Sourdough success – finally!

I love sourdough bread but I hate the waste when creating a starter. I’ve also had limited success – not with making the actual starter – but with the result of the final bread. I’ve finally hit on a formula for a sourdough recipes which ticks all the boxes for me.

Now this is a long post, but I’ll make no apologies for that. I felt it was important to be able to see step by step what was happening at each stage. However, I realise that not everyone wants to do that, so here’s some options for you:

    1. You can read on to see the step by step instructions and read about my sourdough quest.

    2. You can Skip to the step by step recipe
    3. If you just want to print out the recipe and skip all of the text there here’s a printable recipe for my San Francisco Style Sourdough.

Whatever you do, I hope you find some inspiration!

My sourdough quest and step by step instructions for making the bread

Of course, the beauty of a sourdough starter, once it’s made, is that it is made entirely from natural products, just water, flour and patience. A good starter will also add a wonderful flavour and texture to your final bread (if you can get it to work).  Looking after your starter is like looking after a living thing – and that’s because it is – and if looked after properly it should last you for ever.  But if like me you have a failure, or several failures, with your final loaf you get disheartened and stop looking after your starter so it then you have to chuck it and start again. Such a waste!

I hate waste so I started to think about a different approach, one which would enable me to make just enough starter for a loaf without any waste.

After pouring through my many recipe books I found a recipe for a San Francisco style sourdough. The recipe makes just enough starter for a single loaf and then, if  you want to, you can save a bit of the dough for your next loaf (winner)!

If  you save a bit of the dough it means that you still get to impart that wonderful sour flavour into whatever loaf you make next and it will improve the texture too. Each time you make a loaf from that point on, you simply just save a bit of the dough from that batch.

The only trouble with the recipe in the book was that it was designed to be mostly made in a bread machine, which I no longer have. And to be honest, even if I did have a bread machine, I don’t think I would use it as I love making bread by hand. I also found that the recipe in my book had very few pictures and I like to see what is happening at each stage. So I’ve adapted the recipe so that it can be made entirely by hand rather than in a machine and I’ve also photographed each step of making this bread.

I was so happy with the final loaf. I hope you make it too!

Don’t get me wrong, the recipe was still a labour of love as you do need to spend a bit of time every couple of days for a week tending to your starter, but it’s well worth it and you’ll only have to do it once 🙂

Of course, if you’ve already got a starter on the go,  you can just skip that bit and follow the rest of the recipe. I hope you make this recipe because it really does taste wonderful.

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Below is my recipe for a San Francisco style sourdough loaf.  Don’t be put off by the length of it. It is actually very easy and only takes a couple of minutes every couple of days. By the end of the week you’ll have a really tasty loaf. And, even better, you’ll have no waste from your starter and some dough which you can save to make your next loaf.

If you don’t want to see the photos you can skip to the printable recipe for my San Francisco Style Sourdough.

The first stage of the recipe is to make ‘just enough’ starter for your loaf. If you’ve already got a starter on the go you can skip this part and go straight to step 4 below.

For other recipes on my site please follow this link.

Sign off image

Step 1 – First stage of the starter

  • Time = A couple of minutes to prepare, 1-2 days to ferment.
  • Ingredients = 25g of plain flour (not bread flour) and 1 – 2 tbsp of warm water.
  1. In a small bowl, mix the flour and water together until it forms a firm but moist dough.
  2. Knead for a minute in the bowl, just to bring it all together .
  3. Cover with a damp tea bowl (not cling film – it needs to breath) and leave for 1-2 days until it’s got a crust on (see images below). Mine did take 2 days but if your kitchen is cold, this step could take three days.

Image 1 = the small amount of flour, Image 2 = the mixed dough, Image 3 is after the 2 days.

Step 2 – Second stage of the starter

  • Time = A couple of minutes to prepare, 1-2 days to ferment.
  • Ingredients = 50g of plain flour (not bread flour), 2 tbsp of water, 1tbsp of milk, and the first stage starter.
  1. Place the flour, water and milk in a clean small bowl and mix together – don’t worry it’ll be really crumbly at this point.
  2. Peel the crust off the top of the stage 1 starter and discard that crust. I know, it looks disgusting before you peel the crust off, but you can’t deny that it smells great when you peel it back. The starter underneath should be quite gooey and stringy (see image below). You can compost the crust.
  3. Add what’s left into the bowl with the second stage ingredients.
  4. Knead it all together for a minute just to form a firm but moist dough again.
  5. Cover with a damp tea bowl (not cling film – it still needs to breath) and leave for 2 days until it’s got a crust on (see images below). Again, mine did only take 2 days but if your kitchen is cold, this step could take three days.

Image 1 = The first starter peeling the crust off after the 2 days, Image 2 = the mixed second stage starter.

