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One and only sourdough

Sat, 13 May, 2023

If in your whole life you want to bake just one and only sourdough bread, this is the recipe to go for. It’s the epitome of sourdough perfection.

one and only sourdough

I thought I knew it all. I thought I was perfectly well versed in the mysteries of hydration, autolyse, window panes and discards. I was completely blasé about sour starters and loaves, to the point of being bored with them and turning my hand to basic white yeasted. I might even have started thinking that, post-pandemic, sourdough was quite overrated and over the hill.

And then I came across Claire Saffitz’s YouTube video, How to Make Sourdough Bread and traced it back to its accompanying New York Times Cooking guide.

I think it drew me in because Claire is such a lovely, no-nonsense presenter who doesn’t exactly make things look easy but, more importantly, makes them look totally realistic. There are no ‘I-made-this-one-earlier’ specimens and everything appears 100% reliable as she’s making it.

the best sourdough

What is special about the recipe?

There is nothing special! The particular characteristic that allows it to produce the best ever sourdough loaf is that it puts together the knowledge that I, for instance, already had but in a scattered way.

I’d fail to do autolyse even if I did add salt in the correct manner. Or I’d skip cold retarding of the shaped loaf overnight, eager to bake and get it done.

Details like that, Claire includes them all, additionally providing lucid and comprehensive explanations why all the steps need to be followed just so. Simply perfect.

So if you want to give it a go, I wholeheartedly recommend you beg, steal, borrow or buy a small quantity of mature starter and let the journey to the best sourdough commence.

the ultimate sourdough

Hand or machine?

Claire makes her dough by hand but if you have a standing mixer with a dough hook attachment, use it – it won’t make a difference to the end result. I have tried both methods and the artisan, hand work is very exhausting albeit satisfying.

If you want to go that way, follow Claire’s video and I won’t be offended. For the machine-assisted method, keep reading.

the best sourdough recipe


The whole process takes three days, beginning with feeding the starter twice on day one, morning and night. If your starter is lively and recently refreshed, you might do just one, evening feed. You aim for bubbly, vigorous, airy mix on the morning of day two.

feeding starter

To check if it’s mature enough, scoop a teaspoonful of it and set it in a bowl of water. If it floats, it’s good to go.

testing starter


But before the starter is added, the flour mixed with just water should rest and hydrate for at least half an hour. This process is called autolyse and it serves to develop a gluten network in the dough.

The best flours mix is the bulk of strong white bread, stoneground if available, with the addition of wholemeal and dark rye. But you can use just one of the latter types if that’s all you have.


After the autolyse, add the required amount of the starter to the dough. There will be some left, which can go live in the fridge waiting to be refreshed for a new loaf.

There’s no need to be precious about the starters. To be honest, I don’t look after mine terribly well – they sometimes go for a couple of months without feeding and still come back to life when refreshed twice.

Use the standing mixer with dough hook to incorporate the starter into the dough, but just briefly.

incorporating starter

Only then salt should be added, with a little extra water to help it get absorbed. Again, mix it in briefly and let it then rest for 10 minutes, so the dough can relax since adding salt makes the gluten contract.

To cover the dough in the bowl at any point you can use a damp tea towel. Alternatively, use a clean bin liner to shroud the bowl in the standing mixer, the machine and all.


The next step done by hand is a laborious half an hour, at least. In the standing mixer all you need to watch is that the dough doesn’t climb up the hook and onto the mechanical element, which doesn’t necessary wreck your appliance but makes for a long and sweary cleaning process.

Working the dough will take about 15-20 minutes at medium speed. You can perform the windowpane test to check the gluten development, by stretching a clump of dough in your fingers to see if it lets light through before it tears. If it doesn’t but still looks strandy, stringy and elastic, it will be fine.

working dough

Stretching and folding

The next bit is fun: transfer your dough to a wide container or bowl to make the exercise easier, and every hour grab the underside of the dough with wet hands, stretch it as far as it will go and let it fold onto itself.

Do it from all four sides, turning the bowl or container after each stretch, then re-cover the bowl and stash it back into the warmest place in the house.

How many stretch and folds?

It takes between 3 and 6 for the dough to achieve the required volume, strength and billowing fullness, depending on the flour, the weather, the temperature and sourdough mojo. You will most likely know when it’s ready: it will feel almost alive, fluid and plump like a happy pillow.

