December Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Sourdough, Letting Nature do the Work

Blog Checking Lines: Our Daring Bakers Host for December 2011 was Jessica of My Recipe Project and she showed us how fun it is to create Sour Dough bread in our own kitchens! She provided us with Sour Dough recipes from Bread Matters by AndrewWhitley as well as delicious recipes to use our Sour Dough bread in from Tonia George’s Things on Toast and Canteen’s Great British Food!

I was very excited when I saw that this month’s challenge was going to be Sourdough.  I love making bread and it’s been about 10 years since I’ve had a starter in the house.  I was eager to jump right in and make some bread, but first I had the maddening wait to get my starter going!  Sourdough starts with a “starter” or “leaven” which is a mixture of flour and water that is allowed to ferment over 4 or more days at room temperature.  Each day the starter is “fed” with a mixture of more flour and water.  If all goes well, the starter should be bubbly and smell yeasty about 4 days later.  The optimal temperature to ferment starter is around 86°F, but my kitchen is about 70°F on a warm day this time of year so it took my starter about a week to really become active.

We had the choice of a few different starters and breads, but I chose to make a French Country Bread which uses a starter made from whole grain graham flour.   With no other yeast other than what is “caught” in the air with our starter, the process of making sourdough bread is slower than most yeast breads.  However, the hands-on time is actually fairly low so it’s very doable if you plan to bake on the weekend.   This dough is much wetter than regular bread dough, so I had a little trouble keeping the loft of the bread once I moved it from it’s proofing mold onto a baking sheet.  I found that a parchment sling helped it keep it’s shape for the first 10 minutes of baking and resulted in a better looking loaf.  Despite being flatter than I’d like, the bread is really delicious and moist with large holes and a crispy crust.  There isn’t a lot of tang at this time, but as my starter gets older it should develop more of the traditional sour flavor of sourdough.

In addition to making a sourdough loaf with no other leavening, we were asked to showcase the bread in a recipe.  I chose a cheesy toast puff that I remember my mother making when I was a child.  A spread is made from stiffly beaten egg whites into which sharp cheddar, paprika and baking soda are folded.  This mixture is spread on lightly toasted bread and broiled for about 5 minutes until the topping puffs and turns golden. It’s like a little cheese souffle parked on top of toast and it’s as delicious as I remember!  The sharp cheddar cheese is the perfect partner for the sourdough bread.

I was having so much fun, that I made yet another loaf of bread into which I added dried cranberries and chunks of chocolate.  This version makes a nice breakfast toast.

I also made some pizza crust that was pretty tasty.  I was pleased to notice that my starter (which we’ve named “The Blob”) seems to be getting stronger and more flavorful as the days go buy and as I use it in recipes.  I definitely intend to keep it up and use it regularly!  It really is like magic that water, flour and salt alone can make a fabulous loaf of bread.

French Country Bread

Wheat Starter – Day 1:

  • 4 1/2 tablespoons (70 ml) (40 gm/1 1⁄2 oz) stoneground breadmaking whole-wheat or graham flour
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) water Total scant 1⁄2 cup (115 ml) (3 oz/85 gm)


  1. In a Tupperware or plastic container, mix the flour and water into a paste.
  2. Set the lid on top gently, cover with a plastic bag, to prevent messes in case it grows more than expected!
  3. Set somewhere warm (around 86 F if possible).

Wheat Starter – Day 2:

  • 4 1/2 tablespoons (70 ml) (40 gm/1 1⁄2 oz) stoneground breadmaking whole-wheat or graham flour
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) water scant 1/2 cup (115 ml) (3 oz/85 gm) starter from Day 1 Total scant cup (230 ml) (6 oz/170 gm)


  1. Stir the flour and water into the mixture from Day 1, cover, and return to its warm place.

Wheat Starter – Day 3:

  • 4 1/2 tablespoons (70 ml) (40 gm/1 1⁄2 oz) stoneground breadmaking whole-wheat or graham flour
  • 4 teaspoons (20 ml) water
  • scant 1 cup (230 ml) (6 oz/170 gm) starter from Day 2 Total 11⁄3 cup (320 ml) (230 gm/8-1/10 oz)


  1. Stir the flour and water into the mixture from Day 2, cover, and return to its warm place.

Wheat Starter – Day 4:

  • 3/4 cup plus 11⁄2 tablespoons (205 ml) (120 gm/4 1⁄4 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour 1/2 cup less
  • 4 teaspoons (100 ml) water
  • 11⁄3 cup (320 ml) (230 gm/8 oz) starter from Day 3 Total scant 22⁄3 cup (625 ml) (440 gm/151⁄2 oz)


  1. Stir the flour and water into the mixture from Day 3, cover, and return to its warm place. At this point it should be bubbling and smell yeasty. If not, repeat this process for a further day or so until it is!

