It’s magic, it’s joy, it’s a bowl of happiness, excitement and possibility, it’s our love child, it makes us smile every time we use it…it’s all those things, and I truly love mine, but in reality…
🌟🌟 In basic terms: its our raising agent, and it’s what gives sourdough its texture and flavour. 🌟🌟
The key difference between a starter and other bread raising agents is that starter is in liquid form and lives and lasts forever, as opposed to other raising agents, such as commercially sold yeast or baking powder, which are in dried form and can be added straight from a package.
And that’s it, it truly is as simple as that, as scary as it can sometimes seem. I know that the idea of a ‘living’ thing that we keep forever can worry people, there’s that fear about keeping it alive, but I promise, they’re really hard to actually kill! It’s far easier to keep a starter alive than wiping it out – unless you mistakenly cook it of course, which has been done, or it gets mouldy.
🌟 Flour and water, that’s all it is, flour, water and time. My top tips to make and to keep your starter in good condition are:
🌟 Use good flour. You can use any wheat flour to make a starter, as a learner I would highly recommend using strong white bread flour or wholewheat/wholemeal flour. And choose the best quality that you can, it does make a difference and is worth the investment in your starter.
I had great fun creating this bake, I mixed up a batch of master recipe dough, and literally chucked in an entire jar of mincemeat! The outcome was fab, the little rolls had a great chewy base, and the bigger version is just like eating a fruit loaf.
I used a new flour to me, it’s a lovely seven seed and grain flour from Matthews Cotswold Flour, I recommend trying it, but you could also use any flour of your choice. I threw in a 411g jar of mincemeat, both seen in the top 2 photos in the grid below. This made the dough very sticky and loose, and not something easy to shape in any way, but that didn’t matter as I baked it in a tin. I used a small bundt tin for the bigger round, and I used a bundtlette tin for the little ones as seen in the both 2 photos of the grid below.
The recipe therefore was my standard:
500g flour of your choice
1 jar mincemeat, or if that’s not available where you are, trying making it up with jam/jelly and dried peel, dried fruits and spices.
Salt to taste
I mixed it all up and let it sit for a few hours before giving it some more agitation, it could not really be stretched and pulled around, I just made sure it was well mixed. I then left it to prove overnight. In the morning I just ‘handled’ it into my pans, left it to prove again and baked.
You can follow my Bundt tin recipe process in my book The Sourdough Whisperer, or my sandwich loaf process in either of my books to prove again and bake, or bake as you could a fruit loaf, just allow it enough time to fully bake.
A perfect festive table centrepiece…sourdough meets beautiful flour meets chocolate!
This loaf is a marriage of wonderful flour and yummy chocolate! Cotswold Crunch flour is the best flour in the world in my opinion, it’s so tasty, and so easy to use, and in this recipe I am using it to make an enriched dough, with the added extra of chopped up chocolate to create a moreish loaf, perfect for the festive season, as well as any time you fancy a treat.
🌟🌟🌟 NOTES: The sweetness in the flour and the oat milk all adds to making this a tasty loaf; the butter, or peanut butter, adds an extra richness. And of course, the bursts of chocolate are the jewels of fabulousness throughout! If you want extra sweetness, add honey or sugar to the dough at the start; for my tasters this has been sweet enough, but if your tasters prefer something sweeter, it is easy to tweak.
If you like the chocolate orange idea but do not have access to it, try using your choice of chocolate and some added orange flavouring, maybe an orange essence or extract, orange oil, dried orange powder, or some finely grated orange zest. Suggested amounts for a really good orange flavour: 1 to 2 tsp orange extract or the zest of 1 to 2 oranges.
EDIT: one of my lovely bakers has also suggested using a blood orange infused oil to add the orange flavour.
🌟🌟🌟 This recipe is inspired by a recipe I created for my new book, so if you like it, you might like my upcoming book 🌟🌟🌟
Prep time: up to 24 hours with maximum 30 minutes hands on time
Baking time: 60-70 mins
Essential equipment for this recipe: I bake this recipe in a ‘12 cup’ Bundt tin, measuring 26.7D x 26.7W x 11.4H cm, you could also use a loaf tin or cake tin.
50g active sourdough starter
400g oat milk, or milk of your choice
500g Cotswold Crunch flour
100g butter or peanut/nut butter of your choice
150g chopped chocolate of your choice, or 1 whole Terrys chocolate orange, opened and chopped up
7g salt, or to taste
Yield: 1 full size loaf
NOTE: You can find Cotswold Crunch here. If you’re not in the UK, try your favourite flour/s, I think a mix of strong white bread flour and wholegrain spelt flour would be nice, and maybe a touch of rye flour too for its natural sweetness.
