10 Tips for Sourdough Beginners

Tips for getting better results while working with sourdough

  1. Dealing with sourdough bread when only 4 ingredients are used, make sure you are using the best flour you can get. Flour is everything! One brand of flour can handle wet dough, while the other can fail completely. Adjust your recipe to the flour you use.
  2. Sieve your flour! When the flour is oxygenated, it allows for better gluten development and the gluten can trap more air in the loaf. In the sifted loaf 10-15% more volume
  3. Don’t be greedy with add ins, add 20% from the weight of bread
  4. Happy starter better baking. Keeping your starter is not a difficult thing, observe how much time your starter rises and when it falls and build your own schedule for feeding it. Active bubble starter will definitely produce a better loaf
  5. You control the dough not around. It is important to understand that even the best recipe is only the direction and your ingredients, skills and environment can bring the best results
  6. No steam, bad oven spring and as a result flat loaf.
  7. If you have a regular home oven, heating it well is very important. I heat my oven around 1 hour before placing the loaf, but will try to keep it heated it even more
  8. Underproofed or overproofed loaf is a matter of time. Catching the dough at its best time to be baked is the skill which will come with some experience.
  9. Use a scale for achieving consistency
  10. If you have just started baking, don’t compare your loaves to any Instagram glorious loaves! Don’t torture yourself why your first loaf was too dense or too flat, it is a matter of experience and patience. Being patience and persistent will be rewarded sooner or later

Essential equipment for baking a sourdough loaf

    • A glass jar for keeping your starter
    • Scale
    • Lodge Combo Cooker is what I personally use. Deciding between a Dutch oven and an iron cast my choice fell on the second one because of the price and it works absolutely fine .

    • Bench knife for cutting and lifting dough

  • Bread basket for proofing is not a must but the whole process will be much easier if you have it
  • Bulk container with clear sides to observe the rise of dough
  • A big bowl for mixing dough
  • Lame for scoring your bread (I use simple razor for scoring. You can make your own lame a pack of razors and a coffee stirrer)

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Who is Afraid of Sourdough

My interest in sourdough bread started to grow with each fascinating picture I saw on Instagram and the more I was seeing all this beauty the more I wanted to try to work with sourdough. The tiniest problem was that I had no idea about sourdough and the idea of making my own starter was a bit scary. So, let me share my own experience the way it all worked for me, what moments were discouraging and how I managed to overcome them. So, if you decide to embark on sourdough journey you will need to create your own starter. Creating your own starter is not a hard task, it only requires patience and observation. What I personally was struggling with was the feeling if my starter was good, if I managed to get needed wild yeast so I was smelling it and checking the pictures and was trying to understand if It was good (Understanding your own starter at the beginning might be a challenge so it is good to have someone experienced who is willing to help). My starter is based on white flour and the recipe I followed was from the book Classic Sourdoughs by Ed Wood and Jean Wood. The tutorial is quite easy to follow: mix 1 cup of organic white flour with 1 cup of warm water from a bottle, in a glass jar (why from bottle? because tap water can be harmful for bacteria which will inhabit your culture) Stir the mixture well and leave it in a warm place if there are insects I cover my jar with a kitchen towel. In two/ three days first bubbles will appear which will be a sign of success. At this point the starter must be fed, and this is the formula I was following 1:1:1 which means the same amount of ingredients should be used (like 50 gr of starter, 50 gr of water and 50 gr of flour) This feeding must be performed at 12-to 24-hour intervals during several days until the starter is bubbly and active enough. So how can you understand if the starter is ready? On the 6th day the starter will become predictable after feeding it will rise within 6-8 hours and will fall, and when this cycle of rise and fall is established, the starter is bubbly and smells good, it is ready to be used.

