Here is the timeline I plan for the Virtua Group Bake.  I will begin at 7:00 am, I’m in the U.S. Eastern time zone.  The total time is 12 hours and 50 minutes.  Most of that is the bulk proof.  You can adjust the time to fit your schedule.  I frequently start my bread at 7:00 pm and let it bulk proof overnight.  Also, I frequently prolong the proofing (either the bulk proof or the final proof) by putting the dough in the refrigerator.  I’ve final proofed for as much as two days before baking it.

You do not have to wait for me to start.  Some members are many hours ahead of me and 7:00 am comes to them many hours before it comes to me.  Go ahead and start, or you can wait—it’s up to you.

If you are posting photos, please reference the step number so that we know where you are in the process.

Feel free to post questions.

Time   Duration Step
7:00 AM 0:00 Mix levain, flour, and water
7:40 AM 0:40 Mix salt and additional water
8:20 AM 0:40 Stretch and Fold 1
9:00 AM 0:40 Stretch and Fold 2
9:40 AM 0:40 Stretch and Fold 3
10:20 AM 0:40 Stretch and Fold 4
6:20 PM 8:00 Bulk proof complete, divide and bench rest
6:40 PM 0:20 Shape and put in banneton
8:40 PM 2:00 Complete final proof, place in oven
9:10 PM 0:30 Baking done
10:10 PM   1:00 Cool and slice

Basic Sourdough Bread Recipe


1.       508 g flour (100%)
2.       355 Water (70%)
3.       102 g levain (20%)
4.       25 g water (5%)—added after autolyzation
5.       10 g salt (2%)—added after autolyzation


1.       The night before you bake, make the levain.  Mix 20 grams of starter with 50 grams of flour and 40 grams of water.  Let ferment until ready (about 8 to 12 hours).
2.       Mix flour, water, and levain until smooth and creamy (you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook on low speed or you can mix it by hand).
3.       Let rest for 40 minutes (autolyze)
4.       Mix in additional water and salt. 
5.       Pour into oiled bowl. 
6.       Let rest for 40 minutes.
7.       Work the dough by stretching and folding it over on itself.  Do this four more times and 40 minute intervals.
8.       Bulk proof until it’s at least doubled in size (8 to 10 hours at room temperature).
9.       Shape the loaves
a.       Pour the dough out onto a flat surface (don’t flour it; you will be tempted, it’s sticky, but don’t do it).
b.       Divide the dough (if making more than one loaf).
c.       Bench rest for 20 minutes (i.e., let it sit on the counter for 20 minutes).
d.       Shape the loaves by pulling the edges in to the center (imagine that it’s a square on you’re pulling each side into the center).  A bench knife will be invaluable because it will stick to the surface.
e.       Now sprinkle flour on and around each loaf.  Shape it into a boule or loaf or the shape you’re after.
f.        Turn over into a well-floured banneton, loaf pan, bowl, etc.
10.   Final proof on the counter for two hours or in the refrigerator for 12 or more.
11.   Put Dutch oven(s) in the oven and preheat to 500 degrees Fahrenheit
12.   When the oven is hot, turn the loaves into the Dutch ovens, slash with a lame, and bake for 30 minutes.
13.   Remove from oven.  Turn out onto a cooling rack and let cool completely before slicing.

Weight Weight Weight Baker's %
Flour 1,270 508 231 100%
Water 888 355 161 70%
Levain 254 102 46 20%
Salt 25 10 5 2%
Water 63 25 11 5%
Total 2,500 1,000 454

Starting Starter

1.  Mix 50 grams of flour with 50 grams of water.
2.  Put the mixture in a warm place (ideally 30 degrees Celsius or 86 degrees Fahrenheit).
3.  When it starts to bubble (8 to 12 hours later), feed with 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water.  Stir well.  Put back in the warm place.
4.  When it bubbles again, repeat step 3.  Keep repeating step 3 until you have starter. The quantity of the mixture will grow.  If it's getting too big for your bowl, discard half before feeding.

