The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Staple White Sourdough Formula

glasgowjames's picture

Staple White Sourdough Formula

Hullo all! My name is James and though I've posted a couple of times on here before, I've never properly introduced myself. I am a contestant on the new series of the Great British Bake-Off, on BBC2 in the UK at 8pm on Tuesdays.

This Tuesday, it is bread week (see for how rubbish we are at plaiting, I'm the first guy). And if you tune in, you'll find out if it is possible to fully knead, prove, boil and bake sourdough bagels in 4 hours. But I thought to mark the occasion, I'd look for some opinions on my own staple of a White Sourdough - this is the recipe I use on a regular basis, using the simple formula:

1:1 Starter; total weight of starter should be HALF total weight of flour; overall hydration 75%

Simple! I really do love this recipe, and encourage you to try it (copied from my brand new blog at , contact me on twitter at @bakingjames) and more than anything, encourage you to criticise it:



A few words on your starter:

Your sourdough starter should ideally be kept at room temperature (18-24 degrees) with as little fluctuation in temperature as possible. The ratio of strong white flour to water should be kept at 1:1 and, to steal the term from beer brewing, the pitching rate should be kept constant (this is simply how much you feed it compared to how much starter there is - try and feed it with about twice the weight of starter that remains after use. If you don't use your starter on a particular day, pour some away to keep this ratio constant). Additionally, this recipe assumes the activity of your starter is high, and that it is used as it is fed with the full amount of flour required for your daily bake every 24 hours, as it is used.


But even if you don't abide by those strict starter rules (I must admit, I often don't), my rules to the perfect simple white home sourdough are simple and easy and should be followed:

  • STARTER should be ONE:ONE ratio of flour and water
  • Use HALF the weight of STARTER to your weight of FLOUR
  • Add enough water to keep the OVERALL HYDRATION at 75%


Easy huh? A worked example:

To make a loaf using 400g white flour, we add 200g starter. This means we have a total of 500g flour and 100g water so far. To bring the hydration to 75%, we can work out that we need a total of 375g water total. Therefore, 275g water should be added to bring it to 75% hydration. Of course, make normal adjustments, and add a little more water if your starter is more active or less water if less active.


Recipe (makes one large loaf):

400g Strong White Flour (just go ahead and order a sack from Shipton Mill...)

200g White Sourdough Starter

275g Cold Water

10g Salt


1. Mix together water and starter and flour until combined. Cover and leave for 30 minutes to autolyse.

2. Add salt and knead fully (none of this Dan Lepard stuff) until passes the windowpane test. I would recommend the slap and fold method)

3. Cover and rest depending on what suits you: approx 6 hours at room temperature should be enough. Alternatively, just chuck it in the fridge overnight.

4. Shape (you can preshape if you like: if rested overnight it might be a bit floppy - just shape it loosely, except try and use no flour. 30 mins later just shape again) and transfer to basket or brotform

5. Prove for another 4-6 hours at room temp until done. You can retard this prove too if you like, but I wouldn't do both as the sourness can be a little too much (though works well if starter is on 12 hour cycle), and if you retard this prove you're crumb isn't going to be quite as tight.

*** Baking instructions are my recommended, but just on stone or in a pot I'm sure will be fine ***

6. Preheat baking stone at 240 degrees, then add in a cast iron pot (Le Creuset or similar or a dutch oven) with lid on about 20 mins before you're going to bake.

7. Turn down oven to 210, score and bake loaf in the pot for 15 minutes with the lid on, then remove lid and bake another 15 minutes. Remove the pot and turn out the bread (bread can be frozen or kept back at this point) and bake on the stone for a final time until done (another 20 minutes or so).

Happy baking!

mwilson's picture

Hello James,

Nice to hear from you. Good luck in the competition - I'll be watching.

Just one thing, I can't let you get away with it... Your theory about slap and fold (not stretch and fold - two different things!) and how it improves dough strength is incorrect. I'm happy to debate it with you...


glasgowjames's picture

Hey! Thanks for the reply!


Of course, yes, misuse of terms, apologies. However, I still believe after further research that there is weight behind my theory, especially as it turns out in practice. Unless you can convince me. What do you dispute? Aerobic respiration is used by the yeast, I simply seek to maximise it.





mwilson's picture

Hi James,

I don't dispute aerobic respiration but do dispute your understanding of dough strength.

Your experiment showed how the dough that used the slap and fold technique was more voluminous and 'perky' for lack of a better word ie. stronger...

The window pane test can be a way to grasp gluten development but it's not an effective way to measure dough strength. Again gluten development and dough strength are two different things.

Dough strength takes into account, elasticity, extensibility and tenacity. But in the most simplest sense a strong dough can referred to it's ability to hold onto the trapped gas. So in terms of dough strength alone it doesn't matter how the gas gets in the dough but rather it's the limiting factor of the gluten's potential that determines dough strength.

There is a rather easy way to prove this. Using slap and fold, knead a dough that contains no yeast! And instead add the yeast at the last possible moment. I guarantee you'll get the same improved results!

I hope this helps you better understand the nature of dough...



glasgowjames's picture

Hi Michael,

I've carried out some experiments and I feel you should do the same to try and distinguish any bias - the yeasted dough is stronger, to much the same extent as it was in previous experiments, interestingly enough. But I stress, I am a scientist and I do realise the fallbacks of a single experiment such as this so please, try it yourself and see what you think. I am still very much open to being wrong.

Indeed, my worry is that I am convincing myself, as from an entirely theoretical perspective, the feeding the dough with oxygen for improved results is cell biology 101. This is the way I see it: you obviously understand how well yeast can develop the gluten without any human work? Then think about the aerobic effects of respiration for those 10-15 minutes of kneading, ie allowing oxygen to bind by increasing the dough's surface area as much as possible - probably in a practical sense 2-3x greater CO2 production (as saccharomyces cerevisiae does still undergo some fermentation, even under aerobic conditions), or equivalent, you might say, up to a 30 minute autolyse? You've not only got increased development of gluten, but if you visualise it, a more preferable arrangement.

Additionally, and more outlandishly (because there is a noticeable flavour difference between the hand and machine kneaded), I don't know much about commercial yeast production, but I do know that it is grown aerobically, and easing the yeast into the total fermentation of the prove would be no bad thing, as from brewing the stress of switching can cause off-flavours. (although being starved of any food for goodness knows how long will surely stress it out enough...) Anyway, theory in progress!

Thank you, you've actually helped me into brand new understandings of dough, and please continue to do so and dispute anything you feel is incorrect.



On a roll's picture
On a roll


I'm not qualified to intervene in your discussions with Michael about oxygenation, so forgive me for side-stepping that part of this thread.

But I tried your formula this weekend and I have to say it made a superb sourdough bread: shatteringly crisp crust, crumb as holey as anyone could want, and (surprisingly to me, because I'm not expert enough to understand these things), an enormously complex and delicious flavor. Maybe the best sourdough I've made to date.

This could change next weekend, when I'll try it again, but I hope not, and I did want to cast a vote for your method, which is actually simple enough to keep in one's head (with a quick assist from a smart phone calculator).

And here's hoping you win the competition!



glasgowjames's picture

You have no idea how happy this makes me! Brilliant! Thank you.

Heidela123's picture

I made this according to the directions and the bread is perfect