Classic Sourdough Loaf
You may have heard the saying "baking is a science".
When talking about sourdough baking, this couldn't be more accurate.
With the use of chemistry, biology and physics you are able to turn just three humble ingredients (flour, salt and water), into one of life’s greatest pleasures, bread.
The very nature of all this science, means there are a number of variables that will greatly affect the final result, from your ambient room temperature to the quality of ingredients used.
The goal of this recipe is to provide a starting point. One which you can take with you to further experiment with, develop and adapt as you continue your sourdough baking journey. Just as we did, and still are.
For anyone new to sourdough baking, this recipe may seem rather daunting. There are many techniques, and it is a rather lengthy process. Trust us, all of this is absolutely worth it. When you are able to share the results with your family and friends, you will never look back.
Sourdough baking truly is a journey, and we are so excited that you have chosen us to accompany you along the way.
Let's get into it, shall we?
450g Strong White Flour
300g Room Temperature Water
100g Sourdough Starter - fed and active (100% hydration*)
Extra flour for dusting
*100% hydration means that you’ve been feeding your starter equal parts flour and water
Dough scraper (check out ours here)
Proofing basket (check out ours here) Alternatively, you can use a tea towel-lined bowl
Dutch oven or heavy lidded pot (we recommend this one, however, it does suggest to not use over 200°C, but we have had no issue doing so… use at your own risk!)
Bread lame (check out ours here) Alternatively, you can use a very sharp knife
Weighing scales (we recommend these)
Large glass or clear plastic bowl (we recommend this)
Measuring jug (we recommend this)
Parchment paper (these pre-cut sheets are so handy!!)
Pastry brush (optional)
Bowl scraper (optional)
Step 1) Autolysing your dough
Weigh out the flour into your bowl. Dissolve the salt in the water in the jug. Mix the water into the flour until they come together to make a rough dough (you may need to get a bit hands-on!). Cover loosely with clingfilm and leave for 30 minutes. This is the autolyse period and will help with gluten development.
After 30 minutes add your starter to the dough and combine. This is best done with your hands, get them in there and give it a good mix, squeeze and squish until fully incorporated. Cover loosely with clingfilm and leave for 15 minutes.
Step 2) Stretch and fold
When the 15 minutes is up, you need to perform a set of stretch and folds (see below for instructions on how to do this). Leave and cover for 30 minutes.
How to perform a stretch and fold (no yoga involved). As you have probably realised, this is quite a wet dough, so a traditional kneading method becomes quite tricky. We use a ‘stretch and fold technique’. Place your bowl on a tea-towel for stability. With wet fingers lift the dough from one edge and stretch it up and out as much as you can without tearing. Then fold the dough on to itself, pressing gently. Turn the bowl a quarter turn and repeat the process. Repeat twice more turning the bowl a quarter turn each time until you have stretch and folded all four ‘sides’ of the dough. We find it handy to keep a bowl of water close to dampen your fingers between folds.
You will need to repeat the stretch and fold process three more times at 30-minute intervals, making four in total. You will notice that during this time the dough will gain strength, keep its shape more easily, and start to grow.After your final stre and fold, you should be about 2 1/4 hours into the process. Your starter has been fermenting away happily, but it still needs more time in the next stage.
Step 3) Bulk fermentation
After your final stretch and fold, cover with clingfilm for the bulk fermentation.
For us, this is around 3 hours, but it could be up to 5 or 6 hours depending on conditions and environment.
There are some key indicators that bulk fermentation is complete. One of these will be the growth in the size of the dough, it doesn’t necessarily need to double in size, but should be somewhat inflated with a dome-like appearance. You should also see lots of bubbles in the dough, like above.
This is a part of sourdough baking that just takes practice. You will start to learn how your dough behaves and when bulk fermentation is over. Don’t worry too much though… as long as the dough has grown, and your starter was nice and active, then you should still produce a good loaf. Ok… back to it.
Step 4) Shaping
When your dough is ready it’s time to shape. Gently tip your dough onto a very lightly floured surface, you will probably need to help it with your fingers. Gently press the dough out into a flat round. Fold the edges of the dough into the middle, gently pressing down each time. You can use a floured dough scraper to help release the dough from the worktop. Now with cupped hands gently rotate the dough and drag towards you until it becomes round and taught. When you have a shape you are happy with, the dough is ready for the second proof. The shaping can be a little bit fiddly, see the video for a visual representation:
Step 5) Second proof
Flour your banneton (proofing basket) or bowl lined with a cloth or tea towel.
Flip your dough and place upside down in your chosen proofing vessel. You can pinch together any seams in the dough that haven’t come together properly.
Cover loosely with clingfilm or a tea towel. Leave your dough to complete the second proof. Again, this is variable based on your baking conditions. For us, this usually takes around 2 hours but can range anywhere from an hour to 3 hours. To know if the dough has finished its second proof, you can use the ‘poke test’.
Poke Test: With a slightly wet finger press into the dough. You are looking for the indent to fill in slowly. If the indent springs back immediately it is under proofed and needs longer. If the indent remains it is probably over-proofed (bake it anyway!).
The second proof can also be completed in the fridge overnight, the colder temperature will slow the fermentation down and help to develop flavour. Using the fridge and colder temperature in this way is helpful when scheduling baking.
Step 6) Preparing to bake
While your dough is proofing, prepare your parchment. As shown in the picture. You need to cut to the diameter of your dutch oven or pot with two ‘lifting handles’.
An hour or so before baking pre-heat your oven to 250°C / 230°C Fan / Gas mark 8.
At this stage, you can choose to preheat your dutch oven or lidded pot. When the dough is placed in a hot dutch oven, this creates steam which can encourage your bread to rise. However, it may be easier and safer on your first few attempts, to use your dutch oven cold.
Once you have passed the poke test successfully, it is time to bake, finally!
Step 7) Bake
Turn your oven down to 240°C / 220°C Fan / Gas mark 7.
Carefully turn out your proofed dough onto your prepared parchment (so the bottom becomes the top). With a pastry brush carefully brush off any excess flour.
Using a bread lame or very sharp knife, confidently make one or two slashes across the top of the dough. This will (hopefully) control the expansion of the loaf and prevent any tears.
Using the parchment ‘lifting handles’, gently lift your dough into the dutch oven or lidded pot. Put your lid on your pot and bake for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, turn the oven down to 220°C / 190°C Fan / Gas mark 5-6 Bake for a further 10 minutes without the lid. Your bread should be risen and golden brown.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely (if you can resist) before slicing.
Phew, we got there.
Sourdough baking is a commitment. It takes a lot of practice, time and experimentation but it is also such a joy!
As always, feel free to comment with any questions and to share your creations with us on Instagram using the hashtag #mymelrose.
We truly hope that this recipe has helped you in even the smallest way. Happy baking,
Jenny & Jack x