Freestyle Sourdough

I’ve been battling with trying to find the idea sourdough recipe to achieve a lovely plump loaf with caramelised ears and an open crumb with big air pockets to show off the power of naturally leavened dough.

The holy grail for me has been the open crumb.  I’ve tried various starter cultures, dough recipes and kneading techniques, following each to the letter with little success; frustrating considering the amount of commitment required.  Finally, in frustration, I threw all caution to the wind and decided to completely wing it; no recipe or timings; do it all based on feel and availability of my time – and I got the best result yet.


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If you’re used to baking with fresh or fast action yeast, then you get an idea of flour, salt and water ratios, which helps.

Here’s the method I winged:

  • Sourdough starter – 100g (50/50 stone white flour and water made up over a week)
  • Flour, strong white – 400g
  • Flour, rye –  150g
  • Water – 250g + extra as needed
  • Salt – 2 tsp
  • Mix the starter in with the (blood temperature) water
  • Mix in the flours by hand until combined and leave covered to autolyse for [a time that suits] – 30min to 3 hours – add more water until you get a workable consistency
  • Flatten out the dough on a work surface and sprinkle over the salt
  • Knead for 10 minutes using the ‘stretch and fold’ method *
  • Shape into a ball, place in a bowl and cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge overnight until you’re ready for the next chapter.
  • Remove from fridge and leave out to warm up.
  • Stretch and fold in one direction, turn 90 degrees and repeat – repeat this twice more at 20-30 min intervals – as suits
  • Shape into a ball and place seam up into a floured proving basket in a warm place for 3-4 hours to prove – check it now and again to see if it is approaching double original size (I put mine in a luke warm oven)
  • Heat oven to 2ooc with a pizza stone if you have one and place a baking tray in the bottom
  • Gently tip onto the baking surface and slash a couple of times **
  • Add some water to the baking tray in the bottom of the oven to generate steam***
  • Bake at 200c for 20 min
  • Reduce heat to 180c and bake for a further 20-30 min, until the ears around where you slashed begin to caramelise


*(If you’re unfamiliar with this, it is a gentle method of kneading which incorporates air into the dough – here’s a succinct instructional youtube video demo from american Jacob Burton “Holy oven spring batman” being my favourite baking related exclamation

**Check out @minskitchen on instagram for some truly inspirational ear designs.

*** a steamy baking environment improves the crust of the loaf, helps it rise and even improves the shelf-life of the finished loaf.




BBQ Brioche Buns

It’s the much anticipated Taylor BBQ today and my contribution is going to be a batch of 32 brioche burger buns.  Brioche burger buns have become something of a standard in the UK over the last couple of years; a much sturdier bun, fortified with eggs, milk and butter. Somebody I chatted to who had recently returned from living in France for a decade complained that UK offerings were no comparison to the authentic french delicacy. Whilst I agree, I don’t think they need to compare and I feel this take on brioche is a fitting vehicle for a quality burger and accompaniments and they can be quickly made without years of patisserie experience.


Makes 16IMG_4091

  • Strong Bread Flour – 900g
  • Water (blood temperature) – 500g
  • Milk – 6 tbsp
  • Eggs – 4 (+1 for egg wash)
  • Yeast (fast action) – 4 tsp
  • Castor Sugar – 2 tbsp
  • Butter (softened) – 80g
  • Salt – 2tsp


Whisk the yeast, water, milk and sugar together in a measuring jug and leave to activate for 5 min.

Measure the flour, butter and salt into a food processor and blitz until the mixture forms ‘bread crumbs’ (you might need to do this in a couple of batches depending on processor size)IMG_4089

Combine the flour mixture with the yeast mixture, crack in the 4 eggs and knead (using dough hook) in a mixer on medium-low speed for 10 minutes or until the dough starts to firm up.  This is a very wet dough so whilst it’s perfectly possible to knead it by hand, I wouldn’t fancy trying.

Cover the bowl with a tea-towel and leave for 1 hour or until doubled in volume.