Step 3 – Third and final stage of the starter

  • Time = A couple of minutes to prepare, 8-12 hours to ferment.
  • Ingredients = 175g of strong white bread flour, 6 tbsp of water, 1- 2 tbsp of milk and the second stage starter.
  1. Place the flour, water and milk in a clean medium sized bowl and mix together – don’t worry it’ll be really crumbly at this point.
  2. Peel the crust off the top of the stage 2 starter and discard the crust as above.
  3. Add what’s left in the bowl to the third stage ingredients.
  4. Knead it all together for a minute just to form a firm but moist dough again.
  5. This time, cover with oiled clingfilm and leave for 8-12 hours in a warm place. You will get a rise (honest) and it’s perfectly normal for the dough to rise up and then drop back down. I did leave mine for the full 12 hours and to be honest I don’t think it would’ve mattered if I’d left it a bit longer.

Image 1 = the second stage starter after the 2 days, Image 2 = peeling the crust off, Image 3 = the mixed stage 3 starter.

Step 4 – First stage of the dough

  • Time = A couple of minutes to prepare, 8-12 hours to ferment.
  • Ingredients = 175g of strong white bread flour, 100ml of water and 200g of the third stage starter (this was all of mine, but you may have a tiny bit left over).
  1. Place the flour and water into a clean large bowl and mix together. Note that you’ll be using this same bowl to incorporate the final dough, so make sure it’s big enough.
  2. Peel the crust off the top of the stage 3 starter and discard the crust as above. Notice how lovely it smells now and how gooey it is now you’ve peeled the crust off.
  3. Measure out 200g of what’s left into the bowl with the first stage dough ingredients. For me the 200g was all of what was left, but you might have a bit left over – it will keep in a jar for a day or so, or just add it to any other loaf you are making.
  4. Knead it all together for 10 minutes to form a nice firm dough (it can be quite sticky so don’t be tempted to add more flour). If making in a stand mixer, mix on slow for 5 minutes.
  5. Cover with oiled clingfilm and leave for 8-12 hours in a warm place.

Image 1 = the third stage starter after 12 hours, Image 2 = see how gooey it is, Image 3 = the first stage dough once it’s kneaded together, Image 4 = the stage 4 dough after the 12 hours.

Step 5 – Making the final loaf

  • Time = A couple of minutes to prepare, 4 – 5 hours to rise and 35 – 45 minutes to bake. Note that each rise may take longer depending upon the heat of your kitchen. I’ve given you the timings of how long mine took at each stage.
  • Ingredients = 175g of strong white bread flour, 50g of strong wholemeal bread flour, 100ml of water, the first stage dough, 1.5tsp of fine salt, 1tsp of granulated sugar, flour for dusting.
  1. After the first stage dough has rested for 8-12 hours, (I left mine for 12), sprinkle over the flours for the final dough then add the salt, sugar and water.
  2. Mix it all together, it’s quite sticky at first. Knead it all together for 10 minutes to form a nice sticky dough. Again, don’t be tempted to add more flour. If making in a stand mixer, mix on slow for 5 minutes.
  3. Important! At this point, cut about 50g of your dough off and place into an airtight container in the fridge. This will be your starter next time. You can also add this dough into any loaf to improve flavour and texture. When making your next loaf, take the old dough out of the fridge and bring to room temperature. Always save about 50g of the dough from your next loaf – that way you’ll always have a starter ready.
  4. Cover with oiled clingfilm and leave for about 2 hours in a warm place until it’s well risen.
  5. After the 2 hours tip it out onto a floured work surface and knock it back gently. Don’t be too rough with it at this stage as we really don’t want to completely degas the dough.
  6. Shape it into a large ball, place on a baking tray covered with parchment and sprinkled with flour to stop the bottom sticking. Cover with a large bowl and leave for another 2 hours until it’s doubled in size (mine took 2 hours but my kitchen was very warm).
  7. After the first hour and a half check to see how your dough is coming along. Give it a little (gentle) prod and if it springs up a bit then it’s almost there. If it is, set your oven to 230 degrees (210 fan) and place an empty roasting tin at the bottom.
  8. Once the dough is fully doubled and springs back when gently prodded, slash the top however you like, sprinkle with flour. Boil the kettle and pour a mug full into the empty roasting tin at the bottom of your pre-heated oven. Quickly pop in the baking tray with the loaf.
  9. Bake for 15 minutes at the higher temperature then turn the oven down to 200 (180 fan) and bake for a further 20 – 30 minutes until it sounds hollow when tapped underneath. If your oven is quite fierce, check after 10 minutes and turn down then if it looks like it’s going too dark.  Leave to cool on a wire rack and enjoy.

Image 1 = the first stage dough after the 8-12 hours (already pictured above), Image 2 = the kneaded final dough, Image 3 = the final dough after the first rise, Image 4 = onto the baking sheet it goes (this is a pizza peel which I covered with semolina flour, but I’ve since found that it works much better on a baking sheet covered with baking paper and flour), Image 5 = the covered dough, Image 6 = the final baked bread, Image 7 = the lovely bread once cut, Image 8 = the book that inspired this recipe.

I hope you enjoy making and eating this bread, I certainly did.

I’ve created a printable recipe for my San Francisco Style Sourdough. I’ve produced it in a PDF format so you should be able to open it just fine. I’ve not included pictures as these are already here on my site. If you have trouble opening it, please contact me and I’ll email it to you.

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