The sourdough diaries: ruminations of a novice baker


Sourdough bread baked by Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial blog fame.

Actually, it’s a loaf, not a bun. At least it will be if my first sourdough bread baking effort goes to plan. The Food Sage Question of the Week: Is boutique bread worth the dough? took a delightful twist when the lovely Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial offered me some sourdough starter. Priscilla has been bubbling away on the kitchen counter. She is the key ingredient needed to make my sourdough bread. I’m not known for my baking prowess, so this is going to be an interesting ‘adventure’. Wish me luck. And click the continue reading link for the  diary entries.

Tuesday February 5, 11pm.

Mitch: “There’s something on the kitchen bench that needs to be thrown out.”

Mitch, meet Priscilla a sourdough starter and the latest, bubbly addition to the household. She is being primed for baking, which means feeding her with equal amounts of flour and water and leaving her out in room temperature rather than the chill of the refrigerator.

Tomorrow, when I return from an evening shift at work, she will be mixed with baker’s flour, water, oil and a little salt, rested, kneaded into a dough, then left to rise overnight. The next morning i’ll attempt to shape and bake the dough (in a cranky, old oven with a temperature gauge i’ve yet to perfect) — into a loaf.

I’m aware this could all go diabolically wrong. And i’m not looking forward to fessing up, if it does.

Wednesday February 6, 10.30pm

I’ve just got home from work. First stop: the kitchen bench to check on Priscilla. I fed her water and flour before leaving for work this afternoon. She is bubbling and frothy and smelling wholesome and good. So far, so good.


Priscilla, the sourdough starter

Next stop: the fridge … for a beer. It’s been a long night on the online news desk at Fairfax, and Priscilla is going to have me up for a little while longer.

I dig out the sourdough bread recipe that Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial kindly gave me when she shared her precious sourdough starter.  She suggested a low hydration loaf to get me started: which means less water to flour in the bread, and a dough that’s easier to handle. I’m all for that! The recipe sounds simple enough: mix a portion of Priscilla with water, baker’s flour, oil and a little salt. I’ve got the measurements. I’m off!

Mitch: “What are you doing? Making bread, or making a mess?” (He’s not really into this bread making lark … yet!)

My fingers are gluggy with dough that i’ve mixed by hand. I scrape off the remnants and cover the bowl that is holding the roughly mixed dough. It must rest for 30 minutes. That’s just enough time to start writing up this diary entry … and finish my beer.

Wednesday February 6, 10.50pm

Mitch has gone to bed. I left the back door open as i typed and drank beer. I count 12 mosquito bites on my feet and right arm. They work fast. Not like my Priscilla- spiked dough. It is resting, taking its time, toying with me. I swig the last of my beer and take a sneak peek. Not much to report on. It looks like a raggedy dough.

Wednesday February 6, 11pm

Time’s up. I knead the dough for a couple of minutes as instructed. It’s now firm-ish and fairly smooth.


I cover the bowl and will leave the dough to rest overnight. The baking (in my cranky old oven) begins in the morning, if all goes to plan.

Time to wash the dishes. And go to bed.

Thursday February 6, 9.15am

I woke to the sound of Mitch grinding coffee, secured my eye mask and went promptly back to sleep. The next time i awoke the house was quiet and my curiosity to see if the dough had risen dragged me out of bed. It has!


I’m torn. It’s a lovely sunny morning and i could do with going for a walk – it’s an hour  loop around the bay at the end of the street. But i also want to crack on with baking this baby. I don’t start work until 2pm. I have all morning. I’ll walk first, bake later. I’ll be back soon.


Oops! Got back from my walk (i reckon i walked that loop in record time because i was keen to get back and bake) and saw these tweets from Celia:

“It’s VERY well proven, Rachel! Hurry back!”

“Pete just walked in and I yelled out, ‘she’s gone for a walk around the bay! Noooo…!’ 😀 :”

I fast-tracked it into the kitchen and got down to work. No time to watch Celia’s tutorial about how to shape the dough, i’d just have to wing it.

I shaped it into a ball and it’s now proving now for a second time. Celia video called me in the process, so she could see what was going on.

This morning’s massive hurdle will be the oven. It’s a cranky old fart that i acquired with a tired old kitchen from the lovely old bloke we bought the house from about six months ago. The kitchen will be ripped out and replaced with The Kitchen Of My Dreams in a few years time, but until them the oven and i will have to learn to get along. It doesn’t get quite hot enough, and Celia has given me some strict temperature instructions. So the oven could stuff things up  … not me and my going for a walk at a crucial time of the baking process, or anything! Anyway, here’s what she looks like.



I’ve just slashed the top and sprayed it with water and popped into the oven. I’ve dropped the temperature, set the timer, and crossed my fingers. I’m worried that the temperature will be a little too low, considering the oven usually doesn’t get hot enough.


I’ve just gone to have a peek, but the cranky old oven has got the better of me again — of course the light doesn’t work and i don’t dare open the door!


Okay, i just opened the door a teeny, tiny, tad. She looks smooth and white. I’ve just nudged the temperature up slightly because i don’t think it’s hot enough. That may be a mistake. This is the temperature game that the oven and i often play. I usually lose, as a meringue meltdown – not once, but twice – on Australia Day will attest to. The pavlova didn’t get served … put it that way!


I’ve just remembered that Celia suggested spinning her around so she cooks evenly. Have just done that. She’s looking firm, and starting to getting a little colour. The kitchen is starting to smell fragrant. The timer has just gone off. Time to drop the temperature as per Celia’s instructions. Fingers crossed!


I dropped the temperature, but not quite as low as the recipe suggests as i intend to win the battle of the bake-off that the oven and i are having. The timer is set for another 20 minutes. It’s the final countdown.


