By Frances

This is my first sourdough loaf from a starter. Not too bad, didn’t rise very much, but definitely more flavourful than commercial sourdough loaves. The second loaf was a little better. This recipe is from Michael Pollan’s Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (Penguin Press, 2013), which is a brilliant read. So much info to digest, so to speak. Michael adapted this recipe from Chad Robertson’s country loaf in Tartine Bread, which I found here on Martha Stewart’s website. The day after I finished reading Cooked I was watching Dean Brettschneider on TV in A Kiwi Baker in California and he visits Chad Robertson in his San Francisco bakery – nice coincidence! Dean also makes Chad’s loaf and I used Dean’s tip of pouring a cup of water onto the bottom of the oven when you put the loaf in to make steam to help form the crust. This is a good alternative if you don’t have a large ceramic pot or Dutch oven to bake the bread, as Michael and Chad’s recipes do.


For the starter:

50g stoneground wholegrain flour, plus more as needed to feed the starter (at least 150g more)

50g unbleached all purpose flour, plus 150g more to feed starter

100g warm tap water, plus more to feed starter


For the leaven:

100g wholegrain flour

100g all purpose flour

200g warm tap water

30-35g starter (from recipe above)


For the bread:

600g wholegrain flour

250g all purpose flour

150g rye or pumpernickel flour

900g warm tap water

3.5g or 1 1/8 tsp instant yeast mixed with 50g tap water, optional

25g sea salt

rice flour for dusting bowl, optional


Make the starter

In a small glass or plastic container mix both flours until combined. Add water and stir. Leave mixture open to the air, stirring vigorously for 30 sec at least once a day. As soon as you observe sign of microbial activity (bubbles, lumps on top) – which can take 2-5 days – feed the starter daily: discard about 80% of it and replace with fresh flour and water in equal amounts (about 50g each). Once it has become active again, keep the starter covered at a warm room temp. If you’re not baking for a while you can freeze or refrigerate your starter. To do so, feed it, let it sit for a couple of hours at room temp, then add enough additional flour to dry it out in a ball; freeze or refrigerate. A few days before you want to use it again, wake the starter by bringing it to room temp; feed it with same amount of flour and water as above twice daily; discarding 80% of it each time, until it’s lively again.


Make the leaven

The night before baking the bread, make a leaven. In a glass bowl combine the flours and water. Add 2 Tbs of the starter and mix. Cover with a damp towel and leave out overnight in  a draft-free spot.


Make the bread

The night before baking, soak the flours: combine the flours with 850g of the water mixing until there are no lumps or dry flour remaining. (A recommended extra step: sieve the wholegrain and rye flours to remove the larger bits of bran and reserve them for later.) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave overnight.

In the morning test your leaven by dropping a Tbs of it in warm water. If it floats you’re all set. If not, you’ll probably want to add the yeast as an insurance policy. Mix 3.5g yeast with 50g water, after a few mins add to the bowl of leaven.

Add about half the leaven to the bowl with the wet dough; reserve the rest as your starter going forward. Mix dough well and let rest for at least 20 and up to 45 mins.

Meanwhile, in a cup, mix the salt and remaining 50g of water. After the dough has rested, add the salty water and work in well.


Bulk fermenting the dough

This takes 4 to 5 hours. Every 45 to 60 min give the dough a turn in the bowl. Wet your dominant hand, work it down the side of the bowl and bring up a mass of dough form the bottom, stretching it upward and then folding it over the top. Give the bowl a quarter turn, and repeat the action until you’ve completed one revolution of the bowl. These stretches will strengthen the gluten and fold air into the dough. (Both Dean and Chad do this turning on a floured board.) After a few hours the dough should feel aerated and softer.


Dividing the dough

When you’re ready to shape, spill dough onto a floured surface. Divide the dough into 2 equal halves. Shape these into globes, using your floured hands together with a scraper to rotate the dough against the work surface until it forms a ball with some surface tension. Cover the 2 globes with a towel and let them rest for 20 mins.


Shaping the dough

Flip one of the globes, which will have flattened somewhat, onto its back. Grab the edge of the dough farthest from you with all your fingers, stretch it away from you, and then fold it back over the top. Do the same to the edge of dough closest to you and then to each of the sides. You should have a rough rectangle of dough. Next, take each corner in turn, stretching and folding over the top. Now, cup your hands around the package of dough and roll it away form you until you have a short, taut cylinder, with seams on the bottom.

If you sifted the wholegrain flours, spread the reserved bran on a plate or baking sheet and gently roll the dough in it to cover. Sprinkle either rice flour or any remaining bran into the bottom of a large bowl (or proofing basket) and place the rough of dough in it top side down. Do the same with the 2nd loaf or put in fridge for baking later. Cover the bowl and rest for 2 to 3 hours.



Place the top and bottom of a Dutch oven (or large ceramic casserole with lid) on the centre rack in the oven and reheat to 250C for 20 mins.

With kitchen mitts, carefully remove the bottom of the pot and set it on the stovetop. Turn the bowl of dough over the pot to turn the proofed loaf into it. Take a single razor or knife and score the top of the loaf in any pattern you like, but be decisive! Put the top on the pot to seal then put the whole thing in the oven. Lower to 230C and set time fore 20 mins.

After 20 mins remove the top of the pot. The load will have doubled in size and acquired a pale brown colour. Close the oven and bake for another 23-25 mins.

Remove pot form oven and bread from the pot. Tap on the bottom, which should be very dark. A hollow percussive sound means the bread is properly cooked. If bottom is pale and sound is not percussive, return to the oven for 5 more mins.

Set it on a rack to cool for a few hours. Wholegrain bread is usually at its best on day 2 and remains good for several days, kept in a paper bag.


Good luck!