Thursday, December 1, 2016

"The" sourdough tutorial

I've been meaning to do this tutorial for quite some time. It's the way I personally make sourdough, all in one post. This should make it easier to print out.

Unlike many online tutorials though, which use weights as a guide for ingredients, I've always used volume measures and estimates instead. This is how I learned to make sourdough, and it is the method I explained in the Sourdough workshop, with the Toowoomba Simple Living Group.

Griffin, the sourdough starter

With all sourdough making, everything begins with the starter. This contains natural leavens to raise the dough, instead of manufactured yeasts. If you want to know how to make a starter, I wrote about my process here. I keep my starter in the fridge, most of the time but especially during summer. As it can use up the food I give it, rapidly, and start to die back. Which is what we don't want to happen.

I always get my jar of starter out of the fridge, at least 2 hours before I need to use it. This gives "Griffin" (the name of my starter) the opportunity to get to room temperature, before I begin feeding again.


The way I feed Griffin, involves 2 separate bowls and a whisk. Then into each bowl, I place:

  • 1 cup of baker's flour
  • 1 cup of water
  • 11/2 cups, or half the jar of starter

The amount of starter is my estimates, in play. I don't like to see starter go to waste, so I utilise all that is in my jar, between the two bowls. It will roughly be, anywhere between 1 - 1 1/2 cups. It doesn't matter the amount of starter fluctuates, because when we get to the kneading part, we will incorporate enough flour to make the dough.

Stir all the ingredients in each bowl, until the flour is incorporated. Pour one bowl, back into your jar, and return to the fridge. If you plan to bake with your starter, the very next day, leave it out for an hour before it goes in the fridge. If you plan to bake 3-4 days later (like I do) it can go back into the fridge almost straight away. You can go up to 7 days between feeding.

Now you have one bowl on the counter, and this is called your sponge. We're allowing the yeasts from the starter, to increase their numbers in the sponge, by gross feeding. Which is why you will leave your sponge out (loosely covered, or not) between 2-4 hours. In summer it will take less time, than in winter.

Newly fed sponge

This is what your sponge will look like, just after you've split and fed it. There is some bubble activity, but not enough to make a loaf adequately yet. See below for correct sponge consistency.

Developed sponge

This is what it should look like, after 2-4 hours. The entire surface, either has a bubble on it, or a bubble attempting to break the surface. It should have a thick custard like consistency too.

Now your sponge is ready to begin turning into a dough. You will need a spatula for mixing in the ingredients.

Add ingredients

Into the sponge add:

  • 2 tablespoons oil (I use olive oil)
  • 2 tablespoons raw sugar (you can use castor)
  • 2 tablespoons powdered milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Feel free to omit the powdered milk and reduce the sugar if that suits your tastes better. But keep the olive oil and salt. Stir with the spatula until combined.

Adding flour

Then you will add, roughly 1 to 3 cups of bakers flour - but not all at once. The above image, is what it looks like, after stirring in 1 cup of flour.

Still incorporating flour

The above image is after a second cup of flour has been incorporated, with the spatula. You could use a wooden spoon, if you don't feel your spatula is up to the challenge. Mine is particularly sturdy though.

I always hold off adding the third cup of flour, until I've turned what's in the bowl, onto the bench. But I will sprinkle a little of the flour (from that third cup) down first.

Then it's a matter of kneading until you reach a "tacky" stage. Incorporating flour as you go. What do I mean by tacky? This is where the dough can still stick to you, or the bench, but pulls away, without leaving any (or much) dough behind. I will show you what I mean...

Too sticky

This above image is "sticky", not "tacky", meaning the dough sticks to you or the bench, and won't pull away cleanly. It will always leave a portion of itself behind. Keep incorporating flour, until you reach a more tacky texture.

Successfully tacky

This is what I mean by correct "tacky". It will stick to you and the bench, however, it will pull away cleanly, without leaving any (or much) dough behind. I could only use one finger to demonstrate this, because the dough wouldn't allow two fingers to pull anything away.

Once you're satisfied with the amount of flour you've incorporated, knead the dough for around 10 minutes.

Finished dough

You'll know when the dough is finished, because it will form a tight ball and if you press into it, the dough will push out again.

You can see in the above image, the remnants of the third cup of flour I didn't incorporate. Now I have not made this dough, in a bread machine before. But if you want to experiment, you could try 2 cups of flour and see if you get the desired dough consistency. If it's too sticky afterwards, you might have to add an extra 1/2 cup of bakers flour.

I'm an advocate of experimenting with your sourdough making. There's a unique way to work with sourdough, with what *you* have available. Once you learn that way, it's yours to use, for however long you want to make sourdough. So feel free to breach the limits of my tutorials, and get what you need from the process that works for you.

