This is an email I started sending around to friends when I gave them some of my sourdough starter. I’ve had my starter for over two years now and we’ve been enjoying baking it regularly. I am thrilled to see people get more into old-timey crafts these days and I am always happy to share starter or answer questions

Welcome to sourdough baking! It seems like a lengthy email but I have put in a bit of troubleshooting and tips I’ve learned along the way in the email. Sourdough is often seen as super complicated but honestly, it doesn’t have to be! If you feed the beast once a week and keep it in the fridge it’s a super simple way to bake. Honestly, the best way to actually learn sourdough is to just do it. I know it seems daunting but at the very core, it’s just flour/water/salt once you get into the habit of knowing your starter (which is just something you pick up over time) it will take you 5 minutes a week to keep the beast alive.

Keeping the beast alive – tips and tricks:

Now that you have the starter, keep it in a glass or plastic container and keep it in the fridge. I use a 1L mason jar and put a plastic bag over it because I don’t want to explode a container with the gasses. By keeping your starter in the fridge you only have to feed it once a week & even then you can stretch that out. To feed it, eyeball the amount in your jar and add 1/2 water and 1/2 flour to the starter. So, for example, if you feel that it looks like there is 1 cup of starter in your jar, to feed it you just add 1/2 c flour and 1/2 c water (filtered or distilled is best. You can make distilled water by just leaving a bowl of water out overnight so the chlorine evaporates). Mix it up, stick it back in the fridge and let it sit for another week.

During the sitting period your starter will get a watery, greyish top on it. It should smell a bit boozy and a bit vinegary. That is the hooch and it doesn’t mean your starter is bad. Just mix the hooch back in before feeding your starter. If it smells mouldy, then it’s bad. If you aren’t sure, just feed it and let it sit on the counter for awhile. If it makes sweet smelling bubbles, your starter is fine.

If you haven’t baked in awhile but you’ve been feeding your starter, you may see your container getting too full. To manage this, you will want to mix in the hooch and then ditch a bunch of it before feeding it. That way you won’t overflow your jar and your starter will stay healthy. I usually will pour half into the compost bin. I keep my starter pretty full because we often will bake up to four loaves at a time, you obviously may want to make less.

If you are like me and have forgotten to feed your starter, oh, say, for almost two weeks by accident you will need to feed it a couple of days in a row before using it. I usually mix in the hooch, feed it, and then stick it in the fridge overnight & then repeat the next day (ditching half of the starter if your container is too full). By the third morning I feed it again, let it sit for 4 hours & then make my bread. You can sometimes get away with only two days of feeding but expect your loaves to be a little flatter (but still delish!). I can actually spread this out over a week as well if I realize I haven’t fed it in awhile. If I want to bake Saturday but realize on Monday I haven’t fed it in awhile, I will feed it, say, Monday/Wednesday/Saturday morning.

Often you will see recipes that say that on the day you want to bake that you should feed your starter and let it sit for four hours before starting your recipe. Since I am lazy AF, I usually feed the starter the night before I want to bake, stick it in the fridge & then the next morning take it out and let it warm up to room temperature (app 1 hour) before starting my recipe. I hate waiting so it’s nice to wake up, pour a coffee, take the starter out of the fridge and by the time I have finished two coffees, I am ready to start my bread before the day gets crazy.


White Sourdough

(I also do an 100% whole wheat using this same recipe)

I have always had success with this recipe from Patrick Ryan. I’ve added baking instructions below but if you need to create starter, click through and this link has all the info you need from start to finish.

I have made the approximate measures in cups/tsps but obviously it’s not as good as baking with a scale. Sourdough can be a bit more finicky based on the starter but I find the weights a bit more forgiving so it should work.

(Makes 2 loaves. Halve the amounts for a single loaf)

• 800g strong white flour (6 3/8 cups app)
• 10g salt (2 tsp)
• 460ml water
• 320g sourdough starter (1 1/4 cups)

• Add the flour to a clean mixing bowl. Mix the salt through the flour. Add the water and sourdough starter to the flour. Combine all the ingredients together to form a rough dough.
• Turn the dough out on to a clean surface and knead for approximately 10 minutes or until the windowpane effect has been achieved. The dough should be smooth, soft and elastic.
• When kneading, do not worry if the dough is slightly wet or sticky. Resist the temptation to add any extra flour. (important!)
• Return the dough to the mixing bowl, cover with a towel and allow the dough to prove for 4 hours at room temperature.
• After 4 hours turn the dough onto a clean work surface and knock the dough back. Knocking back the dough simple involves knocking the air from the dough which helps to equalise the temperature within the dough.
• Form the dough into a tight round ball.

