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A Lesson In The Art Of Sourdough

Fun fact: sourdough, despite the name, does not mean the bread is sour. It is simply a way of making bread rise.

A national crisis can change a nation — and COVID19 has brought out our inner bakers

We've always seen ourselves as the kind of people who enjoy things like pottery or making nut milk, yet so often we're too busy or too stressed to do any of it in earnest. However, somewhere between the gentle push to work from home and the "stay at home" orders, we've come into more time in the house with a more urgent need than ever to make it feel safe and cosy.

These hard times have made knitters, painters, and stress-bakers out of all of us. But it's baking sourdough bread, in particular, that seems to have surged as a regular household activity. 

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So, with that in mind, we reached out to Patrick Ryan for a lesson in the art of baking sourdough bread. 

how to make sourdough bread

"Using the wild yeasts in the air, a starter culture is created and allowed to ferment and it is this fermentation that makes your bread rise. But because this is a natural process everything happens much slower. Our bread proves for over 18 hours, resulting in more flavour and making the bread easier to digest. The secret to great bread is time," says Ryan. 


  • 500g strong unbleached white bread flour
  • 300g sourdough starter
  • 250ml water
  • 10g salt
  • 10g brown sugar


1. Mix together the flour, starter and water in a bowl. Add the salt and sugar. Turn out onto a clean kitchen surface and knead for 10 minutes or until the ‘windowpane effect’ is achieved (see panel below).

2. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and let it prove for 2.5–3 hours. You won’t notice anywhere near as much of a rise in the dough as with a normal, yeasted bread and it will take a lot longer.

Allow the dough to prove

Allow the dough to prove

3. Turn out the dough onto a clean kitchen surface and knockback to release some of the air. Halve the dough and roll into two ball (or cob) loaf shapes.

4. Flour generously, and place each loaf base-side up in a bowl lined with a linen couche or proofing cloth. (Without the cloth, your loaf will stick to the bowl and you won’t be able to turn it out. A heavily floured tea towel will work fine.) Leave to prove for a further 2.5 hours. Alternatively, this dough can be made the day before, allowing the fermentation process to be extended further. If doing so, place the shaped dough into the fridge and leave overnight. Remove 1.5 hours before baking and rest at room temperature.

Generously flour baking tray

Generously flour baking tray

5. Preheat the oven to 230°C/gas mark 7 and preheat a baking tray or baking stone in the bottom. Once hot, remove the preheated tray or hot baking stone and turn both loaves out on it. Flour, score or glaze as required and transfer to the oven, throwing in some ice cubes or cold water to steam the oven.

Score loaf

Score loaf

6. Bake for 35–40 minutes or until a good crust has formed and the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the base.

Top tip: To check if your dough is ready after kneading, gather it up into a ball and hold up the top two corners against a light. If you can see through the dough and it can support itself without tearing, it is ready. If lots of little tears appear, you need to keep kneading.

This article originally appeared on our sister website, FOOD AND WINE.

Main image by Monika Grabkowska

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