The Fresh Loaf

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San Joaquin Sourdough: Update

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dmsnyder's picture

San Joaquin Sourdough: Update

While I enjoy a variety of breads, the San Joaquin Sourdough remains my “go to” bread. It's easy to fit into a busy schedule. It uses few ingredients. It always tastes delicious. It's wonderful freshly baked but also makes great toast, French toast, garlic bread and croutons for salads or onion soup. It is almost as good after being frozen as fresh. What's not to like?


I first developed this formula about 3 years ago. Since then, I've tweaked the formula and methods in many ways. I know many TFL members have made this bread and enjoyed it. So, I thought an update on my current recipe might be of interest.

To summarize the changes I've made in the past 6 months:

  1. I substituted 25 g of whole wheat flour for an equal amount of the rye flour in the original formula. The difference in flavor is subtle, but I like it better.

  2. I adopted the oven steaming method for home ovens we were taught in the SFBI Artisan I and II workshops. 

    SFBI Steaming method

  3. I switched from using a parchment paper couche to a baker's linen couche. (Highly recommended! Here is my source for linen: San Francisco Baking Institute)

  4. Most recently, after trying several different methods, I've settled on the method of pre-shaping and shaping bâtards taught in the King Arthur Flour instructional video. (See: Hamelman technique videos  The relevant instructions are in the fourth video, starting at about 7:00 minutes.) The SJSD dough is very extensible. This method forms a tighter loaf which is shorter and thicker than that produced with the method I had been using.



Active starter (100% hydration)

150 g

All Purpose flour (11.7% protein)

450 g

BRM Dark Rye flour

25 g

Whole Wheat flour

25 g


360 g

Sea Salt

10 g



In a large bowl, mix the active starter with the water to dissolve it. Add the flours and stir to form a shaggy mass. Cover tightly and let rest (autolyse) for 20-60 minutes.

Sprinkle the salt over the dough. Using a plastic scraper or silicon spatula, stretch and fold the dough 30 times, rotating the bowl 1/5 turn between each stroke. Cover tightly. Repeat this stretch and fold procedure 3 times more at 30 minute intervals.


After the last series of stretches and folds, scape the dough into a lightly oiled 2 quart/2 liter container and cover tightly. (I use a 2 quart glass measuring pitcher with a tightly fitting plastic lid manufactured by Anchor Glass.) Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes with a stretch and fold after 45 and 90 minutes, then return the dough to the container and place it in the refrigerator and leave it there for 21 hours. 

Dividing and Shaping

Take the dough out of the refrigerator and scrape it gently onto a lightly floured work surface. Gently pat it into a rectangle. Divide the dough into two equal pieces.

To pre-shape for a bâtard, I now form a ball rather than a log. Place each piece of dough smooth side down. Pat into a rough circle, degassing the dough gently in the process. Bring the far edge to the middle and seal the seam. Then go around the dough, bringing about 1/5 of the dough to the middle and sealing it. Repeat until you have brought the entire circumference of the piece to the middle. Turn the piece over, and shape as a boule. Turn each ball seam side up onto a lightly floured part of your board.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and/or a kitchen towel and let it rest for about 60 minutes. (The time will depend on ambient temperature and how active your starter is. The dough should have risen slightly, but not much.)

To shape a bâtard, I now favor the method portrayed in the King Arthur Flour instructional video. I encourage you to watch the video, but here is a verbal description of the method:

  1. For each piece of dough, place it in front of you on an un-floured board.

  2. Hold down the near side and stretch the far side of the piece into a rough rectangle about 8 inches front to back.

  3. Now, fold the far end two thirds of the way to the near end and seal the seam with the heel of your hand.

  4. Take each of the far corners of the piece and fold them to the middle of the near side of your first fold. Seal the seams.

  5. Now, the far end of the dough piece should be roughly triangular with the apex pointing away from you. Grasp the apex of the triangle and bring it all the way to the near edge of the dough piece. Seal the resulting seam along the entire width of the loaf.

  6. Turn the loaf seam side up and pinch the seam closed, if there are any gaps.

  7. Turn the loaf seam side down. Then, with the palms of both hands resting softly on the loaf, roll it back and forth to shape a bâtard. Start with both hands in the middle of the loaf and move them outward as you roll the loaf, slightly increasing the pressure as you move outward, so the bâtard ends up with the middle highest and the ends pointed .

