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Why Is Sourdough Bread Sour and Why Is It Important?
Sourdough breads get their acidity from the bacteria and acids that naturally occur in the dough. Bread can taste sour when a large proportion of levain (or starter, the living culture that activates fermentation) is used, or when the starter itself contains a large proportion of acetic acid. Keeping your starter in a colder environment will increase the amount of acetic acid. A longer final rise will lead to more sour-tasting bread.
Classic Homemade Sourdough Ingredients
- Starter, aka levain—a French word that comes from the Latin levare (“to rise”)—is a mixture of flour and water left to ferment. When the flour and water are exposed to air, they attract bacteria that produce lactic and acetic acid and wild yeast. When you’re ready to bake, you’ll use your freshly fed starter to create a leaven, a larger sourdough starter made specifically for the bake. 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 sourdough bread, but bread flour, which contains a higher proportion of protein than all-purpose flour, will yield the best rise.
- Warm water. Yeasts thrive in warm environments. Heat encourages fermentation activity, while cold slows down fermentation. Using water around 80-100°F will encourage a steady rise.
- Salt. Salt is important not just to flavor your bread, 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 is also a pan.
- Proofing or Banneton baskets: Or bowls lined with clean cloth. Banneton baskets are made with cane and have ridges that support the dough; they’re designed to allow the bread to rise while giving loaves a consistent shape.
- Razor blade: You need a very sharp tool to be able to successfully score, or create a slit in the top of the bread for it to expand. A very sharp knife might do the trick, but be careful not to over-manipulate your bread when scoring. To score, cut a 2-3 inch slash in the center of the top of the bread.
- Dough scraper: This helps gently move your bread dough 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 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
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 to go.
- 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.
- Always use glass or ceramic bowls and jars 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 Time1 hr
Total Time24 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
- Make the leaven the night before (leaven is the term for when sourdough starter meets dough).
- In a large bowl, combine 35 grams freshly fed sourdough starter with 100 grams whole wheat flour, 100 grams all-purpose flour, and 200 grams 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 whole wheat flour, 200 grams all-purpose flour, 200 grams rye or spelt flour, and 750 grams warm water. Cover with a plate or plastic wrap and let rest overnight.
The next day:
- Add half of the leaven to soaked grains, stir to combine with a spoon or your hands, and let rest 20 minutes. Set aside the leftover leaven: This can become your new sourdough starter for the next time you want to bake.
- Combine 25 grams salt with 50 grams warm water and add to the dough and let rest 20 minutes.
- Turn the dough by using a wet hand to reach under the dough, pulling the bottom of the dough up and folding it up over itself. 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 while you do this.)
- Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and divide in two using a bench scraper. Cover with a clean towel and let rest 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. Rest 2 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.
- Pleace Dutch oven in oven and heat to 500°F for 15 minutes. Remove the hot Dutch oven from the oven and gently flip the dough into the dutch oven.
- Score the bread with a razor blade, cutting a 2-3 inch slit in the top of the bread. Put the lid on your Dutch oven, and return to the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 450°F and bake bread 20 minutes.
- Remove the lid of the Dutch oven and bake bread another 23-25 minutes, until the crust is brown. Cool loaf on a wire rack. Repeat steps 9-11 with the remaining dough.