Successful sourdough bread tips + tricks
I have had a love/hate relationship with sourdough bread making for roughly 8 years now. With determination, I have tried different recipes and methods, with no consistent success. I would get frustrated and stop for a while and then get reinvigorated and want to bake bread for our family (especially when I can source organic NZ fresh stoneground flours). Sourdough bread is so wonderful as it is easier to digest from the wild yeasts.
Now I am sharing my secrets to the successful loaf that I have been making for the last few months. I have tweaked the recipe to work for me from stellaculinary.com (such a random find, but so grateful!) This recipe has given me renewed hope in sourdough bread making with consistent success. This sourdough bread recipe has a crispy shell, a beautiful soft crumb and is aesthetically pleasing too. The method below may seem like many steps but if you are in the kitchen in the afternoon getting dinner ready, then making the bread is something you can do along side this without much extra effort. Multitasking a wonderful skill.
280g warm water
400g - 100% hydrated sourdough starter
400g unbleached bakers flour (plain white, or spelt works fine here too)
100g wholewheat flour
**Sourdough starter is like a baby, it needs feeding and attention. If you have a friend that is already making sourdough, I am sure they will gladly share some with you. If not – there are many recipes online to get one started, but all you need is flour and water, the natural yeasts in the air create the starter. I don’t have any tips and tricks here, creating the sourdough starter is a good way to really get in tune and build a relationship with your starter and learn about its fluctuations, and what it needs, so play around with it. It is easy to make – it just takes time. The 100% hydrated sourdough starter means I have used a ratio of 1:1 of water/flour to feed it.
My first tip to success is make sure your sourdough starter is ready before you cook with it, it may look and smell ready but sometimes it isn’t. The best way to test this is to drop a teaspoon of the starter into some cold water and see if it floats, if it doesn’t -it truly isn’t ready, feed it and try again. I have learnt this the hard way – trust me, the float test really is a good way to ensure success.
Mix the sourdough starter with the warm water, then add the flour and stir it in. Let it sit for half an hour or so, so the flour can be fully absorbed by the water, this is called autolysing. After this time, mix in the salt. Make sure you save some starter and feed it again now so you don't have to start from scratch!
The next part I will show you in a video it is called the slap and fold method (and this for me I believe is the game changer to my success). I do this slap and fold for roughly 5 minutes. (excuse my tongue in the video - it is my concentration face!). Don't flour the surface that you will work on as you want the tension that the board will create when the dough sticks. At the beginning the bread will feel like it will rip apart easy, but by the end of the 5 minutes the bread will stretch easier and come together .
Once you have done this for 5 or so minutes, it is time to tuck the bread in as per video below, using the stretch and fold method. I do this three times - 10 minutes apart (leave on bench covered with a teatowel or plastic bag between each stretch and fold). By this time the dough has become a lot more workable and stretchy with the gluten more developed.
Once you have done that, you will need to create some tension on the dough by pulling the bread towards you on the bench (it will make sense in the video below.) Then you are ready for your first fermentation, pop the dough into a bowl with a plastic bag over top and a teatowel somewhere warm for at least 3 hours until you see it has noticeably risen.
After your first fermentation, scrape the dough out of the bowl with a spatula and do one final stretch and fold, as well as a tension roll on the bench. I then scrape the dough off the bench and place upside down into my lined banneton that has a bit of flour sprinkled on to prevent the dough sticking (if you don’t have a banneton, no worries, just use a bowl lined with a teatowel). Wrap it in a plastic bag and tea towel and pop in the fridge for at least 12 hours.
When you are ready to cook the bread, turn the oven to the hottest setting (around 250 degrees) and place your dutch oven or pot with lid that is oven proof. Heat for half an hour. Take bread out of the fridge, and the dutch oven out of the oven and tip the dough into the dutch oven (be careful - it is extremely hot!) Score your bread with a sharp knife to make an X so that your bread can expand while baking, place the lid on and pop back into the oven.
Keep oven at the highest heat for 20 minutes, then take lid off, turn oven down to 220 degrees and cook for a further 30 minutes. Your bread should be done at this point and you can get it out and put it on a cooling rack. When you tap the bottom it should sound hollow. Do not cut into your bread until it has cooled down, as the crumb is still cooking inside - this is an important step to success which I have learnt from my eagerness to slice the warm bread and get some butter on it!
There you have it! Your own bread made from flour and water - what a great feeling to provide this staple for your family with no preservatives, or funny numbers.
Once you have mastered this, I am sure you will want to explore the world of sourdough with different flours, seeds, nuts, fruit, different shapes, sourdough pizza bases, pancakes etc.