Step 1: Late afternoon/early evening, roughly mix together all the ingredients to a sticky lumpy dough; it does not need to be fully mixed at this point, it will become mixed in fully as you complete the next steps. Cover the bowl with a shower cap, and leave the bowl on the counter.
Step 2: After 2 hours, perform the first set of pulls and folds on the dough, lifting and pulling the dough across the bowl all the way round, until it starts to come into a soft chocolate studded ball, then stop. The dough will be sticky. Cover the bowl again and leave it to sit on the counter.
Step 3: After another hour, perform another set of pulls and folds on the dough, covering the bowl afterwards. This will be a big dough, it will be stretchy and textured between the chocolate pieces, and will come together into a soft ball. Cover the bowl again.
Step 4: Leave it counter overnight, it will typically require 8 to 12 hours to fully prove at room temperatures between 18 to 20°C/64 to 68F. If it has been colder, it may need longer.
Step 5: In the morning, the dough will have grown, if it has not doubled in size yet, allow it a few more hours to continue to prove. This is a heavy dough and may take longer to fully prove than others.
Spray a light layer of oil or grease the inside of your Bundt tin with butter if needed.
Once the dough is two times its original size, firmly perform a final set of pulls and folds on the dough to pull it into a ball. The dough will be big and studded with the chocolate pieces. Pick up the ball of dough in one hand, and with your other hand ease a hole into the middle of the ball of dough creating a big bagel shape, then place it into the Bundt pan, placing it over the top of the upright in the middle of the pan, then cover it with the same shower cap. Allow the dough to prove again, letting it fill approximately half to three quarters of the pan. The time this takes will depend on the temperature of your kitchen.
Step 6: To bake, you can bake in a preheated oven or from a cold start. Place parchment paper, followed by a baking sheet, on the top of the Bundt pan, to serve as a lid. As a tip, I then place ceramic baking beads in the pan to hold the pan in place on top of the Bundt tin. If preheating, set the oven to 160°C/320F fan assisted or 180°C/360F non fan assisted/conventional.
If you preheated the oven, bake, covered, for 55 to 65 minutes. If using a cold start, place the covered pan of dough in the oven, set the temperature as above and set a timer for 60 or 70 minutes, or until nicely browned.
Step 7: Remove the loaf from the oven, remove the baking sheet and paper, allow the loaf to cool for 5 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool. If you would like the loaf to have more colour, return it to the oven, on the rack, sitting on an oven tray, and bake uncovered for 5-10 minutes. Then remove and cool slightly before slicing – but definitely tuck in whilst warm 🤩🤩🤩🤩🤩
Recipe notes: the dough will be sticky and heavy initially, and it will remain a heavy dough, but it will grow and will bake to something wonderful! If you can’t shape it into a smooth ball, don’t worry, just place it into the Bundt tin as evenly as possible, the tin will shape it for you.
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.
🌟 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…
Todays top tip: if your pan is too small for your dough, your loaves will not bake properly.
Once again, in this instance, size matters; the size of your pan makes a big difference to your baked loaf. 🌟 Let me explain why I’m posting this… Recently I’ve been contacted by a few bakers who have found that their loaves aren’t baking fully all the way through, or are soft and under baked round the sides, and sometimes also the base, of their loaves. In each case, the reason this has happened is because the pan has been too small for baking the loaves. What this means is that all the wonderful work you’ve done to create your starter and then to build a lovely strong dough, is that the dough can’t spread its wonderful wings and grow sufficiently so it get stunted and stopped in its tracks and therefore underbaked. The limited space means that the steam and heat can’t circle the dough which it needs to bake it evenly; plus the dough being inhibited by being in a small space means it gets compacted so the inside doesn’t get fully baked. 🌟 Just as the right size banneton is important, a good size pan is too. 🌟 If you feel your loaves are not baking fully, the top 5 reasons will be…
They need to be baked for longer: try adding an extra 5-10 mins to the bake. The dough was too wet: next time use 25g less water in your dough. The dough was over proved: watch the time and temp you’re proving at. The dough was under proved: give the dough more time to prove. The pan is too small: ensure your loaf isn’t hitting the sides of the pan or the underneath of the lid.
For info: I use my standard master recipe dough with a 21-22cm diameter banneton and a 26cm diameter enamel pan. You’ll find full details on my equipment page.
There’s more help about all of these issues throughout my site and in my books. 🌟 To answer the other question of ‘is my pan too big?’, the answer is no, a pan can never be too big. If you are asking that because your dough spreads in the pan, the issue is the dough, not the pan. Your dough should happily hold its shape when you turn it out into the pan, and not rely on the pan to hold it. I have a post fully explaining why your dough may spread here. 🌟 Have fun!
Spelt flour is a beautiful flour to use and produces an amazingly tasty loaf. It is not, however, a straightforward flour to use and benefits from being baked in a loaf tin to give it support. To make this loaf, I followed my master recipe process to make the dough and the process for making sandwich loaves as in my book.
