Sourdough Bread Recipe – Mastering Bread Making

If you haven’t read my previous post about creating a starter, check that out here. But if you have a starter, it’s happy, it’s healthy and it’s ready to go, you can can jump right in.

The method we are going to be following today is for a country bread from Andalusia. I found this recipe in Elisabeth Luard’s incredible book European Peasant Cookery. We are going to deviate a little when it comes to the shaping, but I think the method is the most practical I’ve come across. No doubt perfected by generations of Spanish women, with amazing arms muscles from kneading!

The day before baking

  1. The day before you want to make bread you need to think about your starter. If it’s in the fridge take it out in the morning, allow it to reach room temperature and feed it. If you keep your starter out, you will also want to feed it in the morning. You want you starter to be ready for action that evening.
  2. In the evening, drop a spoonful of starter into a glass of water, if it floats it’s ready for baking. If it sinks you might need to leave it in a warm place for an hour and try the float test again.

The night before

  1. Ok, your starter is ready, you are ready. It’s the night before you want to make your bread. You will need to mix 100g of your starter with 240ml water in a large bowl. Using your fingers like a whisk, gently combine the two.
  2. Next add 300g of flour. For your first loaf try either 100% white flour or 50/50 white and wholemeal. Combine together with a wooden spoon, making sure there are no lumps. This mixture is going to feel really wet and sticky and not at all like a dough, but don’t worry.
  3. Leave this in a warm place over night with a tea towel covering it. I leave mine in the oven with the light on and this is perfect. But if you don’t have that option or the oven fan comes on with the light, then a cupboard or near a radiator will do. This mixture will double, maybe triple in size over night, so a BIG bowl is needed unless you want a big mess!

Baking morning

  1. In the morning, when you are ready to make bread, uncover your bowl and you should hopefully have a bubbly, frothy mixture. The time over night has allowed your starter to ferment the first half of your flour and water. This has allowed the bacteria to ‘predigest’ your dough, making it easier for you to digest. This half of the dough acts as a raising agent for the rest of flour and water we add next.
  2. Measure out 140ml of water and add 1 tbsp of salt to it. Allow the salt dissolve a bit then add to you dough mixture, along with 300g of flour. Mix well until combined and a rough wet dough is formed.


  1. From now on we treat this dough in a very similar way to yeasted bread, and the proving times are similar. However, the dough is much wetter and a different (slightly more messy) kneading technique is needed.
  2. We will now knead our dough! If you have a kitchen aid or some such machine that will knead for you – lucky you, go ahead and knead, with a hook, until a soft smooth dough is achieved.
  3. For those kneading by hand – using a dough scraper or spatula, scrape your dough onto a clean surface. (note that the surface is unfloured, or very lightly floured) you really don’t want to be adding more flour to your dough. It may feel wet, but it will be tastier for it!
  4. Begin to knead the dough, as best you can, stretching and slapping the dough onto your surface. You want to keep doing this for 10 to 15 minutes. To know when your kneading is done, take a small piece of dough and stretch until you can see light though it without the dough ripping. If it rips, knead on!
  5. Kneading will get easier with practice, but a passable loaf can be achieved without expert kneading!

First prove

  1. Pop your dough back in the bowl with a tea towel over it and put it back in its warm spot for 1 to 2 hours. The amount of time it needs will depend on the temperature and ferment, so pay close attention, especially the first time.
  2. To know when your dough is done proving, take a wet finger and poke the dough. If it springs back half way, you’re done. If it doesn’t spring back at all, more time is needed and if it springs back completely, less time was needed.

Shaping the dough

  1. Our next step is to shape the dough- which I have found to be the trickiest bit! You want to create tension across the surface of your dough keeping it in a nice shape, rather then spreading out into a puddle. There are lots of different techniques and if this one doesn’t work for you, I encourage you to research some others.
  2. Flour a large baking tray liberally.
  3. Once again scrape your dough onto a lightly floured surface. Gently spread your dough into the size of a dinner plate. During the shaping process, you want to keep you fingers floured so they don’t stick to the dough, make confident quick movements – you are in charge! Folder the top half into the middle and repeat with all four sides. Folding like you would a thick cloth.
  4. Once again, flatten you dough into a oval shape, 2/3cm tall. Then start ‘platting’ each side into the middle, starting with the top left (or right!) corner. Do this by pinching sections of the dough from the side  (starting at the top) and stretching it slightly, before folding into the middle. Do this on consecutive sides until you reach the bottom.
  5. Pause for a second to flour your fingers again, roll your platted dough from bottom to top, as you would a fat Swiss roll. Use your fingers to tuck it into a firm roll.
  6. Pinch you dough together to create a good seam.
  7. Gently pick up your dough and put into your floured baking tray, seam side down.
  8. Flour your dough well, gently rubbing it into the smooth surface.

If you really can’t visualise it I recommend this video, skip to 12:30 to see the shaping

Second prove

  1. Cover with a tea towel, place in your warm spot for 30 to 40 mins. Congratulate yourself on your amazing work so far, the worst is over. Make your self a cuppa’ tea!
  2. Check your dough by poking it with your finger. It should spring back half way.


  1. Take your dough out of its warm place and heat your oven to as hot as it will go. Place a baking tray of water on the bottom of your oven. This creates steam that will allow your loaf to expand to its largest size before the crust forms. In commercial bread making they have special ovens with steamers.
  2. When your oven is almost at temperature, you want to score the bread. Take an old fashioned razor blade or sharp knife and stash from top to bottom. The keys to this are a very sharp blade and complete confidence in your movement. If you have neither this step is sometimes best skipped.
  3. Throw your bread in the oven and hope for the best!
  4. Your loaf should take around 30 to 40 mins. Half way through cooking, the pan of water can be taken out, to allow a better crust to form and to ensure it is cooked through. However… steam, very hot ovens, boiling water in a shallow pan… best not attempted unless well equipped!
  5. When your loaf looks as brown as it can be before burning, take it out.
  6. With oven gloves, put your loaf on a cooling rack. Turn over and knock on the bottom (as you would a door) it should sound hollow.
  7. Allow to cool for at least 1 hour before cutting and eating.

The majority of recipe I’ve read or watched involve:

Starting in the evening, with a 4 hr rise, ‘folding’ the dough every 30 mins. Then the dough is shaped and proved over night, in a basket, in the fridge. In the morning you take the dough out of the fridge and allow it to reach room temperature. The dough is then scored and baked, usually in a Dutch oven.

However, I found that I would forget to fold the bread every 30 minutes. I also found my dough would stick to the basket when proving over night – I would try and remove it in the morning, the dough would rip and 12 hours of my life were in vain!

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