Pugilese – a ciabatta style bread with a sourdough starter

As I mentioned in my previous post, my oven – a long suffering little gas thing – has finally started to give up. The maximum temperature varies, but recently hasn’t topped 200˚C on the middle shelf. This means it isn’t much good at the moment for baking dark sourdough loaves with blistered crusts like porridge sourdough or fig and raisin sourdough.

This dark multigrain loaf was baked in a very hot oven… This won’t work for me right now

Still, I’ve resisted biting the bullet and heading down to the shops for bread, and instead have been working on some recipes that will get good results at medium temperatures. Rye bread, for example, works very well at a low temperature. It’s hardly an “every day” bread, however, so have also been experimenting with how to make a ciabatta style loaf at home in my dying oven.

The pugilese - "ciabatta" style loaf - proofing in a banneton
The pugilese – “ciabatta” style loaf – proofing in a banneton

I’ve made ciabatta before, using whey as part of the liquid. That post also includes instructions on the stretching and folding of the dough, which is very elastic and can be difficult to manage. The word “ciabatta” refers to the shape – a slipper. These loaves are slightly different. Leavened with a mix of sourdough starter and a little instant yeast, these round ciabatta style loaves are more like “Pugilese”, another Italian bread from the Puglia region. The major difference is the round shape, which needs a well floured banneton due to the slackness of the dough.

Two rye loaves and a pugilese – some of the breads to come out of my “broken” oven

Pugilese – makes 2 small loaves

Firm Starter


  • 300g firm starter
  • 285g white bread flour
  • 11g salt
  • 3g instant yeast
  • 255g lukewarm water
  1. To make the firm starter, refresh a sourdough starter with white flour to 130% hydration (130g water for every 100g flour). On the day before baking, combine the firm starter ingredients. Knead for a few minutes to combine, then place into a lightly oiled bowl. Allow to rise for 4 hours, then refrigerate overnight.
  2. The day of baking, remove the firm starter from the refrigerator an hour prior to making the bread, and cut up into about a dozen small pieces.
  3. Combine the firm starter with the remaining dough ingredients. The dough will be very wet and “slack”. Autolyse for 20 minutes. Stretch and fold the dough a dozen times, then bulk ferment for four hours. Perform stretch/folds several times during the first two hours of the bulk ferment.
  4. Flour a work surface, two lined bannetons, and your hands. Divide the dough into two equal portions. Try to work quickly but gently, so that the air in the dough is not squeezed out. Shape the dough into rounds and place into the well floured bannetons. Dust the tops with flour and cover loosely with cling film or a tea towel.
  5. Proof for 1 – 1.5 hours. Preheat the oven to 200˚C with a lidded cast iron pot (“Dutch Oven“) on the middle shelf.
  6. Bake the loaves one at a time in the cast iron pot, for 30 minutes with the lid on, then 15 minutes with the lid off.
  7. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for one hour before slicing.
The best way to enjoy this kind of loaf – with a dish of good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar
One of the finished “Pugilese” loaves

Beetroot Sourdough

It’s been a long while since I posted a recipe, but in the gap I have been baking more or less weekly, and adjusting my sourdough technique to make baking fit around my work and home life. The most important aspects of baking for me – other than the final quality and taste of the bread – are the time and effort it takes to make a loaf.

Whilst I occasionally have time to spend a few hours attending to a dough (as for croissants, or puff pastry), generally I want the best results in the least time possible.

“Time”, however, is fairly subjective when it comes to sourdough. From start to finish, most of my loaves take three or four days to make. Whilst this might seem like a long time – when compared to, for example, a plain white loaf that takes a couple of hours from start to finish – it’s the amount of contact time with the bread that I’m interested in.

So, to get back into the swing of blogging, I’ll be writing a series of posts demonstrating the different methods I have been working with of baking quality bread with very little effort or contact time. The first of these is a beetroot sourdough. This bread was inspired by a recipe in Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s How to Make Breada book I came across a few years ago in England. I have also used Hadjiandreou’s recommended “stretch and fold” method of kneading the bread. In other recipes, I will discuss the merits of “no-knead” bread. For this one, however, I think that the beetroot is better incorporated into the dough with a little extra attention.

All of these recipes require an active starter. That means – for a weekend bake – feeding a starter on Thursday or Friday (about 5 minutes), combining the dough ingredients the following morning (5 minutes), doing a few stretch and fold kneads (another 5 minutes…), and dividing and shaping (5-10 minutes). The total “contact time” of these breads then is less than half an hour – for the rest of the time they just sit around and do their thing on the kitchen bench.

For recipes for the rye starter, baking skills, and some of the terminology such as “hydration“, see some of my previous posts and the glossary.

Two large sourdough boules, studded with fresh beetroot

Beetroot Sourdough – makes 2 large loaves

  • 1kg all-purpose (plain) flour
  • 670g water
  • 400g rye starter @ 100% hydration
  • 18g salt
  • 430g raw beetroot, coarsely grated
  1. In a large bowl, combine flour, water, and starter. Autolyse for 20-30 minutes.
  2. Add beetroot and salt. Knead to incorporate. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel or cling film and bulk ferment on the counter for 4 hours. During this time, stretch and fold the dough several times – still in the bowl, grab a portion of the dough, lift it, and fold it back on itself. Turn the bowl slightly and repeat the stretch and fold. Repeat several times.
  3. After the dough has risen by about a third, tip dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide and shape into two balls. Rest for 20 minutes.
  4. After resting, shape again into ‘boules’. Place into well floured bannetons or bowls. Proof for 2 hours.
  5. Preheat the oven to maximum with a Dutch oven (or ‘Le Crueset’ style cast iron pot) on the middle shelf.
  6. Score the first loaf, and bake in the Dutch oven for 30 minutes with the lid on. Remove the lid, reduce the temperature to 230˚C, and bake for a further 15 minutes.
  7. Carefully remove to a wire rack and rest for at least one hour. Repeat with the remaining loaf.

Because of the beetroot I have found that this bread will not last as long as other sourdoughs before going stale. Once it is cool enough, if you are not planning on eating soon, I would recommend slicing it and freezing.

Two beetroot sourdough boules proofing – the pink colour bakes out but the beetroot remains



Skills series

A while back I put together a few blogs on baking skills, using the knowledge I have gained over the last four or five years through trial, error, and a lot of great recipe books. As I haven’t posted in a while (because I haven’t baked in a while- busy weekends) I thought I’d pull together those skills posts into one page, so, here they are!

#1 Autolyse
#2 Kneading
#3 Bulk Ferment
#4 Divide and Shape

And because I won’t be baking this weekend, here’s an old pic of some millet sourdough to be getting along with…