Sourdough Loaf - Stage 1

The following recipe is for a tried and tested Sourdough Loaf

Yield: 0.960-0.980 kg (1 large loaf or 2 small loaves)


For the sponge:
  • 90-100 grams ripe 100% hydration starter (N.B. Remember to keep 10 grams of your starter back to refresh as your ongoing starter)
  • 250 grams strong white bread flour (unbleached, untreated flour)
  • 310-320 grams cool water (wetter dough is a bit more difficult to handle but makes better bread)

For the loaf:
  • all of the sponge
  • 300 grams strong white bread flour (or 250 grams white and 50 grams of rye, wholemeal or spelt flour)
  • 11.5 grams salt (essential)

  • Sponge: 8-12 hrs
  • Work Dough: 10 min
  • Fermentation: 4 hrs with folds at 1.5 and 3 hrs
  • Shape: 5 min
  • Prove: about 4 hrs at room temp or overnight in fridge plus 2 hrs at room temp (until double in size)
  • Bake: 30 min

Example Morning Baking:
  • Sponge: e.g. 10:15 - 18:15
  • Work Dough: 10 min
  • Fermentation: e.g. 18:30 - 22:30, with folds at 20:00 and 21:30
  • Shape: 5 min
  • Prove: 22:35 - 08:00 in fridge plus 2 hrs at room temp 08:00 - 10:00
  • Bake: at 10:00 for 30 min

Example Afternoon Baking:
  • Sponge: e.g. 23:00 - 09:00 the night before baking
  • Work Dough: 10 min
  • Fermentation: e.g. 09:15 - 13:15, with folds at 10:45 and 12:15
  • Shape: 5 min
  • Prove: about 4 hours e.g. 13:20 - 16:20 (until double in size)
  • Bake: at about 16:15 for 30 min

NB: Timings are illustrative and approximate and not written in stone, and are based on my baking experience here in the UK - you may find you need to prove the dough for longer on a cooler day or in a cooler climate, or for shorter on a warmer day or in a warmer climate.  The key is not to under or over-prove the dough, so bake it when the dough has about doubled in size and still has some spring-back when touched.

Retarding the Dough in the Refrigerator Overnight

Lowering the temperature of the dough produces a slower, longer rise with more varied fermentation products, resulting in more complex flavors. In sourdough bread-making, cold decreases the activity of wild yeast relative to the lactobacilli which produce flavouring products such as lactic acid and acetic acid. Dough that is retarded before baking results in a more sour loaf.

Stage 1 - Make the Sponge

Put 90-100 grams of ripe starter into a large bowl.

To the 90-100 grams of starter add 250 grams of bread flour and 310-320 grams of water.  Here I've used unbleached white bread flour and filtered tap water.

Mix all the s
ponge ingredients together in a large bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave at room temperature to ferment (8-12 hrs).

Next, go to Stage 2 - Make the Dough

Maintaining a Sourdough Starter

Essentially, a sourdough starter contains a natural culture of yeast and lacto-bacteria colonies that need a regular food and water supply to survive and stay healthy. There are millions of yeast and lacto-bacteria cells in one teaspoon of ripe starter (i.e. a starter which has been fed and watered and allowed to ferment fully).

This is my refrigerated over-ripe sourdough starter with a layer of hooch on top. When I say over-ripe, I mean it's been in the fridge for about 5 days since its last feeding and it's past its peak of activity as the all food source has been used up.

Kept in the fridge, I'd say it has a 'life-cycle' of about 3-4 days, during which it grows, double in size, ripens, and then deflates. Ke
pt at room temperature, it has a life-cycle of about 8-24 hours.

To maintain the starter it needs refreshing or 'feeding'. I've stirred the hooch back into the starter and weighed out 10 gram
s of starter into a small bowl.

To the 10 grams of starter add 50 grams of bread flour (white will do, preferably unbleached and without flour improvers; I use Carr's Strong White Bread Flour) and 50 grams of water (bottled or filtered if your tap water is significantly chlorinated).

Mix well. Dispose of the remaining starter (or use it to bake a Sourdough Loaf) and wash out the container.

Scoop the starter into the jar and store at room temperature with daily feedings, or in the fridge if you do not bake with it regularly. Keep the lid loose.

Stored at room temperature, the starter should double in size in about 8-12 hours. The 10 grams of starter culture will have fed off the flour and water and fermented the mixture, resulting in about 100 grams of ripe starter full of active yeasts and bacteria and their by-products of fermentation.

Storing it in the fridge slows down the yeast cells which means you only need to refresh it every 3-5 days, possibly even just once a week.

It may take a little longer for a refrigerated starter to raise a loaf and it's advisable to feed and keep the starter at room temperature in advance of baking to get it fully active again. 

However, I've often used a 5 day over-ripe starter straight from the fridge to make the sponge for a loaf and it's worked well. Anything older than 5 days I'd refresh it and ripen it at room temperature before making the sponge with it.

If you refresh your starter using the above measurements (10 grams starter, 50 grams flour, 50 grams water) that's at a ratio of 1:5:5 (1 x starter to 5 x flour to 5 x water). I find this ratio works well.  If you wish to generate a larger quantity of starter, use the 1:5:5 ratio e.g. 20 grams starter:100 grams flour:100 grams water = approx 220 grams starter.

Having equal weights of water to flour means that the starter is a '100% hydration starter' and can be used in recipes that call for a 100% hydration starter. It is also known as a 'wet' starter. Halving the weight of water to flour, as in the ratio 1:5:2.5, would result in a 50% hydration starter, known also as a 'stiff' starter.

Day 2 After Feeding (Refrigerated)

Day 2 After Feeding (Refrigerated)
Day 3 After Feeding (Refrigerated)
Day 3 After Feeding (Refrigerated)
Day 4 After Feeding (Refrigerated)
Day 4 After Feeding (Refrigerated)

Starter on days 2, 3 and 4 after feeding (stored in fridge.) Shows peak of activity on day 3 = ripe starter.  Day 4 it is deflating and will need feeding.  A starter kept at room temperature would peak at 8-12 hours.

Use your sourdough starter to make a delicious artisan Sourdough Loaf.

Ask a dozen bakers how they look after their sourdough starter, you’ll probably get a baker’s dozen replies.

How do you care for yours? Maybe you’d like to comment about my method or tell about yours? Just click on the comments button at the bottom of this page.