Basic beginner's recipe?

Mark Sandford


This is my first posting, so please be gentle ...

I have a couple of starters up-and-running now and would like to bake a basic sourdough loaf, but it's taking me a while to trawl through recipes. The proving/resting times and ratios seem to vary so greatly.

I have an active starter - 100% hydration, white flour, which doubles in size about 5 hours after feeding.

I work from 7am until 5pm so would appreciate any advice on a simple recipe before I start experimenting - i.e. from feeding, when to mix, how long to rest, ratio of starter to flour/water.

In in the UK so my home is about 19 C during the day, 22C when I'm home.

Many thanks in advance :)


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farinam's picture
farinam 2012 January 31

Hello Mark,

We try to be gentle with everybody /;-{)}

First off I would recommend that you read SourDoms beginners blogs on this site.  He gives simple recipes and a range of timelines to suit different lifestyles.

If you are going to work at room temperature, for a simple loaf recipe, I use the time for your starter to reach its peak as a guide to the total time from preparation to being ready to bake.  If you use the progressive dough development method such as stretch and fold or short kneads during bulk ferment, then this should take about half of the total time - the other half being for proving after shaping. If you incorporate retardation at any stage then the timeline is greatly extended due to the lower yeast activity at low temperature.

However, regardless of all that, you have to go by what your dough actually does.  Timelines will vary for any number of reasons and sticking religiously to a time schedule that has worked for one set of conditions will not necessarily produce the optimum result.

Your best bet will be to make several loaves using the same basic recipe.  It is highly likely that the quality of the bread that you produce will improve with no need to change ingredients or whatever.  Your technique and dough handling skills improvement will be sufficient.  What you have to be is observant (and test) to recognise the signs of dough development (window test) and of partial/fully proved dough (poke test).

There will very likely be loaves that leave a little to be desired aesthetically but I have yet to have made one that was not flavoursome and edible.  But once you have mastered the basic loaf, then the world is your oyster (so to speak).

Let us know how you go.


Gene 2012 January 31

For a simple Pain au levain, given that starter is ready to go ... and all work being done by hand.

Evening of day 1:

Mix flour & water. Autolyse for 30 to 40 minutes

Work starter and any other ingredients in.

Work in the salt.

Fold the dough a few times - no kneading required. Doesn't matter if it's not silky smooth at this point. Gently put dough in a well-oiled bowl, cover with plastic film & refrigerate until next day or the day after.


Evening of day 2 or 3, say soon after 5 p.m.:

Remove dough from refrigerator & let sit on counter for about 1 hour to warm up just a bit [which takes me to 6 p.m.]

6 p.m.: Do 1st stretch & fold & rest for 45 minutes. The dough will still be fairly cold but that's ok.

7 p.m.: Do 2nd stretch & fold & rest for another 45 minutes.

8 p.m.: Divide dough into required number of loaves, pre-shape & allow to rest for another 30 minutes.

9 p.m.: Shape dough & proof for 2 to 3 hours.

11 p.m. or midnight: Bake the loaves.

Time given is approximate. If the dough is behaving nicely & I can work quickly, final proofing can start sooner than 9 p.m. Obviously, on those nights that I bake bread, I am not expecting to go to bed before 1 a.m. in the morning. And that's ok.

Clarabba 2012 January 31

I agree with Farinam. Rigid rules don't work - you just have to keep on practising and see what works. Where do you keep your starter and at roughly what temperature? Mine never seems to double in size quickly. 

Mark Sandford 2012 February 1

thank you for your suggestions; I'll try a few over the coming weekend, starting with the suggested recipes.

I keep the starters in Kilner jars in what was an airing cupboard. It's not too warm as I now have a combination boiler but, with the heating on, it is the warmest part of the house (21-25C)

kathy kovago 2012 February 2

My pleasure, hope you have success!


I live in Noosa Australia where the temperature is 27 deg at the moment and it gets hotter some days. For this reason I keep my starter in the fridge and use it straight from it most of the time. I also find that keeping it in the fridge extends it's life as it takes up to 5 days for it to mature. This is more manageable for me as I am normally ready to bake by this time and there is no need to discard mature starter which I hate to do.


For the Norwich sourdough I find it's best to use a coarse rye flour (rye meal in Oz). I have made it with wholemeal flour but the result is not as good.


I can also recommend that you read Jeffrey Hamelman's book Bread. It explains everything really well so you will understand the processes much better. It has very good recipes in it as well but I find it invaluable in helping me understand what happens and why.


Happy Baking!

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