The Sourdough System Reboot
At some point, every home baker struggles with the process of making sourdough. The dough could be too sticky to handle or perhaps it's tricky to work out the correct fermentation or proofing times. Maybe the dough isn't behaving itself and collapsing or not springing in the oven, resulting in a flat loaf.
Luckily, most of these problems can be solved by using a sensible formula, good-quality bread flour and a well-planned method. I've designed this System Reboot recipe to encompass everything you need to reset and get back on the right path.
Make sure you choose a good quality white bread flour with a protein content of 12% or above, follow the recipe carefully and use the video to pick up on the correct techniques.
When you put it all together you'll be amazed at the results.
The Vitals & Baker’s Percentages
The fermentation process for this recipe was carried out at 24C/75F.
The recipe yields 800g of dough which suits an oval-proofing basket.
The dough incorporates 100% strong white bread flour with a protein content of 13%. The hydration is 65%. The dough contains 2% salt and is inoculated with 20% of sourdough levain.
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The Recipe Formula
The Baking Timeline
The timeline is based on a kitchen temperature of 24C/75F. Your timeline will be affected by cooler or warmer temperatures.
22:00 Mix the levain
10:00 Mix the dough
10:30 The dough gets a quick knead
11:15 Laminate the dough
16:00 Pre-shape the dough
16:20 Complete the shaping and begin proofing
19:20 Retard in the fridge overnight
08:00 Bake the loaf
08:45 Leave to cool
Total time: 34h 45m
Hands-on time: 45m (approximate depending on experience)
Adjusting for Temperature
The higher your kitchen temperature the faster the fermentation process will happen for both the levain and the sourdough.
The dough will also be warmer which will make the dough feel softer, and in hot conditions, it may be stickier and possibly more difficult to handle.
To combat problems that may occur in warmer temperatures you can reduce the hydration a little to stiffen the dough.
You can mix your dough to a lower temperature, and use a cool box or cool bag with an ice brick to regulate the temperature during fermentation and slow the process down.
Decreasing the amount of sourdough starter you use to inoculate the levain, and the amount of levain you use to inoculate your dough will slow the process down.
The opposite may occur, your dough may feel stiffer and the fermentation process will take longer. I think this is easier to adjust for than a warmer scenario.
In really low temperatures the process can grind along at a snail's pace or stall. In these circumstances, you can mix your dough to a warmer temperature, and keep your dough somewhere warmer to ferment.
If your dough feels stiffer you may want to increase the hydration touch.
Increasing the amount of sourdough starter you use to inoculate the levain, and the amount of levain you use to inoculate your dough will speed the process up.
In either case, in a warm or cool kitchen, bake the recipe as detailed the first time, keep my suggestions in mind and make alterations on the second bake.
Don’t forget that there are several factors to consider when adjusting hydration. Using a sourdough calculator is the easiest and most accurate way to do it.
You are welcome to use my recipe calculator (it’s completely free).
The Equipment You’ll Need
A good set of digital scales is essential for weighing the ingredients accurately. I am using an oval banneton to proof my sourdough but you can use a bowl lined with a cloth that has been dusted with flour.
A decent thermometer should be included in every home baker's kit. The Thermapen is the most accurate and reliable thermometer I have used.
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I use a baking stone for baking my sourdough but you can use a dutch oven or a baking pan.
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I mix my levain at 22:00 the evening before I plan to mix the dough. The levain can now ferment happily overnight and be ready to use for baking first thing in the morning.
For this timeline to work I use 10% sourdough starter to inoculate my levain. That’s quite a small amount but works perfectly when fermenting at 24C/75F.
If you want to speed the fermentation time up you can increase the percentage of sourdough starter. But make sure to keep the hydration at 100% for this recipe.
The recipe for the levain makes a little more than we need accounting for weight lost during fermentation and residue that sticks to the jar.
50g Strong white bread flour (mine has a protein content of 13%)
50g Water (room temperature)
5g Sourdough starter
Mix the ingredients together in a glass jar and loosely cover it with a lid. Leave to ferment at room temperature.
Make sure the jar or container you use is large enough to accommodate the mixture increasing in volume by 3-4 times.
The levain is ready to use when it has grown in volume by 200-300% and is nice and bubbly. Don’t be afraid to taste your levain, it should taste pleasantly sour and fruity mixed with white wine, yoghurt and cheese.
