Kitchen projects: Sourdough bread from start(er) to finish

Sourdough bread from my own sourdough starter

You can just make out the H

For National Bread Week – as I’m a little late for Sourdough September! – I’m revisiting a post that I first wrote on 1 March, 2013. It’s always a good time for real bread. There are now more bakers than ever producing really good bread. Best way to find them? Check out Real Bread Ireland for a regularly updated list.

When my beloved Ballymaloe sourdough starter recently died, after more than five years of semi-regular use, there was some mourning. And then I started my starter again.

After being used to having a means of making my own sourdough bread and the security of that (mostly) fridge-based starter, it was impossible not to. Along with making the actual loaves, it also gets fed up and used for the occasional batch of sourdough pancakes, waffles and pizza dough. At this stage, I’ve even got a quick (in sourdough terms) bread that I make in my bread machine. My old starter was very sour and, once you get used to that fermented flavour, it’s something that you crave and appreciate where ever else you find it.

This time round, I documented the making of the starter on Instagram. I wanted to show, step-by-step, how the whole process works and, despite the length of the recipe below, that it’s not complicated.  There seems to be this whole unnecessary mystique about sourdough bread making when all it takes is a few minutes a day to get the starter going, a little (ok, a lot!) of kneading and plenty of time to let the bread rise.

Take a look at a page of my pictures here.

And, if you don’t feel ready to make it, search out some of the fabulous sourdough breads on sale around the country from the growing number of producers, including Arbutus Bread’s Declan Ryan, Thibault Peigne (McKennas’ Guides film here), Fabrice Hergaux at the Butler’s Pantry, and Joe Fitzmaurice of Cloughjordan Wood-fired Bakery.

Sourdough over the years
October 2012: Sourdough from starter, revisited
September 2012: Bake me an island: sourdough bread making with Firehouse Bakery
January 2011: Your daily bread: Sourdough from starter
March 2009: Your daily bread: Sourdough
November 2007: Ballymaloe Cookery Course: Week 11: Wednesday 

Sourdough bread from starter

Irresistible when toasted and eaten with Homebaked Beans

Sourdough from starter
This recipe is regularly revisited and updated! The original, adapted from one that I got while studying in Balllymaloe, is here.

Step 1: Making your sourdough starter
What you need:
* Container – a large, wide-mouth container that will hold about 2 litres. I use a large kilner jar. Wash well in warm, soapy water before use.
* Flour – use strong white bread flour. Organic is great but not essential.
* Water – use filtered or spring water if at all possible. Avoid chlorinated tap water – this will kill your starter. If you only have access to chlorinated tap water, fill up a jug and leave it to stand overnight before use. Always use water at room temperature.
* Round or oval baskets x 2 – because sourdough takes AGES to rise, it is notorious for spreading out rather than up. In Ballymaloe I used, and you can buy online, beautifully shaped cane baskets for bread rising. Here at the cottage I just use a couple of regular wicker ones that I picked up in my local pound shop for not more than a couple of euros. Make sure you line them with a well floured flat weave cotton tea towel.
* A little patience…

Day 1
Put 50mls water and 50g bread flour into the jar. Mix well, cover (do not seal the jar) and leave at room temperature overnight.

Day 2
Add 50mls water and 50g bread flour to the jar. Mix well, cover (do not seal the jar) and leave at room temperature overnight 

Day 3
Add 50mls water and 50g bread flour to the jar. Mix well, cover (do not seal the jar) and leave at room temperature overnight.

Day 4
Add 50mls water and 50g bread flour to the jar. Mix well, cover (do not seal the jar) and leave at room temperature overnight.

Day 5
Add 50mls water and 50g bread flour to the jar. Mix well, cover (do not seal the jar) and leave at room temperature overnight.

Day 6
You will now have approximately 550mls of lively, bubbling, slightly beery-smelling sourdough starter to make your bread. It is most active now so can be used straight away or can also be sealed and stored in the fridge until you want to make bread.

Do not allow your starter to get too warm. If it is too stiff, add a little more water and mix well. It should always smell pleasant and the flavour will become more complex each time you use it. Mine is was still working well, even after five years of benign neglect.

Step 2: Making Sourdough Bread I now do this over two days – the first day is feeding the starter, the second actually making the bread.

Day 1: Morning
Begin with your sourdough starter at room temperature, taking it out of the fridge the night before if necessary. Stir in 225mls room temperature water (again, avoid chlorinated water) then add 225g strong white bread flour. Mix well, cover and leave at room temperature.

Day 1: Evening
Your mixture should look bubbly and alive. Add another 225mls room temperature water and 225g strong white bread flour. Mix well, cover and leave at room temperature overnight.

Day 2: Morning
The starter will have expanded in volume and have a frothy layer on top. Transfer 850mls into a large mixing bowl – I measure by putting the bowl on a digital weighing scale. Put the remainder back into the jar and keep in the fridge for the next batch of bread.

To your mixing bowl, add:

Room temperature water – 100-150mls
Strong white flour – 700g
Wheatgerm – 1 tablespoon
Rye flour – 1 tablespoon

Mix well. I find that the amount of water needed varies each time. Start with 100mls and add more as necessary to make a ragged dough. Cover the bowl with either clingfilm or a damp tea towel for 20 minutes.

Sprinkle 2½ teaspoons of salt (I have forgotten this in the past and it is ESSENTIAL) over the mixture and knead by hand for 15-20 minutes or by machine for approximately 6 minutes – just make sure your mixer is strong enough to take such a large amount or divide it in two. It’s easiest to do it by hand. The dough should be smooth and slightly sticky. Place back into the large bowl, cover again and allow to rise at in a warm place until light, which takes about 3 – 4 hours.

Day 2: Afternoon
Line both baskets with a couple of well-floured tea towels Gently knock back the risen dough. Shape into two loaves, dust with flour and put into the baskets. Allow to prove for another 3 – 4 hours.

Day 2: Evening
Preheat your oven to 230°C/210°C fanbake/450°F/Gas Mark 8 and fix the shelves so the bread has room to expand. Put a metal baking tray on the bottom of the oven (for adding steam). Boil the kettle.

Sprinkle the base of a large baking tray with a little flour or polenta. You may need two trays. Leaving room for expansion, very gently turn the loaf on to the tray. Quickly slash the top with a very sharp knife – I now slash a H in mine! – and put into the oven straight away. Open the oven door for a moment and pour in about 100mls of boiling water from the kettle. Close immediately.

Check the bread after 35-40 minutes, knocking the base to see if it sounds hollow. It may need a few more minutes back in the oven, turned upside down. Makes 2 x approximately 1kg loaves.



Food writer. Broadcaster. Blogger. Author. Married to Eight Degrees Brewing. Member of the Irish Food Writers' Guild, founder of Irish Food Bloggers Association and co-author of Sláinte: The Complete Guide to Irish Craft Beer & Cider (New Island)

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3 Responses

  1. taylor says:

    hello from Diva! we love sourdough, our starter is nearing its third birthday down in ballinspittle! love your recipe, its written so clearly. the salt is so essential, forgotten it before and left with a bubbly mess. oops! haha. we’ll be posting a no-knead sourdough loaf on the blog soon, its been in the works for AGES. your post has reinspired writing it! thanks, caroline

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