Sourdough bread

Sourdough isn’t difficult. You just have to know what you’re doing, and you must have a healthy starter culture.

I’ve been doing this since well before lockdown. We inherited our starter culture back in our London days, sometime around 2011. There are multiple backups in the freezer, and when we moved to Gravesend we restored from one of those, rather than entrusting a liquid culture to Mr Pickford.

I can’t remember who gave us the starter and the recipe. I have passed aliquots onto other friends, and I’ve modified the recipe slightly, and much to Jenny’s chagrin until now I’ve never written anything down.

Our original culture was fed using wholemeal flour. White bread flour gives a lighter feel, which Jenny prefers, so after a period when I had two cultures growing in parallel I’ve switched entirely to white. The culture seems more resilient than the wholemeal version, as I haven’t had to revert to a backup for a long time now. This is the only modification to the original recipe (transferring to the bread maker doesn’t count).

Let’s start with 50 g of starter culture. You may have got this from me, or someone else—it might be growing or frozen. In either case this method will expand and vivify the culture.

First, bring your culture to room temperature. Mix with equal masses of white bread flour (or wholemeal; see above) and room-temperature water. Stir well, and leave covered on a kitchen counter for a couple of days until you see bubbles forming.


Expand again by adding equal volumes of flour and water—i.e. 150 g flour and 150 ml water. Let it grow for another couple of days until it’s clearly bubbling. From this you can make 50 g aliquots and store in the freezer as your backup.

You want to keep 150 g of culture as your starting and maintenance culture. This is stored, covered, in the fridge. You probably want to feed it—if you’re not making bread with it—every three weeks or so. I haven’t done the experiment but it keeps quite well up to a month without being fed (or ‘passaged’ for the cell biologists among us).

To make bread, bring your 150 g culture to room temperature. I usually leave it on the bench overnight. Add 150 g flour and 150 ml water; stir, and leave at room temperature, covered, for at least 12 hours and preferably around 18 h. Do not put it in the airing cupboard unless you have an exceptionally cold kitchen. If you’re just feeding/passaging your culture, this is the point at which you discard all except 150 g and put that back in the fridge.

I use a bread maker. Put 10 g sea salt and 10 g of brown, granulated sugar (I use demerara) into the bottom of the bread pan. Add 500 g strong white bread flour, 300 g of your starter culture, and 250 ml water. Use the dough or pizza program on your bread maker to knead it. (If you don’t have a bread maker you can do this by hand, but I’ve got other things to do.)

The remains of the starter culture (nominally 150 g) goes back in the fridge with a cover on.

A tip. Because the culture is sticky, you will lose some to the spoon you stir with and the bowl you keep it in. So you probably want to add about 10% to your 150 g masses to maintain a sufficient amount of starter.

After the bread has kneaded, leave to prove, in the pan, for 6 hours. I leave the bread maker switched on for the first hour for the extra warmth that gives.

To bake, simply activate the bake program on the bread maker. But at the same time, turn your oven on to ~220ºC. Our bake program is only 30 minutes and leaves the bread pale on top, and so as soon as it finishes I put it in the oven, still in the pan for 10 minutes. Then I remove it from the pan and leave to finish off at 200ºC for another 5 minutes.

Pale on top

If you’re doing this the old-fashioned way, after kneading you want to split the dough between two loaf tins, cover with a damp tea towel, and prove for 6 hours. Bake at about 220ºC with a tray of water in the bottom of the oven to make steam, for 30–40 minutes.

Delicious, and easy, sourdough bread

This starter culture is also good for making bagels.

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