Fig and Raisin Sourdough Two Ways

In a previous post I’ve written about a fig and raisin sourdough, based on an idea from Yoke Madewi’s Wild Sourdough cookbook. This new recipe, however, comes from an entirely different angle.

One of the finished fig and raisin sourdough loaves

Recently I’ve been playing around with temperatures and cooking methods, trying to broaden my understanding of sourdough in particular. Following methods outlined in the Larousse Book of Bread I have experimented with the effect of different temperatures of the water and the room that the dough proofs in. I have also been playing around with the amount of starter, and the effect on the time, quality, and taste of the finished breads.

For this fig and raisin sourdough, I decided to make two batches that were equal in everything except for the amount of starter. The finished breads came out noticeably different.

Two side by side recipes, same ingredients, different results.

Using the baker’s percentage formula, where the total weight of flour is 100%, I worked out two recipes with the same weight and amount of each ingredient. Putting the total weight at 2288g would result in two loaves from each batch at just under 1kg each. One recipe has a rye starter, and the other has a starter that began as rye, and was refreshed with all purpose flour. The rye starter loaves have extra all purpose flour and water in the final mix. This means that the first recipe has around 40% starter, and the second around 4%. I expected that this would have a fairly dramatic effect on the outcome of the loaves; a higher amount of starter should – in theory – have a number of effects.

Different amounts of starter will yield completely different results

Firstly, the higher the amount of starter, the more ‘wild yeast’ is present. This means that the dough will rise more quickly, and that the final dough will be more dense and chewy in texture. In the second recipe, using less starter will both increase the rising time and will result in a more complex flavour from the additional lactic and acetic acids released through fermentation. I decided, rather than retarding either loaf overnight in the fridge, that I would let each batch rise at room temperature. The first took a 4 hour bulk ferment, and a 2 hour proof. The second took 16 hours for the bulk ferment, and 6 hours for the proof. Both were handled in the same way – a couple of stretch/folds during the bulk ferment, and then shaped into bannetons. The only difference here was the shape of the loaves – boules for the first recipe, bâtards for the second.

Fig and raisin sourdough proofing in floured bannetons
Fig and raisin sourdough proofing in floured bannetons

The most important thing, of course, is the outcome. In my opinion, the second loaves were the superior. The extra-long fermentation produced a loaf that was complex in flavour and had a dark, cracked crust when baked. The taste was, in fact, a little overpowering, and so I will increase the amount of starter the next time I bake to a compromise, leaning towards the lesser end of the scale. The first recipe result was also good, with a softer texture, and more delicate flavour, but the gelatinised, shiny crumb and the thick crust of the second takes the prize, and is the recipe that I give here.

The finished loaves. In the centre, the “winning” 4% starter loaf. The higher percentage starter loaves are on either side.

Fig and raisin sourdough – makes 2 large bâtards

  • 1175g organic all-purpose (plain) flour
  • 845g water at room temperature
  • 50g rye starter @ 100% hydration
  • 200g figs, sliced
  • 200g sultanas
  • 18g salt
  1. For two days before making the bread (e.g. on Thursday), refresh the starter with equal parts rye flour and water.
  2. The day before baking (e.g. Saturday), combine all of the ingredients except the salt and fruits in a large mixing bowl. Autolyse for 30 minutes.
  3. Add the salt and fruits, and knead in the bowl until combined. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel. Bulk ferment until risen, giving a couple of stretch/folds during that time. For me, this was an overnight bulk ferment that took 16 hours – I started at 7pm on Saturday, and was ready for the next stage at 11am on Sunday.
  4. After the bulk ferment, divide the dough into two equal portions and shape into balls. Rest for 20 minutes. Shape for bâtards and place into well floured bannetons. Proof until risen – 6 hours for me, so the loaves were ready for the oven at 5pm.
  5. Preheat oven to max, with an empty baking pan on the bottom of the oven. Turn out the loaves onto a floured baking tray and score. Tip a cup of water into the preheated baking tray to create steam, and place loaves into the oven. Bake at max for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 230˚C. Bake for an extra 30 minutes, turning half way through.
  6. Remove to a wire rack and leave until cooled before slicing.
The 4% starter crumb – a little hard to see in the photo, but the crumb is shiny from the extra long rise.
One of the boules – not the winner this time, but still a very good loaf. Excellent rise, great flavour, more delicate that the other loaf.
The larger slices are from the boules, the smaller from the more intensely flavoured bâtards

Baking Maths – The Baker’s Percentage

I’ve written posts in the past about the ingredients used in creating new bread recipes, and about the standard skills that I apply to each of my loaves. There is, however, a step before all of this that needs some attention: planning.

recipe notes
Working out a new recipe on paper, before the trial and error of baking

When I started baking a few years ago, I relied on fairly simplistic recipes with reliable outcomes. I began with recipes like Jamie Oliver’s foccacia, which produced a good result every time. As my own baking skills developed, the recipes I used became more complicated, leading to sourdoughs and enriched, sweet breads.

Along the way I came across a book that I have mentioned on here before: Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, and one part in particular has changed the way I plan and bake bread: The baker’s percentage.

The Baker’s Percentage

The purpose of a baking formula is to place all of the ingredients in relation to the flour used in the recipe. The reason for this is that, with a few simple calculations, it is possible to work out not only how much of each ingredient to use, but also to predict the outcome of the bread. As Reinhart himself writes,

“possession of this knowledge will strengthen your ability to control the outcome of your baking.” (p. 40).

So, how does it work? The total flour weight, or TFW, is always represented as 100%. From this, the other values are calculated. Using my most recent recipe, for beetroot sourdough, this would mean that 1000g of all purpose flour + 200g rye flour from the starter would equal 100% in the formula.

