Pandemic Sourdough

Bringing Up Baby

Charlottesville, VA

A few weeks into our coronavirus safer-at-home orders, social media posts highlighting experiences with sourdough flooded my social media feeds. A friend chatted up her 40-year old starter and another extolled the virtues of her starter named "Baby."

Bakers shared their secrets on YouTube and demonstrated techniques for the perfect loaf. Then came the irresistible photos of my friends' crusty loaves, fresh from the oven. They jumped off the screen and into my inner baker, igniting the sourdough passion within.

First step: Secure a starter. Kathy agreed to provide Baby's offspring—sharing her starter and arranging for a social-distance, no-contact, porch pick-up.

Once Baby's baby settled in and a reasonable feeding schedule established, my education and experiments began. She's been lively and forgiving. Soon Baby's baby reproduced, providing offspring and adding to the bubbly line of Baby's babies—B2, B3, and B4— each with her own characteristics. Kathy will always have Baby, the Grandam, and the joy of knowing that the grand and great-grands are producing great weekly organic bread experiences.

I've learned that a great loaf of fresh sourdough bread requires intermittent attention and it's easy. I find sourdough more forgiving than yeast breads. You, too, can bake a "perfect" loaf.

No doubt, someone near you has starter to share.

Sourdough Starter from Scratch

The following link has excellent instructions for making your own starter:

Let's do this!

For best results, it is best to weigh all ingredients. I found a great digital scale that serves me well. Digital Scale

Country Sourdough

Makes 2 loaves

Organic flour, unbleached

Filtered spring water

Sourdough starter


Feed the Starter

[10 minutes]

Make 180 grams of active starter by combining 60 grams water, 60 g starter, and 60 g flour. Let sit at room temperature until it has grown and is bubbly (at least 6 hours). Notes: Feed the remaining starter by combining equal parts starter, water, and flour then refrigerate. If still some of the original starter remains, it can be added to pancakes or waffles, muffins or quick breads.

Make the Dough

[15 minutes]


560 grams water

180 grams active starter (above)

800 grams flour

16 grams salt

For dusting

Organic cornmeal or semolina

In the bowl of a mixer fit with a dough hook, combine all the ingredients. On low speed, mix until most of the dough is incorporated into a ball and is pulling away from the sides of the bowl, 3-5 minutes.

I find that mixing in this way, rather than by hand, gives my dough a good start toward developing the gluten structure.

Work the dough free from the hook and remove the bowl from the mixer. Use a flexible dough scraper to push all the dough from the edges of the bowl back into the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and proof in a warm area.

At 30-45 minute intervals during the next 3 hour proof, you will stretch and fold the dough 4-6 times. [1 minute/stretch and fold]

Stretch and Fold

Here's an easy method: Use a dough scraper to free the dough from the sides of the bowl. With a wet hand, grab one end of the dough ball, pull up and fold over. Repeat 3-4 times by grabbing opposite ends of the dough; pull up and fold over. With each pull and fold, the dough will have more resistance. Watch this video.

Shaping Loaves

[20 minutes]

30-45 minutes after your last stretch and fold, lightly dust your work surface with flour and turn the dough out of the bowl. Being careful not to tear the dough,, stretch it out to form a rough rectangle. Fold the dough in half from the top and then in half from the side, gently form into a round. Divide the dough in half and then, using your hands in a rounding motion, seal the raw edges and form two rounds. This is the 'pre-shape'.

Prepare two unlined, rattan proofing baskets by liberally dusting them with flour. I found these proofing baskets and they work nicely.

You are ready to put the final shape to your loaves. Watch this video.

Imagine an analog timepiece and the dough is positioned at 12 o'clock and you are at 6. Using a dough scraper at a 45˚ angle to your work surface, roll the dough by pushing it from 1 o'clock to 5 in a counterclockwise motion. Repeat until the loaf has a tight shape and will almost fill the bottom half of the proofing basket. Gently lay each loaf in its basket and dust the tops of the loaves with cornmeal or semolina; cover with a linen cloth and place in the refrigerator overnight, 12-24 hours.


[30 minutes]

The next morning, remove the loaves from the refrigerator and set aside at room temperature. Turn on the oven to 425˚F and preheat the baking stone while you're having your first cup of the morning, 45-60 minutes.

Once the stone is preheated, carefully turn the loves out of the proofing baskets onto a peel that's been dusted with cornmeal or semolina. (In the absence of a peel, use parchment paper on a flat cutting board to transfer the loaves to the stone.) You might need to encourage the loaves out of the baskets by tapping the edges of the upside down basket on the surface of the peel. Gently brush off any unwanted flour and make cuts in the tops of the loaves with a razor blade or thin serrated knife. I start with intentions to be artistic; but, usually just put a good-sized gash in the top.

Slide the loaves onto the hot stone and bake for 30 minutes or until a rich golden brown and as crusty as you like. Turn off the oven and prop the door open to let the loaves rest for 20 minutes. Enjoy and share.

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