Sourdough loaf

Sourdough loaf

How to Cook Bread
1 large round loaf
Peter Cassidy

If you have a baking stone, put it on the oven shelf when you heat the oven and use it in place of the floured baking sheet. Be careful when you remove it and invert the dough onto it, as it will be very hot.


Quantity Ingredient
100g Wild yeast sourdough starter, out of the fridge for 2 days
375ml tepid water
500g strong white flour, plus extra to dust
12g salt
oil, to grease


  1. Put the starter into a large bowl and mix in 350ml of the water. Whisk thoroughly with a balloon whisk. Add the flour all at once, then mix it quickly together to form a fairly scrappy and softish dough; a plastic dough scraper is particularly useful for this. Add a little extra water if necessary. At this stage, it does not matter too much how smooth the dough is, just make sure there are no dry patches of flour. Leave the dough to rest for about 30 minutes. This helps the flour to absorb all the liquid and will make kneading easier.
  2. Mix the salt with the remaining 25ml water and add this to the dough. Mix it in by bringing the sides of the dough into the middle. Keep turning the bowl, folding the sides of the dough into the middle each time, until it is mixed; this will take about 30 seconds. Leave the dough to rest again for 10 minutes.
  3. Fold the dough in the bowl again. If you find that the dough is sticking to your hand, dampen your hand a little. Leave to rest for another 10 minutes.
  4. Repeat the folding and resting cycle about 8 times in total. It might seem like a lot of work, but each fold only takes about 30 seconds, if not less, so the actual contact time with the dough is minimal. After the final folds, the dough should be noticeably smoother and elastic.
  5. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with lightly oiled cling film and leave to rise until doubled in size, either about 2 hours at room temperature, or overnight in the fridge.
  6. Very lightly flour the work surface. Using a dough scraper or your hands, turn the dough out onto the flour, trying not to knock too many air bubbles out as the texture and crumb structure of sourdough is usually more open and airy than normal bread.
  7. Gently shape the dough into a rough rectangle. Fold the top of the dough down to the middle, and the bottom over it, a little like a business letter. Then fold the left side in, and the right side over it. Flip the loaf over, so that all the folds are underneath, lightly cover with oiled cling film and leave to rest for about 20 minutes. Then turn the dough smooth side down again onto a lightly floured surface and repeat the folding process once again. Flip again so the folds are underneath.
  8. Generously flour a proving basket, or a deep bowl lined with a clean tea towel. Put the dough in, smooth side down, cover with oiled cling film and leave to prove until doubled in size and a finger inserted in a corner leaves an indentation. Sourdoughs often take a long time to prove, as natural yeasts are not as powerful as commercially produced yeast, and it is often very tempting to get the dough into the oven before it is sufficiently proved. It may take up to 4 hours at room temperature, or overnight in the fridge. Feel the top of the dough with the flat of your hand; it should feel spongy and airy.
  9. At least 30 minutes before you bake your loaf, heat the oven to 225°C. Position the oven shelf towards the top third of the oven, bearing in mind that the bread will rise and it will stick to the roof of the oven if too high up. Place a roasting tin in the bottom of the oven and lightly flour a baking sheet.
  10. When the dough is ready to bake, pour 500ml boiling water into the roasting tin in the oven. Very carefully remove the cling film and invert the dough onto the baking sheet. Immediately, using a very sharp knife, score a pattern on the top of the bread. This encourages it to rise evenly, and also creates some really good crunchy crust.
  11. Open the oven door carefully, protecting your hands and forearms from the steam. Slide the baking sheet onto the positioned shelf, close the door and bake for 25–30 minutes. After 15 minutes, turn the bread around so that it colours evenly. When cooked it will be risen, deep brown and, if you tap it on the base, it should sound hollow. It will feel heavier than a normal bread; this is fine. If it needs a little more baking, turn the oven down to 180°C until cooked.
  12. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

A note on resting dough…

  • By allowing the just-mixed dough to rest as described in step 1, it will have already absorbed the liquid and even started developing a bit of gluten by the time you come to knead, so the kneading process will be much quicker and easier.

A note on folding and turning…

  • Folding and turning the dough gently rather than kneading helps to build and strengthen gluten gently, bringing the gluten strands into alignment. In addition, it gets rid of any excess carbon dioxide, which would otherwise inhibit the less vigorous wild yeast. When making sourdough, the yeast moves more slowly, so it makes sense to allow the bread to take its time. With a bread raised with commercial yeast, the yeast moves so quickly that it would have fully risen by the end of the folding and turning process.

A note on adding salt later…

  • While salt is essential to both the taste and structure of bread, it can be useful to omit it while the less powerful wild yeast starts to work. Salt inhibits the growth of the yeast as well as the ability of the flour to absorb liquid, and some time without it at the beginning of the process speeds up the mixing and kneading. You will find that the dough, without salt, is much smoother and much easier to deal with.
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