Sourdough Country Loaf

The sourdough Country Loaf bread is a basic wheat sourdough, using wheat leaven. This recipe presents instructions on how to shape, prove and bake a hand-shaped loaf.


The following instruction will guide you through the process of making a sourdough loaf given a sourdough starter. This recipe makes one loaf of bread, but we can scale the quantities up to make more than one loaf.


The preparation of sourdough begins with the "starter" or "leaven", also known as the "chief", "chef", "head", "mother" or "sponge", a fermented mixture of flour and water, containing a colony of microorganisms including wild yeast and lactobacilli. [1]

For the 100% wheat leaven we will need the following ingredient:

Ingredient Quantity
Starter 20g
Water 100g (about 100ml)
Wheat flour 100g

We would like our leaven to start at about 27ºC so depending on the flour temperature we should mix a slightly warmer water at about 30ºC. After mixing the ingredients we let the leaven rise for 8-12 hours at room temperature. It should normally double its volume and smell nice and sour.


The preparation of the final dough is described by the steps of mixing, bulk fermentation, dividing, shaping and finally proving.


We will need the following ingredients for the final dough.

Ingredient Quantity
100% wheat leaven 150g
Strong white flour 400g
Wholemeal wheat flour 25g
Water (about 35C) Xg
Salt 10g
TOTAL 860g

Note that in baking all ratios are usually based on the quantity of the flour. So X is the quantity of water to add as a product of the hydration percentage based on flour being 100%. For example, given 400g of white flour + 25g of wholemeal flour as a base then 60% hydration is 425 x 0.60 = 255g of water. A good starting hydration for novice bakers is 60%.

Hydration Water quantity
60% 255g
65% 276g
70% 298g
75% 319g
... ...
100% 425g

We firstly dissolve the leaven into the water and then we add the flour and salt. We are aiming for a dough temperature of around 26ºC and the water temperature is the main mechanism we have to achieve this, similarly to the leaven process. After mixing the ingredients we have the first dough that we should cover and let it rest for about one hour before the first fold.

Bulk Fermentation

Bulk fermentation is the next step and comprises of 3 stages that accumulative last for about 3 to 3.5 hours. In each stage we stretch and fold the dough until it tightens. Before we handle the dough we wet our hands in order to make the dough less sticky.

  • 1st fold: after one hour since the mixing, with wet hands from hot water, stretch and fold until the dough tightens. The dough should feel loose but strong and not too sticky.
  • 2nd fold: after 45 minutes since the first fold, with wet hands from cold water, stretch and folds the dough four times
  • 3rd fold: after 45 minutes since the second fold, with wet hands from cold water, stretch and folds the dough four times

After every fold the dough will start feeling pillowy, smoother, lighter as it develops some gas that is trapped internally. It should also start being stronger and holding its shape. After the third fold we will start keeping track of which side of the dough was facing downwards at this point. To make it easy I will annotate it here with an arrow. So after the third fold ⬇︎.


If we chose to scale up the recipe then we have to divide the dough at this point, just after the last fold.

Pre-shaping and Bench Rest

In this step we are aiming to get the dough into an even shape with a smooth skin. It is a particularly important step if we divided the dough during the previous step. We flour the surface of the bench on which we will work the dough and we bring the dough on it with the same direction as it was just after the fold (⬇︎). We are going around the circumference of the dough once and we fold it above the centre so we will end up with a nice round smooth dough. We are turning it upside down, so the initial bottom it will face up now (⬆︎), and we leave it to rest on the bench for 20 minutes without covering it in order to form a thin skin.

Final Shaping

After the bench rest we aim to give dough its final shape. For that purpose we will work it in order to build some tension and hold its shape during proving which is the long step that will follow. Firstly, we will prepare the utensil where we will leave the dough. Ideally we need a bowl or a basket with steep edges so to allow the dough to develop vertically as much as possible instead of horizontally. There are two ways to prepare the bowl:

  1. either use a basket with a liner or a bowl with a tea towel that you have lightly floured using wholemeal or white mixed with semolina or rice flour,
  2. or use a bowl that you have lightly oiled it with sunflower oil

In both cases we want to allow the dough to rice and not to prevent its upwards growth. If we have a pot with a flat lid which does not have a handle, Pyrex® glass casserole, then we can you that as we will see in the baking in a pot step.

