The art of sourdough

Guidance on bread

There are multiple websites online providing precise guidance on starters and bread making. The perfect loaf is a recommended read for it’s comprehensive guidance on the process, tools and recipes. I encourage you to read, do your research on the critical success factors and adapt it to the environment (I cannot stress this enough) that you are in. I am by no means a bread connoisseur or patisserie so I’ll let the experts guide you. I have, however, through several experiments have a few learnings to share (and not a step by step guide).


1) Quality of ingredients – Flour and water. Sounds simple but the type of flour and water will make a big difference to the quality of the bread. The golden rule; as pure as possible i.e. no artificial, no chemicals. The types of flour will vary depending on the bread you intend to make but generally, wheat or rye based flour will produce a denser bread. Nothing wrong with this as it’s high in nutrition and flavour but if you care about the texture and want bread with abit of spring to it, opt for white flour such as all purpose. Water with minimal chlorine is best.

2) Temperature – Controls time and flavor. The hotter it is, the faster the process and the sourness develops so you need to strike a favourable balance. Many bread experts advise that the ideal temperature for starter and bread development is between 26 to 28C. So one might ask how this can be accomplished a constantly hot climate like Asia, whilst being kind to the environment and our electric bills. My top tip is to make use of the residual cold from the air condition that you have used the night before. Turn off the AC, keeping your windows closed, put your bread dough or starter in the room, shut the door and go about your day. If in the northern hemisphere, keep your dough in the oven (turned off) or somewhere near a heating element (but not directly). You will be surprised by how these challenges can turn into innovation.

3) Observation – The rise and fall of the dough is indicative of when it is ready. You’d want to catch the starter and/or bread dough at it’s peak. The peak is the point where the starter or dough has risen to it’s maximum potential. Beyond this point is what we call “overproofed” – practically, this means that you can still eat the bread but it might be quite sour and not rise when baked. So if life gives you overproofed dough, make flatbread with it! Visually, the peak is the point when you see a convex shape start to flatten out. This is easier to see with a starter but with bread dough, you might want to tap the tough with your finger gently, and if it bounces up, it should be ready. Hence, when first starting out, I highly advise using a clear container for keen observation to help you decide your next steps.

4) Create tension on the bread dough – During the stage of shaping, you want to create as much tension on the bread dough to create shape and upward spring during the cooking process.

5) Sharp knife or razor blade – Scoring bread is not just for decorative purposes but is an essential step to allow your bread the space it needs to rise in oven without restrictions. If you don’t score the bread, you will end up with a suppressed, dense bread that is not springy.

6) Dutch oven or think out of the box – Bread requires high temperatures (>240C) and steam in the first half of the cooking process to rise and develop a good crust. If you simply place your bread dough in the oven to bake, the surface will burn quickly before the crumb (inside of the bread) develops and cooks. Many bread connoisseurs swear by their dutch oven which retains high heat and creates steam with its lid (and can be placed in an oven). However, a dutch oven is an investment at a high price of >SGD 400 (thanks to my wonderful friends who gifted us one for our wedding!) so what do we do? We adapt, yet again to our environment. Here are two alternatives that I have toyed with:

a) Claypot – I have baked some of my best breads with a claypot; similar qualities to a dutch oven and costs less than SGD 40 for a big sized pot. I will soon share a recently created pork recipe in a claypot that was simply divine.

b) Oven tray with a round baking tin on top – This method can be tricky as you need to find a round baking tin that fits the size of your dough as it expands sideways and upwards. So, a little more planning and testing is required.

7) Hibernating the baby – A starter is a resilient being. If you need to take a bread break, the fridge is where your starter can hibernate. We’ve left Teaser in the fridge for a whole month and was still able to make good bread (after a couple of feeds) with it. It’s definitely hard to kill once you’ve started 😉


None – Enjoy it, the evolving flavours of the crust as you chew into the crumb, a hint of sweet bitterness hitting at the end.

Salted butter – I like the sensation of cold butter melting in my mouth so if you’re a weirdo like me, go for it. I need to emphasise the use of salted butter to keep a long lasting friendship with my French friends! But on a serious note, the salted butter adds some balancing flavours if you find sourdough plain for your liking.

Ripe avocado with a dash of extra virgin olive oil – Paul’s favourite, and our usual Saturday breakfast.

Rilette – Our friends, Matthieu and Fanny, other than their talents of beer brewing and DIY on anything they can get their hands on, make an addictive pork rillette that can be spread on top of the sourdough bread, bringing salt, acid and fat together for a delightful afternoon or evening appetizer.

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