There are numerous recipes online. We started with this recipe: Easy Sourdough Artisan Bread Recipe.
There are many variables when dealing with natural yeast. Ambient temperature plays an important role. The sourdough’s naturally occurring yeast takes time to rise. My first bread took 6 hrs, and I felt it needed more time.
Growing and maintaining your starter
I was told to use a scale to measure out flour and water. My recipe called for 70g of each, added each day. The measuring cup needs to be zeroed out on the scale, after which you measure out 70g, about 2/3ds of a cup. Water turns out to be heavier, so you only need about 1/2 cup. Mix them into the starter and you’re good for the day.
If you do not need starter the next day, feed and then put the starter in the fridge, which will slow down growth and last for a week. Feed each week. It is really not very difficult.
Using a Dutch Oven in your Oven
It is important to use a dutch oven because it makes baking bread easier. Bread initially needs moisture and steam to get a good rise and develop a crust, after which you need direct heat to crisp up the top. The dutch oven makes this easy. For the first part of the bake you use the lid of the dutch oven, which traps steam in and helps bake the bread. Remove the lid to crisp the top.
Main Steps to Sourdough Bread
There are a few main steps to making a bread from your starter
- Mix and Let Stand (Autolyse): Mix all ingredients together, it will look very rough, let stand min 30 minutes. This starts gluten creation, important for bread. This step will be different if you use a poolish. There are many variations. Some people autolyse with just flour and water, only after adding the starter.
- Bulk Fermentation: Knead dough, let stand 3 hrs or more. This is the first rise
- Second Rise: knead dough, let stand another 2 hrs
- Bake: 20 mins cover on, then 40 mins cover off
Of course there is a lot more you need to know than those 4 steps. This can get very confusing. All the steps say the yeast takes a long time to rise, and I agree. Be patient, wait for the natural yeast to do its rising, and take your time.
- Sourdough Bread: A Beginner’s Guide: This is a simpler recipe, and easier to follow.
- How To Make Sourdough Bread: This is a more complex recipe, and only uses one tablespoon of starter, called a “leaven”. This adds a day of time.
- Sourdough Sandwich Loaf: I found ex-chef John Kirkwood, UK, on Youtube. I could really relate to his recipies. This sourdough bread uses a poolish (flour, water, starter), set 12-18 hrs before you do your bread. The poolish is just mixed together and set in a warm place overnight. it is super easy. The poolish is said to make the bread more tasty, giving the bacteria time to grow. As I’m using a dutch oven the baking part is a bit different. He uses a steam bath. Here is john’s sourdough poolish recipe using a Sourdough Bread made in a dutch oven. It is really the same, just using a dutch oven and adding sesame seeds.
- Beginner SOURDOUGH BREAD recipe – Learn how to make sourdough AT HOME!: Sune, from Denmark, as a great series of vids, where he experiments with different variations in the technique. This is very good for understanding his technique, as he repeats it during every vid. The more you see him do his steps the more it will help you with your technique. Sune uses a more scientific method in his bread making, which I appreciate. Here is his simple sourdough recipe. Sune has come up with a simpler and better recipe he calls an artisan sourdough recipe. I have tried it and have made it my favourite reciple.
Fine Debatable Details
- When to add salt: Salt might retard the rising of the yeast. Some recipes say to dissolve the salt in water and add it only after the autolyse step, giving the yeast the best chance to grow. One recipe just says to add the salt from the beginning. Sune adds his salt after the autolyse, but then did an experiment where the outcome said it did not matter.
- Preheat the dutch oven: A scorching dutch oven heated to 450F is dangerous. It is difficult to get your pot out of the oven,get your dough into the pot, and then the pot back into the oven. One recipe just says to preheat the oven but put your dough into a cold dutch oven and then put the cold pot and dough into the hot oven. This is safer. I found that preheating the dutch oven gives you a better result, but you really need to be more careful.
