The sourdough diaries: Stella (not quite stellar) bread making


Introducing: Stella Sourdough

Celia almost foiled my baking intentions. I’m a novice baker and i’d been procrastinating (as my last diary entry attests to). Baker’s elbow, I like to call it. But i had good intentions of  putting hand to dough,  that is until Celia dropped off a loaf of her freshly baked grain sourdough. Suddenly i had another excuse to procrastinate longer: bread sufficiency.I returned one night from my evening shift on the online news desk at The Australian Financial Review to find an adorable flowered bag on my doorstep containing:

  1. a bag of grain mix that Celia picked up for me when she was stocking up on baking supplies (she tried to convince me to buy a 12-kilogram sack of bakers’ flour, but i resisted!)
  2.  a fresh-baked, flour-dusted grain loaf  (“I’ve been experimenting!” Celia‘s hand-written note said.)
  3. a scraper to use when working with claggy dough (yes, i need all the help i can get!)

For those of you new to The Sourdough Diaries, Celia — of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial fame has been teaching me to bake.

It was an impromptu initiative, which was sparked when i raised the Question of the Week: Is boutique bread worth its dough?. But i’ve been dragging my heels, and  Celia had just given me another excuse to procrastinate longer. I didn’t need to bake, after all I had a whole loaf and just a two-person household to feed.

Hello Stella

By the following morning, however, it was evident i’d be baking  sooner than expected. We’d been wolfing down Celia‘s loaf as if it was the best thing since sliced bread — which of course it was. It was time to prime the sourdough starter ready for baking.  Celia gifted me some of her starter, Priscilla, a few weeks ago. I’ve renamed my batch StellaStella the sourdough starter.

I scooped some of Stella into a bowl and fed her equal parts flour and water at lunchtime and dinner time, and again before bed to help her through the night. Before bed i also soaked some of the grain mix in water. Celia had shared her recipe for a grain loaf and early the next morning i began following the steps in her basic sourdough tutorial: mixing the ingredients into a dough, letting it prove, shaping it, letting it prove again.

Something to prove

The process took much of the day as it was cooler than usual in temperature, so the dough took longer to rise. Fortunately, Celia, Alison from This Blooming Life, and I were baking simultaneously, so we’d check in with each other on Twitter. Celia suggested putting the bowl of dough in a warm water bath in the sink, or heating water in the microwave then putting the bowl of dough in the warm microwave afterwards.

Another Twitter friend suggested leaving the dough to prove in the car, with the windows up, where it would be warmer. Unfortunately my cat was snoozing in the car (it’s his new, favourite spot) with the windows down in a ‘don’t leave your pet to swelter in a hot car’ kind of manner. I put the dough in the only sunny spot, on the porch. She started to swell with pride.

My cranky old oven was problematic the last (first) time i baked. So i invested in an oven thermometer. There was a bit of confusion in the kitchen for a while (confession: i was using the fahrenheit dial, not celsius so it took a while to get the temperature back to the right setting). When the time was right i slashed (not quite with the requisite panache) the top of the shaped dough and spritzed it with water.  I popped her in the oven, and plonked myself on the floor to watch!

Stella Sourdough

I was quite impressed with Stella‘s (not quite stellar) loaf. She rose nicely in the oven, developed a decent crust and had a good crumb. Texturally, she was drier than my first plain loaf (which was a little too moist) and the grain added a pleasant bite. She had the nutty taste that our two-person household adores in bread.

In short, she was well worth the effort. And hopefully i’ve got over that bout of baker’s elbow. I’m planning on baking more Stella Sourdough this weekend. I’m even considering making Celia’s bread rolls.

Maybe i should have bought the 12-kilogram sack of bakers’ flour after all.

What are you baking next?




Filed under The Sourdough Diaries

22 responses to “The sourdough diaries: Stella (not quite stellar) bread making

  1. It was meant to inspire, not foil! But I’m so glad you decided to bake anyway – it was great fun baking with you and Ali over twitter, and I’m so pleased Stella came through with the goods! And reading the fahrenheit dial on the thermometer does indeed explain the somewhat terrifying temps that we thought your oven was getting too.. 😉

    So…wanna a 12.5kg bag of bread flour next time I’m at the wholesalers? 😉


    • You did inspire, i was just looking for excuses and finding a hand-baked loaf of bread on my doorstop at 11pm (after a very hard night in the office) was just the excuse i was looking for! I think i’ll take you up on that 12.5kg bag of flour. I’ll just need to buy a big plastic bin to put it in, as it’ll be stored in the garage. I may have to sneak it in!!


  2. Well done and tell Stella her brother Kevin says hi! I’m just about to place an order online for more flour and a bag of grain mix. It comes in 5, 10 and 24kg bags. Hmm which one to buy.
    I’m glad I’m not the only one that sat in front of the oven. Mine doesn’t have a light so I went one step further and sat there with a torch!


