Love sourdough bread? Here's how to make an incredible version at home!

Love sourdough bread? Here's how to make an incredible version at home!

From prepping your starter to keeping it alive by feeding it, bake it the traditional way!

A staple in itself, bread has remained a constant through the formation and felling of civilisations Image Credit: Shutterstock

The first aroma of bread escapes an oven and it takes you to the most comforting place on the planet or maybe even beyond. The crunch that comes from slicing into the crusty loaf of a bread leaves trails of good labour. The tiny holes, remind you of the times you kept the starter alive over the past few days. Not to mention, the tartness when biting into the soft slice tells you that you have managed to achieve what our ancestors have baked for over 6,000 years.

This is the sourdough bread.

The first bakers

The story of man and bread started thousands of years ago and evolution is as applicable to bread as it is to man. A staple in itself, bread has remained a constant through the formation and felling of civilisations.

Four millennia ago, our ancestors in the Black Desert of Jordan experimented with the art of baking bread. This was found by archaeologists, two years ago, when they came across a site called Shubayqa, which uncovered the Natufian culture of living. Natufian, also known as the prehistoric people in the Levant, were a hunter-gatherer community, who built small villages as base camps, where inhabitants returned periodically.

In addition, they baked bread at least 4,000 years before the dawn of agriculture. According to, “The bread invented by the people of Shubayqa had to be flat, a little burnt, similar to a primitive Middle Eastern Pita, and very protein-rich. Our ancestors did not yet know the principles of leavening, but their recipe was by no means a foregone conclusion.” These were made in the hot ashes of a fireplace or on a hot flat stone.

Of course when compared to the present, baking took a more evolved form given modernisation and cultural preferences. Therefore, where the Romans stuck to porridge, the Egyptians baked loaves of bread, among which the sourdough came into being.

Bacteria is everything

Baking sourdough bread is a two-fold process Image Credit: Shutterstock

Do not cringe by reading the word ‘bacteria’. They are the good guys when it comes to baking sourdough bread. However, the process is two-fold: first, you have to make the starter. Second, you have to mix the starter to your bread dough and then bake it to perfection.

The starter is made using, usually an equal ratio of flour and water. However, it is not as simple as just mixing the ingredients. You have to feed it by adding more flour and water as it peaks or starts to bubble up in volume, exactly as you would yourself, or a pet, or a loved one. Why? Because it has to stay alive.

Food by Gulf News spoke to Matthew Jones, founder of UK-based bakery Bread Ahead Baking School, who opened their very first shop at Expo 2020 Dubai.

“Sourdough bread’s history goes back 6,000 years. Sourdough baking would have started in the Levant… that region. Mesopotamia would be the cradle of civilisation, especially since baking really has its roots there. However, baking sourdough bread is an ancient craft. If you really think about it, sourdough bread is actually just proper baking.

“If you went back 100 years from now, all bread is literally sourdough bread, because there wasn’t really commercial yeast available at the time. What we’re really doing is going back to the way things used to be and should be.

“When you’re baking sourdough bread, you have to understand that it is a very sensitive process. Especially because it isn’t even close to baking a cake. You will be dealing with live yeast, so it is a living organism in itself. So you have to feed it, keep it in the right temperature, maybe store in the fridge if you may… you have to be mindful of the whole process.”

Apart from being used to preserve the quality of food, fermentation is key when it comes to sourdough bread. Sourdough starters include lactic acid bacteria and yeast. The yeast causes the dough to rise by creating carbon dioxide bubbles, while the lactic acid bacteria provide the sour flavour (in the form of acetic acid and lactic acid). This also preserves the bread by lowering its pH, which prevents the growth of food borne viruses or pathogens.

Setting the right temperature

The colder the temperature, the slower your starter will grow and it will have a mildly tangy flavour Image Credit: Vicky Ng/

Once you’ve mixed the contents of your starter, it is time to make sure that it stays alive. The ideal temperature for a sourdough starter to thrive is at 21 to 24C. The trick though is that the colder the temperature, the slower your starter will grow and it will have a mildly tangy flavour. If you increase the temperature, say to 60C, it is most likely that your yeast will die.

If daily feeding seems impractical, storing it in the fridge and feeding it once a week will do. However, it may appear frothy, so you can either stir it in or drain it out.

Anecdotes from the kitchen

Preparing the sourdough bread rose to popularity given the last year of the pandemic. For some it started as a hobby, which turned into a full time business later on.

Nidhi Mittal

Dubai-based expat Nidhi Mittal, who runs the Instagram page @churning_deliciously, said: “I started baking my own loaves because we felt that store bought wasn’t good enough. In addition, bread that stays on for more than a week definitely sounded like trouble because freshly made bread gets stale quite fast. It started as a passion for me and now it is a profession. The challenges I faced was that when I started selling my loaves, people would tell me it was expensive. However, it takes 48 hours to get one perfect loaf.

“Now, people have slowly come around especially because they encourage me to make more of it and they’ve asked me if I could host classes for this as well.”

For Dubai-based Bulgarian expat Radina Dickson, baking sourdough bread started in 2018, when her curiosity led her there. “I usually don’t bake sourdough bread in summers because of Dubai’s high temperatures, but every winter there’s at least two loaves of freshly baked sourdough bread every day.

“It’s a gluten-free option, it’s healthier, tastier… you name it, and sourdough bread has got it all. However, it requires a lot of patience, and once you get a hang of it, it is super easy to bake. I try to push myself now to make more ‘instagrammable’ loaves of bread now that I’ve perfected the taste.”

Matthew Jones, the chef, added: “Sourdough bread needs to be taught and should be done with a lot of patience, especially because it’s not easy… you can use fresh grapes, unrefined apple juice, apple… or any fruit skin for that matter, as a substitute for yeast.”

All these sourdough perfectionists have one thing in common: their love for baking. If you’re looking to make it yourself at home, try out the recipe for sourdough starter and sourdough bread from Bread Ahead Baking School at Expo 2020 Dubai!

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