This is the flour I use for this recipe here in the UK.
To make the dough, follow my usual master recipe process as written on my site or in my book, mixing everything up together mid/late afternoon. It may seem dry initially but it does not need extra water, go in with your hands and squeeze the mixture together, so that there is no dry flour left.
Then cover the bowl with your shower cap/cover, and leave it on the counter for 2 hours, this rest time will make it easier to stretch the dough later.
After 2 hours, do a set of stretches and folds on the dough. Wholemeal flour is oily and does not stick to the bowl which also means that when you try to stretch it, the whole dough will lift out of the bowl so I hold the dough in place with one hand, lift a portion with the other hand, pull it up and tuck it over the dough. Do this a few times round the bowl.
This will be a stiff, spongy mix.
Cover the bowl again, let it sit for 1 hour then repeat the stretches. It will only need a few actions.
Do this twice more then cover the dough again and leave it on the counter overnight.
In the morning the dough will have grown to double the size with a smoothish surface.
The dough will be spongy and textured and will not take many pulls to bring it together.
Once it is in the tin as per the video, cover it again, and leave it on the counter.
Let the dough prove again. Once it is level with the edge of the tin, bake.
This can be done from a cold start; place the tin with the dough in, uncovered, into the cold oven. Turn the oven up to 180C fan/200C non fan and bake for 45 mins from the time you placed it into the oven.
The loaf will not grow much more as it bakes, the growth is all in the proving, the baking merely consolidates that.
Once baked, remove from the pan, tap the base, and if it sounds hollow, remove the paper and cool on a rack for a good hour at least. If you feel it needs baking for longer, put it back in the oven for 5-10 more minutes.
These loaves tend to feel slightly moist which is normal.
To make this loaf I used a wholemeal/wholewheat starter too to make this a 100% spelt loaf…
To make your own, follow my guide for making a starter on my site or in my book, exactly as it’s written, just using wholemeal/wholewheat spelt flour. Please note that you can use any type of starter made with any flour, if you want to keep the loaf fully spelt, below are some notes about making a wholemeal/wholewheat spelt flour starter.
Day 1: this will be a thick first mix
Day 2: this will still be a thick mix, but not as much as day 1. There may be a slight liquid forming on surface, this is normal
Day 3: you may see bubbles forming on surface and throughout the mixture, it will have an elastic, thick, bouncy consistency
When you feed it it will be thick, maybe already showing bubbles after mixing and stirring
Over next 24 hours, you should see bubbles appearing, the texture becoming almost spongy, and the volume starting to grow, and a strong wheaty smell developing
Days 4 & 5: the mix will be thick, elastic and textured
Day 6: you will notice a strong smell when the starter is stirred, this is normal, and typical of wholegrain flours. It should also now be textured, bubbly, and thick before feeding
And lovely and thicker after feeding. Bubbles may be appearing as soon as fed and stirred
Day 7: it should be responding to its feed and growing and becoming textured with a bubbly surface.
Note that with wholegrain flours, any show of dark liquid on the surface or around the edges is normal.
I hope you enjoy creating your own wholemeal/wholewheat spelt starter and loaf, and enjoy the fabulous flavour! For more ideas about using spelt flour, and lots more wholegrain and ancient grain flours, check out my book ‘Whole Grain Sourdough at Home’.
I get many messages from people who are questioning why their loaves aren’t as they expected, and I see posts and comments in groups along the same lines, and people are very quick to blame the starter. It’s an easy conclusion to jump to, but usually unfairly. Because, your starter is rarely the actual issue.
So when people ask me: why is my loaf flat/gummy/dense/uneven, is it because of my starter? Or, is my starter too weak? Or, should I throw my starter away? Or, do I need to make a new starter?
This is always my question back:
did your dough grow?
If the answer is yes, then your starter is fine.
Because, if your dough grows, it shows your starter is working perfectly, it’s doing the job it’s meant to do. And in which case, if your loaf is not as you expected it to be, it is for another reason, not because of your starter.
If your dough was slow to grow, it could just be cold; if your dough didn’t grow at all, it could just be cold. In both cases, check what the overnight temperature was before immediately assuming your starter is the issue.
If it’s been 18C and under, just allow your dough more time to fully prove and grow to double in size. That’s all it needs.
If it’s been 18C – 20C consistently all night and your dough didn’t grow, only then might there be an issue with your starter.
Our beloved starters get so much unfair blame when a loaf doesn’t bake as expected, when usually the answer is a proving issue, or some other reason. Look back at my FAQs and posts for tips about doughs and behaviour before throwing some other flour or feeding programme at your starter. And never ever throw your starter away unless it’s mouldy and truly dead.