One more trick which helps to understand if a starter is ready is throwing a small amount of it into water and if it floats that’s an indicator it is good to be used.
So now a bit more about baking my first loaf which was the funniest baking experience. So, the recipe was from the same book I used for creating my starter. The recipe was super simple which said: pour the starter into a bowl, add water and salt mix it will. Add flour and kneed it. Proof the dough overnight at 21C, let the dough rest for 30 mins, afterwards shape it and bake it. My first sourdough was so sticky that I could hardly handle it. It felt weird to deal with this type of dough. At that moment, I didn’t do enough reading and had no idea what I was doing. Luckily, I shaped that sticky dough and decided to bake it even though I had the feeling that I failed. To my biggest surprise the bread wasn’t bad at all. The crumb was soft and full of aroma. That first loaf marked my sourdough journey and that I won’t come back to using commercial yeast. This was my first loaf, a super weird one but edible and I was grateful for it!

After gaining my first experience I got encouraged to learn more about sourdough bread. My second book which has been a very valuable source of information -Chad Robertson Tartine Bread, where the pictures and detailed information help a lot understand the nature of creating bread. Using this book, I baked many tasty loaves but unfortunately majority of them were flat and the more I tried, the worse bread I got. I must confess I was quite annoyed because I couldn’t point the problem: if my hands were bad at shaping the loaf or my starter wasn’t active or the oven. (As I understand the problem was I didn’t heat my oven enough, and the lack of steam and some mistakes at shaping were all the reasons of my flat loaves) The situation got so much better when I decided to invest some money into Lodge Cast Iron Combo Cooker 3.2 Quart and that was the moment when better bread has started appearing.

Since that time my baking experience has been getting better, the loaves are prettier but still there is so so much work to do, so many things to experiment with and the most important things is gaining consistency during multiple baking.

Having 6 months of experience (what a newbie I am) I can say that sourdough is a bit of magic, all details matter there. Using four basic ingredients such as flour, water, salt and time can create a unity of flavor that eating a regular bread from a shop will be a dull experience. The whole process of baking your own bread is soul satisfying, it is the connection with the past where the things were made without a hurry where quality prevailed quantity and each product was uniquely shaped with the energy of artisan.

The second reason is that sourdough bread has so many health benefits like more minerals and vitamins easier to be digested, free of preservatives and flavor additives.

The third thing you have your own yeast (you save money!) and whenever you want to bake, it is waiting in the jar to help you make the best bread.

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Sourdough Chocolate Babka

My searches for “ideal” babka recipes got accelerated when I embarked on my sourdough journey. I baked it many times experimenting with some techniques which resulted in different types of crumbs. The base of my recipe was challah bread from the book “Classic Sourdoughs” by Ed Wood and Jean Wood. I experimented with the amount of sugar, butter, and flour mix and now I am ready to share the result. There are three variants of filling, choose the one which appeals you the most or create your own.

Ingredients
200  gr active starter
50 gr honey
150 gr warm milk
100 gr soft unsalted butter
100 gr brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
400 gr white flour
100 gr whole wheat flour
Filling I
8 -10 tbsp of nutella
20 gr pistachio helva
Filling II
100 gr soft butter
50 gr cocoa
50 gr brown sugar
50 gr walnuts
Filling III
Toblerone bar or any chocolate you like broken into pieces
1 beaten egg for brushing the bread

Preparation:
Before preparing the dough make sure that all of your ingredients are room temperature.
Pour milk and honey in a bowl and mix well. Add sugar, then stir in the eggs. Add the starter to the bowl and mix well. Start adding the flour a cup at a time until the dough is too stiff to mix by hand. Turn out onto a floured board and knead in the remaining flour until the dough is smooth and satiny. (the amount of flour might differ as the flours might absorb liquids differently, add flour gradually! and see what amount fits your dough better) Cover the bowl with a towel and leave it for two hours. Mix the butter with the salt and incorporate it into the dough one spoon at a time.
Proof the dough at room temperature (mine gets ready around 5 or 6 hours) until the dough doubles in size. Place the dough on the floured surface and with the help of hands pull it in the shape of rectangle. (You can divide the dough into two and get two small babkas or have one huge one)
Place the filling over the dough and roll it. Cut it into two pieces and twist them as in the picture. Place babkas in the bread tins Cover with a towel and leave it to rise (it takes around 2 hours when the temperature is more than 21C ). Brush with a beaten egg and sprinkle some brown sugar over it. Bake in the preheated oven 375F (190C) around 45 mins or until it is ready depends on your oven.

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