Complete the rise after the last stretch with a final hour’s rest in the warm place, then you can proceed to shaping.

stretching and folding

Pre-shaping and shaping

Turn out the dough gently onto a floured surface. To pre-shape, you can try and pull the sides into the centre, like gathering edges of a picnic blanket into a bundle, flour the top and turn it over, but if the weather is warm the dough might be too sticky for that. In which case flour the top of it and tuck the edges underneath it with a dough scraper, to shape as tidy a ball as you can without mauling the dough ball too much. Cover it with a tea towel and let it rest for 20 minutes.

preshaping loaf

A banneton or a proving basket of 1 kilogram capacity, lined with a cotton insert, will be useful. If you don’t have it, use a clean linen cloth to nestle in a medium sized bowl.

In either case, dust the inside of the proofing container liberally with flour. A mix of rice and bread flour is ideal as rice flour doesn’t stick to the dough but slides around it. But if you think it’s pointless to purchase special flour just for dusting, use wholemeal flour.

The best way to flour your container evenly is to use a small sieve or a tea strainer filled with the flour mix, shaking it all over the linen cloth.

When the proofing container is ready, it’s time to shape the loaf. Claire’s method is simple and genius.

Using one or two dough scrapers and floured hands, turn the dough bundle over onto its well-floured side.

Gently stretch it into a square, then fold over the left side towards the centre, then the right side over it, obtaining a long log. Starting from the end close to you, roll it up into a short, fat bundle.

shaping loaf

Grab it with floured hands and place in the proving basket, seam side up. Flour the top and cover the basket with a cloth or place it in a bin liner with plenty of space around the dough. Tie up the end of the bin liner or secure it with a rubber band.

Leave the dough to proof in the kitchen for an hour, up to an hour and a half. When gently pressed the dough should not spring back immediately but retain and indent – that’s the sign it’s fully proofed.

proofing loaf

Now it can go into the fridge for a cold retardation of between 12 and up to 48 hours. Longer than that is still okay but the bread will not spring as lively in the oven because it will be slightly overproofed. Wrap it in your bin liner, blow into it gently and bundle up the end with a band, so the plastic doesn’t touch the dough and God forbid, stick to it.

Baking in the morning

Baking straight from fridge is easy and a no-brainer: with the temperature of the oven of 250C, even hotter inside the cast iron dish, 10 or 20 degrees more or less colder dough is not going to matter one jot. Don’t waste time bringing the loaf to room temperature – spend that time preheating the Dutch oven.

For a loaf this size, a cast iron casserole dish about 23cm/9 inch wide will be perfect.

If you haven’t got a suitable cast iron dish, you can use any oven-proof pan with a lid, stainless steel or ceramic, briefly pre-heated. In the worst case bake the bread on a heavy baking sheet, spraying the inside of the oven with water to create a humid environment.

To turn the loaf out of the basket, measure a length of parchment the width of the basket but much longer so you have an overhang to handle it with. Flour the top of the dough as the flour tends to evaporate in the fridge, place the parchment over the dough and turn it over.

Peel off the basket and the lining and you can brush excess flour off the dough if overly floured bread annoys you.

Now with utmost care remove the hot Dutch oven dish from the oven, using oven gloves.

Grab a baker’s lame, a serrated or a very sharp knife and give your loaf a good slash. Decisively cut along one side, directing the blade towards the centre of the loaf, like making a Joker’s smile.

preparing loaf for baking

Grab the sides of the parchment and lift the loaf, then lower it carefully into the pan with the parchment. It won’t make a breath of a difference to the crustiness of the loaf bottom.

bread in dutch oven

Put the lid on and bake in super-hot oven for 30 minutes. After than time carefully remove the lid and admire your oven spring. Turn the heat down a little and bake for further 15-20 minutes, depending how deeply baked you like your loaf.

bread in oven

You can also turn the (electric) oven completely off after 10 minutes post-uncovering and leave the bread in the oven for longer.

And then you’ll just have to put your self-restraint to a test, waiting for the loaf to cool down enough to cut it, breathing in the divine baking scents.

my perfect sourdough

More sourdough recipes

Seelen means souls in German, and in Schwabia it means fantastically tasty spelt sourdough bread rolls, rustic and completely artisan.

San Francisco style sourdough is the top rated sourdough bread recipe. The history of the San Francisco sourdough bread goes back to the California Gold Rush of the late 19th century.