Keep an eye on the mixture.  Feed it when it bubbles. If you can't be there for long periods of time, move it to a cooler place to slow down the fermentation until you can watch it again.

Starter versus Levain

Starter:  The mixture of flour and water in which yeast and lactobacillus have been cultivated.  Also called the “mother starter.”

Levain:  A portion of the starter that is mixed with additional flour and water in preparation for making bread.

Flour, the Recipe's Mother: Understanding Baker's Percentages

I think the biggest obstacle to understanding baker’s percentages is the tendency to think of the baker’s percent as the percent of total. This is not the case. The percent is the percent of flour.  Thus, if the baker’s percent for water is, say, 70%, then that means that for every 100 grams (or ounces, or whatever unit you're using) there is of flour, there are 70 grams of water. It doesn't mean that if your making a 1000 gram loaf that 70%, or 700 grams, is water—that would leave only 300 grams for the other ingredients, including the flour, which would make a very runny dough.   It means, rather, that if loaf has a 1000 grams of ingredients total (including starter, water, salt, and flour), but only 500 grams of flour, then a baker's percent of 70% water would mean that you add 350 grams of water (500 x .7 = 350). This means the recipe calls for 500 grams of flour, 350 grams of water, and 150 grams of other ingredients (such as starter and salt).

Think of your recipe as a family. The mother is the center or foundation of the family and everything revolves around her. If her son weighs half of what the she weighs, then the son is 50% of the mother’s weight. If her husband weighs twice as much, then he is 200% of her weight. Flour is the mother of bread and everything else is relative to her.

So why use baker’s percentage?  The primary reason is that it's easy to convert to different sizes of dough. If you're making the recipe above and decide you want to make two loaves, you can easily do the math—1000 grams of flour and 700 grams of water and 300 grams of other ingredients.  Or, which is more common for me, say you only have 1200 grams of flour and you want to know how much water, salt, and starter to use with that much flour. The calculation is easy (well, relatively easy—you may have to use a calculator or spreadsheet or a smartphone app).

All of this assumes, of course, that you are measuring ingredients by weight, not by volume. So put your measuring cups away and get out your scales.

My basic, everyday recipes is this:
Flour: 100%
Water:  70%
Starter:  20%
Water after autolyze:  5%
Salt:  2%


Equipment needed:
1. Scales (we will learn to use baker’s percentages and to measure by weight, not volume)
2. Two small bowls (for making and feeding starter)
3. A big bowl (size depends on how much dough you want to mix)
4. Loaf pans (at least one, but more if you want to make more than one loaf)

Optional equipment:
1. A stand mixer with a dough hook
2. Dutch ovens, clay cloches, Lodge Combo Cooker, or oven stone
3. Bannetons (AKA brotform, proofing baskets)
4. A lame or sharp knife
5. A bench knife.

1. Unbleached all purpose flour
2. Salt
3. Filtered or non-chlorinated water (for making the starter)
4. Tap water (for making the bread)
5. Patience and humility (it probably won't turn out perfect the first time)
6. Someone to bake for (baking for yourself is no fun)

December 27, 2016:  begin making starter
January 2, 2017:  make the dough
January 3, 2017:  bake the bread

Ground rules:
1. Simplicity:  The only ingredients we will use are those listed above. This is a beginners bake and we will keep it simple. We can experiment with other flours after we get this one under our belts.
2. Commitment:  You must be willing to share your results even if they don't turn out. The goal of this group bake is for us to learn.  If you share your mistakes then even one learns what not to do.  Plus, the group may be able to help figure out what went wrong.
3. Timing:  The time line above is for start dates. There is no reason you can't start later if this doesn't work for you, but I think we'll have the most fun if we can all stay on similar schedules, so please try.  I realize that because there are members all over the world, there will be some timing differences.