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What Makes Sourdough Bread Sour?
Sourdough breads get their sourness from the bacteria and acids that naturally occur in the dough. Bread can taste sour when larger doses of levain are applied, or when the starter itself contains a significant amount of acetic acid. Keeping your starter in a colder environment will increase the amount of acetic acid, and a longer final rise will lead to more sour-tasting bread.
Classic Homemade Sourdough Bread Ingredients
- Starter, aka levain. A French word that comes from the Latin levare (“to rise”), levain is a leavening agent comprised of a mixture of flour and water left to ferment. When exposed to air, the flour and water attract bacteria that produce lactic acid and acetic acid, as well as wild yeast. Prior to baking, you’ll use your freshly-fed levain to create a leaven, a larger sourdough starter made specifically for the bake. Many experienced bakers keep their levain alive for years. If you know someone who bakes sourdough bread, you can ask them to share their starter with you. If not, it’s easy to make your own starter. Learn how here.
- Flour. You can use almost any type of flour to make a loaf of sourdough bread, including white flour, whole grain flour and rye flour. But bread flour mixes, which contain a higher proportion of protein than all-purpose flour, will yield the best rise.
- Warm water. Sourdough bread yeasts thrive in warm environments. Heat encourages fermentation activity, while cold slows down fermentation. Using water between 80-100°F to make your dough will encourage a steady rise.
- Salt. Salt is important not just to flavor your sourdough recipe, but also because it inhibits protein-digesting enzymes and helps strengthen the gluten, which gives the dough its elasticity.
What Do You Need to Make Homemade Sourdough?
- Kitchen scale. Although it’s possible to measure bread ingredients with cups, the accuracy of a scale helps keep things consistent.
- Dutch oven or combo cooker. Baking bread in a Dutch oven allows you to steam the bread at the beginning of the bake, getting the best rise and forming a nice crust. Some bakers prefer a cast iron “combo cooker,” which features a Dutch oven and a lid that doubles as a pan.
- Proofing or Banneton baskets. Banneton baskets are made with cane, and have ridges that support the dough. They’re designed to let the dough rise while giving loaves a consistent shape. Alternatively, you can use mixing bowls lined with clean cloth.
- Razor blade. You’ll need a very sharp tool to successfully score, or create a slit in the top of the dough. This slit will allow it to expand during baking. While there are tools made specifically for this purpose (called lames), a razor blade or very sharp knife will work fine. When scoring, take care not to over-manipulate your bread.
- Dough scraper. The deep, wide blade of a scraper helps divide your bread dough and gently move it from one surface to another.
How to Make Sourdough Starter
Combine 100 grams warm (about 100°F) filtered water, 50 grams whole wheat flour, and 50 grams all-purpose flour in a wide-mouth glass jar, cover with a clean cloth or tea towel secured with a rubber band, and wait. Stir your starter throughout the day, whenever you think of it (at least twice per day). After a few days your starter should start to bubble. Once it bubbles, begin refreshing, or “feeding” your starter regularly.
How to Feed Sourdough Starter
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To refresh your starter, discard all but two tablespoons of your starter. Mix a fresh batch of 100 grams each warm water and flour and combine with the remaining starter. Repeat one to three times a day. You can keep your starter in the fridge so that it requires less refreshing—just make sure to feed your starter at least once a week, and take it out of the fridge the day before you plan to bake. Refrigeration slows down fermentation, and you want your starter to be very active when it’s time to bake.
6 Tips for Making the Perfect Sourdough Bread
- Refresh your starter as often as possible. If you wait too long to feed your starter, the wild yeast won’t be strong enough to get the bread to rise.
- Use the starter when it’s at its most active/bubbly. For a refrigerated starter, you should plan on feeding it about three times before baking. To test your starter’s readiness, drop a spoonful in a cup of room-temperature water. If it floats, it’s ready.
- Keep your starter at 68-78°F. This is the optimal temperature to encourage yeast growth.
- Plan ahead. Making a schedule and keeping a notebook will help you learn the rhythms of your starter and prevent you from baking in the middle of the night.
- Use glass or ceramic bowls and jars. Always use glass or ceramic containers when making sourdough bread—the acidity from the dough can interact with metal or plastic.
- Be gentle with your dough. Handle it as little as possible, being careful to preserve air pockets.
Easy Homemade Sourdough Bread Recipe
Prep Time24 hr
Total Time26 hr
Cook Time2 hr
- 35 grams Freshly fed sourdough starter
- 700 grams whole wheat flour
- 300 grams all-purpose or bread flour
- 200 grams rye or spelt flour
- 1,000 grams warm water (80-100°F)
- 25 grams sea salt
- Day 1: Make the leaven (leaven is the term for when active starter meets dough): in a large mixing bowl, combine 35 grams freshly fed sourdough starter with 100 grams of whole wheat flour, 100 grams of all-purpose flour, and 200 grams of warm water. Cover with a plate or plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to rest overnight.
- Soak your grains: In a large bowl, combine 600 grams of whole wheat flour, 200 grams of all-purpose flour, 200 grams of rye or spelt flour, and 750 grams of warm water. Cover with a plate or plastic wrap and let rest overnight.
- The next morning: Add half of the leaven to soaked grains, stir to combine with a spoon or your hands, and let rest for 20 minutes. (This step is called an autolyse, and both aids in the production of both gluten and adds flavor.) Set aside the leftover leaven: This can become your new sourdough starter for the next time you want to bake.
- Combine 25 grams of salt with 50 grams of warm water and add to the dough. Allow to rest for 20 minutes.
- Fold (don’t knead) the dough, using a wet hand to reach under the dough, pulling the bottom of the dough up, and folding it up over itself. This technique will give your sourdough loaf a better texture than kneading with a mixer or by hand. Rotate the bowl in four quarter turns, folding after each turn. Repeat this process every 30-45 minutes for 4-5 hours. (A notebook can come in handy to document this procedure.)
- Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and divide in two using a bench scraper. Cover with a clean towel and let dough rest for 20 minutes.
- Flip dough over and shape: Using floured hands, gently pull dough towards yourself and fold upwards over itself, folding in half in half. Pull on the non-folded side to fold in half again. Fold a third time. Rotate 90 degrees and fold a fourth time. Rotate 45 degrees, pull towards yourself, and fold a fifth time. Pull the dough towards yourself in the other direction and fold a sixth time. Rotate 90 degrees and fold a seventh time. Fold in the other direction, for a total of eight folds.
- Place in proofing baskets or cloth-lined bowls dusted with flour and cover with a clean cloth or tea towel. Let dough rest for 2 hours at room temperature, or overnight in the refrigerator.
- Place Dutch oven in oven and heat to 500°F for 15 minutes. Remove the hot Dutch oven from the oven and gently add the dough to the pot.
- Score the bread with a razor blade, cutting a 2-3 inch slit in the top of the bread. Place the lid on your Dutch oven, and return to the oven. Reduce temperature to 450°F and bake bread for 20 minutes.
- Remove the lid of the Dutch oven and bake bread another 23-25 minutes, until the crust is brown. Cool your loaf of bread on a wire rack. Repeat steps 9-11 with the remaining dough to make your second loaf.
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