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Me and my sourdough story..

Hi, I’m Elaine, and I started baking sourdough in 2013. I was introduced to it by a wonderful blog friend, Selma, who sent me some dried starter and full instructions to revive the starter and bake my first loaf.

I’ll be honest, I was scared!!! I didn’t know anything about sourdough, I’d never even eaten any, so I bombarded Selma with questions which she happily answered (the sourdough community is a passionate sharing bunch), and then I went for it…and it worked like a dream. I baked a beautiful perfect loaf, below, I was so proud, and promptly ate half of it in one go right there and then, it was so good.

This is my first ever loaf:

From that point, I wanted to learn more about sourdough, so I played around with flours and processes, had some failures but lots more successes, and I eventually perfected a method that I could use every week to bake sourdough for my son, who now won’t eat any other bread. So I needed to know it works, which is why I can safely say that if you want to try it, I KNOW that my method works!

And I love it! I love everything about making sourdough, I love the process, the outcome, but mostly, I love watching other people enjoy what I’ve created. And I hope that you will have the same love and satisfaction from your own loaves.

If you’d like to know more, please do get in touch, or have a good look round my website for help and guidance and everything you need to know xx

A more recent loaf

Christmas Gift ideas, for you, or from you..

In case you’d like some ideas, or to give someone else some ideas for you…😉

My new aprons, details below

🎄🎄 If anyone you know needs some gift inspiration for you, I can offer you these ideas…

🎄 My books:

The Sourdough Whisperer

Pre order my new book for 2023

Whole Grain Sourdough at Home

🎄🎄 And now, my very own brand new aprons! These are the exact make and style of apron that I always wear, and now you can have the same…You can find them via this link – it will take you to the website of the company that produces them where you can order direct. Use code FOODBOD15 for a 15% discount

🎄 Starter zoom class with Milk Street on 5th Feb: use code MAKEBREAD for a discount

🎄 My dried starter and bowls scrapers and more in the UK or in the US

🎄 T shirts and bags

🎄 Flour! (UK only) use code FOODBODFWP for a discount

Cotswold Crunch and my master recipe…

My master recipe made with 100% Cotswold Crunch flour

Matthews Cotswold Crunch flour produces the tastiest loaves as far as I’m concerned. It is a beautiful flour, lovely to work with, as well as to bake and it works perfectly in my recipes, but it does need some understanding for using it in my master recipe so below I have added some tips for you and how to use it.

But first, to give you some idea about how it tastes, this is how the flour is described on their website:

“Matthews Cotswold Crunch flour is a speciality blend of strong bread flour, malted wheat flakes and malt flour for bread and rolls. The flour has a nutty taste and a signature darker colour. This flour is extremely popular due to its flavoursome, malty aroma with added texture from the wheat flakes. Great taste award winner and one of our best sellers!”

100% Cotswold Crunch and my master recipe

To use 100% of this wondrous flour with my master recipe, follow the recipe exactly as it is. The dough will feel soft and sticky initially but stick with it, don’t think it needs less water or more flour, it will come together and the dough will firm up as you work with it, and the flour absorbs the water.

Alternatively use Cotswold Crunch in partnership with another flour, in any ratio it works well. It also produces amazing rolls and wonderful sandwich loaves, just use it in my recipes as they’re written.

This loaf was made with 50% Cotswold Crunch and 50% strong white bread flour
Inside a Cotswold Crunch master recipe wedge roll

I asked Bertie from Matthews to explain ‘malting flour’ to give me a better understanding and this is my rough explanation:

Malting is a process that is used in brewing beer by adding water to a flattened grain to ferment (germinate) it to develop its flavour; it is then dried on a ‘malting floor’ (a hard heated floor) to convert it to malt. This process of germinating the grains then drying them is also called ‘steeping’. The flavour that is dried into the grains is then unleashed when they are milled into flours and added to our doughs.

Because the grains have been soaked before drying, by adding malted flours to doughs releases some of that moisture again into the dough, hence the dough becoming so soft during the making process. I hope I’ve got that right!

My master recipe focaccia made with a mix of Cotswold Crunch and strong white bread flour

If you try it, have fun!

I apologise to those of you that don’t have access to this lovely flour yet, hopefully you will soon. For any of you in the UK, you can find it here.

What aren’t you telling me?

Talk to me!

Is this you: you feel that your sourdough could be better, it doesn’t look or taste or resemble what you want it to, you know you shouldn’t compare yours with others but you can’t help it and you want to figure out what you need to do differently? So, you’ve read everything, followed the steps, done everything you think you can to get this ‘right’ for you, but you still think it could be something more, and you still don’t know what you’re missing? So, what’s the missing piece of the puzzle? What’s your missing detail?