Line 3 baking trays with baking parchment.

Once risen, tip the dough onto a floured surface.  The dough will still beIMG_4088 pretty fluid, so you may need to used a bit extra flour to help shape.

Cut off 110g of dough and shape into a ball.  Easiest way to do this is to gently flatten the dough then fold in the edges all the way round, trapping air in as you go.  Neaten up by cupping your hands around the dough, gently press you up-turned palms beneath the ball and rotate a few times.

Flip over and pop on a tray.  You should be able to fit 6 per tray, with about 5cm gap between. Repeat another 15 times.  This can become fun and make you feel like a true artisan!

Cover again and leave to rise for 30min.IMG_4087

Whisk the remaining egg with a pinch of salt and a splash of milk.  Using a pastry brush, paint each bun with the mixture.  You can choose to dust the buns now with some sesame seeds or similar.  I used polenta which gives a crunchy third dimension and an attractive look.

Preheat the oven to 200c or 180c (fan)

Add a tray to the bottom of the over with some water.  This will steam the oven and help the buns bloom and give them a soft crust.

Bake for 20min or until golden then remove and place on a rack until cool.




#RealBreadWeek – Sourdough Pizza


It’s #RealBreadWeek!! A shove in the right direction when it comes to decent unadulterated bread – bake it yourself or find your local Real Bread outlet.

I’ve subscribed to the Sustain Real Bread Campaign for 3 years now and eagerly look forward to their quarterly issue of their True Loaf magazine, stuffed full of inspirational stories of artisan bakers and their campaign to provide our daily bread, minus the additives and over-production which has unfortunately become commonplace with what should be the most simplest of staples.

Sustain’s definition of real bread: “Real Bread is that made without the use of processing aids or any other artificial additives”

I’m marking the beginning of Real Bread week with a sourdough pizza, using my sourdough starter culture.

I’ve written before how, although sourdough can be time consuming to maintain, the slow proving can be used to your advantage as the dough will be very forgiving if you leave it to prove all day or over-night.  If you tried to make a yeast risen dough after work, you would’t be eating until 10pm.  Make this dough the night before and leave to prove and ripen in the fridge until you’re ready.

Do we need a beer pairing? Well based on name and concept alone, why not a bottle of Toast Ale. Toast is 5%er brewed with the addition of surplus bread (about 25g/half a slice per bottle) that would otherwise go to waste, with proceeds going to the Feedback charity, aiming to reduce food waste. @Hackneybrewery even released their recipe so we might give this a go at some point.

For the Pizza Base (makes 1 big):image

  • Sourdough culture – 150g
  • Strong white flour – 150g
  • Plain white flour – 100g
  • Salt – 1/5 tsp
  • Water – 200g (warm)
  • Olive Oil – 1 tblsp
  • Polenta (for shaping)
  • Combine the culture, flours, olive oil, salt and water in a bowl then knead for 15 minutes by hand or 10 minutes in a mixer with the dough hook attachment.
  • Cover with a tea-towel and leave for 3 hours, or overnight/all day in the fridge, to best suit your timings (bring up to room temperature before using)


For the base sauce:

  • Tinned tomatoes (preferably decent quality like Tuscan Cirio) – 1 tin
  • Shallots – 3 (finely sliced)
  • Garlic – 1 clove
  • Olive oil (as much as you dare)
  • Woucestershire Sauce – 5 glugs
  • Gently heat a good splash of olive oil in a saucepan and add the chopped shallots. Cook really slowly, stirring occasionally for about 10-15 minutes. The shallots should become traslucent without burning.
  • Peel and squash the garlic clove and stir in to the pot and cook for a couple of minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes, about 5 glugs (2 tablespoons) of worcesterhsire sauce, salt and pepper and simmer on a medium heat until it becomes a thick sticky sauce.  Stir occasionally and turn down the heat if it starts to stick.
  • Blend the sauce in a food processor or with an immersion blender until smooth and it’s good to go.


