’s just a sign of very active fermentation. It’s a sign that Bubloo finished all the fod you gave him and wants more! In that sense, it’s a good thing so don’t worry. Yes, I know it smells ‘not so nice’ and ideally we try to avoid getting to this stage, ie, we try and “feed” Bubloo before they get to the liquid layer stage. For now, all you have to do is “feed” Bubloo (I’ve explained Feeding below
“I’ve named mine Lord Bubblesworth The Third, and his lordship has yet to show any bubbles. Shall I ring St John Ambulance?
If it’s been less than 48 hours since you first created Lord Bubblesworth The Third, then wait. Remember that bubbles and the liquid layer we spoke about before are both signs of active fermentation. The bubbles will come first and then after some time (depending on how active your starter’s culture is) the liquid will form.
If it has been 48 hours, then it’s time to feed him…
I call mine Fred Farter the Bread Starter. How do I feed Fred?
I’m so glad you asked!!
Feeding your starter : Once its been 48 hours, OR your starter has doubled in volume OR you start to see liquid forming on top (whichever comes first) it’s time to Feed Fred!
Step one : Remove about half of Fred and discard (or add to your compost)
Step two : Replace what you removed with fresh mixture of 50/50 flour & water.
Feeding is the process by which we introduce fresh food into our culture so as to encourage our yeast and ‘good’ bacteria (the friendlies) to keep growing and multiplying. It is also the process of eliminating or discouraging undesirable microbes. We discourage by feeding our friendly microbes well so that they are always the dominant strain in the culture.
We also discourage by not allowing that layer of liquid to form on top because that prevents oxygen from reaching our friendly microbes inside.
If you have a very active starter that is forming the liquid layer too fast then you must “Retard” your starter to regulate its progress.
Slowing down an overactive starter can be done in a few ways such as :
1. Placing it in the fridge to slow down yeast activity or 2. Replacing whole wheat flour (more wild yeast) with refined / All Purpose flour (less wild yeast) or 3. When doing the Feeding, instead of discarding half, discard all but a tablespoon or so of the old starter and add that to a fresh container with a fresh 50/50 flour water mix.
Remember : If you see lots of bubbles, it’s a good sign of active fermentation.
“What should my starter, whose name is Clint Yeastwood, smell and taste like?”
it is Normal for Clint to smell quite a bit…”Off” those first few days when you are establishing his culture.
Once he has settled into a predictable pattern of rising and falling he should smell and taste as follows :
When he has just been fed : Should be a hint of sour, nothing unpleasant, and the smell and taste of the flour you just used is dominant.
When he is at the peak of fermentation (the highest point reached in the container / jar) he should smell ‘yeasty’, fruity and somewhat ‘sour-milk like’. Should taste definitely sour / acidic.
When Clint Yeastwood has fallen after rising / just before feeding: As above except the aromas get more pungent and the sourness increases markedly.
Your First Loaf : Gautam’s Quick Guide to go from Starter to Loaf!
1. Make a Leaven 24 hours before you begin : Starter comes out of fridge, (same steps for if your starter, whose name is Herculyeast, was on the counter top), remove half into another bowl and now Feed both halves. Put one back in the fridge / counter top and keep the other any place you like (see Where to place it? above). The half you keep outside the fridge we’ll call the “Leaven”. Take note of how long this leaven takes to grow to maximum height and then how long it takes to fall back to original level.
2. 12 hours before you begin: Feed the leaven once again. (Remember, a feeding is: Removing half, then replacing that with fresh 50/50 flour water mix) For best results (most instagram likes), you want to use around maximum height (Maximum fermentation activity). Do a float test.
3. Autolyse : Meanwhile, in another container, take the amount of flour you have decided to use (for eg 500gm etc) and mix it (no dry bits remain) with the amount of water you intend to use*. This is the autolyse.
*For eg I would advise 70% Hydration, so 70% of 500 = 350gm of water.
4. When it’s (FINALLY!) time to begin, take the autolysed dough (try not to autolyse for more than a few hours), and add in the salt (2% of the flour weight) and Leaven (usually 20% of flour weight) and use your hands or a strong spatula to make sure all ingredients are well incorporated.
5. Once this is done, its time to go into the Stretch and Fold and then Bulk rise. Budget about 12 hours for what’s called the bulk rise. and then budget about one hour of work where you prepare the proofing baskets and finally anywhere from 6 to 12 hours for the final proof.
6. Stretch! and Fold 🙂 Yup it’s a yoga class for your dough. Once you have completed step 4, wait 30 mins and then do a stretch and fold every 20-30 mins to help develop gluten. If you are in a hurry do a S&F every 20 mins (That will make it 3 in the first hour) and then you can cover and walk away to go do that important thing.
If you have time, do an S&F every 30 mins for 2 hours.
What’s the most important thing to understand about the S&F stage? Be gentle! With each passing minute and with each S&F your dough is magically waking up and turning into a living breathing thing. You will feel it becoming lighter and more spongy with each S&F. So be gentle with it as time progresses.
