The ‘9-5’ Sourdough

One of the biggest challenges of the home baker who works a 9-5 office job is fitting in baking sourdough bread around their day. Most of the recipes and guides out there require you to complete a step at certain times throughout the day, making following of said guide very difficult. It then falls to the weekend as the first chance to scratch that creative itch and get baking. However, come the weekend there are inevitably chores to do, friends to catch up with, shopping & preparing for another week all to be done. Before you know it, Sunday afternoon has rolled around and you’ve not had a chance to bake any bread for the week!

Having spent the past 5 years juggling this exact scenario I have developed a process that aims to find a balance between convenience – fitting in steps in the process around sleep and work without compromising on either, and results – dedicating enough time still to achieve a satisfactory outcome.

Below I’ll share this method with you in the hopes that it can help you to find a way to slot in baking healthy sourdough bread for yourself or your family & friends around a busy lifestyle without having to stay up half the night! The key to this method is the use of a technique known as “bulk retardation” whereby the main fermentation of the dough is performed in a cold environment such as a refrigerator to enable a more flexible schedule to be achieved.

… a few notes before we begin…

  • The process will require you to have a fairly active sourdough culture. What does active’ mean in this context? One that is kept most of the time in a warm environment and fed at least once daily. If this is not your starter – i.e. you keep yours refrigerated between uses then I would highly recommend changing your process to keeping the starter at room temperature and feeding daily. This may seem like too much effort or like you’ll be creating lots of wasted excess culture but this is not necessarily the case. Any sourdough discard should be transferred to a container and refrigerated for up to two weeks where it can be used in a variety of other baking applications (pasta, pancakes, waffles, crumpets, pastry) that I will go into more detail about in another post. Further, once you get into the habit of daily feeds, the time taken really does not feel too onerous. I feed twice daily and find the process of observing the result of the previous fermentation and measuring out the new mixture starter very satisfying, almost meditative. The smell of the tangy culture in the morning after a 12 hour overnight ferment is one of my favourite scents!
  • In order for the fermentation to progress at a rate that fits in with your daily schedule it is vital that your sourdough culture (and your dough during bulk fermentation) is kept in a warm environment. If you live in a warm climate, or have a place in your home that can provide this on a consistent basis then you should be fine. However if not, then you will need to find a way to create this environment artificially. Whether that be in a Brod & Taylor folding prover (makes it a breeze), building your own proving box (there are a DIY guides out there online) or utilizing a turned off oven with a bowl of hot water inside to cream steam.

STEP 1 – Building the ferment – Morning

This process will be scaled for one medium sized sourdough loaf (pre-baked dough weight of approximately 748 grams) that should fit inside most dutch ovens (Lodge, Le Creuset, etc.). When I follow this process I tend to scale it up by either two or three times as I have a baking steel that snugly fits 3 loaves on it, and prefer to maximise my output wherever possible. You can do this too if you have a similar setup.

When you wake up in the morning, feed your sourdough culture as follows:

SOURDOUGH CULTURE (100% hydration):                             4 grams

FLOUR                                                                                             26 grams

WATER  (24-28 C in Summer / 30-36 in Winter)                   26 grams

Mix into a paste with no dry flour remaining, and leave in a warm place to ferment.

STEP 2 – Making the dough – Evening

While you’ve been working away at your day job, your sourdough culture has been slowly fermenting away at home, building flavour and good bacteria!

… a note on flour…

The below formula utilises a fairly ‘standard’ 80/20 ratio of white to wholegrain flours with a combination of rye, spelt and wheat or Khorasan in the wholegrain flours. I find this to be a nice middle ground allowing the achievement of a fairly easy to handle dough at 75% final hydration while providing plenty of flavour, nutrition & texture. This is intended only as a guide so please feel free to tweak based upon your preferences. If I am baking for my own consumption then I’ll usually alter the ratio to more around the 60/40 or 50/50 stoneground white/wholegrain flours.


FLOUR – WHITE BAKERS (12-14% PROTEIN)                         320 grams

FLOUR – WHOLEGRAIN RYE                                                        10 grams

FLOUR – WHOLEGRAIN SPELT                                                    30 grams

FLOUR – WHOLEGRAIN WHEAT OR KHORASAN                     40 grams

WATER (24-28 C in Summer / 30-36 in Winter)                    288 grams

SOURDOUGH CULTURE (From above)                                      40 grams

Place a bowl (I prefer clear glass) on your scales and weigh out 40 grams of sourdough culture from the batch you fed this morning. Heat your water to the required temperate above (a kettle is great for this) and weigh out 288 grams into the same bowl.

Gently mix the culture and water together until the water turns murky and the culture has broken up. Add in the flours and mix to incorporate until no dry bits remain. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover and return the bowl to your warm place. Set an alarm/countdown for 45 mins and go have dinner!