Shaping and Baking:

  • imagePreheat your oven as hot as it will go. Preheat a pizza stone if you have one, or a large baking sheet
  • Sprinkle some polenta onto your work surface and then shape the dough into a ball, removing any excess depending on the size or number of pizzas you’re going for. The polenta gives a fantastic texture to the base and prevents sticking
  • Shape the pizza base – roll out with a rolling pin or have a go at tossing it if you dare (I’ve never managed this!)  My preferred method is to roll into a small circle, then grab one edge between your index fingers and thumbs and let the dough stretch under its own weight, quickly moving around the circle so that it stretches out evenly
  • Prepare your chosen pizza toppings (I used mozzarella, spinach, anchovies, finely chopped peppers and aubergine)
  • Remove your pizza stone/baking sheet, sprinkle with some polenta and quickly transfer the pizza base to the stone/tray and paint on a good layer of the tomato sauce avoiding a boarder around the rim, encouraging it to rise a bit during baking
  • Bake until done!


Left over dough and sauce?

Flatten the dough out, paint it with a goodly dollop of the tomato sauce and roll it back up (sauce to the inside). Leave to prove whilst your pizza bakes then pop it in the oven after for 30 to 40 minutes and you’ve got a tasty luncheon loaf for tomorrow.

Good luck! Simon.

Busy Schedule Sourdough Loaf


This is a really simple (although not quick) sourdough loaf to fit around any schedule.  The slow proving stages of sourdough makes the proving timings much more flexible and sympathetic to a  busy or unpredictable lifestyle:

  • Put the flours in a bowl and add the sourdough culture and warm water
  • Mix together with a spatula or with the dough-hook attachment in a mixer
  • Knead (by hand or mixer) until soft and pliable (around 10 minutes in the mixed on a medium low speed)
  • Cover and leave to rest for a couple or more hours or in the fridge if for longer
  • Punch out the air by shoving your finger-tips or knuckles into the dough on a work-surface, then shape into a ball and leave in a proving basket or covered bowl for 6 to 12 hours
  • Pre-heat the oven to 190c with a baking tray on the middle shelf (or baking/pizza stone if you have one) and lightly dust with flour
  • Pop a loaf tin or roasting tin in the bottom of the oven and pour in some water – this will steam the over and help develop a chewy crust on the loaf.  This isn’t essential however
  • Gently tip the risen loaf onto the tray/stone and bake for 30 minutes or until it has taken on a good golden colour


Sourdough Starter Culture (convenient)

IMG_3995I was put off making a sourdough starter for a long time, and had a couple of false starts, following recipes that called for grapes to be added at the start to provide a boost, due to natural yeasts that are found on the skins, and ratios of different types of flour from rye to plain.

It can be a bit ‘needy’ with daily feedings of equal parts water and flour, however storing in the fridge reduces feeding frequency to about once a week.  Getting to trust the dark liquid that forms on top of the starter takes a bit of getting over, however this is harmless and just means the starter is ‘hungry.

This is the method I’ve now come to use; it’s as simple as can be:

  • Use a large, wide plastic tub with a lid.  Previous attempts with kilner jars, whilst looking attractive, failed due to it being too faffy to stir and wipe before heading to work in the morning.  I also ended up having to throw discard quite a bit as jars would become full
  • Put the tub on your scales and weight 75g strong white flour and 75g cold water and mix with a spoon or fork.  The fewer utensils used the easier.
  • Loosely attach the lid and leave it on the kitchen counter
  • Repeat this for 5 days at which point bubbles should be forming – the starter is alive!
  • The culture is now ready to use.  Continue to feed once every other day, or when the starter is looking a less active

A sourdough loaf take a lot of time to leaven and prove, however this can actually make it an easier loaf to fit in around a busy schedule.  The benefit that a slow prove brings to the flavour and digestibility of a sourdough loaf, also means your timings don’t need to be anywhere near as accurate.  You can combine the ingredients in the morning and bake in the evening without having to be any more accurate that that.