Mixing the dough
Don't forget you can watch the video tutorial for an easy walkthrough of each step.
431g Strong White Bread Flour (Mine has a protein content of 13%)
263g Water (room temperature)
96g Sourdough Levain
Bakers tip: Make sure your kitchen bowl isn’t too big, otherwise your dough will get lost inside the bowl which makes it difficult to judge how much the dough is expanding. I find that a 2.5L bowl works perfectly for 800 grams of dough.
Pour the 263g of water and add the 10g of salt to your bowl. Stir the water and make sure the salt is properly dissolved.
Add approximately half of the strong white flour to the water and salt mixture. Stir with a spoon to create a porridgy consistency. Now add 96g of sourdough levain and blend making sure that the levain is well mixed and distributed.
Now add the rest of the flour. Bring the mixture together with a spoon. Once it becomes too stiff you can wet your hand and pinch the dough together. Once the ingredients form a rough dough you can cover the bowl and leave the dough to rest for 30 minutes.
Bakers tip: Mixing half of the flour with the water before adding the levain matches the consistency of the two mixtures making it easy to mix thoroughly.
After the 30-minute rest, you can turn the dough out of the bowl onto your work surface.
Use the heel of your hand to work the dough for about 1-2 minutes against the bench. The idea isn’t to create strength in the dough (although it does help), the goal is to make sure the levain is well distributed through the dough and everything is properly mixed.
Once you are happy the dough is properly mixed you can shape it into a ball, place it back in the bowl and cover it. Leave the dough out at ambient temperature for one hour.
After the 1 hour rest, turn the dough back out onto your worktop. You are going to laminate the dough by gently pulling it out into a large rectangle.
Make sure you listen to the dough. Once it feels tight as if it doesn’t want to stretch any more, move on to another piece of dough. Make sure you watch the video below to see how to do this properly.
Once the dough is pulled out into a rectangle you can fold it up into a small square. Take the right-hand side of the dough and fold it over the centre. Repeat with the left-hand side. You should now be looking at a long piece of dough with three layers.
Starting with the furthest edge, fold the dough over on itself until you have created a small square. Now shape the dough into a ball. Place it back into its bowl, cover and leave it again to ferment at ambient temperature.
Bakers tip: Before you move on to the next stage you need to make sure the dough has fermented properly. I would suggest leaving the dough until it has increased in volume by 75-80% of its original size. The dough should jiggle freely in the bowl when you shake it. The dough should smell pleasantly sour and in most cases, you should see small bubbles on the surface or sides of the dough. I dive deeper into this in the video.
Shaping and Proofing
Once you are happy that your dough has fermented correctly, it is time to shape the dough ready for proofing.
Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour and gently turn it out onto the worktop with the floured surface facing down.
Fold the edges of the dough into the centre to form a ball and flip the dough back over. The aim here isn’t to de-gas the dough but to create a little tension ready for the final shape.
Leave the dough to rest uncovered on the bench for 20 minutes.
Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour again and flip it back over. Gently push the dough down to evenly distribute the gas inside the dough.
Fold the two sides into the centre and push them down gently so they stick. Now take the furthest end of the dough and begin rolling the dough up towards you. Try and avoid degassing the dough, the aim is to create surface tension in the dough so it holds its shape while proofing.
Once your dough resembles a large sausage you can pinch the seam close to seal the dough. Dust it with rice flour and place it into an oval-proofing basket (banneton).
Place the basket into a plastic bag and leave it at ambient temperature to proof.
Baker’s tip: The dough has sufficiently proofed when it fills out the sides of the basket and has puffed up once more. The dough should jiggle when you gently shake the basket. If you gently push the dough it should feel inflated but not ready to pop. The indentation you made with your finger should slowly push back out and not spring quickly.
Place the basket of dough back inside the plastic bag and place it in the fridge overnight.
Baking the loaf
Preheat the oven and baking stone or baking pan to 220C/430F
Remove the basket from the plastic bag and dust the top of the dough with flour. Gently rub the flour into the surface of the dough to make sure it’s not sticky.
Gently turn the dough out of the basket onto a bread peel or piece of baking paper. Use a baker’s lame to score the dough from one end to the other in one swift confident action.
Carefully slide the dough onto the baking stone (or place it in the baking pan) and bake for twenty minutes covered at 220C/430F.
Remove the cover and continue to bake at 220C/430F for 25 minutes.
Leave the sourdough loaf to cool on a wire rack.
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