Well, I’m here to tell you, there’s always an answer, there’s always a specific reason something is happening, or not happening as you’d like it to. Whether you feel your loaves are flatter than you’d like, whether your starter isn’t behaving as you feel it should, whether your dough didn’t grow, or it’s too soft, or it’s liquid…whatever the issue, there’s always always a particular reason.

The trick is to find it.

There isn’t any one single answer for everyone, all sourdough experiences are different, which is why you’ll find lots of help and suggestions throughout my site and my book, but first, let me ask you:

What’s your missing detail?

And this is why I ask that question: when people contact me for help I ask as many questions as possible to solve the mystery, but there is so often something they don’t say and it’s that that tends to be the main missing piece of the puzzle. The things that people often think aren’t important, or forget to tell me, or are a throwaway afterthought, are often the vital piece of information that can fix things. And it can be as simple as that one thing being the answer to your sourdough question.

So what aren’t you telling me?

What is the missing piece of your puzzle that’s right in front of you without you releasing that it’s your answer. Let me give you a few examples of what this might be…

“I wet my hands each time I handle the dough”

“I live at high altitude”

“I changed my flour”

“I have an aga”

“My kitchen is always warm”

“I have been putting starter/dough in the oven with the light on all night”

“My flour is quite old”

“I use distilled water in my starter”

“My banneton is 25cm wide”

“I’m really gentle with the dough, I don’t want to squash the bubbles”

“I just tip the dough into my banneton”

“The temperatures here have risen/dropped recently”

“I didn’t do this step…”

These scenarios are all from many conversations that I’ve had, each of which has come up more than once, and they all make a difference to the outcome of your sourdough making, so if any of these things ring a bell for you, there’s your issue…and even if it’s not one of these, if you are having an issue, don’t skip any tiny detail, it could be your very simple answer.

To answer those comments above:

“I wet my hands each time I handle the dough”

This means you’re constantly adding more water to your carefully measured dough. The dough will therefore be wetter than you planned it to be and it will be unlikely to be able to hold the shape you hoped it would.

“I live at high altitude”

This will affect the doughs behaviour and easily leads to over proving. Use less starter to prevent that.

“I changed my flour”

Changing flour makes ALL the difference, they are not merely interchangeable without needing to make adjustments in your dough.

“I have an aga”

And..

“My kitchen is always warm”

This will affect how the dough proves and can lead to over proving. To prevent this, use less starter.

“I have been putting starter/dough in the oven with the light on all night”

This will make a starter thin and weak, and dough will over prove. It’s too warm for too long a time and not necessary.

“My flour is quite old”

The flour will have therefore lost some oomph and not behave as you expect it to.

“I use distilled water in my starter”

This can prevent your starter from growing.

“My banneton is 25cm wide”

Assuming you are using 500g flour in your dough, this is too big and your loaf will bake wide and flat.

“I’m really gentle with the dough, I don’t want to squash the bubbles”

Or..

“I just tip the dough into my banneton”

Your dough will have no structure and will spread as soon as you turn it out.

“The temperatures here have risen/dropped recently”

Weather and room temp massively affect how dough proves.

“I didn’t do this step…”

Leaving out a step in a sourdough recipe is your prerogative of course, but all of the steps are there for a reason.

I hope this all helps x

Don’t overthink it…

I have said this before and will keep on saying it because I think it’s so important. Overthinking spoils making sourdough for so many bakers and it truly doesn’t need to.

🌟

Sourdough making is a thing of simplicity and joy, but all too often bakers overthink it and it ruins their enjoyment of making it. I have no doubt that this comes from an expectation that making sourdough is going to be complicated or hard to do due to the overwhelming amount of over complicated, conflicting information that can be found on the subject.

🌟

My advise is always: don’t read too much. Find a single source that resonates with you and stick with it whilst you learn the basics of sourdough. Don’t confuse things, don’t get pulled in a thousand different ways by unnecessary advice from a thousand different directions. Only you are in your kitchen.

🌟

Once you feel comfortable and confident that you understand how to use your starter, how the dough works, your best baking process, that’s the time to experiment and expand your knowledge, but never forget the basics. Once you know what works for you, stick with it.

🌟

There are no rules here, there are no sourdough police, there’s just great healthy tasty bread – enjoy it!

Can I freeze my dough?

If you’ve ever wondered if you can freeze your dough, this post is for you. Or you’ve ever thought that a dough is just never going to do anything in cold weather, or if you’ve ever assumed that sourdough has to take control of your life with its timings, this post is for you…

Let me explain…following a course last year, I had two bowls of dough that had had their first initial mix, a rest, two sets of pulls & folds & had been sitting around for a few hours. I knew I wouldn’t be able to bake them the next day, so I decided to test the idea of freezing the dough as I’ve been asked about this many times.

