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bake sourdough bread

How to bake sourdough bread over fire

bake sourdough bread
bake sourdough bread

The essence of really good home cooking is what we bring to our retreats and event catering packages. We bake sourdough bread at home so it seemed natural to us to master the art of baking sourdough bread whilst camping. Damper is one thing, but there’s nothing quite like freshly baked sourdough bread to warm the cockles of your heart. If you’d like to give it a go yourself here is the recipe for that fancy pants bread that’s been wowing our camping retreat guests. 

Before you start, remember that bread making is an art form! Michelangelo did not paint the Sistine Chapel at his first attempt, but he probably knocked out a perfectly presentable sketch.

What you will need:

Non metalic bowl

Charcoal and firewood

A lidded cast iron pot/dutch oven, with a lid lifter handle

Baking paper

A tripod or grill that can elevate the pot over a fire

Campfire protective gloves

Fire shovel

Sharp knife


1kg organic baking flour

1tsp salt

1-2 cups water

1/2 cup of activated sourdough starter (how to make a sourdough starter)


1) Add most of the flour to a bowl.  Leave half a cup aside, for dusting later. Add salt and 1 cup of water to the flour and mix with your hands. Continue to add water and mix until a shaggy dough is formed, that is moist but not sticky. You may not need all the water. Cover with a clean tea towel and rest for 30mins – 1hour.

2) Press your fist into the dough to create a well. Add the sourdough starter to the well and fold the dough over the starter. Pinch and pull the dough to incorporate the starter. It should feel a bit slimy and sticky, but keep going, because the magic is just starting to happen. Keep pinching and pulling until the dough is springy, moist and only slightly sticky. Cover and rest for 30mins – 1hr.

3) Now stretch the dough. Gently grasp one edge of the dough and stretch it as far as you can, then fold it over itself. Turn the bowl a quarter turn and stretch and fold again. Continue twice more, turning the bowl a quarter turn each time, so that you have stretched the dough from 4 sides.  Cover and rest for 30 minutes, then repeat the whole stretching process 3-5 times more, resting the dough for 30 minutes or so between each round of stretching. Initially the dough will be super stretchy, becoming less and less so the more times it is stretched. Cover and leave for 30 minutes after the final round of stretching.

4) Dust your work surface with flour, and shape your sourdough by folding it in on itself. Flip it over and finish the shaping by cupping your hands under the sourdough and rotating it to form a pleasingly round dough ball.  Line your bowl with a tea towel, dust with flour and place your sourdough, top side down, on the towel. Loosely wrap the towel around the dough and place another towel over the top of the bowl to keep the bugs out. Set aside in a warm spot to let the dough prove.

Proving is not an exact science, particularly outdoors where temperature and humidity effect the process. So, in summer you may only need 3-4 hours to prove, in winter you may need 6-7 hrs and on cool nights you can leave your sourdough to prove overnight and bake in the morning. Proving sourdough is an essential part of the fermentation process. Your sourdough should rise and spring back into shape after a gentle prod. Occasionally a dough will over-prove. This is more likely to happen in summer, so be vigilant, because it’s game over if this happens. You’ll know when it does!

5) Light a fire. A combination of charcoal and wood makes the best cooking fire. Charcoal is easier to move around, retains its heat better, and provides a more consistent heat source. Wood can be used to increase and reduce heat quickly. When the fire is white hot, with reduced flame you are ready to bake.

6) Line your cast iron pot with baking paper, and allow to heat gently, either hanging from a tripod or placed on a grill over the fire. The pot needs to be approximately 30cm from the hot coals underneath to maintain a good baking temperature without burning your loaf. In the heat of summer the distance will be a little bigger, in winter a little smaller. With practice you’ll master the art of heat distribution around your pot to create the perfect baking environment.

7) Bake your sourdough. Using your fireproof gloves and pot lid lifter, remove the lid from the pot. Remove your proved sourdough from the bowl, flip it, so that it is right side up, and score 3 lines across the the top with a sharp knife. Place the sourdough in the centre of the pot and replace the lid. Shovel hot coals from the base of the fire onto the lid of the pot. Place a few pieces of kindling onto the hot coals on the lid, to create a small fire. Your aim is to create most of the heat on the top with a gentler heat source coming from the bottom. Bake the loaf for 45 minutes, maintaining the heat distribution throughout the bake. This is where you trust your feel. You can’t lift the lid to check so you have to believe in the process. Manifest the perfect sourdough loaf!

8) Now for the big reveal. Again, wearing your fireproof gloves, shovel the hot coals back onto the fire and use the pot lid lifter to remove the lid and reveal a perfectly baked sourdough loaf.

9) Allow to cool for at least half an hour before slicing and serving.

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