10 Tips for Working with a Traditional Sourdough Culture
Working with a traditional sourdough culture is a rewarding experience and with a few techniques, you can make delicious bread and other baked goods your whole family will enjoy! Remember that sourdoughis versatile: you can make baked goods ranging from not-the-least-bit sour to very sour;, it’s all about fermentation time. Sourdough can also be used to make many baked goods beyond bread. Options include cake, cookies, English muffins, pita bread, and more!
Measure ingredients using a scale rather than measuring cups whenever possible. Your measurements will be much more accurate and your results more consistent.
The dough should be slightly sticky when you start the kneading process. If it’s not sticky, there is too much flour and you will have dry bread. Use wet hands and a dough scraper to facilitate kneading. Add only very small amounts of flour at a time to facilitate kneading.
Knead your dough by hand for 15 to 20 minutes. You can split this process up into sections, kneading for 5 to 10 minutes at a time, taking a 10 to 20 minute break then return to kneading. Try not to use a mixer for the kneading process. It heats up the dough too much and home mixers don’t do a good job of activating the gluten in the flour effectively. If you do use a mixer, plan to knead the last five minutes or so by hand. You’ll know you’re done when you can take a small piece of dough and stretch it so that it gets thinner and thinner until you see light through it like a window pane. If it breaks before being stretched that thin, keep kneading.
After kneading, shape your loaf, cover it, and let it sit for at least 4 hours but up to 24 hours (depending on your specific sourdough starter and ambient temperature). The wild yeast present in sourdoughdoes not rise nearly as quickly as commercial yeast. The timing of this last step also influences the sour nature of the finished product. A 24-hour rise time will produce a much more sour bread. If using a proofing basket to shape your dough, use thick linen cloth and brown rice flour to avoid sticking.
If using a shorter rise period (4 to 12 hours), a second rise (proofing) period is an option but isn't required. If you desire a second rise period, simply punch down and reshape the dough following the first rise and allow the dough to rise again.
Bake the sourdough breadon a baking stone whenever possible. Heat the stone in the oven for up to an hour.
Use a thermometer to determine when the bread is finished baking (internal bread temperature of 195° to 210°F). The bread should sound hollow when thumped.
Let the bread cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing.
If you don’t have a 8- to 24-hour lead time to let the bread rise, you can add a pinch (just a pinch!) of instant yeast. (Make sure it’s the instant variety.) You will still get the complex flavor of the sourdoughbut a much faster rise time.