Sourdough baguettes on wheat starter, fermenting over 36 hours. They taste like they came from a French boulangerie, and just look at those air bubbles!

one and only sourdough recipe you need

One and only sourdough

Servings: makes 1 large loafTime: 48 hours plus feeding starter
Rating: (3 reviews)


  • For the starter feeding:
  • 20g mature sourdough starter
  • 2 x 100g strong white bread flour
  • 2 x 100g water
  • For the bread:
  • 350g strong white bread flour
  • 75g strong wholemeal flour
  • 75g dark rye flour (or 150g of one of those)
  • 375 g plus 10g lukewarm water
  • 10g fine sea salt
  • For dusting:
  • 50g white flour
  • 50g rice flour


Day 1:

1. In the morning, place the starter (straight from the fridge) in a clean container and add 100g lukewarm water and 100g strong white bread flour. Mix well, cover with a lid and keep in a warm spot.

2. In the evening discard all but 20g of the starter and feed with 100g of flour and 100g water again. Store in the warm place overnight.

Day 2:

3. In the morning check if the starter is ready by spooning a little onto a bowl of water. If it floats, it’s ready to use.

4. In the standing mixer bowl place all the flour and the 375g of water and work to a rough dough, just so no dry flour is visible. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave for 30 minutes to autolyse.

5. After that time add 100g of the starter (the rest can go back to the fridge for the next baking session) and mix with a dough hook attachment until completely incorporated.

6. Sprinkle the salt and the 10g of water over the dough and work it in briefly with the mixer. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and leave to stand for 10 minutes.

7. Now start kneading at low speed for a couple of minutes, then continue at medium speed for 10 minutes. Pinch a small ball of dough and stretch it in your fingers (windowpane test) to see if it lets light through without tearing. If it’s nowhere near it, continue for another 10 minutes at medium speed.

8. Afterwards the dough should be much more elastic but still very sticky. Transfer it to a shallow container or bowl, cover with a damp towel and leave for an hour in a warm place.

9. On the hour, stretch and fold the dough with wet fingers from four sides, folding it over itself. Repeat every hour between 3 and 6 times, until the dough is significantly puffed up, bouncy like a pillow and looks and feels alive. Leave it for the final hour’s proof, then turn it out onto a lightly dusted surface.

10. With floured hands and a dough scraper pinch the sides into the middle to form a bundle. Flour the top and turn it over onto the seam. Cover with a clean towel and leave for 20 minutes.

11. Prepare a proofing basket lined with a cloth by dusting it generously with the mix of wheat-rice flours.

12. To shape the loaf, lift and turn over the pre-shaped ball. Stretch it gently with your fingers to a square. Fold the left side of the dough inward toward the centre, then fold the right side inward and over the left fold. Starting at the end closest to you, roll the dough away from you into a bulky roll.

13. Let it sit on the seam for a minute, then lift it with dough scrapers and transfer into the basket, seam side up. Dust the top of the dough with the rice flour mix, cover with a towel and leave to proof for 1 – 1 ½ hours, until slightly increased in volume and a finger pressed gently into the dough leaves a slight indentation (instead of springing back).

14. Cover the basket with a plastic wrap and transfer to the fridge overnight and up to 2 days.

Day 3:

15. Preheat the oven to 250C/500F gas max with a cast iron casserole dish or Dutch oven inside. Let it heat up at least 30 minutes.

16. Remove the basket from the fridge. Dust the top with the rice flour mix and place over it a length of parchment as long as the basket and wider on both sides. Turn the basket over onto the parchment, remove it and peel off the cloth. Brush off excess flour and make a slash off-centre, angling the blade towards the middle of the loaf.

17. Carefully remove the preheated dish from the oven, lift the dough by the parchment sides and lower into the dish with the parchment. Put the lid on and transfer to the oven for 30 minutes.

18. Turn the oven down to 230C/450F/gas 7 and take off the lid. Continue baking for 15-20 minutes depending how deeply baked you like your loaf. When baked, take it out with the parchment and cool completely on a wire rack.

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Your comments

Anna @ CuisineFiend
Hi Catherine - it's lovely to hear that! Thank you!
6 months ago
Your explanations are super-helpful! I’ve followed Claire’s recipe a few times, but things didn’t really click for me until reading your post. You’ve done a nice job of filling in some gaps for me. I look forward to perusing your site and learning more!
6 months ago
Anna @ CuisineFiend
Hi Brian - this is certainly a reliable recipe. I'm very happy about your success with it!
9 months ago
Amazing! This was my first attempt at sourdough and what a success it was. My wife, an accomplished baker, couldn't believe I'd baked this!
9 months ago
This certainly looks like one to try out!
2 years ago

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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