I never thought that I am good at making breads, until I challenged myself in lockdown. Cooking and baking are two of my favourite things and during these lockdown days in Mumbai, I cling more to my passion as they help me to stay active and positive throughout the day. Baking bread was never in my list, particularly after two very bad previous experiences, which, I admit, were half-hearted attempts.
Lately, I have been awed by all those beautiful SOURDOUGH BREAD posts on Instagram. I started researching on Sourdough bread… more so as I wanted to bake bread but didn’t have any yeast at home at that time. Since almost all grocery stores here in Mumbai ran out of yeast during that particular period of lockdown, it made more sense to adopt a bread recipe that doesn’t use commercial yeast (instant yeast or active dry yeast). So, the answer was Sourdough bread, in which I learnt that you make your “Sourdough Starter” or homemade wild yeast at home using just two commonly available ingredients: water and flour. That intrigued me to learn more about Sourdough Starter and Sourdough Bread using commonly available flours at home (all-purpose flour and whole-wheat flour).
As so many readers requested me to post my Sourdough Bread recipe, So I thought I will write a full blogpost on the same. It is a long post: so, grab a cup of coffee and read between the lines. Making Sourdough Bread is the ultimate stress-buster if you master the technique well. This is one recipe in which you cannot just blindly follow the recipe and bake a Sourdough: you have to use your intuition and timing in the cleverest way possible.
HOW TO MAKE SOURDOUGH STARTER
Yes, you can easily make yeast at home. Wild yeast is present in your flour itself! The magic of wild yeast brings joy to every Sourdough baker. You might totally stop buying store-bought expensive yeast. There are many websites that run a huge amount of information about sourdough starters itself. But let me put it in the easiest way… you just need to “feed” your starter twice a day at the same time. For example, I feed the starter at 9 am and 9 pm every day. When I am not baking every day, I just keep the starter in the fridge… it can stay there for many months… just that when you want to bake, you take it out and thaw for several hours at room temperature and feed it twice a day and let it almost triple its volume. You can then use the Sourdough starter again in your recipes.
Since I have been baking a lot with Sourdough starters, I don’t put it in the fridge. I always keep the “active Sourdough starter” at room temperature. It is a breeze to make the sourdough bread starter if you live in warm countries like India. Just make sure the flours that you are using should be unbleached and organic, for best results. I used Pillsbury and Ashirwad Atta (this is not a sponsored post) and both of these whole-wheat flours passed the test of being able to yield wild yeast! You need to take a clean, spacious glass jar with a non-metallic lid or a cloth cover.
HOW TO FEED YOUR SOURDOUGH STARTER
We will use only whole-wheat flour and water initially and later, we will change the whole-wheat flour into refined or all-purpose flour. This is how I have done it. Although many bakers all over the world also use dark rye flour for that “beasty” yeast activity in the starter, but it is relatively unavailable in India, except the speciality Gourmet stores and websites. So, leave it out if you wish.
Day 1 (9 am): Mix 1 tbsp whole wheat flour (Atta) with 2 tbsp filtered drinking water and put this into the jar, cover and keep undisturbed at a place which is neither too sunny, nor too dark.
Day 1 (9 pm): Add 2 tbsp whole wheat flour and 4 tbsp filtered drinking water to 1 tbsp of the 9 am mixture and mix well.
Day 2 (9 am): With just 1 tbsp of the Day 1 starter, add 2 tbsp whole wheat flour and 4 tbsp filtered drinking water. So, as you observe, we are maintaining 1: 2: 4 ratio initially.
On Day 2 (9 pm): Maintain the ratio of 1: 2: 4 for Starter: Flour: Water. You will not see any activity yet, but not to worry.
Day 3 to Day 6: Continue feeding two times a day with the same ratio of 1: 2: 4. By Day 6, you should see frothing/bubbles (after 8–10 hours of feeding), the smell should be a bit acidic and there shouldn’t be any mould formation or fuzzy growth inside. It is a good sign!
On Day 7: Maintain the same ratio at both times of the day, but change the flour into all-purpose flour from now on (good-quality).
Day 9 (9 am): The starter should be ready by now: atleast doubling in every four hours. When the starter triples in volume in three or four hours, then it is ready for baking! Your Sourdough Starter is ready.
[Note: Always make sure that you don’t utilize the entire starter while baking. Always keep 20 g starter handy. The older the starter, the better it is! In foreign countries, these starters are passed down from one generation to the other. But do make sure that there is no mould formation or change in colour in your starter, in which case the starter is unfit for baking.]
DO I THROW THE SOURDOUGH DISCARD?
We often wonder that what happens to the rest of the Sourdough starter, as we use only a part of it for the next feed. No, we don’t throw it. I make a good number of dishes with it: I love adding this starter discard to my pakora batter to give my fritters a different dimension in terms of flavour. Another family favourite is Sourdough Pancakes: just dilute the starter discard with water and add salt, chopped green chillies, chopped onions, chopped tomatoes and dry herb powder. Whisk well and male pancakes out of them! These taste somewhat like Uthappam, with that distinct fermented flavour.