Preheating the oven

One hour before baking, place a baking stone on the middle rack and put your steaming apparatus of choice in place. (I currently use a 7 inch cast iron skillet filled with lava rocks.) Heat the oven to 500F.


After shaping the loaves, transfer them to a linen couche, seam side up. Cover the loaves with a fold of the linen. Proof until the loaves have expanded to about 1-1/2 times their original size. (30-45 minutes) Test readiness for baking using “the poke test.” Do not over-proof, if you want good oven-spring and bloom!


Pre-steam the oven, if desired.

Transfer the loaves to a peel. (Remember you proofed them seam side up. If using a transfer peel, turn the loaves over on the couch before rolling them onto the transfer peel. That way, the loaves will be seam side down on the peel.) Score the loaves. (For a bâtard, hold the blade at about a 30 degree angle to the surface of the loaf. Make one swift end-to-end cut, about 1/2 inch deep.)

Transfer the loaves to the baking stone. Steam the oven. (I place a perforated pie tin with about 12 ice cubes in it on top of the pre-heated lava rocks.) Turn the oven down to 460F.

After 12-15 minutes, remove your steaming apparatus from the oven. Rotate the loaf 180 degrees, if it is browning unevenly. Close the oven door. (If you have a convection oven, switch to convection bake, and turn the temperature down to 435ºF.)

Bake for another 12-15 minutes, then remove the loaf and place on a cooling rack. Check for doneness. (Nice crust color. Internal temperature of at least 205F. Hollow sound when you thump the bottom of the loaf.) If necessary, return to loaf to the oven to bake longer.

When the loaves are done, turn off the oven but leave the loaves on the baking stone with the oven door ajar for another 7 minutes to dry the crust.


Cool on a rack for two hours before slicing.



Submitted to YeastSpotting


cjc's picture

As a new member, I appreciate being able to see prior information that was posted.  I came across this from the daily email link.  I have been salivating ever since I found this site.  First night started the cibatta and had it the next day w/olive oil, basil & a tomato paste I made from the fresh tomatoes from the garden. So tasty.  I can easily live on bread and water, but hubby doesn't agree -I'll bake all different breads, and then he comes home from the store with what they sell as "bread", and he prefers that!  No accounting for taste!  I do have a suggestion.  When I started looking around the site, was really confused as to the meanings of the abbreviations.  Some I figured out, others remain confusing.  Perhaps a faq on them would assist hapless individuals such as myself?  Thanks for a great site!



dmsnyder's picture

There is a FAQ. See the menu at the top of every page on TFL. However, it may not include the abbreviations you find mysterious. I suggest you make a list of them and post them as a new topic. The FAQ might need expanding to include more commonly used abbreviations.


Brokeback Cowboy's picture
Brokeback Cowboy

Hey David, 

Your loaves look beautiful and am looking forward to trying this recipe. I have a question about your cutting tool. Are you using a baker's lame, plain razor or sharp knife? If I assume correctly due to your beautiful angles, whereabouts did you get your lame? And do you have an online sources to purchase one? 

Thanks a lot,

Jack Twist

dmsnyder's picture

I use a double-edged razor blade attached to a French lame. The latter can be had from a couple US sources I've found: 1) the SFBI site, 2) Bridge Kitchen wares (or something like that) in N.J.


David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.,270.html

that is the cheap one. They have one at 6x the price that looks the same...

dmsnyder's picture

I DO NOT use the lames with the plastic handles. I am talking about the thin sheet metal ones. Traditionally, these are sharpened and used themselves to score loaves. I use them as a handle and slip a double-edged razor blade over the sharp end. Note that when one cutting corner gets dull, you can rotate the blade so another corner is used for cutting. Thus, you get 4 blades in one. That's pretty economical.


David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.
Brokeback Cowboy's picture
Brokeback Cowboy

Lame is on the way.



violetap's picture

Hi David!

This is the second time when I want to add a comment -the first time I was blocked :(  , and I want to thank you for the recipe, my husband and I just LOVE this type of bread. The bread that I made was rising very nice in the oven, even the crumb looked good to me, but I still have one problem: my bread doesn't have that nice margin where I  scored it. I have to mention that I didn't use a blade that you told us to use... Can this be the cause?

If I  won't be blocked again I will post some pictures. Thank you!


dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Violeta.