- Bread is not sour enough: Try more leavening time
- Hydration is the percentage of water to flour, and can go from 60-85% or so. The lower the easier it is to knead and handle the dough. The higher the more sticky and difficult it is to handle the dough. There are various ways to manipulate sticky dough. You do need the dough to stick to itself, or you will not be able to make a tight ball. You designate one side sticky and the other smooth, and put flour on the smooth side. Then with wet hands and a bench scraper, you fold the dough onto the sticky side. This is called stretch and fold, a method to develop the gluten.
- Retarding the dough: After the bulk fermentation, Sune recommends putting the dough into the fridge and cooling it down overnight. The cold dough is then easier to score, and when it hits the hot dutch oven will crisp up better. Cold dough is certainly easier to score. You pretty much put the cold dough into the scorching hot oven.
- Developing a top membrane: A tight top surface of the dough allows the bread to not flow out into a puddle. Once scored the dough will rise in the oven exactly where you scored it, hopefully making for a nice looking cooked bread. You develop the membrane by shaping the dough. Sune uses a bench scraper and drags the dough from the top edge down towards you. The friction with the counter tightens the top surface.
From here there is a lot of experimentation that can be done. Change white to whole wheat or other flour. I’ll need more time to try things and ensure i have this technique down. There is more to learn and experiment. Overall this sourdough required research but it really was not so difficult to do. Learning more begs more questions that pop up. I like this.
Five Roses All Purpose Flour is 14% protein: 4g protein in a 30g 1/4 cup
The Science of Sourdough Starters: This is a great article by Tim Chin on sourdough starters
- Reduce your starter acidity to encourage greater starter growth: I learned about renewing your starter from 4 Tips To Greatly Improve your Sourdough Starter, The Bread Code. The longer you use a starter without completely replacing it, the more acidic it becomes, which reduces oven spring. What I used to do was use whatever was left in my starter bottle, then add 70g of water and 70g of starter. Over time the starter can accumulate acid. What I am doing now is measuring out the starter and putting it into a new bottle, along with the new flour and water. I do this at a 1:5:5 ratio starter:flour:water, which encourages the starter to renew itself and grow more strongly.
I am still experimenting with this. Originally my starter would double, which is pretty good, but I wanted more. So far using clean bottles and the 1:5:5 ratio has not significantly improved my starter, but I continue to experiment. I’ve also tried using a 100% whole wheat starter, as he said that whole wheat has more sugars for the yeast to eat. The whole wheat starter is a stronger grower but takes twice as long as the white flour starter. Maybe I should be satisfied with my starter doubling, which is pretty good.
- Getting a crust on your bread: Play with your baking times. My oven is very small and just fits my dutch oven. The crust would come out harder than the family likes, so I’ve kept the dutch oven cover on for longer, and only removing the cover for 5 minutes. What used to be a 20 min covered, 20 min uncovered bake is now a 30 min covered, 5 min uncovered bake. The crust is pleasingly brown but not too hard.
- What to do with the extra starter: I usually pour excess starter into a covered glass container and then at a later stage do pancakes with them. If you leave them for a long time the sourness (lactobacillus bacteria) will continue to grow. You can add more flour or conrmeal to dilute the sourness. I never throw out excess starter.
- Timing your Autolyse: For best results, your starter should be at peak height when you autolyse. This means that you need to plan to feed your starter a couple of days before. When you feed your starter last, you need to time it so that at peak growth you will be at home and ready to do the autolyse. Once the autolyse, stretching and folding and bulk fermentation is done, you can then put it into the fridge for the retard, and bake the next day at your leisure.
- Leaving your Starter out at room temperature, but not feed it. After you feed your starter, it will eat the flour and in 8 hours or so will be at peak height, hopefully doubling in height. After this it will deflate. Leave the starter, unfed for a few days, and the height will be reduced back to the original level, and become watery. I think that at this point the yeast has grown, but there is no longer food, so it will slowly die back down. The yeast is not dead, but not at peak growth.
It may be better to feed your starter, using the 1:5:5 ratio and then put it into the fridge. In the fridge the starter will continue to grow, but slowly. It will not run out of food, though, and will continue to grow once you warm it up. For someone who bakes once a week, this may be better than leaving the starter out on the counter at room temperature, not feeding it for 3-4 days and letting it die back to original. I think starters need to continually grow for maximum growth, and certainly just before you autolyse.