  • 1kg all-purpose (plain) flour
  • 670g water
  • 400g rye starter @ 100% hydration (200g starter + 200g water)
  • 18g salt
  • 430g raw beetroot, coarsely grated

From this, the rest of the ingredients can be converted by dividing the ingredient weights (I) by the total flour weight (TFW), and multiplying by 100. So, for the water: (I/TFW)x100 = ((670+200) / 1200)x100 = 72.5%.

The beetroot sourdoughs – 67% hydration with 40% starter

As a start, this not only gives the amount of water, but also the hydration of the final dough. Applying this to the rest of the ingredients gives the following:

Total Flour (including flour from starter): 100%
Total Water (including water from starter): 72.5%
Salt: 1.5%
Beetroot: 35.8%

Some other aspects of this bread can now be worked out from the formula. 72.5% hydration is fairly high, but still not as high as, for example, a ciabatta. This dough will probably be fairly wet, but will hold its shape. The high amount of starter means that the total bulk ferment and proof time will be relatively short for a sourdough, and unless the dough is refrigerated, it will need to be made and baked on the same day or it will overproof. The amount of salt (1.5%) is appropriate, as most breads will have between 1.5 and 2%.

A knowledge of this basic formula has many applications. If you find a recipe you like, but feel that it is perhaps a little dense, then you can increase the hydration and experiment. Similarly, if you wish to manage the proofing time, you can alter the percentage of starter or yeast. If a bread is too bland, you can safely increase the amount of salt, but without going much beyond that 2% guideline.

These ciabatta have a very high hydration, meaning that the very
These ciabatta have a very high hydration, meaning that the very “slack” dough can be difficult to shape

I have actually slightly changed this post following a discussion on The Fresh Loaf. Originally, I was following Reinhart’s advice and treating the starter as an ‘ingredient’. However, I have been convinced that breaking it down into the flour and water, and adding those to make the total flour weight, is a far better approach. The slightly more complex approach gives a more accurate result: treating the starter as a 400g ingredient gives a hydration of 67% (670g of water to 1000g flour). Breaking it down gives 72.5% (870g water to 1200g flour). There is quite a difference between 67 and 72% hydration, so from now on I’ll be using the latter approach.

I will be following up on this post with further ones down the track, writing about how to use the baker’s percentage to scale up or down the number of loaves, to change the size of loaves, and to “troubleshoot” recipes. The topic itself can get very confusing – my advice as a homebaker would be to find something that works, and leave the fine-tuning to the professionals!

dmsnyder at The Fresh Loaf has an excellent post on Baker’s Percentages here.

If you wish to learn more about baker’s percentages, I would highly recommend getting a hold of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.

This loaf is around 70% hydration - not quite as wet as a ciabatta, but dry enough to hold shape as a
This loaf is around 70% hydration – not quite as wet as a ciabatta, but dry enough to hold shape as a “boule”

Bag end sourdough

I have mentioned the state of my pantry before, a couple of times in fact… I have a bad habit of buying a lot of different kinds of flour, grain, and other bread related ingredients and then using all but the scant end of a bag, which proceeds directly to the back of the shelf. Following on from the previous bread, which was an attempt to use up a half bag of buckwheat flour, I decided to make a “throw-everything-at-it” loaf to clear even more space. This time, I managed to clean out an assorted seven bags and jars, leaving my shelves sparkling; for a week or so at least.

This unglamorous sounding bread contains a grain soaker of bulgur wheat, rolled spelt grain and wholemeal oats. The combination could be replaced with any number of whole grains and ingredients, including rice, quinoa, amaranth, or whatever else is lying around. It all tastes good. The overnight soak is important for many of these ingredients to begin enzyme activity, increase flavour and, in some cases, remove saponins. It also allows for the grains to be used in the loaf without pre-cooking, which adds both to the nutritional content and the texture.

The colour comes from the spelt, and texture from the additions of bulgur wheat and whole grains

The bulk of the loaf comes from a combination of spelt flour and barley bran. Again, this could be replaced in equal amounts by any combination of flours, but bear in mind that the gluten content of flours is different, as is the way in which they absorb liquids, so you may need to adjust the water content until the texture feels right. I made three small loaves – two in loaf tins and one boule – but these quantities could also be used to make two larger loaves.

Bag End Sourdough makes 3 small or 2 large loaves

  • 200g assorted whole grains (I used 50g bulgur wheat, 100g rolled spelt and 50g oats)
  • 200g water
  • 400g rye starter at 150% hydration
  • 500g water
  • 800g assorted flour (I used 100g barley bran and about 350g each of wholemeal and white spelt flour)
  • 20g salt
  1. The night before baking, combine the grains and 200g water. Refresh the starter at the same time. Leave overnight.
  2. In the morning, combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Autolyse for 30 minutes.
  3. Knead for 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and is able to stretch without tearing.
  4. Bulk ferment for 4-5 hours, until the dough has almost doubled in size.
  5. Divide and shape the dough. Divide into two or three portions, shape each into a rough ball and rest for five minutes. Shape into the final desired loaf.
  6. Rest for 1-2 hours, until visibly risen.
  7. Preheat oven to max. If using, place a Dutch oven on the middle shelf.
  8. If baking n a Dutch oven, bake at 240˚C with the lid on for 30 minutes, then 230˚C for 15 minutes with the lid off.
  9. If baking loaves, bake at 220˚C for 15 minutes, reduce heat to 180˚C and bake for a further 30 minutes.
  10. Cool on a wire rack.


Two small loaves shaped from the same dough and baked in 600g loaf tins
Two small loaves shaped from the same dough and baked in 600g loaf tins
The crust on the boule is noticeably different to that of the loaves due to the different baking technique used


I have submitted this post to ; let’s hope that it gets a few people interested!