Now that we have the basket ready, we flour the work surface lightly, we turn the dough on it (⬇︎) and we repeat the folding technique we did in the pre-shaping step. After that, we clean the surface and turn the dough over so that the smooth side in upwards (⬆︎). We carefully hold the circumference of the dough and we stretch it underneath so that it will tight its skin. Be careful to not overwork it. If we dough is overworked we will have to restart the process for the pre-shaping step. Following that, we place the dough inside the basket with the smooth side down (⬇︎). If we chose to flour the basket and the liner we add some additional flour between the dough and the basket.


We have two ways to do this step:

  1. either let the dough prove for 3 and a half hours (short version)
  2. or let the dough prove for 1 hour and then refrigerate overnight (long version)

The final result should feel puffy and light. We can judge whether it is ready by touching the dough. If it strings back but not fully then it is ready. This means that it has some spring left in it which will be used while baking. That process is called oven spring and it is defined as the difference in volume between the raw dough and the baked loaf. We can preheat the oven while we wait for the proving step to finish, but for that read the baking step!


For the baking of the sourdough we will preheat the oven to its highest temperature. While the oven is heating we will do the scoring step. We have two options for the baking, either inside a cast iron pot or on a baking stone. In both cases, let the utensil inside the oven while heating. After we have baked the bread, we should wait for it to cool down before we slice it.


The primer reason for scoring the dough is to enable it to rise as it expands and to let the gas escape. We are giving our bread direction and we put us in control. The lesser important reason is to create a better aesthetic result. We can use any sharp knife or a razor for that purpose. The more classic cuts are either the cross shape with two perpendicular or four shorter cuts that would form a square shape. Of course you can improvise here and create your own signature cut but don't try it on your first loaf! :)

Baking in a pot

If we are using an iron pot, then when we finish scoring and the oven has reached the maximum temperature, we remove the pot and place the dough inside carefully. We are placing it back in the oven with the lid on for the first 25 minutes and then we are taking the lid off and bake it for about 15 minutes more, while we check frequently to not burn the loaf. If your pot is not a cast iron pot then it will most probably not hold humidity for long. In that case, in order to pre-compensate for the humidity loss, we can add a small tray with a bit of water at the bottom of the oven. Because the pot will be different in your case, some experimentation with the times and the amount of humidity might be required. If we try this recipe for the first time in a new kitchen, it would be better to check the loaf every 7-8 mins.

If the pot does not have a handle on the lid then we can use that for proving. After proving, we turn it upside down inside the lid for the scoring and then we place it with the lid downwards inside the oven. In that case, the pot will go cold into a preheated oven which means that we have to change the time to about 40 to 45 minutes straight, without making any other intervention at around 230ºC. [2]

Baking on a stone

If we are using a baking stone, we should lightly flour the surface with strong flour or semolina either score the dough before we put the dough onto the hot stone or on it. As in the baking in a pot method above, we should control the humidity by adding a small tray with water into the bottom of the oven. We bake with the tray in for 25 minutes and then we open the oven to let the steam out and and we bake for about 15 minutes more, while removing the tray if the water has been used. At a temperature of 95ºC a the loaf would take a nice brown colour signaling the time to remove the bread from the oven. If we like a harder crust the we can leave the bread inside for 10 more minutes with the oven open and let the fan running.


This section will describe some of the internal processes that occur during baking at a high lever.