I gave both doughs another round of pulls & folds, pulling them both into very tight balls then put them into small containers with tight fitted lids & into the freezer.

A few days later, I took them out & set the bowls on the side; as they started to slowly warm up I was eventually able to turn the doughs out into bigger bowls, covered with shower caps. It took several hours for each dough is to fully defrost, I gave them both a couple of sets of pulls & folds once they had, & left them on the counter overnight to prove again.

It was a cold day, followed by a very cold night, plus the dough had been very cold to begin with, so it took a few more hours than usual to fully prove, but they did and they did fill the bowls as they always do; I then put them into bannetons & into the fridge. This was now mid afternoon & as a result of life happening, they ended up being in the fridge until the next morning when I could finally bake them.

This loaf above shows the outcome of one of them, the other one I turned into rolls. And both doughs behaved and baked perfectly, the baked outcomes were light and fluffy and oh so tasty!

So as you can see there are many morals to the story: firstly that you can freeze dough at any point along the way, just allow it enough time to warm up again to continue with the process; that sourdough is forever & endlessly forgiving; that sourdough does not have to dictate to you & you do not have to jump to its tune; that we can make sourdough making & baking as simple as we need it to be.

Happy baking!

Making sourdough in hot and humid environments…

Loaf made using my master recipe and just 20g starter

One of the key things to know about making sourdough successfully, and something that I write about in everything I produce (and talk about endlessly) is how the weather, especially heat and cold, affects making sourdough.

As soon as I understood this connection, it exponentially improved my sourdough making and this is what I try and pass on to all of my foodbod Sourdough bakers: the weather is a key ingredient in the success of making sourdough bread, and as soon as you understand that, your bread making will fly!

Making sourdough can seem challenging in any environment, but when you throw in heat and humidity it can seem even more so, and as a consequence there will be tweaks and allowances that you need to make, so this is my guide to help you.

My first and strongest advice is to get a thermometer for your kitchen that reads temperature and humidity (see below). This will be your best friend in understanding how to make sourdough successfully and consistently in a hot and humid environment. Alongside that, I highly recommend starting a journal, or keeping a notebook, to log the activity of your starter and your dough making to assist you with making sourdough throughout the year where you live. This can become an invaluable reference book for you.

The key factors are that heat will make your starter and your doughs work faster, it can therefore make your starter become thin and hungry and therefore weak, and the heat can risk over proving doughs. Humidity will only increase that but will also add moisture into your starter or your dough, and can also affect your baked loaf. So here are my tips…

🌟 Starter 🌟

Every time you feed your starter (or make dough) always note the times, temperature, and humidity percentage. Once your starter has responded and grown in size to where you want it to be, make a note of how long it took to get to that point and note again the temperature and humidity in case they have changed. Repeat this across an entire year and you will be able to produce a pattern of behaviour that you can refer back to whenever you want to make sourdough in the future. To achieve this, I highly recommend feeding your starter when you will be able to watch it.

In high temperatures starter could very easily only need 2-3 hours after feeding before it is ready to use.

Beware not to leave your starter out for too long in the heat otherwise it will work through its feed quickly, it will rise and fall then become thin and therefore weak and will need feeding again before you can use it.

If needed, feed it more flour than water to keep it strong, especially if it starts to become thin with tiny tiny bubbles. You can do this as often as you need to; the key is to give your starter what it needs to stay strong and healthy. In this instance, do not worry about feeding it equal weights of flour and water, watch your starter and get to know its behaviour and what it needs. This is far more important than equals weights of flour and water in hot and/or humid environments.

When you feed it, allow your starter to be a good thick mixture, giving it sustenance and body.

And forget ratios or percentages. I never use them, neither are necessary.

Water: Also consider using cold water in your starter and your dough to help protect them and slow down their activity in the heat.

🌟 Dough 🌟

In doughs, to successfully prove overnight on the counter:

Use less starter to offset the heat, literally go right down, even as far as 5-10g if you need to. This will slow down the proving process and prevent over proving. Nothing else in the recipe needs to be changed unless you need to amend the water for the following reasons. To read about making sourdough in the heat, click here. For details about making sourdough in hot AND/OR humid places, keep reading.

In high humidity: dough will absorb extra moisture so use less water to offset the humidity, again, go down in 25g drops. And take notes.

If your dough starts off quite stiff as you’re working with it, don’t worry, it will loosen up.

It’s okay to use 275-300g water if that’s what works. In a humid environment the dough will take on moisture from the air as it proves.

If you also live somewhere where you do not have access to very strong flour: use less water to offset weak flour if needed, reduce it by 25g if you cannot get hold of good flour this will help your dough to be firmer.

