How to succeed with a sourdough bread recipe?


When I started to bake sourdough bread, I was only baking following a recipe. I baked like this for years. Sometimes it was successful and sometimes not. There was a secret that I didn't know back then. I knew that there should have been something that would have turned any recipe into a successful one. But for years I've got distracted by important events in my life, and I gave up searching for it. I continued to bake bread during this time, and yes all the loaves were perfectly edible with a great taste.
One day, a friend of mine challenged me to bake bread without a recipe taken from a book and to look to make my own recipes. I got scared in the beginning as I didn't trust myself that I could do it. The first thing I had to do, it was to understand proportions in a dough,  like hydration, inoculation and so on. With all these clear, I started making my own recipes. But it was not enough. It was frustrating to see that sometimes it was working and sometimes not. What was the secret behind it? What could have made my baking consistent?

When the pandemic stroke us, I was already baking sourdough bread for some years. Almost everybody started to bake bread and the flours shops were empty. I had then to search for other sources of flour than my old good supermarket bread flour. I had then to chose other available flour brands. I've tested other flours before but I couldn't make big difference between them so I came back to my old and very accessible bread flour from the supermarket.
But this time, things were different. Being all the time at home allowed me to keep my sourdough at room temperature and to feed it 2 or 3 times per day. With this life change, I committed myself to search of the secret that I have not found beore, the secret of making incredible good looking bread. I was missing the consistency in baking bread with an ear. I desperately wanted to learn more. What was the secret to obtaining all the time an ear on the bread and a nicelly raised bread?
Things were linked: I needed a new flour, and I wanted a good one. My sourdough was spoiled with feeding at room temperature and got more active than when kept in the fridge. I added to this a bit of research. I bought a book to understand the science behind bread making. From there, I felt like putting together a puzzle. I had many pieces of the puzzle in my hands but I was missing some of them. The picture started to contour. I recall the first time I've got the ear after starting this improvement process. I felt I made a big step into understanding sourdough bread making.

My challenge continued after reaching the so desired ear. I wanted to bake a more open crumb bread, although pure open crumb has never been my target. I would rather say, to have a more aerated crumb in loaves that normally was denser. Also, I wanted to try other tastes from more flours.
On my way, I found the so much wanted secret. Although I have suspected it so long time ago, I have never thought that this would change so much the success of any recipe. The secret was a combination of factors:
  • The first was understanding bulk fermentation, understanding what is happening during this time. Fermentation is a fantastic natural process and o controll it, you need first to understand it.
  • The second was the quality of the flour. You need to know your flour and understand what to expect from it. If it is brand new flour, you need to test it. I had before other brands of flour in my hands, but what I didn't have before were the skills to make the best out of it. For me, all flours were the same before. Not even adding extra gluten didn't make any difference. This was because I didn't know exactly what to look for.
    My search for flour was twofold: one to find a high gluten flour coming from a sustainable source and the second was to find organic flours (if possible local) that would diversify my recipes.
  • The third was to understand my sourdough starter. I found a better place for it on top of my wifi router. My Maya became very active at warm temperatures and I started learning its signs. Once, I remember feeding it with an organic flour that made her very inactive. I had to select then, the perfect "food" for it too.
  • The fourth was to aquire new skills. My old skills, although learned from other bakers needed an upgrade. This is how I turned to Kristen's youtube channel and Instagram page. I've learned so much from her very detailed instructions, tested them and I have kept many of the techniques. It  is funny that although I've been inspired by her techniques, I've never tested her exact recipes. It will not be fair to say that only Kristen was my inspiration in my way, Trevor's book was another big one. And others also, but maybe with a lower influence.
On my learning path, I filmed and uploaded my bakes on youtube. If you are a beginner with sourdough bread, I recommend filming your bread making process (even just for yourself) to later rewind and make a self after bake critique. In this way, you are practically learning from your own mistakes. The more you bake and observe, the more you learn.

I've learned a lot in the last year but I still feel myself at the beginning of this trip. There are so many other things to try: other types of flour, other types of bread and so on. I think the list there can be so creative. I struggle with little time to put in practice and on youtube my loaves, but yes, I bake at least once a week, I test new recipes and most important, I put on the table an amazing bread for me and my family.

I stopped a bit and looked back. I started this path of creating my own recipes, but there are so many nice recipes in sourdough books or over the web. Nowadays, I use these books for inspiration only, without following the exact recipe (ingredients or directions). I wanted to go back, pick a recipe and follow it exactly to see what I would get. 
For this little challenge, I picked the Basic Sourdough Bread recipe of Kristen from FullProofBaking and let me tell you how it went.
The first bake with the exact ingredients and steps (even the same temperature) turned out OK but not outstanding. The high hydration dough (of 80%) didn't pose problems for me. What was wrong then? The crumb looked under proofed, with big holes (like tunnels inside) and very small bubbles around. For the next bake, it was clear that the bulk proof had to be extended. But there was another aspect: the bread looked a little flatter than I would have expected. Adding extra coil folds would have improved the shape.
With these in mind, the next bake was on the right track. I didn't change the hydration but worked on the above-mentioned aspects: I've let the dough to bulk ferment up until 75% instead of 50% volume increase and I made 5 coil folds instead of only 3. The result you can see in the photos and in the video. The result is not exactly like Kristen's and it will never be. The reason is simple: I do not have the same starter with the same behaviour, I do not have the same type of flours, not the same environment and even not the same skills.
But yes, I was able to bake bread that I am not ashamed of. I was actually very pleased with the result and with the incredible taste it has. 

