New to Sourdough Baking - "Holy Bread"

Greg Dee

Hi there, I am new to Sourdough baking. Did an afternoon sourdough baking course, watched sourdough baking on TV and then kicked off. Leaven rises well, first prove all good (four hours approx in sealed plastic container) knock air out and shape and place in bread tin, cover with tea towels - two hours. Sometime leave bread in tin and sometimes bake without tins. Bake at 250, prior to baking spray with fine mist of water and add semolina. Been enjoying very nice bread with a good crust but can't seem to produce bread with those lovely open crumb/holes that everyone seems to do. Is there any advice for a novice like me....? Thank you Greg D.


farinam's picture
farinam 2012 May 3

Hello Greg Dee,

Welcome to the site.

Sounds like you are going gangbusters.

Without knowing the detail of the recipe that you are using and  the methods that you follow for dough development it's  a bit hard to be specific.

Firstly, you need to sure that you are developing the dough properly to the window stage.

Another factor that has an influence on the crumb is the hydration of the dough - higher hydration generally will give a more open crumb.  This might be due to the gentler handling needed for these doughs and possible influence of steam during baking.

Also, I have found that the lower energy dough development methods such as stretch and fold give a more open crumb than vigourous kneading.  I put this down to the number and size of air pockets generated in the dough that subsequently fill with carbon dioxide during proving and expand during baking.

Hope this helps.

Let us know how you go.


Greg Dee 2012 May 4
Thank you very much Farinam, With first prove, I took it out to 8 hours, after reading your advice. But I do vigorous kneading. Minimum ten minutes prior to first prove. So that looks like a contributing factor. And when I knead I add more flour so that I finish with silky base with pretty much no excess water and it's not a sloppy finish. When you say steam in the baking, do you place a water bowl in the oven to create continual steam? And at the start I mix my flours around 600gms of white and 100gms of rye or wholemeal then mix salt through flours and then add water and then add leaven. Do I need to allow time for salt to be absorbed prior to adding leaven? Also what is the actual purpose of the salt? I have the Dan Lepard recipe method so I can give it try to achieve holy bread? What do you think? Your help is much appreciated. Cheers, Greg D.
farinam's picture
farinam 2012 May 12

Hi Greg,

On the steam front, I use a ceramic pie dish on the very bottom shelf in the oven.  The second shelf carries the baking 'stone'.  The dish goes in when I start heating.  Then, five minutes before starting to bake the loaf, I pour in a cup or so of boiling water from the kettle.  You need to use oven mitts on both hands as it spits  quite a bit and steam goes everywhere.  I did try  putting a wet tea towel in the dish before adding the water to reduce the hazard (as recommended by someone else) but I found the improvement in safety only marginal for the extra hassle involved.  I usually leave the steam bath in the oven for the first 10-15 minutes of baking and then remove it and leave the oven open for a short time to let the steam vent.  I am usually reducing the temperature at this time anyway so the heat loss is not critical.

The dough should develop its own 'silkiness' as it is developed.  If you have a look at some of the videos that are out there, even quite wet and sticky new doughs become supple and 'non-sticky' as they develop properly.  If they are overworked/proved, unfortunately the stickiness is permanent.  It doesn't seems to matter whether you knead vigourously, stretch and fold or do nothing at all - all methods seem to be capable of producing good bread though as I said before, my feeling is that S&F gives a more textured crumb than vigourous kneading.  I haven't yet tried the do nothing approach though Cielkaye wrote it up recently and says it is a good thing.

I generally add the salt after mixing and resting the starter, flour and water although I have done as you do without ill effect.  The salt content has the effect of slowing the activity of the yeasts slightly but given the long time line for sourdough this is not overly important.  The salt also plays a role in the development of the gluten strength of the dough.

Hope this helps and that you end up making some hol(e)y bread.


isand66 2012 May 20

One other thing to keep in mind is that if you handle your dough too firmly when shaping you will squeeze out the carbon dioxide bubbles in the dough and end up with a tight crumb structure.  Also, as Farinam has said, the higher the hydration, the larger the holes you will tend to get.  As you get more experienced you will find that you do not need to add hardly any bench flour at all.  If you add too much bench flour you will end up causing the dough to become dryer than intended.