French Country Bread
Stage 1: Refreshing the leaven

  • 1 cup less 1 tablespoon (225 ml) (160 gm/5 2⁄3 oz) wheat Leaven Starter
  • 6 tablespoons less 1 teaspoon (85 ml) (50 gm/13⁄4 oz) stoneground bread making whole-wheat or graham flour
  • 1 cup plus 2 teaspoons (250 ml) (150 gm/5 1⁄3 oz) unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) water
  • Production Leaven Total 23⁄4 cups plus 4 teaspoons (680 ml) (480 gm /1 lb 1 oz)


  1. Mix everything into a sloppy dough. It may be fairly stiff at this stage. Cover and set aside for 4 hours, until bubbling and expanded slightly.

French Country Bread
Stage 2: Making the final dough

  • 3/4 cup less 1 teaspoon (175 ml) (100 gm/3 1⁄2 oz) stoneground breadmaking whole-wheat or graham flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (510 ml) (300gm/10 1⁄2 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 11⁄4 teaspoons (71⁄2 ml) (7 gm/1⁄4 oz) sea salt or 2⁄3 teaspoon (31⁄3 ml) (3 gm/1⁄8 oz) table salt
  • 1 1⁄4 cups (300 ml) water
  • 1 3⁄4 cups (425 ml) (300 gm/10 1⁄2 oz) production leaven – this should leave some (1 cup) for your next loaf. Total 6 cups less 2 tablespoons 1415 ml (1007 gm/35 1⁄2 oz/2 lb 31⁄2 oz)


  1. Mix the dough with all the ingredients except the production leaven. It will be a soft dough.
  2. Knead on an UNFLOURED surface for about 8-10 minutes, getting the tips of your fingers wet if you need to. You can use dough scrapers to stretch and fold the dough at this stage, or air knead if you prefer. Basically, you want to stretch the dough and fold it over itself repeatedly until you have a smoother, more elastic dough.
  3. Smooth your dough into a circle, then scoop your production leaven into the centre. You want to fold the edges of the dough up to incorporate the leaven, but this might be a messy process. Knead for a couple minutes until the leaven is fully incorporated in the dough.
  4. Spread some water on a clean bit of your work surface and lay the dough on top. Cover with an upturned bowl, lining the rim of the bowl with a bit of water. Leave for an hour, so that the gluten can develop and the yeasts can begin to aerate the dough.
  5. Once your dough has rested, you can begin to stretch and fold it. Using wet hands and a dough scraper, stretch the dough away from you as far as you can without breaking it and fold it back in on itself. Repeat this in each direction, to the right, towards you, and to the left. This will help create a more ‘vertical’ dough, ready for proofing.Heavily flour a banneton/proofing basket with whole wheat flour and rest your dough, seam side up, in the basket. Put the basket in a large plastic bag, inflate it, and seal it. Set aside somewhere warm for 3-5 hours, or until it has expanded a fair bit. It is ready to bake when the dough responds to a gently poke by slowly pressing back to shape.
  6. Preheat the oven to hot 425°F/220°C/gas mark 7. Line a baking sheet with parchment, then carefully invert the dough onto the sheet.  Put the baking sheet on top of the basket, then gently flip it over so as to disturb the dough as little as possible. Make 2-3 cuts on top of the loaf and bake for 40-50 minutes, reducing the temperature to moderately hot 400°F/200°C/gas mark 6 after 10 minutes.
  7. Cool on a cooling rack.

Cheese Toast Puffs:

4 – 6 slices Country French Bread
2 egg whites
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. paprika
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Lightly toast the bread.

In a small bowl, beat the egg whites until firm.  Fold in the baking soda, paprika and cheese.

Spread the cheese mixture on the toast.  Broil the cheese-topped toast for about 5 minutes, until the cheese is puffed and golden.

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December Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Sourdough, Letting Nature do the Work — 5 Comments

  1. I hope you and “the Blob” have many more wonderful baking adventures together 🙂
    Love the cheese puff toast – I wish my mother had that one up her sleeve when I was growing up.

  2. Fantastic job! Your sourdough loaf looks amazing!! I love that you are calling it “The Blob”! LOL Your cheesy spread sounds delicious, too. And you are right, sourdough makes a mean pizza crust!

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