Celia has just video called me and we agreed i should put the temperature a little higher. The bread is slightly golden but probably should have browned more by now. I’ve nudged it up, and reckon i’ll need to leave it in an extra 10 minutes or so. Kitchen smells heavenly.


The timer went off and i nearly fell off my chair … i’m slightly on edge, if you hadn’t already guessed. She’s looking a little wan, so i’ve nudged the temperature up again. And will give her another 10 minutes.

With all the walking, baking and blogging shenanigans this morning i’ve just realised i haven’t had breakfast yet. I’m looking forward to a slab of warm bread in a wee while, liberally slathered in butter.


Think i’m going to take her out. She’s browned up. And i’m worried she’s going to be like a rock inside!

Okay – the big reveal


Not bad for a first attempt! She feels a little heavy. But sounds hollow when tapped on the bum, so hopefully she isn’t too dense. Celia thinks she’ll be fine, saying “she’s got a nice rise”.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, and i won’t be able to indulge for a while. She needs to cool. And i need to get ready for work. Meanwhile, Priscilla — the sourdough starter that lent a little of herself to this loaf — is mellowing out in the fridge, waiting to make her next appearance. Stay tuned!

Postscript: I took a couple of slices of fresh baked bread to work with me yesterday afternoon.  It was wrapped in baking paper in my bag, and the sourdough aroma wafted alongside me on the tram. I ate my bread with some cheese and felt very French. Then i remembered i was at my desk, at Fairfax Media, trying to stop crumbs falling into the keyboard. Not so French after all!

She has a very subtle flavour, a fabulous crust (i think it’s her best quality) and is soft inside and pleasantly moist. I suspect she may be a little too moist. This morning’s toasting perhaps backs that up. I’ve just toasted a thin slice for breakfast, which i’m eating as i type. It took a while for her to brown, which i think is due to the moisture content. Although the crust browned much faster ended up setting off the smoke alarm (which is quite sensitive, i must say). Once toasted, it’s also a little gluggy (though not that superb crust).

It’s definitely an oven temperature thing … something i’ll have to work on.



Filed under Produce, The Sourdough Diaries

41 responses to “The sourdough diaries: ruminations of a novice baker

  1. She’s bubbling! Hooray! Because I’m neurotic, I actually came home and fed up more starter, in case yours didn’t take off, and I was going to drop some off to you if that was the case. Since it wasn’t, I’m now making bagels with my batch.. 🙂

    The important thing is to always remember to feed up a bit of your starter and pop it back in the fridge, so there’s some for next time. Although if you do use it all up, I’ll just give you some more!

    Look forward to reading about how it all goes! x


  2. This is great Rachel…cant wait for further updates 🙂


  3. Y

    Congrats on being a sourdough parent! Mine is called Murray 🙂


  4. Y

    Enjoying reading your updates. Looking forward to seeing how your loaf turns out. I’m facing the same conundrum this morning. I want to start a dough going but fancy going out for a walk too.


  5. Hi Rachel, I’m the other novice although I’ve had a setup as my oven door popped its glass last night. Waiting to hear from the approved repairer… So, I will be watching and learning from you in the meantime (are you scared?)


  6. Ooh I am looking forward to the next instalment – I want to see how it turns out!
    I created a starter once – but only got as far as making pancakes with it (you won’t be sorry if you do this) so I am very inspired by this project!


  7. The oven is giving me palpitations now, Rachel, because everything has been absolutely textbook up to now! 🙂


  8. Well, this is nail-biting stuff! Can’t wait for the next bit Rachel – I have absolute confidence in both you and Celia!


  9. Y

    Brilliant! Just in time for breakfast 🙂


  10. Y

    Saw your question but easier to reply here without word limit. I bake mine for 40 mins. 20 minutes with the lid on, 20 mins with lid off. Both the dough and the baking style are based on Chad Robertson’s method that he adapted for home cooks, in his book Tartine Bread. Disadvantage of the dutch oven is I can only bake one loaf at a time, but that’s ok, our household only really consumes one loaf a week any way.


    • Yes, we’re a one loaf a week household too. I’ll have to check out Robertson’s book. Though i think i’ll be sticking to Celia’s foolproof recipe for a while! Thanks for following the adventure.


  11. Rachel, this is such a great first loaf of sourdough!! Can’t wait to see what you make next! 🙂


    • I’m actually quite looking forward to baking the next loaf. Will stick to this recipe for a while, until i feel a bit more confident. I don’t think i’ll be baking anything fancy for some time!


  12. This is cool Rachel…I have loved reading your bread adventure with wise Celia gently guiding you along the way. It looks delicious!


  13. I want to play too!!! ; D


  14. And PS, great bun you have there, Rachel!


  15. The Life of Clare

    This is so great! I’ve loved reading about your sour dough adventure!


  16. Congratulations! what a lovely loaf 🙂


  17. Stephen

    Fantastic! Rachel, I am a bit like you, I’ve been saying for a long time now that I should start making bread, but I still haven’t gotten around to doing it yet. Maybe this year?


    • I’d been putting it off for ages, Stephen. I have dubious baking abilities, partly because i am too impatient and always feel the need to multi-task (usually cooking about 3 other things at the same time) so not fully focused on the baking task at hand. But i’m glad i took the plunge. I think baking the first loaf is the major step … hopefully now i’ve done it i’ll keep on practising.


  18. What a great adventure you’re having!
    Joanna inspired me to make a rye leaven using Dan Lepard’s recipe; that was more than a year ago. I made two starters and froze them when I went on a long holiday……only one survived so I have always kept two on the go eversince.


  19. big hats off to you. i have deep respect for anyone who has success with yeasty things. pizzas are my limit and even then they are pretty traumatic. well done.
    and PS, hang on to that “feeling french at the desk” mood 😉


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