NOTE: At this point I also like to set a running clock on my iPad to record the total time of fermentation from start to finish, using the ‘Lap’ feature when I move from bulk fermentation to shaping to final prove. This helps me to track my fermentation windows so that when I produce a loaf that I’m particularly pleased with, I can learn more about what fermentation times led to my achieving that result.

After about 45 minutes of fermenting, remove the dough from the bowl onto a clean bench and proceed to perform 2-3 minutes of slap and fold on your bench, taking care not to tear the already established gluten strains. If you see your dough starting to show small tears then stop for 1-2 minutes and then continue.

Return the dough to the bowl and the bowl to your warm place for an additional 15 minutes.


DOUGH                                              FROM ABOVE

SEA SALT                                           8 grams

WATER                                               12 grams

Sprinkle the salt across the top of the dough and then pour the water over with the goal of covering as much as the sea salt as possible in water. This will help with the integration.

Dimple the sea salt into the dough until you have a pockmarked surface and then continue integrating the salt and water by pinching the dough and alternating with pressing down with your fists until the dough breaks apart and comes back together into a cohesive mass.

Scrape the dough out onto the bench and continue with a further 2-3 minutes of slap & fold until the dough feels strong and holds together. Place the dough back into your bowl & the bowl back into your warm place. Set a timer for 30 minutes. In the mean time, scrape any residual dough from your bench and then gently wet your workspace in preparation for a lamination fold. If you have a spray bottle / mister then this is perfect for this.

After 30 minutes, scrape your dough out onto the wet bench, stretch out into a large rectangle, and perform a lamination fold by bringing one side and then the other together, and then repeating from top and bottom until you have a neat square package. Round the dough with your hands and transfer back to your bowl & back to your warm place. At this point you should notice some good strength in your dough as indicated by a taught round ball with some visible signs of air pockets. You may even have 2 or 3 large air pockets forming which is a sign that the gluten network is developing at a good rate.

Set another 30 minute timer. One this goes off, perform your first stretch and fold within your bowl, either by lifting from below one side at a time and folding over itself (classic method) or by using the inverted method whereby you lift up the dough and let one side tuck underneath itself before dropping back into the bowl. Both methods are widely explained in online stretch & fold videos.

Return your dough to the bowl and set another 30 minute timer. When this timer goes off you will be at a point where your dough has now been fermenting for approximately 120 minutes or 2 hours. Perform a second stretch and fold within the bowl and return the bowl to your warm place.

[  At this point in the process your path can diverge based on your own personal schedule. I will detail the general process that I follow, along with suggested alterations, however the process from here is quite flexible thanks to the extended window of fermentation that we gain from refrigeration.  ]

After another 30 minutes have passed, perform your third stretch & fold within the bowl, cover the bowl well and place it in your refrigerator. We are now beginning the cold bulk fermentation phase of the process (approximately 2 & ½ hours have now passed since we first added our culture to our flour & water).

If your schedule allows it, perform 1-2 more stretch and folds spaced 30-40 minutes apart before bed. These are ‘’bonus folds and shouldn’t be essential to achieving a good outcome, as we’ve already invested plenty of effort in developing our dough. If you’d rather just go to bed then go for it!

STEP 3 – Shaping & Final Proving – Morning

When you wake in the morning, remove the bowl from the refrigerator and gently remove the dough from the bowl onto a clean bench. Faintly wet your hands and a dough scraper and gently round the dough into a ball. You should be able to be quite gentle here and not have much trouble with the dough sticking thanks to our development of the dough last night + the cold temperature of the dough.

Leave the pre-shaped dough to rest for anywhere between 20 and 60 minutes depending on your schedule. Then shape according to your preferences. For me that’s a batard. Transfer your loaf to a banneton and the banneton to a warm place. Continue with your morning ritual, leaving the dough to prove for as long as you are able to before leaving the house (up to a maximum of 1 hour). The closer to the maximum you can prove this loaf for, the better.

Cover the banneton with a tea towel/plastic bag/shower cap/your personal preference and transfer the banneton to the refrigerator. Continue with your day!

STEP 4Baking – Evening

Upon returning home from your day, pre-heat the oven and your baking vessel for at least 30 minutes (ideally 60 minutes) at the higher temperature your oven will go.

Transfer your loaf directly from the banneton to your baking vessel, slash & load into the oven. Bake for 17 minutes with steam (if using a baking steel/tray) or a lid on (if baking with a pot), then remove steam trays / lid of pot, turn oven down to 200 C and bake for a further 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, crank the heat back up to maximum for 2-3 minutes (or 5-6 if you have a slow oven like me) to get a really caramlised, crackly crust (or don’t if you prefer a slightly softer crust).

Transfer to a wire rack to cool, and enjoy!

One Comment Add yours

  1. Hope says:

    I have been trying to do a sourdough bread with rye flour mixed with bread flour. However I find that the mix is breaking apart. the dough is not strengthening at all. I decided to add some all purpose flour to it, but it did not change . I placed in the fridge but to no avail. I don’t want to throw it out, but see how much I can improve due to doubling the recipe.What should I do


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