The Lockdown Sourdough Challenge

Everything in the world starts life being small and dependent on food and water. The older it gets, the stronger and more active it becomes. Growing up is about being open to the world and exoring the elements to become bolder and full of character

When making sourdough, you have to make a starter or a ‘mother’. Which is a mixture of equal quantities of water, and strong bread flour, that looks like a smooth batter. This creates a fantastic environment for yeast to feed and grow.

The reaction of bread is when the natural sugars in the flour feed and attract the wild yeasts in our atmosphere causing the yeasts to breed. That causes a chemical reaction creating carbon dioxide (just like you and I), and that is what gives bread it’s light and hole-filled texture.

The reason we knead bread is to stretch the gluten and make the dough elastic. When the dough proves it fills itself with air and expands and hold its shape.

If you are really strict with your recipe, you will see it change through the seasons - flour is seasonal and thus wild yeasts can change because of a tree blossoming next to your ‘mother’. Even the water changes according to where and when you make it.

There are many ways of making bread. For example, you can make a sourdough focaccia by making an elastic dough with the active starter/ mother. Put it in a baking tray and wait until it doubles in size. Once proved, scatter any topping of your choice over the dough and bake it in the oven.

That is known as a first prove bake. The structure of the bread will have uniformed air pockets in the loaf.

The process of letting bread prove and then knocking it back is to create random sized air pockets in the loaf.

Real bread should only need, water, flour and the yeast in the mother to be a recognisable loaf of bread. That's only 4 ingredients, including salt. So, I would love to know why Hovis bread has over 15 softeners, preservatives and whatever else? Could this be the reason why we have so many dietary issues of late? For instance, the rise in intolerances to wheat. These massive great baker’s factories create and bake their bread within an hour. Because of that speed of production, the bread dough is filled with lots of softeners and sugars and more than needed yeasts that don't get fully used before baking.

Therefore, when rehydrated the yeasts become active in your stomach and are very hard for the body to deal with. What I am saying is that natural bread is good for you. And the slower it's produced the better the flavour is.

The flour you use is just as important as how strong and active your starter is. The most commercially known good flour in Britain is called Shipton Mill. It holds 12% gluten that means that it has a lot of elasticity.

For the Bread

Makes 1 large
2.5kg loaf
1.5kg strong bread flour, plus extra for dusting
250ml active starter
15g salt
750ml water
(use cold water if you ferment the bread for 24 hours but if you need it sooner then use warm water) oil, for greasing
2 tablespoons coating for the crust
(such as poppy seeds, coriander seeds or semolina)


Add the flour, water and starter to the bowl of a food mixer. Then, with the dough hook attachment fitted, turn the mixer on to slow speed and slowly add three-quarters of the water. Bread kneads better when at 55–60 per cent hydration, so leave it to knead for 5 minutes, then slowly add the remaining water. You should now have a very sticky dough in the bottom of a very clean bowl. Take a handful of the dough and pull it apart so if you hold it on two fingers and two thumbs you can stretch it really thin. I call this ‘the stained-glass window test’; you should be able to see the light through the dough as your hands separate and the dough stretches. It means that the gluten has been worked so much that the dough holds its shape but is still elastic. It’s sticky but workable.

Cover the bowl and transfer the dough to the fridge for 12 hours to gain strength in flavour and body.

When you are ready (it could be up to 24 hours later, as long as your starter is active enough), shape the dough. It’s best to have a bread-proving basket but if you don’t, you can just rub a thin layer of cooking oil in a large bowl. Dust the bowl with your chosen crust topping, which will then stick to the oil. Repeat with a little flour to fill in any of the small edges. Tap out the excess flour.

This is great as you don’t need another bowl in your kitchen, and you gain a great crust on your loaf. If you have a proving basket, lightly flour the proving basket and add dust with your chosen crust topping.

To shape the dough, dust a work surface with flour and begin by rolling the dough into a thick pizza approx. 12.5cm in diameter and 5cm, thick then lift the sides in; this creates large, random baker’s air pockets. Keep pulling in until the dough ball feels tight, then start to push the dough into the work surface so it forms a very proud ball. If it’s saggy and not holding its shape, repeat the process again; the more you practise the easier it gets. Then put the shaped loaf, belly-side down, into the lined bowl or bread-proving basket. Leave to prove at room temperature until doubled in size, approx. 4–8 hours. Preheat the oven to 240°C/ gas mark 9 and heat two baking trays, one at the top and one at the bottom of the oven.

To test if the dough is ready, poke your finger into the dough; if it bounces back, it needs to prove for longer, but if your incision stays, then you are ready to bake. Turn out the proved dough onto a hot baking tray and transfer to the oven. Then pour a glass of hot water in the hot tray at the bottom of the oven so steam hits the crust of the loaf. Bake for 15 minutes and you will see the bread ‘jump’ and lift itself off the hot baking tray. Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C/gas mark 4 and bake for a further 30 minutes to cook through completely. Remove the bread from the oven and transfer it to a wire rack to help the loaf hold its crust. Don’t cut into it until it has reached room temperature, which will take approx. 45 minutes. If cooked with a great crust, sourdough will last longer than normal bread because of the acidity that the starter gives.