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

Das ist nicht brot

So, five posts down and I’ve already strayed from bread to write about something else. I’ll justify it by saying that this German ‘friendship’ sourdough cake uses many of the same techniques as a sourdough bread (sort of), and that any cake that tastes this great can be written about anywhere.

The German Friendship Sourdough Cake

A couple of weeks ago I gave a portion of my rye sourdough starter to a colleague who, coincidentally, had brought a tupperware full of German cake starter to work on the same day. Starters exchanged, I spent the next ten days stirring, feeding, watching, and wondering if this cake was going to turn out edible. I generally have mixed success with desserts, and my wife steps in as she is much better at sweets than I; but, I thought, surely a sourdough cake would be as simple as a sourdough loaf, so why not?

Sourdough starter, bubbling away in its fetching green bowl
Sourdough starter, bubbling away in its fetching green bowl

Luckily I was rewarded with an incredibly easy to make and extremely moist, delicious fruit cake, that even I could not manage to burn/undercook/drop on the floor. The point of the German ‘friendship’ cake is to feed up the starter to a point where there is enough to bake your own cake, and give three portions away to friends. Having dutifully forced two containers onto other co-workers, I kept an extra portion to make again, with some slight adjustments to the recipe, which is as follows (the original recipe, including how to make the starter, can be found here):

German ‘friendship’ sourdough cake


  • One ‘portion’ (about 250g) of starter – if you are unable to find someone to inherit the starter from, then you can make your own from scratch and begin harassing your neighbours with the original recipe.
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 cups warm milk


  • 1 portion of starter, after feeding cycle
  • 1 cup of white sugar
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup of vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 2 heaped tsp cinnamon
  • 2 heaped tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup melted butter

The starter feeding cycle

The following assumes that you have been given a portion of starter on ‘Day one’:

  1. Day 1-3: Leave starter in a container at room temperature, with no lid. Stir every day. It should double in size each day until you stir it and knock the air out.
  2. Day 4: Feed with 1 cup sugar, 1 cup warm milk, and 1 cup flour. Stir well.
  3. Day 5-8: Stir.
  4. Day 9: Feed with 1 cup sugar, 1 cup warm milk, and 1 cup flour. Stir well. Divide into four portions of roughly 250g each. Keep one portion to bake with, and give the other three to unsuspecting friends and family.
  5. Day 10: Bake as follows:

The cake

  1. Line a greased 23cm springform tin with baking paper. Preheat oven to 175°C.
  2. Mix the sourdough starter and the remaining ingredients, folding in the fruit to distribute evenly. The mix should be a fairly wet ‘batter’.
  3. Pour into the lined baking tin and sprinkle the brown sugar and melted butter over the top.
  4. Bake for 45 minutes.
  5. Cover with foil and bake for another 20 minutes. Test with a skewer, which should come out clean when the cake is cooked through.
  6. Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer onto a wire rack.
The thick cake batter poured into a greased, lined baking tin before going into the oven
A cake skewer (my wife’s…) inserted into the centre of the cake should come out clean when the cake is baked

In the end, quite different from a sourdough bread, but just as flavoursome. Giving the starter a feed with milk and sugar obviously adds a different dimension to the starter than a standard flour and water bread levain. For the 10 days that the start sits in your kitchen, you will notice a sweet, fruity, cider-like smell that you can tell will complement the apple and cinnamon cake. Perhaps one day a portion of this sourdough cake starter will work its way back to me through a friend or a colleague, and I’ll get to make it again. Or perhaps I’ll just make the starter again from scratch next week and have it sooner.

The finished cake