7. After the S&F it’s time for the bulk rise. Once again, how long you allow for the bulk rise will depend on temperature, how active your starter is, what kind of flour you are using etc. The reason we bulk rise is to develop flavour and allow the flour to fully absorb moisture ie, to fully hydrate.
8. Once the Bulk is nearly done, its time to prepare your basket(s) : place a clean kitchen towel or baking linen if you have one into a suitably sized and shaped bowl. If you have a proofing (or proving) basket or banneton from Assam, even better! Dust the cloth liberally with wheat or rice flour so that the dough will not stick too much to the cloth and basket.
9. Time to divide and shape! Gently pour out or scrape out your dough onto a working surface. Working gently, divide the dough if you are making more than one loaf and shape each part one by one. Shaping is another one of those ‘game within a game’ things in baking. It’s part art, part science and LOTS of fun. Remember : shaping dough is all about giving your final loaf good structure.
Sorry to state the obvious but the more you study it and practice it the better you’ll get.
10. Proofing / Proving : Once the dough is nesting in it’s basket, you can do the clean up and get things ready for baking. You’ll need your dutch oven / cast iron pot if using, a baking pan at the bottom of the oven if you’re using that for steam, you’ll need a blade or Lame for scoring and you’ll need some dusting flour at the ready. Don’t forget the oven mitts!
11. Calling proof gets easier each time you bake. I like the fingertip test as a way to check proof.
12. Make sure you have the hottest oven you can get before you start baking lean doughs (flour water salt and not much else). For enriched doughs (containing eggs / sugar / butter / milk etc) follow the temperature given in the recipe.
13. If I had a paisa for each time I forgot to score the loaf I’d have about enough to buy a bag of Fatafat from the KV Jorhat school tuck shop in 1993. Don’t forget to score 🙂
14. The ‘Oven Game’ is all about:
– Going as slowly and methodically as you can
– Getting the oven temperature right,
– Giving your loaf as much steam as you can manage without dropping the oven temp (either using the oven pan or cast iron pot techniques) and finally,
– Controlling the browning of the crust.
You worked so hard to bring out all the natural sugars by carefully controlling the fermentation process in your dough, so make sure you show off all that hard work by baking out your loaves properly. You’re looking for nice deep red and brown tones.
15. Cooling your loaf is important. It allows the gelatinised starch structure to set correctly. Ideally you want to cut into your loaf only once the internal temp is 40 degC or below – just slightly warm to the touch.
Budget about 2 to 3 hours for the baking process including clean up, cool down and of course..Eating!!
So you can see depending on how long the final proof is, the whole process can be between 24 and 48 hours or so. Well you know what they say, Good things come to those who bake!
Measurements and Temperature Guide :
I’ve lifted these super useful tables from Doves farm. They will go out with each email in this permanent section so you can always find them for quick reference.
Convert Oven Temperatures Between Celcius, Fahrenheit and Gas Marks
Convert Imperial (pounds and ounces) to Metric (kilos and grams)
Compare Different Flour Naming Conventions
Typical Oven Temperatures:
‘Lean’ (recipe has flour, water, salt) breads like Sourdough, Baguette etc : 230-250 degC
‘Rich’ / ‘Enriched’ (recipe includes butter, milk, eggs etc) bread like Brioche, milk buns etc : 170-200 degC
The larger the loaf the greater the baking time (up to a limit) and vice versa.
Internal Temperature : (use a baking / cooking thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the loaf)
60 degC You want to exceed this temp for food safety reasons
95 degC You want to meet or exceed this temp to make sure your bread is fully ‘cooked’
50 degC You want to make sure the bread is below 50 before you cut into it. This allows the bread’s crumb structure (it’s internal structure) to set.
If you’d like to nerd out on something called Desired Dough Temperature check this out. It only really applies to a large scale operation where uniformity and precision are key, but it’s interesting none the less.
For more on bread cooling, the good folks at Bakerpedia have you covered
Always preheat your oven for at least 30 mins. If you’ve taken my advice (or, you know, fallen victim to my brainwashing) and placed a granite baking stone at the base of your oven then you will need to preheat for 45 mins to an hour to make sure the oven and stone are nicely heat saturated.
Here are some of my go-to websites and books for sourdough and bread baking!
King Arthur Flour : I mean their website is an absolute gold mine for all things bread. They even have a collection of zoom backgrounds for bakers, an excellent blog (including this post on how not to be a bread hostage, and they even have a hotline you can call for any bread related emergencies!
“Bread-one-one state your emergency”
“Um, I uh… I over proofed my dough…”
There are lots of sourdough blogs out there but I really like TrueSourdough by some legend called Aysha Tai. A great resource for all things SD.
I started baking seriously only after a friend saw me messing up my baking, took pity on me and gifted me Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice.
The book that I’d recommend for sourdough fans has got to be Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson. My copy is extra special because it was signed and gifted to me by Sharmin 🙂 If you know me, you know I’m a big fan of Tartine and I’ve flown back a LOT of Chad’s god-level bread over the years from his bakeries in SF.
I’m a lucky man because Saher recently gifted me the Modernist Bread book set. That thing is a beast! MB also has a cool blog with some great resources.