Sourdough is slow-fermented bread. What’s unique is that it does not require commercial yeast in order to rise. It’s made with a live fermented culture, a starter, which acts as a natural leavening agent. Sourdough is known for its delightful, complex flavor. It is not necessarily “sour” dough. The flavor can be either mild or tangy, depending on how the starter is fed and how the dough is made. You won’t find any hydrogenated oils, corn syrup, or preservatives in homemade sourdough—it’s 100% natural.
As an added health benefit, the slow fermentation process breaks down the hard-to-digest proteins and enzymes found in wheat, which is why some people who are gluten-sensitive have reported being able to digest sourdough without any issues.
The basic ingredients that you will need in order to make sourdough is flour and water. If we would like to get specific, the different types of flour will give different flavors to your sourdough.
For the best results, simply choose a good-quality flour that’s unbleached and does not contain any chemical additives, all-purpose flour works great.
However, bread flour is most commonly used by bread bakers, for its high gluten and protein content. It creates a strong dough, giving better structure and overall height to your bread. It also promotes a chewier texture.
Comparatively speaking, all-purpose flour contains less gluten and absorbs less water. You’ll find that it creates a more light and fluffy texture in the finished loaf.
Can bread flour and all-purpose flour be used interchangeably? In some cases; both flours can be used to feed your sourdough starter. For baking, results will vary depending on the type of bread you’re looking to create.
Want soft and fluffy focaccia? Try all-purpose flour. Want bread with a lofty rise? Try bread flour. And there is always the possibility to blend flours and use that.
On the other hand, whole-grain flours contain more minerals than white flours, which speed up fermentation in both your sourdough starter and the rise of your dough. These flours typically require more water when mixing.
RYE: has a deep flavor. Sourdough bread made with rye is more compact and denser; its gluten is less elastic than wheat so it holds less gas during the leavening process.
SPELT: is more easily digestible than wheat because of lower levels of gluten and higher levels of soluble fibers.
WHEAT: whole wheat grains contain both the bran and the germ and are a high source of fiber, polyphenols, vitamins, and minerals. The long fermentation of sourdough increases the bioavailability of these beneficial components, making a more nutritious loaf compared to yeasted bread.
Sourdough starters can be made a few different ways, with methods that include fruit juices, grapes, honey, and even potatoes to boost natural fermentation.
When creating a sourdough starter, whole-grain flour will thrust the fermentation process. Whole wheat, rye, and spelt flour are great choices (rye and spelt could be a bit more expensive, whole wheat will work just great). The process of having a starter ready and active to bake, depending on the room temperature of your kitchen and the microbial activity of the flour you are using it can take from one to two weeks.
Depending on which flour you use to create your starter you will get a different flavors and effects on your sourdough.
Rye Starter: Tangy, sour & fruity with good digestibility.
White Starter: Milky & sweet with a light tang.
Wholegrain Starter: A sweet & sour loaf that is easier to digest.
One of the most important ingredients for making good bread is time. If it ferments too long, an excess of acidic and alcohol will develop, masking the sweet flavor of wheat. In addition, the dough’s physical abilities to hold gases produced by fermentation will break down and slowly collapse. Hence it is a combination of finding the perfect rising time, proofing time, dough temperature, room temperature, and amount of leavening in the dough.
Patience is a virtue when making good bread, it is common in the US to see time as the opportunity where the bread rises, but in reality time is an opportunity for flavors to develop. Warmer dough rises more quickly, cold dough rises slowly.
The temperature of the water is a key player in the sourdough process and an important one to control. You can use warmer water to get to the desired dough temperature or you can use colder water to slow down the process.
- Poolish: Crisp thin crust: Baguette
- Biga: Earthy musky flavor: Ciabatta
Each allows for the development of alcohol and bacteria fermentation, which add flavors, acidity, and leavening to the dough.
Used 30-80 percent of the total flour in the recipe with water and a small amount of yeast. Let it ferment, and then add the rest of the ingredients. This process adds lots of flavor to the bread, richer color and flavors to the crust.
- Biga: A type of pre-fermented dough. Usually more of a stiff dough mix of 60-70% of water, flour and very little yeast. Bubbly at the top with strong smell of yeast and alcohol. An overdevelop biga will collapse. Bulk fermentation: the first rise of the dough after all ingredients have been mixed together.
- Levain: French term for sourdough, referring to a naturally leavened dough made only of water and flour.
