Starting out with Sourdough

Alternative title: I tried to make posh bread and it WORKED!

Unlike cakes and biscuits, bread is a beast I have been reluctant to master. The mysteries of kneading, proving and baking seemed too complex and unattainable for my domestic skills. The flavourless rocks I produced as a result didn’t encourage further attempts at improving my skills.

Yet there is something so special about a homemade loaf. So delicious when it is fresh out of the oven, smeared with a cold lick of butter. Over the last decade, I have really noticed sourdough in particular taking off in the UK. For instance, I doubt you’ll find many places doing avocado toast and not using sourdough.

So I thought I’d tackle a) my fear of bread-baking and b) my curiosity about sourdough, and booked in for a beginner’s Sourdough class at the famous Bread Ahead Bakery. The fresh baked loaves were quite possibly one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.   I couldn’t wait to get home, nuture my own little sourdough starter into fruition, and start baking.

The internet seems to suggest making a sourdough starter culture is an incredibly complex art, but I don’t think that’s really the case at all. In the class, we measured out equal quantitites of flour and water, mashed it together, and that was it. After diligently feeding my starter with equal amounts of flour and water each day for a week, it was bubbly, rising to the top of the jar, and pretty much good to go.

I wasn’t convinced the loaf was going to work out, but I was determined to give it a go. So into a bowl went flour, salt, water and starter. I left it overnight in the fridge, then took it out, tried to shape it, and left it to rise in a colander (apparently a good substitute for a banneton) until it looked like a cellulitic thigh. As the flabby-looking specimen plopped into its cast iron receptable, I peered at it very doubtfully before shoving it in the oven, but to my great astonishment, 30 minutes later, out came an actual loaf of bread!

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It tasted great, and the crumb structure was probably the best I had ever gotten out of a loaf of bread! It also made delicious bacon sandwiches several days later.

Since this loaf, I’ve made several more, and there has been a slow but steady improvement. There were 2 flops along the way where I deflated one loaf by shaping it too vigorously, and another instance where the bread was far too underbaked, but otherwise it’s been surprisingly successful, and I’m so excited to have a new type of baking to play with. Just got to remember to keep the starter alive…


Cinnamon Bun Cake

Weekends are precious time. There is nothing more blissful than wallowing around in bed for an extra hour (or three) and pottering around the kitchen. I’ve tidied up the baking cupboard, and there’s a batch of cinnamon buns on the go.


There’s something rather amazing about obtaining such a fragrant spice from the bark of trees. When you’re not using it in the infamous cinnamon challenge, its comforting properties are unparallelled. It’s almost as good as chocolate. Perhaps some would argue it’s better. Just think – you’ve had a bad day at work, it’s been sheeting down with rain, you’re wet, cold and miserable – but awaiting you is a gently warm, soft baked round of fragrant spice.

I’ve based this bun cake on Signe Johansen’s recipe for scandinavian cinnamon buns. After baking, you even be a little more indulgent by adding a drizzle of icing, or a crackly glaze. The dough is so easy to use that I am considering adapting it for Chelsea Buns next time, or even some Christmassy themed ones in the coming months?

Cinnamon Bun Cake

Makes 9 buns

For the dough

  • 165ml milk
  • 50g butter
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 200g strong white flour
  • 84g wholemeal flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5g yeast
  • 40g caster sugar
  • 1 egg

For the cinnamon filling

  • 50g caster sugar
  • 70g butter
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon

Infuse the milk by warming it gently with the cinnamon stick, then add in the butter and let it melt. Set to one side and allow to cool. Remove the cinnamon stick.

Mix the flours, salt, yeast and sugar together. Beat the egg in a bowl. Into the bowl of dry ingredients, mix in 2/3 egg. The remaining 1/3 save for glazing. Add the cooled milk in after the egg, mixing until combined into a soft sticky dough. Leave this in a covered bowl in a warm place to prove until doubled in size.

Make your cinnamon filling by combining the butter, sugar and cinnamon together into a paste.

Line a large cake tin with baking paper. It will catch any lost filling, and also stops the base of your buns from browning too fast.

Take the proved dough, and roll out into a large rectangle. Spread the cinnamon filling over the dough evenly, then roll the dough up along the longest side like a swiss roll. Cut into 1 inch wide pieces, and lay them out in a large cake tin, with space for spreading between each bun. Cover and allow to prove again, until the dough no longer springs back when you press a finger against it.


Preheat the oven to 200˚C then pop the buns in, and bake for around 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 180˚C and bake for a further 10 minutes until done. Whip them out of the oven, and serve them whilst still warm.

Granary Loaf

Following on from my quest to create the perfect loaf, Easter has been a good excuse to try baking my own daily bread instead of popping to the supermarket for a readymade sliced loaf. While I’m never going to make all my own bread from scratch, there’s something very satisfying about turning out a home-baked loaf. This was absolutely delicious – and we cut slices from the loaf before it even had the chance to cool down properly. Perfect with a swipe of salted butter, or sandwiches.

Granary Loaf

Makes 1 loaf

  • 450g granary flour (or any seeded bread flour)
  • 50g spelt flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 7g dried yeast
  • jug of lukewarm water

Combine all the dried ingredients together and mix well. Add enough water to bring it together into a slightly sticky dough. Knead for 5 minutes until smooth. Return the dough to the bowl and cover with clingfilm. Leave somewhere for around 2 hours until it doubles in size. Gently shape it to fit a greased 2lb loaf tin, cover with clingfilm, and leave for 1 hour to double in size again. Preheat the oven to 220˚C and put a tin of water on the bottom of the oven to create lots of steam. Bake the loaf for around 30 minutes, remove from the tin, and wrap in a clean teatowel. Leave to cool.


Sultana and Walnut Loaf

This is based on the Ottolenghi recipe for Sour Cherry and Walnut Loaf.


I have made it a couple of times, as I didn’t seem to get it quite right the first few tries, possibly partly down to not having the correct ingredients, but also my relative inexperience when it comes to baking with bread. I’m still working on it, but it’s pretty tasty fresh, especially spread with a slathering of salted butter.

Scandi Cinnamon and Cardamom Twists

Lately I’ve been on a yeasty baking spree, all inspired by the wonderful writings of Signe Johansen on her Scandinavian baking blog. There seems to be something wonderfully simple, functional, yet deliciously stylish about the Scandinavian aesthetic in general, and baking is certainly no exception.


I do love a good cinnamon bun, so I jumped at the opportunity to make these at the weekend. They turned out so beautifully that I knew I had to try the recipe on Signe’s blog for cardamom twists. I’ve never tried cardamom in my baking before. As I was grinding up the pods, I was rather doubtful whether I would like the taste as I inhaled a rather medicinal scent wafting up to my nostrils.

Never fear. The twists were fantastic. Due to my doubts, I only made half the quantity of cardamom twists, and substituted cinnamon for the remaining half. I have to say, they were all absolutely phenomenal. The cinnamon were still my favourite, but the cardamom had a really unique flavour that became really quite addictive! As with all things homemade, these are at their best fresh out of the oven, but they are still great after a gentle reheating in the microwave or the oven on a low heat. 🙂