The secret to succeed with a sourdough recipe, in general, is not to follow it by the book but to adapt and use the right techniques to it. Sometimes you can even adjust the ingredients if you know that the flour you are using is higher or lower in proteins. Usually, a recipe does not indicate the protein content of the flour to use. In US, bread flour usually has >13% protein content but my supermarket bread flour has 10% protein content. European bread flour is usually much lower in protein content thus the water content needs to be adapted accordingly. 
It might take you a few trials to be satisfied with the result of a recipe, but all the time, observe and improve is the key.

 I hope the tips and tricks mentioned above or in the video will help you too in succeeding with a sourdough bread recipe.


  • 170g sourdough starter (100% hydration)
  • 670g strong wheat flour (14% proteins) 
  • 180g wholemeal flour
  • 662g water
  • 18g salt 


  1. [Day 1, Saturday, 8:30] Scaling. Start by scaling your ingredients using a balance and put them on the table to ensure that nothing is forgotten.
  2. Mix water + flours. Mix only the flours with water until well combined. Do not knead at this stage, just ensure there is no unincorporated dry flour resting in the bowl and that's it. For this recipe, the target dough temperature is 26ºC during the bulk fermentation. I actually set the bread proofer to 29ºC and kept the dough inside. However, due to the manipulation of the dough at room temperature, the dough temperature was on average 3ºC less.
  3. [Day 1 Saturday, 10:30] Sourdough starter. Add the starter over the dough and mix with a standing mixer for 10 minutes.  After mixing, let the dough relax for 45 minutes.
  4. [Day 1 Saturday, 11:15] Salt. Add the salt and mix for 5 minutes. Then, let the dough relax again for 45 minutes.
  5. [Day 1, Saturday, 12:00] Divide and Stretch and Fold. Take the dough out of the bowl put it on the slightly wet table board and divide it into 2. Stretch and fold each piece on the board and place them in squared glass bowls. Let them sit covered for 1 hour.
  6. [Day 1, Saturday, 13:00] Lamination. Take each piece out of the bowl and do the lamination. Let the dough rests covered for 30 minutes. 
  7. [Day 1, Saturday, 13:30] Coil fold 1. Start now a set of 5 coil folds performed straight in the bowls. Do the first coil fold set in each glass bowl and let them sit for 30 minutes. At this stage, the increase of volume is 10%.
  8. [Day 1, Saturday, 14:00] Coil fold 2.  The volume increase is 15%. Do a second set of coil folds in the glass bowls and let them sit for 30 minutes. 
  9. [Day 1, Saturday, 14:30] Coil fold 3. The volume increase is 20%. Do a third set of coil folds for each dough and let them sit for 30 minutes covered. 
  10. [Day 1, Saturday, 15:00] Coil fold 4. The volume increase is 30%. Do a fourth set of coil folds for each dough and let them sit for 30 minutes covered. 
  11. [Day 1, Saturday, 15:00] Coil fold 5. The volume increase is 40%. Do a fifth set of coil folds for each dough and let them sit for 1 hour and 30 minutes covered.
  12. [Day 1, Saturday, 16:00] Shape.  You'll shape the dough when the volume increase reached 75%. Fold gently the dough and roll it before placing it face down into well-floured bannetons. Repeat the process for the second piece of dough. Let the bannetons still rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before placing them in the fridge overnight. 
  13. [Day 2, Sunday, 10:30] Score. Before scoring, you need to preheat the oven at 250ºC. I baked these loaves in a wood-fired oven but in a classical oven, you should follow basically the same temperature. Inside the oven, I also heat 2 Dutch ovens.
    Take the dough out from the fridge and reverse the banneton on baking paper. Score and decorate the bread as you like.  Immediately after, slide the loaves in the hot Dutch ovens. I also place a small ice cube inside to create more steam .
  14. Bake at 250ºC for 20 minutes with the lid on. After these 20 minutes, remove the lid and continue to bake at a reduced temperature (~220ºC) for 25 minutes. In the wood-fired oven, the exact temperature is difficult to control, so during the bake, it went gradually down from 250ºC to 200ºC at the end of the bake.
  15. [Day 2, Sunday, 11:15] Cool. The bread needs to cool for at least 2 hours until it reaches room temperature. The cooking process continues slowly even after taking the bread out of the oven, so this is why it is important to not skip this step and to resist cutting it too early. If you can, of course...
  16. [Day 2, Sunday, 13:15] Cut. Now is the big moment to enjoy a slice of bread... 


Fabrizio said...

Merci beaucoup pour toutes ces précieuses informations (et j'en profite au passage pour vous dire un grand bravo pour vos photos également, en plus de vos vidéo. La qualité est vraiment au rendez-vous et vous avez vraiment un "oeil")

J'aurai une question à vous poser car c'est encore une partie sur laquelle j'ai du mal à comprendre le résultat attendu : lorsqu'on parle de "under ferment" ou "over ferment", quels sont les signes vis à vis de la pâte elle-même, ou même lors du résultat après cuisson, qui donnent ces indices ?
Je parcours les contenus internet / youtube depuis un certains temps, ai compulsé un nombre d'informations incalculables, tout autant en livres, mais j'avoue être encore perdu et incertain sur ce que l'on doit attendre.
Pourtant, dieu sait que j'ai fait des tests, et continue d'en faire, mais sans vraiment avoir ce qui est recherché, il est difficile d'avancer dans un tel brouillard.
Je vous passe le côté organique de la chose qui rend tout cela très aléatoire ^^, mais j'espère que vous comprenez ma question :)

En vous remerciant d'avance et vous souhaitant une agréable journée.

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