- Poolish: Often contains 30-50% of recipe total flour, and equal amounts of flour and water with minimum yeast. Bubbly at the top, and if look for few minutes, most probably will see bubbles popping, strong smell of yeast and alcohol. Overdeveloped will collapse.
- Pre-Fermented: Is a portion of the dough that has been previously mixed (6- 12 hours before), but a minimum of 4 hours.
DAY 1: Add 50 grams of whole wheat flour and 50 grams of water to a medium jar. Mix with a fork to combine.
DAY 2: Check to see whether any bubbles, which may look like small black dots, have appeared on the surface. Bubbles indicate fermentation. If you do not see any bubbles no need to worry or discard your starter.
DAY 3: it’s time to start the feeding the starter. First you will need to remove and discard approximately half of your starter from the jar. Then repeat process from day 1.
DAYS 4, 5, & 6: repeat the feeding process from day 3. As the yeast begins to develop, your starter will rise, and bubbles will form on the surface and throughout the culture. It will help you to place a rubber band on the jar where the starter is right after you finish mixing. This will help you see how much it has rise. I prefer to repeat this process for a full two weeks. This is the same process you will have to repeat every time you will want to feed your starter.
Going out of town? No need to worries, you can feed the starter the same day you are leaving and storage it in the refrigerator. Upon returning I suggest to remove from refrigerator and feed again for 3 consecutive days (if been away for more than a week) before you start baking again.
Leaven, in French, levain, is referred to as the chief, chef, head, mother or sponge.
Leaven is the second step of your sourdough; it’s flour and water mixed with a small amount of your starter and fermented for over 6 hours. It is almost the same as of feeding your starter.
Autolyse is a simple step that can be easily introduced into your bread making schedule; is the first step in the final dough mixing. It refers to the period of rest after the initial mixing of flour and water, which allows the flour to absorb water without the presence of salt (salt slows down the process). It gives the gluten the chance to form, which leads both to better gluten development and better flavor. Breads made with autolyzed dough are easier to shape and have more volume and improved structure.
Just combine the flour and water in a bowl and mix until no dry flour remains. Cover the bowl and leave it in room temperature for anything from 20 minutes to up to 3 hours. During this time, gluten development begins and simple sugars start to form as starch is broken down. Although it may look like nothing is happening, you will notice the difference as soon as you handle the dough because during the autolyse it will have become smoother and more elastic.
When writing a formula, the easiest method is to do so using what is known as baker’s percentage. In using baker’s percentage, each ingredient in a formula is expressed as a percentage of the flour weight, and the flour weight is always expressed as 100%.
This are good reason on while it is important to use baker’s percentage
- Since each ingredient is weighed, it enables us to work with precision using only one unit of measure.
- It is quite easy to scale a formula up or down when we are working with baker’s percent.
- It allows bakers to share a common language.
For example, let’s take a typical formula for sourdough bread.
- Flour: 100%
- Water: 66%
- Salt: 2%
- Instant yeast: 0.6%
- Total: 170%
So, let’s say we’ve got 500 grams of flour. Here’s how I’d figure out the weight of the other ingredients.
- Water: 500 * 0.66 = 330 grams
- Salt: 500 * .02 = 10 grams
- Instant yeast: 500 *.006 = 3 grams
We can also first decide how much dough we want, and work backwards. Let’s say we want to make 1 kilo of dough. First, we need to figure out how much flour we need. To do this, we divide the total of all the ingredient percentages added up (170% = 1.7) into the total weight of the dough: 1000 grams / 1.7 = 588 grams of flour (rounded to nearest gram). Now that we know the flour weight, we figure out the weight of each of the ingredients by multiplying their percentage by the flour weight, just as we did above.
- Water = 0.66 * 588 = 388 grams
- Salt = .02 * 588 = 12 grams (rounded)
- Instant yeast = .006 * 588 = 6 grams (rounded)
Schedule for Baking Sourdough
9:00 AM: Make the levain.
2:00 PM: Start mixing final dough. Autolyze: mix flour & water.
3:00 PM: Add the levain, salt, and if using yeast.
3:30 PM: 1st Fold.
4:10 PM: 2nd Fold.
4:45 PM: 3rd Fold.
8:00 PM: Final shape, place on breadbasket, refrigerate and cover for 10-14 hours. (if will add seeds on top this is the moment, before placing on basket)
8:00 AM: Bake. Preheat oven to 475F with Dutch oven inside and lid on it. Cook cover for 30 minutes, and 15 minutes uncovered.