Oiled bowl

Now your dough is finished however, it's time for it to rise (or prove) for the first time. We will prove the dough twice, in the making of our loaf of bread. But for the first prove, take a large bowl (glass, ceramic or stainless steel) and spray it with oil.

As you can see in the above image, I wipe the top of the dough in the bowl (contacting the oil) then I turn it over. This will help avoid any skin forming on the dough.

Ready for first rise

You can then cover your bowl with a damp tea towel, borrowed plastic lid from another container, a plate, or (as I do) use a glass casserole lid, on a bowl it will fit over.

Then your dough will sit on the counter from 4 - 8 hours. It all depends on the temperature, and how active the yeasts are.

End of first rise

Basically you want your dough to double in size. It can go slightly larger, but not too much, or you'll exhaust the food supply, before it gets through the second rise.

You can remove the dough from the bowl now, and knead it roughly for a minute. If it's incredibly sticky, you've over proved it. You can work quickly with a sticky dough, to get it into a bread tin, but it won't be really good as a stand alone loaf. It will spread out across the tray, during the second rise. But you may still end up with a tasty loaf. It will just make really awkward sandwiches.

Ready for second rise

If your dough is good, you can roll it into a sausage, and place it into your oiled bread tin. Place the seam side, facing the bottom. I'm using an older image to demonstrate this below. I use a different baking tin now.

Seam side down

Now the bread has to rise for approximately 1 hour in the baking tin. There are special considerations for the environment, the second rise takes place in. As you don't want a skin forming on the dough as it rises.

I like to use my oven as a prover for the second rise. I set the oven temperature to 50 degrees Celsius (fan forced) and place a bowl at the bottom of the oven, with boiling water in it.

After the oven has been running for five minutes, I'll place the shaped loaf, in. The oven runs for approximately 10 minutes after the loaf has gone in, and then gets switched off again. The residual heat, will provide the warmth and humidity the bread needs to rise.

End of second rise - ready to bake

An hour later, carefully remove the risen loaf, and place it on the counter. You should still have some water at the bottom of your oven, in the bowl. If not, top it up.

Then set the temperature on the oven for 210 degrees Celcius (fan-forced, check other oven temperatures here) and five minutes later, place your loaf in.

Finished loaf

Twenty five, to thirty minutes later, you'll pull your loaf from the oven. It helps to turn your loaf, half way through baking though - even in fan forced ovens. Once golden brown, tip onto a cooling rack immediately (use oven mitts) and leave the bread on it's side. That way the base can be harder, instead of soggy, when it comes to slicing your bread. Only slice, once it has cooled completely though.  Cutting into hot bread will ruin its texture and flavour, once it cools.

The above loaf has completely cooled, which is why it's now standing on it's base. A bit of advice on baking times, you'll get to know how long it should bake, in *your* oven. The bread should sound hollow, when you turn it out and tap the base, with your knuckles.

There are limitations to this method of sourdough making, however. It's pretty much designed around one loaf of bread. But it's a hefty loaf - restaurant size. You can make a large loaf of bread, 12 fruit buns or two smaller savoury loaves.

Two savoury pull aparts

If however, you'd like to increase your starter for making more loaves, I do have some means to make it happen.

Notes on doubling your starter:

It might be, that you have to bake a couple of loaves in one day, and you'll need to increase the amount of starter as a result.

While I'm happy to use estimates in baking a loaf, you really should use exact volume measurements when increasing your starter. Simply because you want the right amount of food available to grow your starter into larger volumes.

Say you want to bake two loaves the next day. Get your starter from the fridge, the day before. Let it sit for 2 hours. Once it has come to room temperature, in two separate bowls, place in each:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup starter

With the contents of one bowl, return it to your starter jar and back into the fridge. Leave the remaining bowl on the bench for 8 hours. Then split it again, into two separate bowls, with (in each bowl):

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup of water
  • half the starter (we don't have to be exact now)

This has made up the sponge for two loaves now, which will sit on your bench for 2-4 hours. Then you will turn it into dough as usual, only you'll make two!

It does sound complicated, but once you try it a few times, you'll get the hang of it. The next part I need to deal with, is how to go about arranging your schedule.

Notes on baking schedules:

One thing which turns people off making sourdough, is the length of time it takes to make a loaf. It's worth persisting with however, to design a way you can work sourdough making into your routine.

Here is a basic worktable on what you have to plan for:

  • Starter out of the fridge - 2 hours (needs to be close to room temp)
  • Sponge on the counter - 2-4 hours (needs lots of bubbles)
  • Dough rise, first time - 4-8 hours (needs to double in size)
  • Dough rise, second time -  1 hour (using oven as prover)

I've given a range of times, depending what the inside temperature of your house is. During summer, the yeasts are active, so they need less time to work. In winter, you can extend the times because they're less active.

