10 simple and effective tips to improve your sourdough bread making today. Beginning with improving your starter right through to baking your sourdough.
Have you started baking your own sourdough bread? It's such a rewarding skill to learn. There is no better smell than fresh sourdough coming out of the oven! It's absolute heaven.
Baking sourdough can be difficult because unlike using commercial yeast to rise the bread, you're relying on naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria to do the job. These naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria don't work as quickly as commercial yeasts - and each starter seems to have it's own unique traits and behaviours.
Sourdough bread making with these unique traits and behaviours can be challenging. Here are 10 things that no one tells you about baking sourdough - that might just make you a better sourdough baker.
Sourdough Starters Are Very Resilient
Seriously, they are pretty hard to kill. They can be quite precious and can send usually sane people around the twist - but there are very few starters you can't bring back from the dead (unless of course you see mold). The rule of thumb here is - unless you suspect mold, keep going! You'll find some sourdough starter troubleshooting advice here. You'll also find some advice on how to strengthen your sourdough starter here.
Which brings me to our next tip ...
Make Time Your Friend To Improve Your Sourdough Bread Making
If there's one word I've said a lot since I've been helping people learn how to bake sourdough, it's patience. And while it's not always what people want to hear, it's true - patience is the key to baking good sourdough. You need patience to let your starter develop and mature. Patience to let the good bacteria in your starter win over the bad.
Patience to master handling the dough, learning how long to let it bulk ferment for without letting it go over. Patience while you watch the timer tick until you can open the lid of your Dutch Oven.
It's hard! But if you can have a little bit of patience, you will be rewarded with better sourdough bread, I promise! Just make time your friend.
Oxygen Is Important To The Sourdough Process
Oxygen is a very important element of the sourdough process because the yeast and good bacteria present in your starter require oxygen to flourish. Starving your starter of oxygen will hinder the natural process, that's why it's a good idea to give your sourdough starter a stir every once in a while.
If you're finding that you're just not getting anywhere with your starter, try giving it a stir in between feedings to get some oxygen into it. This will help to develop the acetic acids in your starter and help it to develop the "sour" taste that makes sourdough unique.
Temperature Should Be Listed As An Ingredient
Temperature is so important to the entire sourdough process, it really should be listed as an ingredient. Understanding the role of temperature is vital to improving your sourdough bread making. The thing is, the ambient temperature of your kitchen can make or break your sourdough. Even when you're building your sourdough starter, temperature is important - too cold and it will take forever! Too warm and you'll be forever feeding your hungry yeast.
When following a recipe for sourdough bread, you need to adjust it to suit your kitchen's own ambient temperature. Bulk fermentation happens very quickly in a warm environment (anything over 24C). And if your temperature is too cold, bulk fermentation will take days. You need to work with the temperatures you have, or find a way to manipulate them.
The Amount of Sourdough Starter You Use Matters
Have you noticed that some recipes have a large amount of starter, whereas others use a smaller amount? Well, that amount matters. It's not a random number that has been plucked from thin air.
If you use a smaller amount (say 50g of starter to 500g of flour) it means your starter is 10% of the overall mix in Baker's Percentage. If you added 200g of starter instead, it would be 40%.
The reason it matters is that a dough with only 10% of starter will ferment more slowly than a dough with 40% of starter. When doing your bulk fermentation, think about how much starter you're working with and how this might affect the timing of your bulk ferment. It might just help you to avoid overproofing your dough.
Don't Mix Your Sourdough in a Huge Bowl
When you're doing your initial mix and into your bulk ferment, you don't want to place your dough into a huge bowl. Why? Because you only want the dough to double, nothing more. Even just under double if you don't want to risk overproofing. If you have a huge bowl, it's much harder to tell whether your dough has doubled and your risk overproofing and losing your oven spring.
Put your dough in a smaller bowl for bulk ferment, and you're more likely to notice the rise. A glass mixing bowl is amazing for mixing your sourdough because it allows you to see what's happening underneath.
The same goes for your starter - putting it in a smaller jar will help you to notice the rise and fall more easily.
Place A Tray Underneath Your Dutch Oven When Cooking Your Bread
To stop burning the base of your sourdough, place a tray on the rack underneath your Dutch Oven. It's not magic, but rather science. You'll find out how it works here.
Scoring Deeper And Only Once Will Increase Your Rise
Scoring your dough is essential. It helps you to control how your dough behaves when it hits the oven and done correctly, can improve your oven spring. Decorative scoring is certainly trending right now, but for the best chance at great oven spring, score your dough deeper and only once or twice. A cross is usually the easiest way to score (see the picture below). Correct scoring is also crucial to achieve the perfect ear.
Rice Flour Is Like Teflon To Your Dough
Rice Flour is your best friend when it comes to sourdough bread making. Why? Because rice flour does not contain any gluten, so it will not stick to your dough. It's the perfect flour to use to line your banneton. If you're using a tea towel in a bowl, make sure you really rub the rice flour into the cloth before placing your dough on top.
Semolina is also a useful flour when baking sourdough and will prevent your dough from sticking.
You easily make your own rice flour by grinding white rice in a high powered food processor like a Thermomix. You'll need to make sure that you grind it super fine, like powder though for it to be effective.
Cool Your Bread In The Oven With The Door Ajar
It can be hard to know when your sourdough is cooked through. You can see the outside, but until you cut your sourdough, you have no idea whether it's cooked through ... and once you've cut it, it's too late!
Once your sourdough has come to the end of it's cooking time, take it out of the Dutch Oven and turn the oven off. Pop it back into the oven on the rack and leave your oven door ajar. Try to leave it there for about an hour. Then place it on a wire rack outside the oven to cool completely before you cut it.
I hope these tips help you to improve your sourdough bread making. Remember to enjoy the process and don't get too caught up in "the perfect loaf".
Want to learn even more tips to improve your sourdough bread making? Come and join our Facebook Group for Sourdough Bakers!
Want to nail your sourdough ear every single time? Check out these tips.
What are your thoughts on adding vital wheat gluten to sour dough bread. Also what are your thoughts on diastatic malt powder???
The Pantry Mama
There is definitely times when vital wheat gluten is necessary - you can read my thoughts on this here.