I'm glad you like the bread.

If you use a sharp blade, there are many kinds that work well. And there are many other factors that affect how cuts open up. Have you read my bread scoring tutorial? (Scoring Bread: An updated tutorial) That may help.


violetap's picture

Thank you David for your fast feedback! I read the tutorial, watched the videos- and I find them very helpful.

I will start tonight another loaf, even if I don't have yet the blade  (it will take few days to be shipped), but I will use a different one.

Here are the pictures from the previous loaf. It looks like I have the "ear" in the bottom of the bread. :)



dmsnyder's picture

There have been a number of recent replies lamenting loaves of SJSD that don't hold their shape, but flatten out. There have been related lamentations of dough that is too goopy to shape into loaves after the cold retardation. My questioning of the bummed out bakers has revealed a small number of root causes of these problems. This reply is a kind of "FAQ" for this set of problems.

By way of background, why would a loaf keep its shape anyway? Well, it's all about gluten. But it's not a matter of more is better. It's not that simple. 

Gluten forms when two proteins that are present in wheat are exposed to water. The two proteins join and form gluten. This is a long molecule. When dough is mixed, the gluten strands are folded over each other, and, where these strands overlap, they form chemical bonds.  So, eventually, with mixing, the gluten strands in the dough form a network that gives the dough "structure" and "strength." Other components you add, such as salt, and some products of fermentation, such as organic acids, strengthen the structure formed through hydration and mixing.

When you shape the dough into loaves, you are stretching and smoothing the outer layer of the gluten network to form a sheath covering the outside of the loaf and containing it. The natural elasticity of the gluten forming this sheath should have enough strength to maintain the shape of the loaf against the pull of gravity, which works to pull it down and flatten it.

Now, just as there are components of the dough and processes applied that strengthen the dough, there are others that weaken it. A few examples: Water is necessary for gluten to form in the first place. Anything that fights with the gluten for water molecules can interfere with gluten formation.  Salt is the most common villen in this regard. That's one of the reasons we do an autolyse, to let the gluten start to form before salt can keep the water from it. But too much water can keep the gluten molecules from coming close enough to each other to form bonds. That's why a high-hydration dough seems so wimpy and "slack." That's why the "double hydration" technique can be so useful for very high-hydration doughs, such as for ciabatta.

Another enemy of gluten is protease. Wheat flour when wetted activates a number of enzymes. From wheat's perspective, these are for the purpose of helping make more wheat by providing small molecules that the baby wheat (the germ) can use for its growth and development. For the baker, these enzymes do many important things, some good, some bad, and some good or bad depending on circumstances. Protease is an enzyme that breaks down proteins. Gluten is a protein. We want gluten to be strong. Fortunately, compared to other important metabolic processes occurring as dough ferments, proteolysis is a slow one, especially when the dough is kept cold. But it never stops working. So, if you ferment the dough for too long, eventually the gluten network formed during autolyse, initial mixing and any stretch and folds you did during bulk fermentation will be ... well ... digested.

As I mentioned above, gluten development is more of a challenge with high-hydration doughs. And, while not as high-hydration as ciabatta, for example, San Joaquin Sourdough is somewhat slack and needs some of the special treatment other breads like this require. One of the principal requirements is that you have to provide some sort of lateral support to the loaves during proofing to keep them from flattening out. This could be provided through a loaf pan, a banneton or the folds of a couche. A couch is a length of flexible material that can be folded into a trough to support proofing loaves. Linen is traditional. It has some intrinsic non-stick properties which suit it for this purpose. That's what I use. But you can also use parchment paper. That has the advantage of remaining with the loaves as you transfer them to the oven and having non-stick qualities when heated. The disadvantage of parchment compared to linen is that linen is absorbent and dries the surfaces of the loaves just slightly, making scoring easier.

In summary, the requirements for a well-shaped loaf made of slack dough are:

1. Really good gluten development, which includes forming a strong network of gluten/gluten bonds to provide strength and structure to the dough.

2. Enough but not too much fermentation.

3. Gentle but firm dough handling. You want to maintain the gas bubbles generated by fermentation and trapped by the gluten network. That is what makes up you crumb structure and keeps your loaf from being brick-like. 

