Sourdough Tips and Tricks
After you’ve baked with sourdough for some time you will learn all sorts of little tricks for creating different results. Here are just a few you might want to keep in mind.
To achieve a lighter bread with large holes you’ll want to use as little flour as possible in the mixing/kneading phases and leave it a bit sticky.
For a more sour sourdough you can manipulate the hydration level down to 75- or 50%. This will be quite stiff but it should knead into the flour and water of a bread dough.
If you’re interested in making fluffy sourdough pancakes without having to soak flour overnight, keep a separate stiffer sourdough starter, say 80% hydration. That will allow you to just mix in eggs, flavorings, etc. and not end up with a runny pancake batter.
To ensure an active sourdough starter look for a frothy bubbliness to your starter, a growth of the starter in its vessel (sometimes doubling in volume), and a slightly sour smell. If you are at all concerned with a lack of activity, just check to make sure it is in a warm enough environment (70° to 85°F) and feed it every 12 hours until you are sure your sourdough is active.
If you feel your starter is just a big sluggish, check these two all-important variables. First, is the water you are feeding it pure or does it contain chemicals like chlorine. If you must use chlorinated water, some say you can leave it out overnight (uncovered) to allow the chlorine to dissipate. Next, is the temperature you are keeping it at consistently between 70° and 85°F? If your location is prone to drafts or sudden temperature changes you might want to consider moving your sourdough.
Slashing loaves with a very sharp knife or razor blade isn’t just for show. When you place dough in a hot oven the yeasts work a little over time right before they go dormant due to the high temperatures. This produces something called oven spring, in which your bread rises a bit more in the oven. This is a good thing, in that it gives your bread a nice light texture. The only downside is that if you have a lean dough (i.e. no fat in the ingredients), you might end up with a misshapen loaf. Slashing the loaf in a desired pattern gives your dough a direction to spring so that you can control the end shape of the loaf.
To know if your finished loaf is really done, you have a couple of options. First there is the thump test in which you turn your hot loaf over and flick it with your finger. If it sounds hollow it is done. The other, more scientific and certain way to go is to check the internal temperature. If your loaf is between 190° and 210°F, then it is cooked through.