You can divide your worktable into any number of arrangements. Especially if you add refrigeration into the mix. It's possible to make a dough, and place it in the fridge. It will continue to rise in the fridge, but extremely slowly.

You'll need to get your made dough out of the fridge, 2 hours before you can work it again, but it will probably need 4 hours, just to reach the double size, it needs to grow to.

Here is my baking schedule for summer:

  • Starter out of the fridge - 4 pm
  • Feed and divide starter - 6 pm
  • Make dough from sponge -  9- 10 pm
  • Sits on counter until - 5-6 am the next morning
  • Rises one hour
  • Start baking - 6 - 7 am

I have divided the worktable up, over 2 days. The only issue I have during summer, is the potential for the dough to over prove on the counter, by the next morning. I have yet to experiment with refrigerating the dough, on a regular basis. When I do, I will write more about it.

On the day, I did the sourdough workshop however, I placed my dough in the fridge, after making it at 9.30pm. Then I got it out at 6am the following morning. It was ready to start baking with, from 10am. Although it probably wouldn't hurt to give it an extra hour to rise.

I hope this bigger tutorial helps those who are trying to bake with the starter I shared at the Toowoomba Simple Living group. If you have any question, just ask in the comments. Or you can send me an email, by clicking this link.

In case you missed these earlier, sourdough related links:

Loaf pan sizes - for baking sandwich loaves
All about the dough - how to knead dough
Summer sourdough - what to look out for, during summer

Happy baking!


  1. What a great simple tutorial! Thanks. I am about ready to tackle sour dough again. I will be following this tutorial. :)

    1. Well done for giving it a try. Have fun with it. :)

  2. Thanks so much for writing up this tutorial for us all, Chris. I will print it out for reference. I know how much time it takes to do such posts so it is much appreciated.

    1. I'm glad I got it finished before Christmas. Because hardly anything gets done once it arrives, lol. ;)

  3. Hey Chris, Outstanding tute! As Chel said, a lot of work, and greatly appreciated. Have a good weekend.

    1. Your'e welcome. :) I will be doing my best to stay cool this weekend. I hope it doesn't get as warm as they're predicting.

  4. Fabulous tutorial Chris. There are so many different variations of making sourdough, and it's taken me a good two years to bake a loaf that I'm proud of. I'm going to give your recipe a try next time I bake, and will recommend it for people starting out on their sourdough journey because your easy to follow tutorial makes it look simple.

    1. There are certainly lots of ways to make sourdough, and experimenting is how we discover what works best in our own kitchens. I'm happy to hear you've persevered and succeeded with your own sourdough. Well done. :)

  5. Really good, Chris, Thanks for taking the time over it. I will print it out and put it in my recipe book, although I have never made sourdough and doubt whether I ever will, because of the time involved, but you never know. At least I will have it to recommend to others.

    The loaf I make regularly has so much other stuff in it besides the flour, that I don't know whether it would work as sourdough....grains and seeds, dried pumpkin, dried nettle, milk powder, oat bran, LSA mix, wheat germ, to name a few. (so far I've not added the kitchen sink ;-)

    1. Haha, that's a great way to make bread. Throw everything in. I bet it tastes good though. I think the kitchen sink would make it a little too crunchy, for my tastes. ;)

  6. Since we have moved house, my sourdough starter has acted quite differently. At the old place I would feed it and pop it on the sunny kitchen window sill and it would explode with growth almost at the new place the kitchen is shaded and things happen much more slowly.

    1. Great observation skills. Once we start taking care of a living organism which provides our food, we notice more what it likes, and what it doesn't. Your observations are spot on.

  7. Thanks heaps for this tutorial, have copied it onto word, so I can keep it for easy reference. Guida

  8. Fantastic tutorial Chris and the link to your class...what can I say besides being immensely proud of you?! I've been thinking about making sour dough soon and will follow this tutorial when I do. Those pull aparts look amazing!

    1. Thanks for visiting Linda, and for the positive feedback. The class was definitely a new experience for me, but a worthwhile one too.

  9. Thank you, i'm going to be baking my first bread using this method

    1. Good luck Bridget with your bread making. Somehow I missed your comment earlier. Thanks for dropping in to say hi. :)

  10. Thanks for attending our Toowoomba Simple Living Group and sharing your knowledge about sourdough baking. I am still baking 2 loaves a week and this morning tried your fruit buns. They turned out beautifully. Thanks for your help that you gave me after the class. Regards Vicki

    1. Excellent work Vicki! It's so great to hear that bread is being churched out, all over Toowoomba and surrounding areas. It was a real privilege to be invited to the TSLG.

      Those buns are a real treat at home. Great for a snack on the run too. I freeze my excess, so they're always handy when we go into town. Beats anything we could buy.

      Anyway, thanks for letting me know about your success. Well done for your dedication. :)


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