4. Shaping loaves in a way that stretches a layer of gluten into a containing sheath around the dough.

5. Providing lateral support to the loaves as they proof.

6. Proofing to the "right degree." This may be different for different types of breads.

7. Scoring to achieve the desired loaf profile and expansion in the desired direction.

8. Baking with appropriate oven humidification and at an appropriate temperature. 


These are two loaves of San Joaquin Sourdough. They were proofed on bakers' linen (seam-side up) and are fully proofed in this photo. Note the fold of linen between the loaves that keeps them from sticking to each other as they grow.

Before transferring the loaves from the couche to the peel, you straighten out the couche. Grasping both ends, you pull them apart. Note that the fold seen between the loaves in the previous photo has flattened out. Also note that the loaves have not flattened out. They have retained their nice height, demonstrating good gluten formation, gluten network formation, etc.

The loaves have been flipped over on the couche so the seam is down, flipped onto a transfer peel and then to the Super Peel for scoring and loading onto my baking stone. Again, note the nice high profile of the loaves. 

The loaves are now cooling in this photo after baking as described in the OP. There are no crumb photos. Both loaves were frozen. I baked a couple loaves of a different bread tonight also which just came out of the oven and will be for our breakfast tomorrow. 

I hope this helped some of you who have struggled with the SJSD. If you have questions, I am happy to try to answer them.


David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

David, this is a silly question, but when you use active starter does that essentially mean starter that has been fed long enough ago that it has become gassy but not so long ago that it has begun to collapse on itself?

dmsnyder's picture

Yes, basically. There is a range of optimal ripeness, not a specific point. One of Chad Robertson's special techniques is to use "young" starter, which results in a less sour bread.

The criteria you use to judge starter maturity vary with starter hydration, but that's another longish discussion.


thaliablogs's picture


I am keen to try this recipe this weekend. I am quite a novice so please forgive a bit of a basic question - how do you define 'active'?

I tried the Tartine basic recipe last weekend and had a bit of a nightmare, which I think was due to my lack of confidence w stretch and fold (was my first time) so I kept going and think I might have caused proteolysis. NOt sure. But want to use your recipe as it seems to give such brilliant results!

For the tartine recipe I refreshed the starter before I went to work on friday (ie 7am) and then started baking when I got home, around 6. I think this might be too long for the starter? It was at 24 degrees during the day as per the tartine recommendations. I'm wondering for your recipe if best to refresh the starter again around 7am and leave it somewhere cool so it is active when I get home, or not try to do this friday night, refresh the starter late friday and bake first thing sat am.

All advice much appreciated!

dmsnyder's picture

A sourdough starter is about fermentation and acid production. If it is doing those things actively, it is "active." How can you tell? For a liquid starter, such as is used in the San Joaquin Soudough, you can tell fermentation is going on when you see lots of bubbles forming. Fermentation is the "digestion" of sugar by yeast with the byproducts CO2 and Alcohol. The alcohol evaporates and the CO2 makes bubbles that float to the top of the starter and pop. If you ripen your starter in a relatively tall and thin container, it will also expand a lot. The surface of the starter will look wrinkled (You will know what I mean when you see it.) and will have lots of bubbles. If very active, you can actually see them forming and bursting.

You can also tell about the activity of bacterial metabolism (acid and other flavor-giving chemical production) by the smell of the starter. A "young" starter smells rather fruity. A very mature starter smells more "sour."

How much time a starter takes to reach peak activity depends on many variables, so an exact time is impossible to specify. You can influence the time by using less seed starter (and more new flour and water), feeding it using cold water or lowering the temperature of the environment. How active the seed starter is makes a difference too. 

I hope this helps.



thaliablogs's picture

sorry I see you've just had another question on this, for some reason it didn't load when I went to post my comment. If you get the chance wld still love an answer on timings. Kitchen is probably on cool side, no more than 21ish degrees C (around 70df?)

thaliablogs's picture

David - thanks so much for the reply. I get the science (used to be a scientist, perhaps why I like baking), just not yet used to my starters - I started w the richard bertinet method which works brilliantly for me but the starter is very firm and matures gently in the fridge so less worries about how active it is. My first attempt at your bread was an utter failure (ended up in the bin), and I think the starter just croaked and I didn't notice. The tartine bread last weekend the starter was ok but I wasn't good enough at S and F to get it to get some structure so it was flat (but tasted great). Need to keep practicing! Will try the starter at 12 hours cool maturation today and see how it goes.


thanks again