CHOICE OF FLOURS
Whole wheat flour adds a whole new dimension to sourdough bread, apart from making the bread nutritious. But adding whole-wheat flour also makes the Sourdough darker, coarser and dense as the whole-wheat flour (unlike AP flour) contains bran and the germ. The bran and germ provide some amount of hindrance to the gluten strands. “Open crumb” is very difficult to achieve with whole wheat flour and hence, it will give you a dense Sourdough. So, a 50% Whole Wheat + 50 % AP flour/Bread Flour is a very good combination, if you want to bake a Sourdough rich in whole-wheat flour. I will reveal my combination of flours in sometime. Read on…
A higher protein flour is ideal for making Sourdough bread. This kind of flour is responsible to give the Sourdough a chewy crumb and a good ovenspring/rise. Bread flour has a high amount of protein (12–14%) in it, so it gives the dough the required strength. King Arthur’s organic bread flour is a reliable brand that you can order online (this post is not a sponsored post).
Many bakers love to add rye flour to the AP flour or bread flour, along with whole-wheat flour, Einkorn flour, Khorasan flour, etc. for a depth of flavour in the Sourdough bread. But for a beginner in Sourdough baking, I think, using AP flour is an ideal start. If you get King Arthur’s AP flour, then nothing like it. Otherwise, use any AP flour. I prefer adding little Atta (whole-wheat flour) for some nice gluten development and flavour. I didn’t have access to Bread Flour yet, but now two packs of Bread Flour came in yesterday: so next time, I will use a mix of Bread Flour and Whole-Wheat for my Sourdough 5.
JUST A FEW HOURS BEFORE MAKING THE SOURDOUGH, FEED THE STARTER
Feed the sourdough starter by taking 3 tbsp starter, 6 tbsp AP flour (all-purpose flour) and 6 tbsp water. Let it rest in a warm place until it “more than” doubles in size and is bubbly. Usually it takes around 3 to 5 hours, depending upon temperature, the quality of flour, etc. Don’t wait for the Sourdough Starter to triple in size, because that sometimes would give you a flat sourdough as the starter would have lost most of its strength. So, I use the starter only when it has more than doubled, but not tripled, in volume and there is still a “dome” shape on the surface of the sourdough starter, rather than a deflated shape.
A fun way to tell if your sourdough starter mixture is ready is by doing the “Floating Test”. Just scoop out a small amount of your starter (from one corner of the jar, using a spoon) and drop it into a glass of water. If it floats, it’s ready! Make sure you don’t deflate the small amount of starter picked up for the Float Test, otherwise it probably won’t float. If it floats, then go ahead with the recipe. If it doesn’t float, don’t bother to bake and make the sourdough starter once again.
Now that your Sourdough starter is ready, you are all set to bake your first Sourdough bread! By the way, this bread is my fourth Sourdough Bread and I am happy to share that it is very soft and spongy from inside and the crust is beautiful. The bread has a complex flavour arising from the flours and “retarded fermentation,” a simple concept and a trick to produce more flavourful Sourdough breads. Although I still don’t have that much of open crumb and ear: the two characteristic features of an ideal Sourdough, still I am very happy with this Sourdough bread because it is simply superb in texture and flavour, considering the fact that I haven’t used Bread Flour and Rye Flour at all in my recipe. Yes, it is still possible to bake that Sourdough using commonly available ingredients!
BAKER’S PERCENTAGE AND THE RECIPE
This is the Baker’s Percentage that I followed for any Sourdough:
Percentage of any ingredient = (Total weight of the ingredient x 100) / Total weight of flour
Here’s my recipe:
- All-purpose flour/Refined flour: 250 g
- Whole-wheat flour: 50 g
- Water: 210 g
- Salt: 6 g
- Levain (starter): 60 g
[70% hydration, 2% Salt, 20% Levain, Autolyse: 2 h, 6 Stretch and Fold, Bulk fermentation: 6 h. Fridged for 14 hours. Baked the dough after scoring at resting at room temperature for 20 min. Baking: 30 min covered at 220C and then 30 min uncovered at the same temperature.]
But do read the explanation here, as it is important to understand the whole sourdough process carefully.
MAKING THE DOUGH OF SOURDOUGH BREAD
- First, we measure out flour and water (according to the recipe above) and do the process of Autolyze, in which the two ingredients are lightly mixed and kept covered for 2 hours at room temperature. This step is of immense importance, as it helps to build gluten in the dough, with no extra work! Also, the dough is much easier to handle and the texture of the dough improves when we autolyze.
- Add the measured amount of starter (also called Levain) to the mixture of flour and water and pinch it/knead vigorously for 5 min. The mixture will feel very sticky and sloppy in this initial stage, but as we keep stretching and resting the dough later, the texture will see quite a lot of change.
