Sourdough is for life (a love letter) by Inês Neto dos Santos


This bread is a basic wheat sourdough. The flours here are interchangeable with whatever flour you have at home – bearing in mind a 100% wholemeal bread might not look or taste the same as a loaf made with cake flour. They will all work, look different, but all delicious.

To make a sourdough starter:
25g flour, preferably wholewheat or rye, organic if possible 
25g warm water
Day 1: Mix flour and water in a clean jar or glass. Cover with a cloth and let sit at room temperature for 24h.
Day 2: add another 25g flour and 25g water.
Day 3: discard half of your mixture, and add another 25g flour and 25g water.
Day 4, 5, 6: do as day 3. Your mix should begin to bubble and smell sour. Repeat this feeding process until it doubles in volume overnight – then it will be ready to use.

For the levain:
Sourdough Starter – 20g
Warm water – 100g
Wholewheat or rye flour – 100g
Mix the above ingredients and leave covered for 4-8 hours at room temp (will depend on local environment). The levain should rise, double in volume and smell sour.

Final Dough:
Levain (as above) – 150g
Warm water – 280g
White flour – 400g
Wholewheat or rye flour – 25g
Salt – 10g

Mix flour and water in a bowl. Let sit for 30mins. This phase is called autolyse – we allow the flour to fully hydrate before adding the starter and salt. Add the levain to the bowl and work it through the dough with your fingers. If the dough feels tough – add a splash more water. Leave, covered with a cloth, for 30mins. You will have a little levain/starter leftover, save that in a jar in the fridge until you are ready to bake again (up to 1 week).

Add the salt. Work it once again into the dough with your fingers, making sure it is incorporated. Cover and rest again for 30mins. Now fermentation starts. This stage is called bulk fermentation, where the dough rests in the bowl for around 3-3.5 hours. During this time, stretch and fold the dough at least 6 times, as follows:

  • 1st fold: Wet or grease your hands and stretch a flap of dough from one of its edges, pulling it away from itself as much as you can, without breaking it. Fold that flap inward, onto the dough itself, towards the centre of the bowl. Do this all around the dough, until you complete the circle. It should feel loose but strong, but will still look a little shaggy at this point.
  • 2nd fold – After 30mins rest, do a few of the same stretch and folds.
  • 3rd fold – Again after 30 minutes, give it a few more stretch and folds.

Do 6 folds in total, spaced out in 30mins intervals. As you fold the dough it should start to feel pillowy and begin to hold its shape, you should be able to feel the development of the gas (sign of fermentation happening). The dough will feel lighter and stronger and look round as air is being trapped inside. When the bulk fermentation is complete, you’ve done all your folds, and the dough is feeling strong, smooth and aerated, it is time to preshape.

Preshaping is done to get a piece of dough into an even shape with a smooth skin, in order to make the final loaf easier to handle. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, the side that was underneath in the bowl should still be facing down. Flatten the dough gently, into a rectangle and fold it onto itself like an envelope: stretch a flap on the right and fold it in; stretch on the left, and fold it in; stretch at the bottom, towards your body, and fold it in; and finally, stretch at the top, away from you, and fold it in. Flip the dough upside down onto the bench, so the smooth side is now facing upwards, and leave to relax for 20 minutes. This is called a bench rest, no need to cover and it’s fine if a thin skin forms.

Final Shaping: After about 20 minutes of bench rest, the gluten has relaxed enough and the dough can be shaped to its final shape. The aim is to build quite a lot of surface tension in the final shape that will hold during the long final rest.

With the smooth side of the dough facing upwards, using both hands, cup and rotate the dough, stretching the smooth skin tight underneath itself. You’re basically creating a tight ball shape. Gently pick the dough up, and place it in a bowl lined with a cloth, smooth side down (seam side up). You can sprinkle a little flour around the edges, tipping the bowl a little so that the flour can sift down. Cover it.

Proving/Resting: Refrigerate overnight. The following morning the dough should feel puffy and aerated. Now, preheat your oven to its highest temperature, placing inside an oven-safe pot you will be baking in.

Scoring: Dough is scored for aesthetic reasons but mainly to allow it to rise and open as the carbon dioxide inside expands in the heat of the oven. Turn the dough onto a sheet of parchment and cut 2-3 cuts in a cross or side by side. Remove the pot from the oven and take the lid off – carefully, it will be burning hot! Slowly lift (it helps if you’re not too far away from the pot) then ease the parchment and dough down into the pot. Put the lid on and put it in the oven.

Bake with lid on for 40 minutes then take the lid off and bake for about 10-12 minutes. Keep an eye on your bread to avoid scorching. Ideally, leave the cooked loaf to rest and cool down for 1h before slicing. This helps the inside to finish cooking in its own steam. This is difficult.

Now, slather with butter.

Inês Neto dos Santos (b.1992, PT) is a multidisciplinary artist based in London. Co-curator of Open Space’s Tender Touches (2019) art café exhibition alongside Huma Kabakci, she studied at the Royal College of Art (2016) and London College of Communication (2013). Her practice stands between performance and installation – using food, people and spaces as metaphors and prompts for discussion and conversation. Neto dos Santos explores the stories and performative actions behind eating, feeding, and cooking. She has exhibited internationally, including Lisbon, Porto, Madrid, Athens and London and recently undertook a residency at Villa Lena in Tuscany.