As we enter month five of quarantine, I’ve finally jumped on the trend: sourdough baking. I’ve always been interested in learning how to make sourdough bread because 1) carbs are life, 2) crusty loaves are the best, and 3) there’s nothing like that mild, but distinct sour flavor. But to be honest, whenever I look up a recipe, sourdough seemed super unapproachable. You need a “starter,” and when you factor in how long it takes for your fed starter to activate and dough to rise, the time commitment seemed ridiculous. Now that I’m a sourdough expert (haha just kidding, I’ve tried baking it twice, but I feel like I’ve read enough sourdough blogs that even if I retained 10% of the info, I should be some sort of savant) here are some tips and tricks I’d like to share.
First things first to make sourdough bread, you need a sourdough starter. Now, you can make your own. Or, you can crowdsource. I guarantee someone you know has a starter already established that they’re willing to share. I found mine on the Indy Midtown Swaparoo Facebook group I’m a part of and traded someone some of my kombucha SCOBY for some of their sourdough starter. Since I’m not planning on baking bread every day, I keep my starter in the fridge and feed it every 7-10 days.
Next, you need to feed your starter. What does that mean? When you “feed” your starter, you’re simply adding a measured ratio of water and flour to the existing starter to keep it active and healthy. There are a million resources you can find on sourdough starters and baking, which can be overwhelming. The one that made the most sense to me is from a site called The Perfect Loaf.
Finally, you need to find a recipe. I read a lot of varying recipes online. I figured out that the basics of sourdough bread include a recently fed, active and healthy starter, high-quality flour, the right temperature inside your house (to aid with the starter and dough rising), and patience.
Now, for the baking.
The first loaves I baked were dense bricks. After doing more reading and research, I think this is because of a few reasons:
- I first tried baking these when we were having an unusually cool spring day. It was kind of cold in my house, which meant it took forever for my starter to double in size. I ended up getting impatient and used a starter that wasn’t fully activated.
- Kroger didn’t have any bread flour, so my click list shopper filled my cart with regular, Kroger brand AP flour.
- As mentioned before, my house was fairly cool, so it took a really long time for my dough to rise. And, in that process, it developed a “skin” coating and dried out.
I felt defeated for sure, and it took me a few more weeks to muster up the energy to try sourdough baking again (read: adjusting to life with a newborn and toddler at home is HARD!). This time, I decided to follow the lead of my favorite YouTube personalities: Brad Leone and Claire Saffitz from Bon Appetit. I re-watched the “It’s Alive with Brad” episode where Brad and Claire make sourdough and followed their directions to a T. I would pause/rewind/watch/repeat the video until I found that someone on Reddit wrote down all their instructions, which was super helpful.
This time, my loaves turned out delicious! They didn’t look pretty, but boy did they taste good! In addition to following a tried and true recipe, I think these factors also helped contribute to my baking success:
- I fed my starter for two days before using it to make sure it was super activated.
- I did this on a hot AF summer day, so my starter and dough had no issues with rising.
- I used high-quality bread flour. Did you know you can order 5 lbs of bread flour from Amelia’s (a local bakery in Fletcher Place that specializes in sourdough loaves)? You order online and do curbside pick up. They have a ton of other items you can shop too—highly recommend!
Now that I (kind of) have the baking part down, my next attempt will be to perfect shaping the dough because that was a real struggle for me. My loaves were misshapen blobs of bread, but still tasted delicious! I definitely wouldn’t win star baker on GBBO’s Bread Week, but I am happy I didn’t give up on my newest hobby. Now, wish me luck for my next batch!
Are you a sourdough baker? Drop some tips and tricks in the comments below!