When the dough is getting baked, gasses are formed inside it that originate from:

  1. the water that is contained in the dough,
  2. the CO2 produced by the yeast and
  3. the fermentation process that occurred until now

During the baking process the water will evaporate, it will transition from the liquid phase into the gas phase and its volume will expand. More importantly the yeast will start producing more CO2 as part of its process. The structure that has been developed will trap the gasses causing the dough to expand. By scoring the dough appropriately we leading the expansion towards the desired direction. The expansion will continue as long as the outer layer is soft and supple, before the formation of the crust. We have two factors to control this process, heat and humidity.

  • The direct heat will help up drive the oven string which will mainly occur during the first 20 minutes inside the over. Therefore, it is necessary to inject as much heat as possible earlier on. This is the reason for bringing the dough into a preheated oven and pot or stone. We would like for the utensil to retain as much heat as possible and for as long as possible. For that purpose baking or pizza stones and oven tiles are considered better options.
  • The humidity inside the oven will help us to delay the formation of crust and will enable loaf to reach its full volume thus maximize oven spring. Hence, it is important to create a lot of steam when you load the dough and retain it for the first 20 minutes. Humidity and drying conditions will also influence the caramelization of the crust. [1]

Both these factors are controller more easily by using cast iron pots. By preheating the pot we ensure that the dough will receive the maximum heat earlier on and due to the properties of cast iron the heat will be maintained. Moreover, the loaf will loose most of its humidity during the first phase but because we are keeping the lid on during that phase we ensure that the steam is trapped inside the pot as steam. It is known that domestic ovens do not retain humidity which makes the pot an excellent choice. [3]

If we are using a baking stone, we will have to maintain the humidity by placing a tray with water at the bottom of the oven and we can additionally spray some water to keep the steam around the bread.


When we prepare the dough, we have to choose the hydration level. As we get more comfortable handling the dough we can start increasing the hydration level of the dough. The strength of the flour is also very important consideration when we choose the hydration. Usually, a stronger flour will allow us to use more water with it. As the humidity of the dough increases it will also make its handling more challenging but it create a better final product in terms of crumb and volume. A mixture that was proven successful is of 370g of strong white, 55g of very strong wholemeal with g of water, so at 67.5% hydration. It may require a bit more work during bulk fermentation step but it honestly worths the effort.

Another variation that we can experiment with is by using organic, stone ground, wholemeal flour which will give more depth in the taste of loaf.

Moreover we can add seeds to the surface of the dough just before proving it.


Suggested baking schedule for the country loaf:

Time Process
Friday night Feed starter
Saturday morning Make the leaven
Saturday afternoon Mix the dough
Saturday evening Shape the dough and fridge after a short prove
Sunday morning Bake the bread

The following Gantt chart shows two different schedules, one with overnight refrigerating after proving and one without. So the first schedule will result with a bake on the same day you make the dough while the second one on the next day morning.

2021-03-122021-03-132021-03-132021-03-132021-03-132021-03-132021-03-132021-03-132021-03-132021-03-142021-03-142021-03-142021-03-14Feed starter Feed starter Starter fermentation Starter fermentation Make leaven Make leaven Leaven fermentation Leaven fermentation Make dough Make dough First rest First rest First fold First fold Second rest Second rest Second fold Second fold Third rest Third rest Third fold Third fold Preshaping Preshaping Rest after preshaping Rest after preshaping Final shaping Final shaping Proving Proving Score Refrigerate Bake with lid on Bake without lid Score Bake with lid on Bake without lid Proving without overnight refrigeratingProving with overnight refrigeratingRecommended Schedule for Sourdough Baking


Make notes! When you're learning to bake keeping a record of what you're doing will help. Note down the temperature of the water you used and of the dough after you mix. Write down when you do the first fold, when you do the final fold and record how long you prove and bake. All this information will help you get more consistent results and troubleshoot when things go wrong.


[1] Sourdough, Wikipedia, viewed 4 May 2020,
[2] How To Make A Multiseed Sourdough Masterclass, ilovecookingireland, viewed 4 May 2020,
[3] Why is Humidity Important in Cooking?, Science Of Cooking blog, viewed 8 May 2020,

Created by Kyriakos Sideris, © 2021