San Francisco style sourdough bread

The usage of a refrigerator, the promise of flavour and sourness, and the sheer number of steps and time all made me curious when I first read his recipe. My curiosity is constantly piqued by recipes like these. This recipe, from start to finish, will require 4 days of preparation time. Just right for including into a marathon baking weekend. This recipe was inspired by Peter Reinhart’s San Francisco Sourdough from his new book “Artisan breads every day.” You probably know by now that I have created my own version, complete with instructions and a schedule.

The key to success with this recipe is timing it so that it doesn’t interfere with other important things, like getting enough rest or getting to work on time. The time estimates provided in the table at the bottom of the recipe account for this. Naturally, you can be somewhat flexible with the schedule, especially with the 34 and 15-hour intervals the dough spends in the fridge. However, adjustments may impact the flavour and consistency. As an example, if you leave bread in the fridge for a longer period of time, it will develop a deeper sour flavour, but the gluten strength will diminish, and the bread will likely be flatter and denser. In order to create more than one loaf, simply increase the component amounts by a factor of two, three, or four. In a typical bake, we produce six loaves of bread. This is the maximum capacity of our spiral mixer.

For the starter, I use a sourdough culture that is prepared with 100% whole grain rye flour. Rye flour sourdough is less finicky to tend to than wheat flour sourdough; it doesn’t turn into a slurry if you forget about it; it’s easy to stir because it has almost no gluten; and it has a really pleasant, almost fruity aroma. For the time being, I’m going to call the starter a “nearly” stiff starter. This manner, it’s easy to mix, but it doesn’t saturate the dough like a poolish beginning would. In terms of how much you feed it, it is quite forgiving. Because I’m lazy about feeding it, I usually only do it once a week, after I’ve finished my weekend baking. I just add some water and rye flour, stir, and it’s ready to eat!

126gbread flour
83gwater (room temperature)
24gsourdough culture
the starter from step 1
264gbread flour
50gspelt flour (pref. whole grain)
204gwater (room temperature)
9g(sea) salt


Mix 126 grammes of bread flour, 83 grammes of room-temperature water, and 24 grammes of the (rye) sourdough culture in a bowl until a dough forms. For about a minute of vigorous mixing, you should be able to bring all the ingredients together into a doughy ball. In case your dough still has some tough spots, don’t worry about it. Make sure the bowl is covered with cling film and let it preferment. At least 9 hours at room temperature before going into the fridge. For the next 34 hours, it will remain stationary. Meaning, on day 2, you’ll store it in the fridge in the morning, and on day 3, you’ll retrieve it in the late afternoon (see time table at bottom of recipe).


The third day of the recipe has now probably reached its afternoon stage (17.00 h if you stick to my time table). Remove the starting from the refrigerator and proceed with the dough. For a looser starting, combine the starter with the 204 g of water and whisk for 1 minute. We use a spiral mixer to knead the dough for 3 minutes after adding the flour and salt. Put a lid on the mixing bowl and let it sit for 15 minutes.

Remove the dough from the bowl and perform one stretch and fold on a floured surface (a full letter fold, left over right, right over left, bottom over top, top over bottom; see our bread movie to observe this technique if you are not familiar with it). Cover and chill out on the bench for 15 minutes. Try stretching and folding again. Place back into the greased basin, cover, and let sit for 40 minutes. Now, refrigerate the dough for 15 hours (yes, you can go to sleep; the yeast cells in your dough will probably do a bit of hibernating of their own in the fridge; the bacteria stay more active in this colder climate and tend to produce acetic acid; if everything goes according to plan, this will give your bread the sour taste of the sourdough).

For the San Francisco sourdough, it is Baking Day, the fourth day of the process. According to my watch, it is currently 10:00 a.m.
Put the dough in a bowl and let it sit at room temperature for 2 hours to allow the ingredients to acclimatise to each other.

It’s time to start moulding things into form now. For about 750 grammes of dough, you can shape a round loaf, a batard/oval loaf, or a combination of the two. Batard is my preferred shape for this bread since it allows for a more uniform baking time. Furthermore, I use proving baskets/bannetons that have been dusted with flour. The dough should be covered and let to proof for 2.5-3 hours (at room temperature, about 21 oC) in a proving basket or baking pan dusted with flour. Once the dough has risen to the desired height, gently press down on it with your finger. If the indentation stays, the bread is done; if it disappears, the dough still needs additional time to rise.