The Darling Basics: Sourdough bread.

BREAD. So basic. But not at all. Such a luxury. But not really.
I’m still new to the adventure, so consider it shared learning experience. The advice and instructions come from Fiona at Buena Vista Farm. If you want to learn from her firsthand, as I did, go and spend a day with her on the farm. Or you can read Fiona’s advice directly, over on

The recipe below makes one loaf — enough for a couple of hungry people
or a small group of friends/colleagues/sandwiches.

For timings, see The schedule at the bottom of this post.


For starters…

I’m going to assume you’ve already got a starter (possibly from me, in which case it’s the offspring of Fiona’s years-old “mother” starter). If you’re starting without a starter, Fiona has blogged extensively about making your own from scratch.

To keep your starter alive:

  • Keep it a sealable plastic/glass container that has plenty of “headspace” above the tide line — give it room to breathe and grow!
  • Make sure it doesn’t get too cold or too hot. Mine lives in the shady corner of a room that otherwise gets lots of sunlight.
  • Every 24 hours, add 100g flour (plain or baker’s, or even rye or wholemeal) and 75–80g of water. Mix roughly with a fork to break up any big lumps of flour — digestion will do the rest!
  • If you’re not baking regularly, you can send your starter to sleep for a week (or many) and then start feeding it again before you need it. (Note: I haven’t done this but there are lots of tips here.)

    (This starter has been eating rye flour.)


Time to make bread!

To make the ‘sponge’
This step takes 5 minutes or less, but then you’ll leave it for 12 hours

One large mixing bowl
145 g baker’s flour
125 g plain flour
10 g (1/2 tsp) olive oil
225 g tepid water
255 g active starter*


  1. Mix everything together in the large bowl with a wooden spoon — it doesn’t need to be perfect, just make sure everything is incorporated (the texture should be like really thick, gloopy paste). You can sift the flour but it’s not essential — this mixture will get worked over a LOT in the next day or so.
  2. Cover with cling wrap and leave it for 12 hours or so in the same conditions as your starter (warm/temperate but not too sunny/hot).

*Drop a little bit into a cup of water — if it floats, it’s alive and ready to go.


To make the dough
5 minutes of adding stuff + 15 minutes kneading

2 tsp table salt
225 g baker’s flour

Bit of flour (for dusting)
Bit of olive/vegetable oil (to grease the bowl)


  1. Clear some bench space and dust it with flour.
  2. Add the salt and flour to the “sponge”, and mix with a wooden spoon until it all starts to come together. It should still be quite wet, but you want to be able to lift/tip it out of the bowl and onto the bench top.
  3. Scoop/tip the clumpy dough onto your floured bench top and start kneading — the dough should quite quickly become less sticky, but if it doesn’t, add a tiny bit more flour — but not a lot!
  4. Knead for 5+ minutes — the dough should become smooth and silky/velvety.
  5. Rest stop! Dust the bench top with a little more flour, and leave the dough for a minute or two.
  6. Knead again for another 5+ minutes. This is not optional. Lots of kneading = tall, not-concretey bread, and apparently you can’t overknead.
  7. Form the dough into a ball. (It doesn’t have to be perfect… yet.)
  8. Grab your large mixing bowl — scrape out any bits of dough that didn’t make the cut, but no need to wash it thoroughly — and rub the inside with a little olive/vegetable oil, then dust it with flour so the dough doesn’t stick as it rises.
  9. Put the ball of dough in the prepped bowl, cover the bowl with cling wrap and leave it to prove/rise somewhere temperate for about 3 hours — it should about double in size

    (Leave your dough to rise somewhere HAPPY ^_^)


To shape the loaf
2 minutes

Bit of flour (for dusting)
A loaf-sized mixing bowl


  1. Dust the bench top with flour (not too much).
  2. Tip the dough onto the bench top — it should now by kind of puffy and a little sticky, not dry or tough —and gently press it into the shape of a rounded-edge square.
  3. Fold all the “corners” in towards the middle, then flip it over and use your hands to shape it the rest of the way into a circle.
  4. Very lightly grease the bowl you’re going to use to set the shape of the loaf, and sprinkle a generous amount of flour in there — you don’t want to have to prise the loaf out of it and ruin the shape when it’s time to bake.
  5. Flip the ball of dough into the bowl, so the “seams” (from where you folded in the corners) are facing UP. The “top” of your loaf goes face-first into the bowl.
  6. Leave — covered, in a temperate place — for about 2 hours.

    (This dough has proved — in a banneton, lucky thing — and is ready to go in the oven.)


To bake the loaf
20 minutes preheating the oven + 30–40 minutes baking

A shallow baking dish
One baking sheet/tray
Bit of oil (for greasing the tray)
Bit of flour (for dusting)
Your dough


  1. 20 minutes before you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 240° C — I basically put mine on MAX. Fill the shallow baking dish with water and put that on the bottom shelf of the oven*, and set the other shelf in the middle of the oven — not too high.
  2. When the oven is hot, lightly grease the baking sheet/tray, then flip/tip the dough out of the bowl onto the tray — so what was in the bottom of the bowl is now the top of your loaf.
  3. Dust the top of the loaf with a little flour, then slash it — there’s no need to cut deep, but you must do it in one swift, decisive movement. Very satisfying.
  4. Pop it in the oven!
  5. Bake for 30–40 minutes, or until the loaf is a good, deep, golden brown and the inside are trying to come out.
  6. Remove the loaf from the oven and allow it to sit and relax/breathe for at least 20 minutes. (The longer the better — cut too soon and the insides will still be sort of damp and steamy.)
  7. Serve with butter (or EVOO) and a sprinkling of salt. Obviously.

*Steam! Steam is essential for vertical rise, softness, bubbles, and also for caramelising the sugars in the surface of the bread so it turns that wonderful top-of-a-crême-brulée colour.


The schedule

5 mins: Make the ‘sponge’
12 hours: Leave the sponge to grow
5 mins + 15 mins: Make the dough + knead the dough
3ish hours**: Dough rises (proves)
2 minutes: Shape the dough
2 hours: Second proof
30–40 minutes: Baking!
At least 20 minutes: Resting

For example:
7.40am: Make the ‘sponge’
7.40am–just after dinnertime: Leave the sponge to grow
8.00 or 9.00pm: Make the dough + knead the dough
8.00/9.00pm–5.30am*: Dough rises (proves)
5.30am: Shape the dough
5.30–7.40am: Second proof
7.40am: Turn on the oven!
8.00–8.35am: Baking!
8.35am–whenever I get home from work: Resting

*All advice says this should be about 3 hours and not too much longer, because the dough can rise and then slump again if you leave it for too long. But I’m going to be blasphemous here: I leave mine overnight (around 8 hours…) and I’ve been getting better (i.e. bigger) results than the few times I tried with a shorter proving time. I’m pretty sure this relies on having a very active, sour starter and a warm, undisturbed environment, and if you can find time to fit the 3-hour period into your day, then obviously go with that.

2 thoughts on “The Darling Basics: Sourdough bread.

  1. Pingback: Malt + caramel cookies. | The Darling Baker

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