WE have always made our own bread for the restaurant, but near the end of last year, we took what felt like a pretty enormous decision.

I left our previous bread recipes behind, which had served faithfully for years, to start making sourdough bread from an old starter dough I had been given. The distinct crust, stretchy crumb and faintly sour flavour make this fermented loaf the king of breads. For a bread which seems to be mythically shrouded in complexity and demanding technique, it actually is achievable to make at home.

The starting point is the appropriately named "starter", or levain, a composition of flour and water, which over time, activates enzymes and natural yeasts in the flour to become an active, growing fermentation. This will later allow dough to rise and grow. So called "refreshments"of further flour and water are added to increase the volume, keeping it alive. Some of the starter is then mixed with flour to form the base of a loaf; some of this raw dough, crucially, will be added back to the starter. This sustains it while also creating the special continuous line through time of the dough, almost a heritage. The long rise of sourdough before cooking adds to the flavour; baking at very high temperatures creates the hard delicious crust. Above all it is mind-blowingly delicious.

Sour dough starter

Required each day for five days:

250g strong white bread flour

163g water

Digital scales (accuracy is vital)

1. Day one: place flour in a mixing bowl, add the water then mix with your hands just enough to incorporate it. Transfer to an old ice cream tub or similar with space to rise and leave to stand for an hour. Now cover with a lid and leave for 24 hours in a warmish place.

2. Day two: at roughly the same time, remove and discard two-thirds of the mix. To the remnants in your tub, add the same amounts of flour and water as you added on day one. Mix with your hands just enough to incorporate and leave for an hour in the tub, then cover as before and leave for 24 hours.

3. Days three and four: repeat process exactly as on day two, discarding two-thirds, reserving one third and mixing in the same amounts again of flour and water and resting.

4. Day five: ready to use.

Keeping your starter alive

If you are baking a couple of times a week, feed as above every other day; if cooking less often, store the starter in the fridge for a maximum of four weeks, in a container with a lid. After this time (or if you are wanting to make bread) feed three times it over the course of 24 hours (start feeding it 24 hours before you want to bake). To do this, early in the morning of day one, remove from the fridge, discard three-quarters of the starter but ensure you still have a minimum of 150g, and to this, add 250g strong white flour and 163g tepid water. Leave at room temperature uncovered for an hour then cover with a lid and stand for six hours or so, then repeat process a third time. Repeat the standing for an hour uncovered then leave overnight. The starter will be ready to reuse the following morning - 24 hours after you removed it from the fridge

Sour dough loaf

820g strong white flour

17g table salt

525g water at around 25-29C

15g fresh yeast

225g of starter


1. Place flour, yeast, water and starter in mixer bowl (with dough hook) mix briefly for a minute before adding the salt then mix at a slow speed for five minutes. Increase to medium speed for five more minutes

2. Turn the dough out onto a clean, lightly floured surface and knead very briefly, just enough to shape it into a wide ball shape. Return this to the mixing bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Leave to stand in a warm place for an hour or until doubled in volume.

3. During this time, pre heat oven to 240C. Remove the dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and divide into two even-sized pieces. Work the bread briefly (a minute max), to shape each into a slightly flattened ball shape. Lightly oil two baking sheets with vegetable oil then lift one ball onto the centre of each tray. Dust the surface of the dough with flour then lightly cover with cling film, like a loose tent. Leave to stand for an hour. Press down with your fingertip: it should rise almost, but not totally, back to the same level. If it springs back fully, it is not quite ready.

4. When proved, remove cling film. Dust the surface again with flour then score with a couple of criss-cross lines with a very sharp knife. Place immediately in the centre of the oven and cook for 10 minutes then reduce heat to 200C and cook for a further 30 minutes. To test the loaf is done, tap the base; it should sound quite hard and hollow.

5. Cool on a wire rack.

Geoffrey Smeddle is chef patron of The Peat Inn, by St Andrews, Fife, KY15 5LH 01334 840206 www.thepeatinn.co.uk