If in doubt: if you are worried about leaving the dough out overnight, put the dough in its bowl into the fridge when you go to bed and take it out again the next morning to finish proving on the counter whilst you can watch it.

To prove during the day, use the standard amount of starter but still less water if it is humid. And watch the dough like a hawk. Move it into the banneton and into the fridge as soon as it doubles in size.

If your dough becomes very bubbly in the surface and soft and sticky and hard to manage, it is too wet either from added moisture, or over proving, or both. In this instance, if it still has some body, try moving the dough into a loaf tin to give it support, prove again and bake. Or follow my process to make focaccia. If it’s really liquified, stir in milk and make pancakes, or yoghurt and make flatbreads.

Never ever waste dough, it can always be used. Plus, over proved dough has a lot of great flavour!

🌟 Baked loaves 🌟

Once baked, leave it an hour before slicing into it, but don’t leave it for several hours on the counter otherwise the humid can make the crust soften and the inside become damp.

A top tip: if you are trying a sourdough recipe that does not refer to room temperature or anything along those lines, you are missing information; I highly recommend you ask the recipe writer for more details, especially if you have had any issues with the outcome.

A rough guide: This is the result of some information I’ve been gathering, all of the doughs have been made using my standard master recipe with strong white bread flour. These amounts allow the dough to prove fully in 9 hours in your counter. The temperatures cover the time that I start making the doughs and overnight. Please note that these are the temperatures IN YOUR KITCHEN, across the making and proving time, not the outside temps.

Between 18-20C:use the standard 50g starter.

Between 21-24C: use 15- 20g starter.

Between 23-25C: use 10g starter.

Over 25C overnight, use 5g starter. For temps well over 25C consider proving during the day.

These smaller amounts of starter can seem tiny, and you may not believe it will work, but I promise it does.

I hope this all helps.

🌟 This is the thermometer I use: Therm Pro.

🌟 These are notes sent directly from the lovely, Nargess, a foodbod sourdough baker from the UK who I currently residing in Thailand and therefore having to allow for the change of climate in her baking:

“The thermometer and taking notes is so vital.

I found that the weather temp.(heat) dictates the amount of time needed for dough to proof and starter to rise and humidity dictates the amount of water that needs to be added to your dough and starter. I know this sounds like common sense but not having experience with baking in such conditions I didn’t realise this until now. I say this because sometimes its very HOT but not humid.

For MY kitchen and weather I have found that when humidity is between 80-96% my dough needs approx. 2-21/2 hours to prove and then I fold and into banetton and when humidity is between 60-79% then approx. 3-4 hours to prove and as you said, I watch it like a hawk and check on it regularly and as you already know these times can still be variable.

Another thing I do for the starter feeding (the water part) is that I start with less, about 8grams (approx. 1 tablespoon) and if it looks stiff and feels dry after stirring then I add a little bit more, about another 8grams. I check it again after one hour to see how its doing to make sure it has enough water.”

If you’ve had similar experiences please do add them in the comments below…

Over and under proved doughs…

If you would like to learn more about proving dough, I recently made a video showing well, under and over proved that you can now watch as part of the Pastry Arts Baking Summit 2022 – discover how the doughs look, behave, handle and bake, and why. Click here to watch.

Bake the book…

🌟🌟 Group Bakes 🌟🌟

If you fancy joining me, the next few months, I propose that we work our way through the new book together. This will enable people to bake at their own level and pace, choose which recipe they want to bake and when, and share them along the way. Please ask questions and share outcomes.

Let’s start from the beginning with the master recipe collection; most of you have baked a version of my master recipe, some have baked several, I hope this will be your chance to try it in a different form. Happy baking gang!

🌟 Use the hashtags #thesourdoughwhisperer #groupbake when you share your bakes 🌟

The Master Recipe Sourdough Collection

Baby Master Loaf p72
Baby Master Wedge Rolls p74
Master Recipe Sandwich Loaf p77
Master Recipe Bundt Pan Loaf p81
Master Recipe Pullman Loaf p84
Ends of Bags Master Loaf p86

To help, these are the links to the various pans and items that I use:

Baby master pan

Pullman tin

Or this one

Loaf tin

Loaf tin liners

Bundt tin

Oval pan

8” Dough knife

For bowls, bannetons, pans, jars and more in the US, visit this site: Shana Sourdough

For bowls, bannetons, pans, jars and more in the UK, visit this site: EcoBakerUK

All of the recipes in my book have been made and tested with this flour. If you cannot find it where you are, check out this page for alternatives.

NOTE: these are the exact items that I use, these are not ads, or affiliate links, I am not paid or sponsored by any of these sellers.

Find the book here.