To prove & bake using a proving basket (aka banneton):

• Prepare a proving basket by lightly dusting with flour. Place the dough, seamed side facing up, into the proving basket. Loosely cover the proving basket with a clean tea towel and leave to prove for another 3 – 3½ hours.

• Alternatively, to prove overnight for baking first thing in the morning, place into a fridge and leave overnight.

• Using a fridge reduces the temperature of the dough allowing it to prove slower and longer which allows for a greater development of flavour within the dough but also increasing its digestibility. As dough ferments or proves the gluten within the dough breaks down. The longer a dough is allowed to prove the more flavour it will contain and the easier it is for your body to digest. (this is my favourite way to prove the dough. I sometimes won’t start my loaves until late in the day, which allows me to finish my dough right before bed. I just stick them in the fridge overnight and let them warm up to room temperature – app 1 hour – before baking. If you need to quicken the pace, you can stick your loaves in the oven with a bowl of boiling water for 20 mins/1/2 hour and then taking them out before preheating your oven).

• To bake, preheat your oven to 230°C / 210°C fan assisted (445°F / Gas 8). Place a shallow baking tray into the bottom of the oven to preheat with the oven.

• Carefully turn your dough out from the proving basket onto a baking tray dusted with flour (the domed side with the indentations from the proving basket should now be facing up and the seamed side on the baking tray).

• Using a sharp knife cut the surface of the dough, this is what is known as the baker’s signature (I use sharp scissors, it’s not perfect but it works). The dough can be cut up to ½ cm deep. (This isn’t just for aesthetics, scoring the bread also helps control where and how it rises while baking). if your dough seems particularly flat/not as spongy, don’t cut it. That will give it a bigger rise.

• Boil a kettle of water then pour the boiled water into the dish that was preheated in the bottom of the oven, this will create steam in the oven while baking.

• Place the baking tray with the sourdough into the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a good crust has formed and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the base.
Alternatively, if you do not have a proving basket, you can use a large glass casserole dish to prove and bake your sourdough. I also will often cover my boules with metal bowls and bake them for 25-30 mins and then take off the bowls and bake until the crust browns (10 mins). This traps the steam in and encourages the boules to rise a lot higher than they would otherwise.

To prove & bake using a Pyrex dish (this also works spectacularly with enamel cast iron):

• Line a 2.5l round Pyrex dish with a clean tea towel and dust with flour. Place the formed ball of dough into the Pyrex dish lined with the floured tea towel then place the lid (the inside of the lid lightly greased and floured) on the Pyrex dish. Leave to prove for another 3 – 3½ hours.

• Alternatively, to prove overnight for baking first thing in the morning, place into a fridge and leave overnight.

• The reason for using a Pyrex dish is that it acts like a proving basket. The dish acts as a support to your dough. It encourages the dough the take on the shape of the dish and to prove up and not just to spread out flat. The dough will also be baked in the Pyrex dish.

• Using a fridge reduces the temperature of the dough allowing it to prove slower and longer which allows for a greater development of flavour within the dough but also increasing its digestibility. As dough ferments or proves the gluten within the dough breaks down. The longer a dough is allowed to prove the more flavour it will contain and the easier it is for your body to digest.

• To bake, preheat your oven to 230°C / 210°C fan assisted (445°F / Gas 8).

• Flip the Pyrex dish over so the bowl of the Pyrex dish now becomes the lid. Carefully remove the tea towel.

• Using a sharp knife cut the surface of the dough, this is what is known as the baker’s signature. The dough can be cut up to ½ cm deep. (This isn’t just for aesthetics, scoring the bread also helps control where and how it rises while baking)

• Cover the dough with the bowl of the Pyrex dish and place the Pyrex dish into the preheated oven.

• By baking the dough in the Pyrex dish there is no need to steam the oven. Baking with a lid on the Pyrex dish creates its own steam which will allow the dough to rise and open up while baking. The Pyrex is very similar to the old style of Dutch oven baking.

• Bake for 25 minutes then remove the lid from the Pyrex dish and continue to bake, uncovered, for a further 25 minutes until a good crust has formed and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the base.

• Once baked remove the bread from the Pyrex dish and allow to cool.

Notes: if you have a breadmaker I find using the dough-only setting makes it easy for the actual mixing/first proving . If you have a stand mixer, that works too for the mixing part.

In the end, just play around with it! Some loaves will be fantastic, some will flop. Add olive oil! Herbs! Cheese! Play around with making cinnamon buns and waffles. The options are really endless and once you’ve got the basics down you won’t lose the skill.