Perfecting Sourdough with Jane Mason

We have a real treat for you today. We have a fabulous guest post from Jane Mason, founder of Virtuous Bread and author of the new cookbook Perfecting Sourdough, who shares her insider tips on perfecting your sourdough at home…

Jane Mason. photo by Andrea Martinez
Jane Mason (photo by Andrea Martinez )

It’s my strong relief that there is no single way to bake bread. Bread is an almost universal food and people from different parts of the world and different cultures bake in different ways, using different ingredients, techniques and even equipment. Then too, there is the element of history – baking 1,000 years ago bears a great deal of resemblance to the way many of us bake, but absolutely none to the industrial method that turns out so much of the bread we eat.

Many people are a little afraid of baking with yeast and are positively nervous of baking sourdough bread. Whilst I confess it feels great when people think I am a genius for turning out a loaf of bread, the reality is that anyone can produce good bread – and good sourdough bread at that – with a little practice. Of course, you may not want to do it all the time, understandably, but really, really – you can do it!

Try to resist the temptation to over think it or read too much about it. There is plenty of information about acidity levels and bakers love to boast about how hydrated their dough was. YAWN. Follow recipes, experiment, and do what works and what you like. Want square bread? Bake in a tin. Want round bread? Proof in a basket. Don’t want big holes in your bread through which the ham and the jam fall through? Fantastic. Holes are not the definers of success in the world of bread, fashionable though they may be.

So, here are my top 5 things to remember when you bake sourdough bread:

  1. Be patient. Sourdough is very sensitive to temperature. If your starter does not look “right” after the time called for in a recipe – just wait. If your dough has not risen after the time called for in a recipe – just wait. It usually gets there in the end.
  2. If you want to start a culture and bake some bread, start on a Monday. By Friday you will have a viable culture. By Saturday you will have refreshed what you need it into your refreshed dough (and put the rest in the fridge) and by Saturday night you will have bread. Give yourself time to see it through if it all seems to be going rather slowly.
  3. Do the float test. If your sourdough starter is not refreshed into a lively, naturally yeasty bundle of loveliness, your bread simply will not rise well (or at all). Take a spoonful and pop it into a glass of water. If it floats it’s ready to use. If not, give it some more time.
  4. Do the “probe” If your dough passes the test, it’s ready to bake. If not, it has some rising to do before you bake it. Press the dough gently but firmly with your finger. If the indentation comes out in under a minute, it’s ready to go. If not, it’s not.
  5. Everything is good toasted, even if it’s ugly.

Perfecting Sourdough FINAL COVER


Perfecting Sourdough by Jane Mason is out today! Published by Apple Press (£14.99).

More information on the book can be found on the QuartoKnows website here.