Salt also adds flavor to the bread.  There is a Tuscan recipe for bread with no salt, but most recipes need the salt to develop the gluten properly and also impart the proper taste desired.

Good luck with your baking.  With time you will only get better.

Greg Dee 2012 May 22

 Dear Farinam and Isaand,

Thank you both for your advice.  Much appreciated. I found a ceramic bowl and now use this with boiling water during baking.  It seems there is some improvement.  I have attached a recent pic.  I would like to explore the less vigorous kneading technique.  Would you be so kind as to send me your Stretch and Fold process.  I am really enjoying baking the sourdough bread and so are my family members, particularly when the bread is just out of the oven.  A good spread of fresh butter, vegemite, home made fig or strawberry jam.  I am a pretty popular guy at the moment.  It's such good fun.  


Greg D.

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 May 22

Hi Greg,

Couldn't see any pic.

Basically, the stretch and fold technique combines the effects of energy input (minimal in this case) and time to develop the gluten strands and cross linking reactions.

Generally the stretch and folds are distributed through the bulk ferment stage.  In my estimation, this should represent about half of the time from dough start to baking start.  Often, the total time is of the order of eight hours but it can be more or less depending on the activity of your culture, the temperature and the ingredients of your loaf (rich doughs take quite a bit longer).

For a simple loaf, I use the time that the starter takes to peak after feeding as a guide as to how long the whole process will take.  I then usually fit three (and sometimes four) stretch and folds into half of that time.  For four hours, that means the S&Fs are at about hourly intervals.

For each S&F, you put the dough onto the bench and stretch it into a rectangular shape between 5mm and 10mm thick.  For 1kg of dough, this is about the size of A3.  Then fold the top long edge down over the middle third and the bottom long edge up over the two layers from the previous fold. This makes three layers in a long skinny strip.  Then fold from right and left which makes a sort of spherical mound of nine layers.  Plop that back in your basin, cover and leave to rest until the next S&F is due.

By the third S&F, there should be definite resistance to stretching (there is a tendency to spring back after you let go) and you should be able to make 'windows'.  Also the dough should not be sticking to anything - your hands or the bench.

See my blog on process here:

By the way, I am talking about predominantly wheat based doughs here.  Other flours will require a different handling regime.

Hope this helps.


Greg Dee 2012 May 24

 Dear Farinam,

Thanks so much for passing on your method and also the link to 'one way....'.  I look forward to giving your method a good go and particularly as I can see your end result.  Looks great.   One thing I am not clear on is the final proving stages in the tea towel.  I see the tea towel is resting in curved base.  What is the curved base?  Is it something you buy?  And are you shaping the bread (by hand) in this final proving stage?  I posted a pic which appears at the start of this blog, when you click on blogs and then holy bread it appears there.  Do you use rye or wholemeal flour in your baking?


Greg D.

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 May 24

Hello Greg,

For this type of loaf (batarde) what I use is a simple cane basket.  It is a long skinny one that we acquired years ago - not sure how or where from.  For a boule, I use a kitchen colander with the same towel lining.  For baton/baguette, the same towel with some pieces of wood to form spacers between loaves - though you can just put a pleat in the towel for the same effect.

For shaping the batard, I get the dough into a rough square and fold in the corners to make like the start of a water-bomb.  Then I roll two opposite corners into the diagonal.  This gives you an elliptical shape that you then fold in half and press the edges together to form the seam.  A bit of a roll on the bench, if necessary, to even out the shape and into the proving basket.  I find that this method pretty much ensures a nice tight skin.

My day to day recipe uses 20% wholemeal wheat/80% white wheat.  I have varied the proportions on accasion but kind of prefer the 'not-quite white' result of this blend.  It is also not enough meal to significantly affect the gluten development.

Good luck with your projects.


Old Possum's picture
Old Possum 2012 May 30

I've been really interested in watching Cynthia and Graham shape both tinned and banneton loaves by folding into a triangular shape and then rolling it up. I've been trying to emulate it recently as it produces a very even shaped loaf which means it slices well for sandwiches. You have to sort of guess the procedure between the 6 second refreshes but if you watch long enough you get the whole procedure in little snapshots.

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