Making a basic and delicious loaf of sourdough bread is a lot easier than one might think. Here is the second part of my sourdough baking guide with some basic information and tips to make sourdough bread as easily and efficiently as possible. No extra equipment needed whatsoever.
When I first set out to make sourdough bread I would follow all these elaborate artisanal baking instructions that felt more therapeutic than helpful in creating great bread. I felt one with the dough and flour, mainly because everything was everywhere and I created this low-carb beauty.
The hydration was too high, it was impossible to shape and over-proofed. My second attempt with the same method was not much better, so I decided to simplify the process on my own. I skipped the autolyse stage, lowered the hydration ratio and used the standmixer with the dough hook. Now look at that beautiful loaf of bread.
For the sake of efficiency I also bake two loaves at the same time, one round and one elongated loaf, because electricity is expensive. I don’t understand people who bake one small loaf that lasts two days max at a time. Bake more, then slice, portion and freeze. That is the best way to conserve energy and time.
Using Baker’s Percentages for Baking
Baker’s percentages is a notation method indicating the proportion of an ingredient in relation to the flour used in a recipe. Not only is sourdough good for your gut health it is also good for your brain. With these basic percentages it is very easy to make sourdough bread with starter (5-15%), water (60-80%) and salt (1.5-1.8%). The more starter you use the faster the dough will rise, but you should also take room temperature into consideration. I use 15% because my kitchen is freezing and I like to bake my bread in the evening, it makes a slightly tarter bread. When it is warmer I will reduce the amount of starter. Hydration is a little more complicated but as a beginner you should start with 60-65% until you feel comfortable with the method. Some flours require more hydration than others (e.g. whole wheat). It is best to start low and add more as needed. Salt inhibits your starter therefore you don’t want to add too much and you don’t want to add it directly to your starter.
Equipment Needed (spoiler: none)
To make a good loaf of sourdough bread you don’t need any extra equipment. If you happen to have a Dutch oven and a proving basket that is great but you don’t have to buy anything. I prove my loaves in a salad bowl and a loaf pan lined with a floured Ikea tea towel and it works great. I would recommend a linen tea towel as it sticks less to the dough. Then I bake one loaf in a Dutch oven I found at a Dollar store (obviously it wasn’t a dollar) and the other loaf I bake in a loaf tin. Both I preheat in the oven for 30 minutes. You can also just turn your loaf onto a preheated baking sheet with a bowl of water in the bottom. You can use a bench scraper to shape your dough, but you can also just use your hands. When dealing with high hydration a bench scraper is more useful.
Proving your Sourdough Bread
Sourdough needs more time to prove than yeasted dough and it will very much depend on the amount of starter you use as well as room temperature. Sourdough is on its own schedule and it is best to check whether or not it is fully proved. When in doubt it is better to bake off a loaf that is under-proofed than over-proved. If you run out of time you can also prove it in the fridge over night. Here is an easy guide to check which can be used with every fermented dough. Poke your finger (wet when dealing with a sticky dough) and see what happens.
Under-proofed dough– After poking the dough fully bounces back showing no indentation
Over-proofed dough– After poking the dough doesn’t spring back at all and it leaves a deep indentation
Perfectly proved dough– After poking the dough will spring back but not all the way
The Basic Sourdough Dictionary
Sourdough Starter: a wild grown yeast used to ferment bread
Autolyse: Mixing flour and water followed by a rest period before adding the starter and salt. This is support to develop gluten and flavour.
Stretch and Fold: A technique in which a side of the dough is stretched and folded over itself four times to promote gluten formation. That process will be repeated all thirty minutes until it can pass the windowpane test.
Windowpane Test: The dough can be stretched so thin that one can see through it without tearing.
Bulk Rise: First rise or primary fermentation when the dough ferments in a large mass before shaping. This builds strength, volume and flavour.
Surface Tension: Creating a taut skin when shaping the dough helps the loaf retain its shape during its final rise and bake.
Boule: A round loaf
Batard: An oblong loaf
Baneton: A proving basket
Oven spring: The rise of a loaf in the oven.
Crust: The outside of the bread.
Crum: Everything inside the crust. You can have a loose crum with bigger bubbles (usually higher hydration) or a tighter crum with smaller bubbles.
Well, here you have part two of an extensive sourdough baking guide. It is incredible how much information you need to bake sourdough bread. Those are just the things I picked up in the past few weeks, which really helped me in making better loaves. Luckily for you it is all on one page and not spread all over the internet. Now we can finally make some bread, although with all this information you can already make bread. I hope you enjoyed this post and have a great day. Stay safe and wear a mask!