Cuisine Fiend

san francisco sourdough

Wed, 3 December, 2014


San Francisco sourdough

I made it! I’ve made the famous San Francisco sourdough and it rose like a beauty, and I’ve even baked it using two different methods: the Dutch oven (which I really think I’ve re-invented just for sourdough) and open baked as per recipe.

You might be familiar with the technique of making the San Francisco starter which involves making a dough ball, letting it crust up, breaking the crust and scooping out the insides, of which there will be very little, and I don’t recall what you subject the poor flour and water to further but it sure resembles witchcraft doctor’s practice. This is completely different: the only unusual are several ingredients not common in ordinary sourdough like apple juice and raisins.

San Francisco sourdough round loaf

The recipe comes from ‘Baking with Passion’ by Dan Lepard and Richard Whittington. I’ve scaled down the original enormous amounts to make it work for two loaves – I didn’t like the thought of chucking out perfectly good surplus starter.

It works, it works! The starter might be sluggish on day one, but don’t let that discourage you – mine went crazy only on day two. The most satisfying part is handling the final dough, the folding and re-folding on the hour, just before the forming and final proving – it’s springy and alive! The pleasure is almost sensuous.

What of the outcome – I baked one loaf in the Dutch oven, my cast-iron casserole, and it was beautiful. Just perhaps slightly less crusty and chewy than the open baked one – but the shorter rise saves you time, see below, and it's better formed.

San Francisco sourdough batard

And the final word – it does taste incredible.

san francisco sourdough

Servings: 2 large loavesTime: 4-5 hours plus starter over several days


  • Stage 1
  • 1 tsp wholemeal or rye stoneground flour
  • 100g strong white flour
  • 100g plain yoghurt
  • 66g apple juice
  • 40g raisins, rinsed and drained
  • Stage 2 - refreshment
  • 50g plain yoghurt
  • 50ml full-fat milk
  • 100g strong white flour

1. Mix all the ingredients for stage 1 except the raisins and beat with a mixer for 10 minutes on low speed, increasing the speed to medium for further 5 minutes. By then it should be smooth, elastic and bubbly. Add the raisins and pour into a large bowl or jar. Dust the surface with a little extra flour, cover with cling film and leave in the warmest place you can – ideally at 28C (airing cupboard is where I grow my sourdough). Leave for 24 hours or slightly longer if the temperature is lower.

2. The next day whisk in the refreshment mix of yoghurt and milk using a hand whisk. Scoop out the raisins with an ordinary or slotted spoon (Dan Lepard says sieve it through a colander but the dough is too thick for that – I ended up with an awful mess and losing a bit of the mixture on and around the colander), then stir in the refreshment amount of the flour. Dust the surface with some extra flour again, cover and leave in the warm place for further 24 hours.
Note: don’t lose heart if nothing happens before the second day. My starter didn’t budge and only after the refreshment it went mad, threatening to crawl out of the bowl!

  • The amounts below make two large loaves. If you want to bake just one, halve the sponge and dough ingredients. I made two to compare the two baking methods, see below.
  • For the sponge:
  • 400g strong white flour
  • 500ml warm water
  • 300g sourdough starter
  • For the dough:
  • 400g strong white flour
  • 1 tbsp fine salt


3. Mix the sponge ingredients in a large bowl with a hand whisk. Cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place for 4-5 hours (or overnight, but do get up rather early!). It should get seriously bubbling.

4. Transfer the sponge to a standing mixer bowl (or use a hand-held mixer) with a paddle attachment. Add half the flour and beat for a couple of minutes on low speed, then for further 8-10 minutes on medium speed. Add the rest of the flour and the salt and beat with a dough hook attachment, or knead by hand, until the dough is stretchy, elastic and smooth and doesn’t stick to your hands or the sides of the bowl.

Sourdough and shaping

5. Tip it out onto a large tray and dust with flour. Cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place for an hour. After that time turn it out onto a floured surface, pat out gently to deflate it, fold it in half and then in three in the opposite direction. Return it to the tray, dust with more flour and keep warm for another hour.

6. Repeat the deflating and folding twice more, on the hour. By each time it will more and more impressively resemble a well-plumped up pillow! After the final rise turn it out onto the floured surface and divide in two.

Proofing loaves

7. Prepare two proving baskets or bowls lined with cloth and floured generously. Tighten each dough ball by folding it on itself like an envelope, then again in half if you want a baton shaped loaf. Make sure they are thoroughly floured and drop them into the proving baskets, seam side down, cover and leave to rise in a warm place.

San Francisco sourdough loaves

Baking: Method 1

8. Put the proving basket in a plastic bag inflated a bit so it doesn’t touch the dough (just blow into it and tie the end!) and leave for about 40 minutes. Halfway through that time start preheating a cast iron casserole dish or Dutch oven in the middle of the oven at 220C/425F/gas 7.

9. The dough will not rise much but that’s good – I’ve found that with sourdough short proving time works better if you bake it in Dutch oven. When ready, just plonk the dough in it from the proving basket swiftly as you can, put the lid on and into the oven. Bake with the lid on for 20 minutes, and for another 20 minutes with the lid off.

San Francisco sourdough

Baking: Method 2

10. Put the proving basket in a plastic bag inflated a bit so it doesn’t touch the dough (just blow into it and tie the end!) and leave for 2-3 hours until almost doubled in bulk.

11. Preheat the oven to 250C/475F/maximum gas with a baking stone or a heavy baking tray on the middle shelf. When the loaves are ready to bake, tip them carefully out onto the baking stone (one is infinitely easier to bake so if you want to make two using this method, you might want to leave the second basket somewhere slightly cooler to slow down the rise, and bake it after the first).

Sourdough batard

12. Slash the tops with a sharp knife, spray the oven with water and bake for 10 minutes. Lower the heat to 180C/350F/gas 4 and bake for further 40 minutes. Remove onto a wire rack and leave to cool.

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