  3. Ooh I really want to make some sourdough now! I let my starter die so might have to start again. Loving these posts and well done with your first Stella-bread!


    • I think you should get bread baking, Anna! I’m already looking forward to baking my next loaf – and there is much room for improvement. Hopefully they will get better with practice. Celia has great tips on her website. Thanks for dropping by.


  4. alison@thisbloominglife

    I’m really interested to know Rachel how you felt your loaf compared that of the Celia’s. Not having anything to benchmark by re taste, crumb etc at this end. Thanks for the nice links, waiting for my mojo to unblock… Xxx


    • Hers was better. 🙂 Mine was a bit rushed, and quite solid.


      • alison@thisbloominglife

        Me again. Please retract my comparison question! Cause all our loaves are different…but really want to know how you’re going with the crumb thing, have you worked out what you’re looking for? Lotsa love the amateur baker and with apologies to celia and Rachel for calling for comparisons. Xxx


      • There was no comparison … your’s was infinitely better, Celia! But tell us, what are your tips for a good crumb? Less kneading, more kneading, a light hand, a heavier hand?


      • I don’t mean to sound like a git, but…experience. Because every family bread preferences are different to others. My men prefer hard, chewy ciabatta style loaves with an elastic crumb that has an almost plasticky shine to it, but my friend Maude has been baking sourdough for nearly as long as I have, and her family like a soft, closed crumb and crust. After a while, we all figure out what works for us.

        In terms of whether the crumb is closed or open, what makes the biggest difference is the hydration of the dough. To make things easier for newbies, my original tutorial was based around quite a low hydration (around 65% from memory), which meant it was never going to produce the huge holey crumb that artisan loaves usually have (their doughs are sometimes be over 80%!). High hydration doughs can be quite sloppy in texture, and very hard to manage.

        The other thing about crumb (I think) is that the more you knead, the tighter and more even the crumb becomes (which isn’t necessarily what we want). I barely knead at all (I get quite sore hands, and it’s important that my breadbaking techniques are sustainable), but when I started originally, there was a heck of a lot of slapping the dough on the bench (which sounds like a euphemism, but isn’t :)). My loaves were quite different then!

        Anyway, sorry for the long reply, that’s what happens when I answer questions at 5.25am! But do try different things to see what works for you.

        Oh, a couple of other things which can make a difference – making sure your oven is hot enough at the beginning, and also not allowing the dough to overprove during the second rise – will help you to get better oven spring and therefore a less dense crumb. x


    • Actually, Celia’s was lovely and light – airier, i guess. Mine felt a little compressed. It’s easier to compare my own loaves – although the first was plain sourdough and the 2nd was a grain loaf. But the first was definitely heavier and more moist. This one – having got the temperature setting – was drier, but in a good way. The whole crumb thing is a bit difficult, isn’t it? I haven’t quite worked out what i’m looking for, but know that i haven’t got it quite right. I’m interested to see how the loaves develop. I’m going to make another grain one this weekend and make a conscious effort of comparing it to the last one. What about you, Alison. Have you worked out what you’re looking for in the crumb?


      • alison@thisbloominglife

        I’m just like you Rachel, I’m not quite sure what I’m looking for but know that I haven’t quite got it right. Today’s dough is a lot wetter (owing to a few driver errors i.e. idiot brain) so it will be interesting to compare. I’m finding this bread thing a bit like gardening – observation and reflection are the best teachers (oh and having a generous friend like Celia!)


      • As Celia says … it all comes down to practice. I’m planning on baking again tomorrow and will be looking to really compare it to last week’s loaf. Good luck, Alison.


  5. Hi from Navarone, another Stella sibling! I agree with Celia, that it’s a taste thing – and that’s a good answer to the question that started all this – are boutique breads worth the dough. When you bake your own, you can make it just how you like it. My household likes very heavy, very grainy bread. Before I started with sourdough, Sol’s Megagrain was our bread of choice for everyday and nothing in the supermarket was gutsy enough. Now I make an 11 grain sourdough a couple of times a week. It has a tight crumb and slices quite thin without being crumbly. Like Celia, I knead very little (my excuse is time), but use the amount of moisture to change the style of bread.


    • Wow – an 11-grain loaf. Very impressive. We love a grain loaf in our house too. I’m looking forward to getting to the stage of my baking when i can start to play around a bit more. At the moment i’m still trying to get the basics under my belt. Lovely to meet a Stella sibling!


  6. Sounds great fun!
    I make the same loaf each week. Courtesy of Joanna @ Zeb Bakes rye grain loaf, very little kneading plus I pour a jug of boiling water in the bottom oven tray to create lots of steam as the loaf goes in the oven.


  7. It’s so cute that you name your starters. I like how your Stella sourdough looks with her pretty grains.


  8. Dear Rachel,

    Being a “bakerphobic”, Celia and you sound like rocket scientists to me. Errrr, I think I’m heading off to Baker’s Delight to get my sourdough 🙂


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