And if your starter really does need some help, give it a boost, or some fresh flour, or a new flour. Give it a chance to do it’s thing. There’s life in there, it might just need some encouragement to show itself. Your starter is a living beautiful thing, and as with all living beautiful things, they can have dips in energy, and that’s the time to give it some love and encouragement.
This could be ‘how long will it take for my new starter to be ready to use?’ or ‘how long will it be before I can use my starter after feeding it?’ or ‘how long will it take for my dough fully proved?’, these are the main questions that come up.
There is only one answer to all of these, or any question of ‘how long…?’ when talking about sourdough which is…
I literally cannot tell you “how long”. There is no fixed, definitive answer to any of these questions.
I cannot ever tell anyone how long any of that things will take because there are too many factors involved. And understanding that and what these factors are will enhance your sourdough exponentially. Time and patience are the bedfellows of sourdough success, hand in hand with flour, temperature and environment. Which can all sound confusing and impossible to manage, but it’s truly simpler than people think, and as soon as you grasp those elements, sourdough making becomes relaxing and more enjoyable.
If I answer those earlier questions, this will give you a guide to what the main considerations are which you can the apply to your kitchen…
Question: how long will it take for my new starter to be ready to use?
Answer: honestly, it will take as long as it takes. All starters are different. Some take 5 days, some take 5 weeks, they’re all individual. It depends on the flour you use, the temperature in your kitchen, the wild yeast activity in your flour. The key is to let it happen, because it will.
Question: how long will it be before I can use my starter after feeding it?
Answer: this will all depend on the strength of your starter, and the room temperature. If it’s chilly, it will be slower; if it’s warmer, it will be faster. Watch it and it will show you when it’s ready, it will have grown and become active and lively.
Question: how long will it take for my dough fully proved?
Answer: again, this will depend on the strength of your starter, and the room temperature. If it’s chilly, it will be slower; if it’s warmer, it will be faster. This is why all of my recipes include time and temperature hand in hand for the main prove. Read my site and my book and lots of my posts on here for more info.
And one final question, that we all ask: how long do I REALLY have to wait to slice into my freshly baked loaf?
Answer: to eat it at its absolute best, at least an hour, otherwise it will be gummy, but truly, it’s totally up to you!
Time, patience, and understanding how room temperature affects sourdough making, are the keys to success. Read my other posts and hints and tips for more information.
Take one portion of my enriched sourdough dough, add some mincemeat, roll up, cut up, plait, and bake….and create a lovely Christmas loaf! That’s what I did here…
It tastes so good!!!!! And I don’t even like mincemeat! But partnering it with this dough worked perfectly…here’s what I did…
I made a standard portion of my enriched sourdough using all white spelt flour (you can use flour/s of your choice).
This is a long slow proving dough so it wasn’t fully proved until mid morning, which was the perfect time for the next step: I turned the dough out onto the kitchen counter then stretched it out to a rectangle, matching the width to the length of my loaf pan. I then spread several tablespoons of mincemeat over the dough…
I rolled this up to a fat sausage, still matching the length of my loaf pan..
Cut the sausage length ways to make 2 long pieces…
Then plaited the two pieces and lifted the whole thing into a loaf tin liner and into the loaf tin…
I then covered this again with my shower cap and left it on the counter to prove again for a few hours…
After a few hours the dough had puffed up…
I brushed the top with egg white as per my main enriched recipe, and baked it uncovered, from a cold start, at 160C fan/convection, 180C non fan/convention, for 45-50 mins. It can be baked from a cold or hot start, bake for 5 mins less in a preheated oven.
After an agonising wait, I cut into it…
I hope you like the look of my babka…if you don’t have, or don’t like, mincemeat, try it with jam, chutney, or any filling of your choice. And if you do make a enriched sourdough babka with my recipe, please do share it and tag me, or send me a photo of your creation…happy baking!
I was very kindly gifted a copy of the wonderful Elaine’s new sourdough book, and I really can’t recommend it highly enough!
Elaine is a wealth of knowledge on all things sourdough and explains things in such a simple and straightforward way.
We both agree that sourdough is not about perfection, its about creating delicious nutritious bread using a sourdough starter, and believe me sourdough is the best bread on the planet, and learning to make your own is a skill worth acquiring!
Elaine explains everything you need to know, including how to make a sourdough starter from scratch, equipment choices, and using ancient flours.
Recipes include soft and pillowy sandwich bread, gorgeous foccacia, sourdough scones, crackers, rolls and lots of sourdough loaves using different flours.
There is way more to sourdough than white holey bread!! Its so versatile and Elaine’s book is the only book you will need so do yourself a favour and buy yourself a copy!
She shares so many great ideas and is a sourdough wizard!! I have learned so much from her, she is just the best! 💕💕💕