How to make a starter for sourdough bread and how to make sourdough bread, step by step

This is the time it takes to transform a simple mixture of flour and water to crusty sourdough bread.

My friend lent me the book from Bourke Street Bakery and in it, there it was a step by step way of making sourdough ferment from flour, water, air and time.

Having heard horror stories of failed fermentations, I decided to follow this easy guide to great results.  What you need is:

1.     The best quality of strong flour that you can afford

2.     A good source of fresh water

3.     A set of scales

4.     Basic organisational skills

5.     A little patience

Day one: Begin by mixing 50 g of flour and 50 g * of water

Mix well, cover and leave in a warm place overnight.

Day two:  Make a paste by mixing 50 g of water and 50 g of flour, fold this mix into your original mix, cover and leave to rest overnight in a warm place

Day three:  Make a paste by mixing 100 g of water and 100 g of flour, fold this mix into your original mix, cover and leave to rest overnight in a warm place

Day four: Make a paste by mixing 200 g of water and 200 g of flour, fold this mix into your original mix, cover and leave to rest overnight in a warm place

Day five: Discard all but 100 g of the mix [the book says you can place what you won’t use into the compost].

The flour and water are mixed to a rough paste

The starter is folded into the flour/water mix but never stirred

The starter is folded into the flour/water mix but never stirred

* Richard Bertinet advocates for measuring water by weight and not by volume, it is more accurate

Repeat the steps from day two to five, every day for three weeks.  This time should be enough to make your ferment strong enough for making bread.

As the days go by, you will see that your mixture will start to bubble and smell ‘bready’.

It is important to feed the mix every day, otherwise at this stage,  you run the risk of starving and killing the ferment.  It is important to keep the mix in a warm place, an airing cupboard is good or any place that is draught free. DON’T put in an oven, over the AGA or over a radiator, you want warmth but not direct heat.  It is also important to work with clean utensils and to keep containers clean.  This is like a baby and as such, it needs to be fed and to be kept warm and clean!

If your mixture is too cold or hungry, it can develop a grey liquid in the surface, if this happens, please put in a warmer place or feed it with some more flour/water mix.


A grey liquid on the surface might mean the ferment is either hungry or cold.

If your mixture does not bubble anymore, it means it might be dead and you need to start again!

To be honest, if you are careful, you cannot go wrong.  Give it a go and when you are ready you can start baking the most amazing bread ever.

Once your ferment is mature, you can feed it less often, twice a week should be enough.  You can even put in the fridge for later use.   If you want to use your ferment from the fridge, feed it three times in a day as described below, this way you can revive your fermet at any time.  This means you can put your bakery on standby and go on holiday for instance.   Once you have mature ferment, you can also share with friends.  I have done this before and it is a great thing to do, however corny this might sound, it transforms lives, do it and you will see what I mean!

Below is an adaptation from the original recipe for sourdough from Bourke Street Bakery, it is not difficult, it just requires a little time and attention. Give it a go, the results are well worth the wait.  This is pure magic!

Begin by feeding the starter on the day you are going to start the baking process; this needs to be done whether you are using your starter/ferment for the first time, from the fridge or from ambient temperature, what you want is to get the ferment going!  Follow the feeding times as described below, this way you will not have to wake up in the middle of the night to feed this baby -a sure advantage of having a bread baby instead of a real one!

First feed about noon: 50 g flour and 50 g water, add this to 100 g of starter, remember to roughly mix the flour and water and then fold this onto the starter as you did when creating the starter.

Second feed –  eight hours after the first feed: 100 g flour and 100 g water,  same process.

Last feed – eight hours after the second feed or early in the morning: 200 g flour and 200 g water, same process.

Now for the bread! This makes 1.5 Kg of bread, that you can divide in three very nice 500 g loaves.


400 g starter

600 g organic strong white  flour

170 g organic strong wholemeal flour – this particular flour blend makes a heavier mix, for a lighter version use only strong white flour

400 g water

20 g sea salt -ground

In the bowl of a food mixer, put the starter, add the flour and water.  Attach the dough hook and mix on slow speed for four minutes and then increase to the next speed and mix for another three minutes.  You should end up with a rough dough.   Cover the bowl and set aside for 20 minutes, add the salt and mix on slow speed for one minute and increase the speed to medium, mix for six minutes, you should have a very elastic dough that can be stretched to form a ‘window’.  To ensure that you have reached the right level of elasticity, take a small portion of the dough and stretch it within your fingers,  the dough should be able to stretch to transluscent without breaking, if it tears, knead it for another minute or so.

Leave the dough in the bowl and cover with cling film, leave to prove for one hour by allowing to rest in a place at room temperature.

Take out of the bowl and place on a lightly floured surface, stretch to obtain a rectangle that is about 2 cm high and fold one third of the rectangle onto itself and repeat with the remaining third.  Turn ninety degrees and repeat the folding process.  Place the dough in the bowl and cover with cling film, leave to rest for another hour.

Take out of the bowl and cut into three pieces that should weigh roughly 500g each.  Shape the loaves by repeating the folding process described above.

Line three bowls with a tea towel and sprinkle liberally with flour, place the dough seam side up, cover with cling film and put in the fridge to prove overnight [eight to twelve hours is best].

The morning after, preheat the oven to 200 C.  Take the loaves out of the fridge and leave them to rest for a couple of hours or until they have grown by about two-thirds of their original volume.  To ensure they are ready to go in the oven, apply light pressure with your finger on the loaves, if the dough springs back nicely when you put pressure, they are ready, if the indent stays in the dough, they need further resting.

Turn the loaves onto a baking tray that has been covered with grease-proof paper, score using a serrated knife or a razon blade, make sharp indentations about 1 cm deep -this is your signature on the bread.

Put in the oven and if you want, spray with water, this will give a crustier loaf.  Bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath.

Leave to cool on a wire rack and enjoy fresh or lightly toasted, the best!

Nigel Slater Tender / Volume 1

Things often come in pairs and more, life is that generous.  Last year after a 6 year wait, I finally got offered an allotment and at the same time my friend Sally from Books for Cooks recommended Nigel Slater’s new book called Tender Volume 1.  I looked at it and longed for it but did not buy it, later that week my friend gave me a book voucher and of course I went and bought it.

As it tends to happen when you live from cooking for others and from teaching others to cook, whilst trying to master subjects on Food Anthropology, I had no time to do anything with this book, the winter set in and I forgot about it.

The other week I saw it gathering dust, I took it off the shelf and fell in love with it, it sprang to life at just the right time.   What can I say about Mr. Slater’s prose, it is just as delicious as his recipes and that combined with the gardening topics for the various fruits and vegetables, make this book a must for anyone who wants to eat his or her own produce.  The chapters are divided by vegetable and they have some information on how to grow, varieties, a gardener’s diary and of course recipes.

You can feel the physical effort that Nigel Slater has invested in his garden and the joy he gets from it, as well as from his cooking.  The recipes are simple and they pay homage to the vegetable, inviting us to value our food, from the effort it takes to grow, to the pleasure it gives to eat.  Simple recipes for simple food that has been tendered with love.  Life is generous!