Dark Ale Sourdough

Two dark ale sourdough loaves
Two dark ale sourdough loaves

Some people rate a perfect sourdough based not only on the flavour but on the irregularity of the crumb – a holey, open-crumbed texture with a well risen and crispy scored edge is the holy grail, achieved by using a high hydration dough, a fierce heat and often judicious use of steam. I can take or leave the big holey dough thing; sometimes a dense and flavourful crumb – like a rye bread or a wholemeal loaf – is just as good. But, every now and again, I like to experiment and try to find that “perfect” sourdough.

The crumb is springy and full of large, uneven holes.

This recipe was born of a simple idea: I like beer, I like bread, and I’ve never (despite seeing many recipes) combined the two. So I took a pretty standard formula for two loaves – 800g of bread flour with 70% liquid, and swapped out 330ml of the water with a bottle of dark ale. The results were even better than I expected.

This sourdough loaf has the open holes and irregular crumb, the dark and crisp crust, and a fantastic flavour (so good that one loaf barely lasted out the day). The dark ale gave it lift, colour, and flavour, without being overpowering. The best part – slicing some of it up and turning it into the best Welsh rarebit ever… more on that later this week.

Well risen and with a crisp and delicious crust

Dark Ale Sourdough – makes two boules

Firm starter

  • 115g white sourdough starter @ 130% hydration
  • 130g white bread flour
  • 55g water


  • 240g firm starter
  • 800g strong white flour
  • 230ml warm water
  • 330ml dark ale
  • 16g salt
  1. Two days before baking, make the firm starter. Combine the ingredients, knead for a few minutes, and allow to rise at room temperature for four hours. Refrigerate overnight.
  2. The next morning, remove the firm starter one hour prior to making the dough, and break into a dozen pieces.
  3. Combine the remaining ingredients and knead briefly. Autolyse for 20 minutes. Bulk ferment for 4 hours, with a stretch/fold every half an hour for the first 2.
  4. Divide and shape the loaves into two boules. Rest on the counter for 20 minutes, then quickly and gently reshape and place into well floured bannetons. Proof for 2 hours, then place into plastic bags and retard in the refrigerator overnight.
  5. The day of baking, preheat the oven to max with a lidded cast iron pot (Dutch oven) on the middle shelf. Bake one loaf at a time for 30 minutes with the lid on, then 15 minutes with the lid off and temperature reduced to 230˚C.
  6. Remove to a wire rack and rest for at least an hour before slicing.
Dark ale sourdough loaves shaped into boules

Fig and raisin sourdough

I have tried a lot of different recipes for sourdough fruit breads, and with varying degrees of success. Some call for the fruit to be mixed in right at the start, others for it to be folded in or rolled like a Swiss roll; each method has its positives and negatives, and I have tried to blend the best bits together in this recipe.

The first fruit sourdough recipe I tried was from Yoke Mardewi’s Wild Sourdough – an excellent recipe book with a wide range of sweet and savoury breads. It was a fig and walnut sourdough, made from a blend of spelt flours and with a swirl of fruit and nuts through the centre. Although it tastes fantastic, I have had a few problems with the recipe in the past. The biggest problem has been that the fruit and nuts in the centre, if the dough is not rolled tightly and evenly, tend to spill out  – something which is an issue when you throw a couple of slices in the toaster. Also, it can be hard to ensure that the very centre of the dough is cooked through, surrounded as it is by a thick layer of fruit.

Roughly chopped figs melt into the finished bread
Roughly chopped figs melt into the finished bread

The flavour, however, is worth the trouble, and is the inspiration for this bread. For the method, I have continued playing around with my current favourite – a mix of Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s “quick knead” and Ken Forkish’s overnight sourdough.

The finished loaves are full of fruit
The finished loaves are full of fruit

Fig and raisin sourdough makes 2 large loaves

  • 400g rye starter @ 150% hydration
  • 400g wholemeal spelt flour
  • 400g strong white bread flour
  • 700g lukewarm water
  • 375g figs, roughly chopped
  • 100g raisins
  • 20g salt
  1. Refresh the starter 8 hours prior to making the bread.
  2. Combine the starter, flours and water. Autolyse for 20 minutes.
  3. Add the fruit and salt. This is a very wet dough, so dip your hand into a bowl of water and begin “stretching and folding” the dough to incorporate the fruit and salt. Rotate the bowl with your free hand as you do so – knead like this for a few minutes until well combined.
  4. Rest for 10 minutes, then repeat the stretch/fold 10 times. Rest for another 10 minutes and repeat.
  5. Rest the dough for 30 minutes. Dip your hand into the water and stretch fold another 10 times. Repeat this process every 30 minutes twice more. (So, by this point you have done a stretch fold at 0, 10, 20 minutes, and then 3 times more over an hour and a half.)
  6. Bulk ferment for 2 and a half hours.
  7. With a wet hand, scoop the dough onto a very well floured surface. Prepare two bannetons or bowls by flouring well with rice flour. Divide the dough in half and gather each half into a loose ball. Rest for 5 minutes.
  8. Gather each half into a ball again, flouring with the excess flour from the work surface. Transfer each to a banneton or bowl, place into a plastic bag, and refrigerate overnight.
  9. Preheat the oven to 240˚C with a Dutch Oven (Le Creuset style pan with lid) on the middle shelf.
  10. Transfer the first loaf to a floured peel or baking sheet. Remove the Dutch oven, remove the lid, and slide the dough inside. Replace the lid and place into the oven.
  11. Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on, reduce the heat to  230˚C and bake for 15 minutes with the lid off. Cool on a wire rack.
  12. Repeat steps 10-11 with the remaining loaf.
The finished fig and raisin loaf
The finished fig and raisin loaf
The inside of the fig and raisin loaf is filled with fruit and the crumb is extra moist
The inside of the fig and raisin loaf is filled with fruit and the crumb is extra moist


The crust is dark, thick and crisp, with fruit poking out randomly
The crust is dark, thick and crisp, with fruit poking out randomly