Hands up if you love to experiment?! Yep, my hand is firmly up ... so let's look at 8 sourdough experiments every sourdough home baker should try!
I'm sharing with you some of the experiments I've tried in my sourdough bread baking journey in the hope that they help and encourage you to experiment in your own kitchen.
The sourdough experiments I'm going to take you through are:
- Using diastatic malt powder
- Using vital wheat gluten
- Feeding your sourdough starter with rye flour
- Playing with sourdough starter amounts
- Manipulating your sourdough starter ratio
- Baking sourdough with ice blocks
- Changing cold ferment timelines
- Baking sourdough in a loaf pan
Why Experiment With Sourdough?
Now, you might argue that baking with wild yeast can be complicated enough, without throwing in all these variables. However, one of the best ways to learn is to experiment and see what happens. You might just find a way to elevate your sourdough baking or even that missing piece of the puzzle that leads you to your best bake ever!
I've been baking bread for over 20 years and have experimented with my sourdough starter more times than I can remember. I've had epic fails and sizzling successes. And lots of in betweens. My family have eaten almost all of them.
Here Are 8 Experiments Every Sourdough Baker Should Try!
Use Diastatic Malt Powder
Diastatic Malt Powder can be a sourdough baker's best friend! It can have a positive effect on crust, crumb and oven spring. It's a relatively cheap ingredient and you only need a very small amount to see a difference in your bread.
This experiment is particularly good if the flour you are using to bake with does not contain any malted barley. Adding some diastatic malt powder can be an absolute game changer. It works really well for sourdough pizza dough too!
I've written a full guide to using diastatic malt powder in sourdough bread here (it even shows you how you can make it in your own kitchen if you can't get hold of any at the store).
Use Vital Wheat Gluten
Vital Wheat Gluten is often added to lower protein flour to give it more strength and encourage a stronger gluten network to form. This can be very important when baking sourdough bread (particularly if you're using all purpose flour) or if your bread flour isn't quite up to a higher protein standard.
If you are already using high protein bread flour, adding vital wheat gluten may not have too much effect, however, if you have been baking with all purpose flour, or you are living outside of the US and don't have access to the stronger bread flours, then this could be a game changer for your sourdough journey.
Be careful not to add too much, as it can cause your dough to seize up or be very thirsty.
You can find a full guide to using vital wheat gluten in sourdough baking here.
Feed Sourdough Starter with Rye Flour
Rye flour is like a superfood for your sourdough starter. Experimenting with rye flour can be so much fun - and the best thing is that it can have a really positive effect on your sourdough starter.
If you are worried about permanently changing your sourdough starter, you can use rye flour to create a levain rather than feeding your whole sourdough starter.
To make things even more interesting, why not try feeding your sourdough starter with light or regular rye flour and then dark rye flour or coarse rye meal. Both will give different results in strengthening your sourdough starter and you'll notice that rye flour will change the texture and rise of your sourdough starter.
Increase the Amount of Sourdough Starter You Bake With
One of the best ways to learn and improve is simply to put your hands in the dough and do! One concept that new sourdough baker's often struggle with is the amount of sourdough starter in a recipe. Each different recipe seems to state a different amount.
The truth of the matter is that you can adjust the amount of sourdough starter in any recipe depending on the temperature of your kitchen and the time you have available.
Basically, more starter will decrease fermentation time and give you a more mellow flavor. Less starter will increase fermentation time and give you a more sour flavor.
It's well worth making a loaf with just 50g of starter, then 100g and even 150g to see the effect that the amount of starter has on your end bake. You might find a combination that works better for your schedule and taste!
Manipulate Your Sourdough Starter Ratio
Understanding the rhythm of your sourdough starter and being able to manipulate the ratio you feed it depending on how often you need it can be very handy as a sourdough baker.
Just like you, the wild yeast colonies in your sourdough starter are unique (in fact some of the yeast in your sourdough starter jar has actually come from your own hands). As a living organism, your wild yeast colonies will develop their own rhythm of rising and falling after being fed. The science of a sourdough starter is fascinating, and understanding why your starter rises and falls is important to becoming a competent home baker.
Generally, you would feed your sourdough starter 1:1:1, which means 1 part starter, 1 part flour and 1 part water. This will mean that each part weighs the same. Feeding your sourdough starter in this way means that it will peak fairly soon as it is using all the refreshment in the jar in a short space of time.
If you change that ratio to something like 1:3:3 then you will be using 1 part starter, 3 parts flour and 3 parts water. This means you're feeding the starter 3 times what it weighs. This could look like 20g of starter, 60g of flour and 60g of water. This ratio will mean your starter takes longer to peak because it has triple the amount of food in the jar and requires a longer time to consume it and produce the C02 required to fill the gluten network and climb up the jar.
Doing this can be really helpful when creating a sourdough baking timeline.
Add Ice Blocks To Your Oven
Experimenting with ice cubes can help you in your pursuit for the perfect loaf of sourdough. But the results are not for everyone and there are often times when adding ice to your bakes can be problematic.
Like all good experiments, the only way to know if this will help your sourdough is to actually try it.
I've written a full guide to using ice in your sourdough bread baking here.
Long Cold Ferment
Adding a long cold ferment to your sourdough baking process can have a profound impact on the flavor profile of your sourdough bread. For some people, this is the sour flavor they've been seeking. For others, it's a hard no.
I recommend you try a long cold ferment on your sourdough, if you haven't already, and take note of the changes in flavor, and whether or not the longer cold ferment affects any other aspects of your dough, like oven spring, crumb, crust etc.
Sometimes, you will need to tweak and adjust the timing to ensure that you get a compromise on the flavor you're seeking, while still being able to achieve other important factors like oven spring.
You can check out this long fermented sourdough recipe if you need some help with a timeline for this.
Bake Sourdough In A Loaf Pan
Baking sourdough in a loaf pan can be a fun experiment! And you might be surprised at just how much you enjoy the results! You can make a regular, lean sourdough loaf and place it straight into a suitably sized loaf pan after bulk fermentation.
The best thing about this method is that shaping isn't as important as it is when you're using a banneton to support your loaf.
Check out my recipe for baking sourdough in a loaf pan here.
I hope that these sourdough experiments inspire you to try something new with your sourdough routine and bake your best loaf ever!