Wholegrain and millet sourdough

In the last post, I experimented with the amount of sourdough starter, and the effect that it had on the final taste and texture of the loaf. This time around, I decided to completely overhaul my usual method for sourdough, and try something new – a firm starter.

A firm sourdough starter, cut up and ready to go into the dough

Usually, I use between 20 – 40% of starter, made from a 1:1 mix of rye flour and water (for an explanation of the %, see my previous post on baker’s percentages). I find that this “100% hydration” starter give reliable results, but, as I’m always interested in finding out new methods, I decided to give the firm starter method a try.

The process began by converting my usual starter to a white flour starter – basically, feeding it with white instead of rye flour. The initial mix was actually wetter than I usually use: 130g of water to 100g of flour, making a foamy and light batter. This, as explained below, was finally built up into a firm dough, briefly kneaded, and then left overnight before beginning the bread.

Wholegrain sourdough dough
The dough with flecks of yellow millet

The bread itself rose very well (for one loaf, it rose too well, leading to an unsuccessful loaf that I will be writing about later!) and, after retarding overnight in the refrigerator, baked into a great looking loaf with a golden crust and light, open crumb.

The finished loaf – wholegrain and millet sourdough

Wholegrain and millet sourdough – makes 3 small loaves

Firm starter

  • 250g white plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 450g white starter at 130% hydration


  • 650g firm starter
  • 200g wholegrain flour
  • 50g millet meal
  • 450g white plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 19g salt
  • 420g water at room temperature
  1. This recipe takes a few days to plan ahead – I refreshed my starter with white flour on Wednesday, built it up to about 250g on Thursday, and made the firm starter on Friday. Mix the wet starter and flour together, and knead for several minutes to combine. Refrigerate the starter, covered, overnight.
  2. Cut the firm starter into pieces, and add the remaining ingredients. Knead for 10-15 minutes. Place into a bowl and bulk ferment for 4 hours.
  3. Divide and shape the dough into 3 small boules (at this stage, I shaped into one small and one large loaf – the large loaf, it turned out, was a bad idea…). Place boules into floured bannetons. Proof for 3 hours at room temperature, then refrigerate, well covered overnight.
  4. On the morning of baking, take the first loaf out of the fridge and preheat the oven to maximum with a lidded cast iron pot (“Dutch oven”) on the middle shelf. Bake the first loaf for 30 minutes with the lid on, and 15 with the lid off. Repeat with the remaining loaves, removing each from the fridge whilst one is baking.
  5. Cool on a wire rack for at least an hour.
The risen dough (including the large loaf which later proved to be a bit tricky…)

Throughout this post I’ve mentioned a loaf that didn’t quite work. For reasons I’ll explain in a later post, the large loaf that is in some of the pictures did not come out very well – the interior was fine, but the exterior was pale and not very well crisped up. Trying out new methods sometimes gives disappointing results, but the small loaf came out very well!

The small boule, which came out at about 500g. Great colour, taste and texture

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



Not Cross Buns

As Easter is one of those times of year when it is OK to bake bread filled with butter, sugar, fruit, and more butter, I decided to have a go at some hot cross buns. I’ve made them before, with varying degrees of success, so this time I decided to change up the recipe and use spelt flour. This in no way compensates for the amount of butter, so I won’t pretend that they are a ‘healthy’ option, but spelt does have a different flavour to regular wheat.

Unfortunately, a number of things went wrong. The buns did not rise as much as I would have hoped, resulting in fairly dense buns. I have had this problem in the past and can think of a few reasons why it might happen. For example, some of the additions to the dough, such as sugar and fat, can actually inhibit the yeast. Add to that the fact that spelt naturally tends to result in a denser loaf, and I should have probably have factored the dense-issue in before hand.

The second problem is more aesthetic. I used white spelt for the crosses and wholemeal for the buns, which looked fine until it went into the oven. The white spelt coloured almost as much as the brown, and the crosses disappeared. These not cross buns tasted fine – the butter, fruit, and sugar made sure of that – but I’ll have another crack before posting a recipe.

The crosses disappeared into the dough, making them slightly less Eastery than I would have liked
The crosses disappeared into the dough, making them slightly less Eastery than I would have liked