That feeling when your sourdough endeavor just doesn’t go as planned? Yeah, we definitely know the feeling. If there’s one thing we can tell you, it’s that you’re always allowed to try again…and again, and again, and again. However many tries it takes, we promise that you’re going to get a loaf that’s worth digging into, whatever it takes.
With these ten tips on easing the sourdough journey, we hope to make your experience a little bit simpler (and a lot less frustrating). From ingredients to environment and even accessories, there are plenty of methods to try. Whatever it takes, don’t give up on sourdough, because its final form is waiting to be found.
Be Exact In Your Measurements
Now is not the time for mathematical leniency. When baking anything, especially sourdough bread, accuracy is key (if you want a tasty outcome, that is). For this purpose, we recommend putting aside the measuring cups and investing in a quality scale. It will help you get it right every time, no question about it. And if you’re a regular baker, you can use the scale for other kinds of baking recipes, so you’ll definitely have the chance to put it to good use.
Keep the Temperature On the Warmer Side
The active starter that serves as the foundation for sourdough bread thrives on warmer temperatures. Ideally, you’ll want the proofing environment to be anywhere from 70-85 degrees fahrenheit. Too cold and nothing will have the chance to develop; too hot and you’ll overheat the bacteria needed for a thriving dough. This may seem difficult amidst colder climates, but it’s all the more reason to crank up the heater.
Less Hydrated Starter = More Sour Bread
If you’re someone who takes the sour in sourdough seriously, you’ll want to focus on this trick. By reducing the level of moisture in your starter by a plentiful margin, you’re almost guaranteed to wind up with some genuinely sour bread. Rather than maintaining a fully moist starter, cut it down by a quarter or even a half. Be careful not to go overboard, because you do need some level of hydration for the starter to flourish in the first place.
Keep Calm and Knead On
When crafting sourdough bread, you don’t want to take shortcuts, especially when it comes to the kneading process. Keep kneading the dough for upwards of twenty minutes, using five-minute intervals (for your own sake as well as that of the dough). The outcome is best when kneading is done by hand, but you can use a mixer if you need to. Simply finish the last few minutes by hand so as to avoid overheating the glutenous compounds in the dough.
Use a Banneton
Accepting help can make a world of difference in many of life’s challenges, bread making included. By giving in and getting yourself a banneton, you’re not taking the easy route, but rather accepting a helping hand that will be there for you through the proofing process and beyond. Using a banneton simplifies the proofing process, and also imprints a lovely pattern onto your dough. That way, you’ll have a sourdough loaf with a taste and texture that’s as impressive as the appearance of the bread itself.
Keep an Eye On Your Starter
If you like to take breaks between bread making sessions, you’re going to want to keep an eye on your starter. It’s possible that this culture will require a bit of revamping as the days or weeks go on. To do so, simply give it a bit more “food.” You’ll notice that the bubbles will once again begin to form, and your starter will appear plumper and livelier to boot.
Choose Your Flour Wisely
In the world of sourdough bread, not all flour is created equal. For best results, you’ll want to choose quality grains, particularly those that full under the categories of whole grain wheat, rye or spelt. These types of flour happen to have more yeast spores than others, so they give your starter more of an opportunity to flourish.
Pay Attention To the Water, Too
Something you may not realize is that sourdough starters are awfully picky about which water you use. Tap water can be a tricky ingredient, especially considering every region offers tap water with different levels of chemicals throughout it. Should your own tap water have a high level of chlorine, you’re better off using bottled or reverse osmosis water (for your own self and for your starter).
Don’t Be ‘Lax On the Mold Front
Mold is not to be messed with. If something funny starts growing atop your starter, there’s one thing you ought to do: throw it in the compost and start a fresh batch. In our opinion, it’s always better to be safe than sorry, especially if you plan on feeding your homemade sourdough bread to guests! You can spot mold by checking for anything fluffy, especially slimy or colorful (even if those colors are black or gray).
Get Yourself a Dutch Oven
If you proof your dough in a cane banneton, you might as well invest in yet another accessory. A Dutch oven really is the best way to bake sourdough bread. You can also use a deep cast iron that’s covered. Either way, these additions to your kitchen will surely make a difference during the bread-baking process.
Take That, Sourdough!
If you’ve tried making sourdough to no avail, fret not. Try again, and incorporate some or all of these helpful tricks. Who knows—should you succeed, you may just stumble upon a passion that won’t die. At the very least, you’ll have yourself some bread that’s worthy of a spot on the brunch table, and your friends and family will thank you.