Here are some of the basics of sourdough that I’ve learned.
You can start your own starter. Expect it to take about a week. Then as long as it gets fed at least every few weeks you can just keep it in a jar in the fridge and it will be fine. My favourite place for advice is http://www.sourdoughhome.com
You can make all sorts of things from sourdough. Some things I’ve tried successfully that are normally made with yeast are normal white bread, pizza crust, sweet bread and buns, even cinnamon raisin bread and a version of pannettone!
You can also make all sorts of things with the starter that are not normally yeast doughs. Pancakes and waffles made with starter are the best! You can also use starter in muffins, flour tortillas, crackers and cookies. I’m still in the experimental stage with cookies and biscuits. Actually, I’m just generally in an experimental stage period. Sourdough is an adventure!
Anyway, here are some pointers for getting specific results from your dough:
If you want:
Higher rise/fluffier bread:
- Let it rise longer (this will give it a more sour flavour) and/or
- Let it rise at a warmer temperature and/or
- Use more starter
- Use more starter (the dough will be less sour) and/or
- Let it rise at a warmer temperature
Less sour flavour:
- Use more starter and/or
- Get the dough to rise faster.
More sour flavour:
- Use less starter. You will need to let it rise for longer.
- Lower rising temperature. Some people leave the dough in the fridge overnight.
- Less flour, so stickier dough
- Add a mashed potato or two. This has worked wonders for me!
- Moisture in the oven while baking. I’ve tried baking a loaf in a Dutch oven, but I can’t remember that it turned out particularly well. I’ll have to try it again. What I’ve done more often is boil a kettle while the oven is preheating, and then just before I put the loaves in I put a metal cake pan on the bottom rack with a cup or so of boiling water in it. The steam apparently makes the bread get a thicker crust.
Here is my usual approximate recipe for bread, which I adapt to the circumstances:
Time: around 10 hours, start to finish.
Yield: Approx. 4 medium loaves
- 2 Potatoes, boiled
- Water from the potatoes plus about 4 cups lukewarm water*
- About 3/4 cup live starter
- 1/3 cup oil (I use sunflower.)
- 1 Tbsp salt
- Flour. Maybe 7 or so cups? I use unbleached all purpose.
- Honey if I want sweet dough. About 2 Tbsp.
*The temperature of the dough should be lukewarm. So the temperature of the potatoes+the temperature of the water+the temperature of the starter should = lukewarm. (If the starter was in the fridge use warmer water, but if the potatoes are still hot use cooler water, etc.)
Boil two peeled and chopped potatoes, and mash. OR: Add all the water to the boiled potatoes and blend it thoroughly with a stick blender.
Put potatoes with all the water, starter, oil and salt (and honey, if using) into a bowl. Mix. I like to use the stick blender again because it’s fast and thorough and already needs to be washed.
I turn the oven on to warm for a few minutes at this time because I let the dough rise in there.
Add a few cups of flour and mix with a wooden spoon.
Add flour a cup or less at a time, mixing with the wooden spoon until it’s too hard to use. Then mix by hand. I can usually get away with just using one hand on the dough since it’s not a huge amount.
When it’s a stiffness I like (somewhere between sticky and dry/tough) I let it rest.
Now there are two options:
- Knead the dough after it has rested for a few minutes and cover it, put it in its rising spot and leave it alone.
- Cover the dough, put it in the rising spot for 45 minutes, do the stretch and fold, put it in the rising spot for 45 minutes again and then stretch and fold again, and then put it back to rise and leave it alone.
Either way, I time from the beginning of mixing for six hours and then shape the loaves.
[Don’t forget to feed the starter! If you accidentally used it all up, don’t worry. Put equal amounts (by volume) of water and flour into the container and let it sit. It will take longer, but as long as there was a wee bit of starter still in there it will survive! I’ve heard of a woman having a wooden bowl that she always used for bread, and she didn’t use any starter or yeast- the stuff that was in the pores of the bowl was enough!]
I usually make four or five smallish loaves in loaf pans. The pans are greased, but I don’t need to re-grease them unless I wash them.
Now I like to brush a bit of oil on top of the loaves and cover them with a cut open plastic bag. I let them rise in the slightly warm oven too.
After about three hours I take the loaves out, preheat the oven to 400 F and put them back in. Once they’re in I turn the temperature down to 365 or so. I figure the actual temperature will coast down. I time them for 30-35 minutes.
As soon as the bread comes out of the oven I take it out of the pans and set it on a rack to cool, covered with tea towels. Once it’s cool I put it in bags and whatever I’m not going to use within a day, I freeze.