- Now we will start with the stretch and fold process to strengthen the dough by aligning and stretching the gluten strands. This also eliminates “hot spots” in the dough by making the dough temperature and composition uniform.
- So, after 10 min, add the salt and stretch the dough from one corner so that it doesn’t rip, yet gets stretched to the maximum. Fold in the stretched portion and continue from all sides for a few times. This is your first stretch and fold. Keep the dough covered throughout whenever not working with it.
- After 15 min, do the second set of stretch and fold. Wet your fingers with water if the dough feels too sticky to handle, but make sure that you don’t incorporate additional water in the dough.
- After 15 min, do the third stretch and fold (S&F).
- After 30 min, do the fourth S&F. By now, the dough should feel elastic and the texture should be much easier and smooth to handle. It is okay if the dough is soft and still wet.
- In the next 1 hour, do two sets of S&F, with 30-min gap between them. Now, leave the dough to bulk ferment on the kitchen counter by covering it. The dough should double in size. But do not overprove. An overproofed Sourdough will make the gluten structures weak and you will end up getting a flat kind of Sourdough bread at the end.
- After the dough doubles in size, use a scraper to gently pull out the aerated dough on a lightly floured clean kitchen counter, making sure that it doesn’t get deflated in the process. Put it upside down, flatten a bit and fold the edges into the middle over and over (like envelope fold) until you get a nice ball of dough. Using the scraper, turn it into a smooth ball, stretching the outer surface. Cover and let it sit there for 30 min.
- After 30 min, turn the flattened pancake-like dough into a ball, making sure that the air inside is not deflated.
- It’s time for your last proofing of Sourdough. If you don’t have a banneton (traditional proofing basket), you can lay a towel inside a basket or large bowl and dust it with rice flour. Transfer your dough to this basket so that the seam is facing upwards. Dust the top of the dough as well. Let it stay in the fridge overnight: a process called retard that Sourdough bakers insist on. The process of retard slows down yeast activity inside the dough, so that certain by-products are formed. These by-products in the dough are responsible to impart a complex flavour to the dough, which enhances the bread to the next level.
The next morning, take out the dough from the fridge and slowly put it upside down on a baking paper, gently floured. It should be out for 30 min before it goes into the oven. Score the dough with a sharp blade held at 40 degrees to the surface of the dough.
Scoring a Sourdough is an art in itself. There are umpteen number of creative ways to score a dough. Scoring is done so that the dough can expand in the oven and the way you score controls the direction on the ovenspring. In the first 10 minutes, the dough faces a huge amount of heat and rises rapidly, releasing a good amount of moisture. That is why we should use a Dutch oven or any deep-bottomed vessel with a fitting lid, so that the moisture gets entrapped within and steam is generated, which will help the Sourdough to rise and ovenspring. Scoring creates a weak point in the dough, so that the dough bursts through that place. Without scoring, the dough will explode from any random place, giving the Sourdough an ugly shape. The angle of your blade gives varied results too!
BAKING YOUR SOURDOUGH BREAD
You need a Dutch oven or a big, heavy pot with lid. I use my Biryani-making pot for this (haha, yes!). It’s important to note that the bread should only get baked in a spacious container with a tight lid, so that the steam formed inside doesn’t escape. It is this steam which will give the Sourdough a good ovenspring, a crunchy crust and an airy interior.
Preheat your Dutch oven/baking pot at 500F for 40 min, until is very hot.
Carefully, transfer the scored sourdough into the pot along with the baking paper underneath. Spray water on the dough, so that some more steam generates while the dough is getting baked. Quickly cover the pot/Dutch oven and transfer this to the heated oven. I prefer using a water bath for extra steam generation and for non-blackening of the base of the Sourdough bread. Bake at 440F (220C) for 30 min, covered.
After 30 min, remove the lid and bake for 30 min more to get a well-browned crust.
HOW TO KNOW THAT THE SOURDOUGH BREAD IS READY
When you take out the Sourdough bread, it should sound hollow when tapped on. Since you are using AP flour and not bread flour for this recipe, you may not get a raised “ear” but don’t worry, because the bread will still taste superb!
By the way, never be in a hurry to cut open a Sourdough bread after the baking is done. Let it rest for atleast 6 hours to get an ideal crumb and flavour. Otherwise, the flavour will not develop and you might end up eating a gooey/wet slice. This wait is not easy, though. All the best!
And yes, before you begin your own Sourdough journey, do get yourself a razor-sharp blade (for scoring the dough) as well as a sharp bread knife!
Finally, Sourdough Bread baking just needs experience: there can be moments of frustration, but you will achieve it finally. That’s what I learnt while researching on it. Luckily, this was just my fourth Sourdough and I got very good results from my second sourdough trial itself. So, go for it! May your first Sourdough and all the Sourdoughs thereafter be as gorgeous as you have dreamt them to be!
Do let me know if you liked this post. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or even better, do give me a shoutout on Facebook or Instagram (@purabinaha).