Skip to content
Sourdough Bread - Everything you need to know. The history of Sourdough Bread & How to make a Sourdough starter - Ratton Pantry

Sourdough Bread - Everything you need to know. The history of Sourdough Bread & How to make a Sourdough starter

We have all heard of it. We have all eaten it at restaurants. We buy it in the shops when we are feeling decadent and fancy something different. So where did it originate?

The history of Sourdough

It wasn’t until the invention and development of yeast as we know it today back in the 19th century, that ALL bread was in fact, Sourdough. The fermentation process has been documented in history right back to the Egyptians who knew a thing or two about brewing beer, and leavened bread - they drew wall paintings to show this, and science has been able to analyse remains dating back to the time the pyramids were built.

Scientists have found that Sourdough was a staple food source throughout Europe, with the earliest discovery in Switzerland dating back 3,500 BC. So when you think that Sourdough is just a modern trend, it truly isn’t.


The science

Fermentation of flour, water and the natural yeasts and bacteria from your home feed on the sugars in the flour, to create a Sourdough Starter. Every home has its own eco-system , and every starter will vary. After a couple of days, the science kicks in. The acidic bacteria in the starter discourages unwanted to bacteria to form, and so the fermentation process continues (the same applies in beer making). After a few days, the Starter begins to stabilise, and air bubbles appear. When these are thriving, your Starter is ready to ‘leaven’ your bread.


Making your own Sourdough Starter

Unlike just adding a packet of yeast, Sourdough needs a Starter which you can make yourself. You will need to check on it every day until it's ready, but once it is, you will always have it - just feed it now and again, and it can last for years.

Tip - a Starter will thrive in a warm place in your home. The cooler it is, the longer it will take to activate.

There are a lot of websites that you can find ideas, hints and tips for creating a Sourdough Starter but here is Ratton Pantry’s Simple Sourdough Starter recipe.

250g of strong bread flour

250g tepid water



Day One

Add 50g flour and 50g water in your container.

Mix until combined.

Partially cover the container.

Store for 24 hours at room temperature (warmer if you have somewhere suitable).

(You will use the rest of your flour and water - just not yet!)


Day Two

Add another 50g flour and 50g water to your Starter.

Mix until combined.

Partially cover.

Leave to stand again for 24 hours.


Day Three

Add a further 50g flour and 50g water.

Mix until combined.

Leave to stand for another 24 hours.


Day Four

Today you should see bubbles appearing in your mixture.

Add a further 50g flour and 50g water.

Combine well.

Partially cover.

Leave to stand until tomorrow.


Day Five (possibly Day Six)

You should have air bubbles in your Starter.

If you do, it is ready to use!

The Starter will smell a bit like yoghurt - that’s the acidity and that’s just perfect.

If not, add 50g flour and 50g of water and leave for a further day. Bubbles will appear tomorrow.

Ratton Pantry Tip - If you Starter is ready, a teaspoon of it dropped in water, will float!


Using your Starter

Once it is full of air bubbles, you can use your Starter. Alternatively, you can store it in a fridge which will make it dormant. The night before you want to use it, take it out of the fridge and pour half the mixture away (yes really - discard it) and feed it again with 100g of flour and 100g of water this time. Leave at room temperature overnight and it will activate. The longer you leave the Starter in the fridge, the more times you will need to reactivate it (with 100g of flour/water)

Here at Ratton Pantry, we use a rough principle of 20% Starter ratio to flour when making bread, but this is all going to be down to personal choice at the end of the day.


500g of strong white flour (or bread flour) + extra to dust

300g of Starter

1 tablespoon of honey

1 teaspoon of salt

225ml of warm water

A spray of oil for greasing


Put the flour, Starter, honey and salt into a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon or use a mixer with a dough hook attachment.

Stir slowly until combined.

If it looks too dry, add a splash of warm water.

If it looks too wet, add a dash more flour.


Tip the combined mixture on to a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes.

The dough should end up soft and elastic, and you should be able to stretch it without it tearing.


Put the kneaded dough into a well-oiled bowl and cover.

As with all breadmaking processes, you will need to leave the dough to rise in a warm place for approximately 3 hours.

Remember Sourdough is a slowly fermented bread, have patience.


After the first prove, tip the dough back on to your work surface and knead the air bubbles out of it.

Shape the dough into a smooth ball. Dust with flour.


Place the shaped dough with any seams facing upwards into a bowl cover loosely with a tea towel and leave for the final rise.

This could be a good couple of hours, depending on the warmth of the room, but this final prove will be more by eye, than exact timings.

Once the dough has doubled in size, it’s ready to bake.


Set oven to 230c / 210c for fan oven / Gas Mark 8


Place a baking tray in the oven to heat it up ready.

In a small roasting tin, add some water and place this in the bottom of the oven to create steam for your loaf.

Remove the heated baking tray from the oven, sprinkle with flour, tip your dough ball on to the tray and bake in the oven for around 35 - 40 minutes.

For ultimate enjoyment, leave to cool on a rack for 20 minutes before eating!

Ratton Pantry Tip - Sourdough bread freezes very well - so why not make up a batch of loaves and freeze them ahead of time.

As with all bread-making recipes, there are many variations you can have a go at. Add rye or wholemeal flour when making your Starter. Whatever you decide to make, remember to share your creations on social media and don’t forget to tag us @rattonpantry.

Previous article The History of Heygates Flour Mill
Next article Challah Bread as seen on Channels 4's 'Friday Night Dinner'

Leave a comment

Comments must be approved before appearing

* Required fields