This recipe is designed for people who are new to sourdough, and need the satisfaction of a good result. Whilst I’d hesitate to call any sourdough recipe foolproof, this method does give consistent and repeatable results. If you want to bake sourdough in the morning, you should start the previous afternoon.
Ideally, start following this recipe in the early afternoon.
In a small mixing bowl, dissolve the starter in the water.
Add the flour and mix together well, leaving no dry patches.
Cover the bowl tightly with cling film, and leave to rise.
The sponge will be ready when it is full of bubbles, and the surface looks rippled and bumpy.
Depending on the health of your starter and the ambient temperature, this could take 3-8 hours.
Placing the sponge somewhere warm helps - I put mine on the counter that sits above my dishwasher.
When the sponge is ready, add it to the bowl of your stand mixer along with the water. Whisk together to dissolve the starter completely
Add the flour, and mix again until there are no dry patches. Cover the bowl and leave for 1 hour.
Letting the dough rest without salt is called an autolyse. This has many benefits, including allowing the flour to fully hydrate, the gluten to develop and become extensible, and break down the starch so the yeast can feed more easily.
Uncover the autolyse and sprinkle the salt on top, then measure out a tablespoon of water and and sprinkle it over the salt - the water is important to help the salt incorporate.
Attach the bowl of dough to your stand mixer, and equip the dough hook attachment. Mix the dough on a medium speed for 15 minutes.
The dough should look much smoother and more plump and pillowy at this point. Scrape all the dough off the hook, and cover the bowl tightly with cling film.
Over the next 2 hours, you will need to fold the dough three times. After 30 minutes, perform the fold as follows:
Wet your hand with cold water, and then pick up one side of the dough and stretch it upwards. Lift it up and over the rest of the dough, and press it down gently to hold it in place. You need to repeat this for all four ’sides’ of the bowl, which is most easily achieved by turning the bowl 90 degrees after each fold.
Cover the dough, and set a timer for another 30 minutes. You will need to perform this folding three times in total, with a final 30 minutes of resting before beginning the shaping process.
Generously flour your main working area where you will perform the pre-shape, then select another part of your kitchen with a clean surface to divide your dough.
Remove the dough from the bowl as gently as possible, and then split it evenly. Although my inner perfectionist prefers to weigh everything, you will sacrifice the integrity of all the beautiful folding you’ve done if you start chopping up the dough now. For best results, simply use your keenest judgment to cut the dough in half, using a bench scraper.
Slide your bench scraper underneath one of the short sides of the dough pieces, and push it completely underneath to release it from the table. You’ll find that the dough smooths out on top, and becomes relatively ball shaped as you do this. Quickly place the dough on the floured surface, top side down, so that the smoothest piece of the dough is directly in the flour.
Fold the edges of the dough towards the middle, to encourage the dough into a circular shape. I typically do this by pulling the edges in at 8 equidistant points.
Move the dough to a well-floured space outside of your main working area, and cover with a tea towel or inverted bowl. Repeat for your second piece of dough, remembering to flour your bench again if necessary.
Leave the pre-shaped dough to rest for 15 minutes.
Firstly, flour your banneton well with bread flour. If you do not have a banneton, you can line a medium mixing bowl with a piece of cloth and flour that instead.
Clean down your main work surface completely - you do not want any flour on the bench for this step.
Take one of the dough pieces, and invert it onto your clean work surface, so that the floured side is now facing up.
Flour your hands, and push any bulging areas underneath the dough, and you start to twist it in a circle. Because the underside of the dough is sticking to the bench, the twisting motion will cause the skin of the dough to tighten and round.
As soon as the dough has reached a ball shape, stop twisting, and use your bench scraper to quickly remove it from the table, and invert it into the banneton. The floured top side should now be facing down in the basket. Cover the basket (I use a shower cap), and set aside.
Repeat for the other loaf.
Proving and preparing for baking
Move the covered banneton into the fridge, and leave overnight.
You will probably find that the bread is full proved after about 16 hours, but I typically leave mine in there for about 12 hours, and finish proving for about an hour at room temperature so that I can monitor it precisely. I typically leave one loaf in the fridge a little longer, so they are both optimally proved when they are baked separately.
Set up your oven: You will get best results using a baking stone and a breach cloche, and will need to put these into a cold oven, otherwise they can shatter from the extreme change in temperature.
If you don’t have a baking stone, you could use a heavy gauge baking tray, and if you don’t have a bread cloche, you could use a dutch oven. If you have neither, your bread will still be good, but it won’t get quite the rise, or the puffy open cuts. Putting some boiling water in the bottom of your oven will help a little, although it will be nowhere near as successful as having the bread enclosed as it bakes.
Preheat the oven to 230c / 210c fan for at least 45 minutes before you start baking. It is important the the oven is very hot and completely up to temperature before you start the baking process.
Take one of your loaves and sprinkle a little flour on a small area, and also flour your index finger. Push into the dough gently to a depth of about 2cm, and then pull your finger away, and watch what happens. If the dough springs back very quickly, it’s still under-proved. If the dough doesn’t spring back at all, it’s over-proved, and needs to go in the oven immediately! Ideally, you are looking for the dough to slowly spring back to about half the depth of the indentation.
Remove your bread cloche/dutch oven from the oven and remove the top, so that you’re placing the bread directly on the hot surface.
Use your fingers to gently ease the dough away from the sides of the banneton. If the dough feels reasonably firm, you can turn it out onto your hand, and then place into the cloche. If it seems rather liquid, you can invert it directly over the hot surface, and wait for it to fall out.
Brush off the excess flour with your fingers, and then score the bread as you like, using a very sharp knife, or ideally a razor blade.
A simple cross is a perfect choice. For those hoping to create that iconic ‘ear’, you will need to cut into the dough at about a 30 degree angle, slightly off to one side cutting towards the middle (I hope that makes sense!).
When the bread is cut, quickly cover it with the cloche/lid, and place into the hot oven. (If you don’t have a cloche, this is the moment when you put the hot water in the oven).
Bake for 25 minutes with the lid on, and then remove the lid and bake for 20 minutes more.
Check for a full bake: the bread should be baked all the way down into the cuts, and should sound hollow when tapped underneath.
Transfer the bread to a wire rack to cool completely.
If you are struggling with the dough being too wet, you could reasonably add up to 100g more bread flour at the dough stage.