How to Make Sourdough Bread: Some Tips and Tricks

If there is one thing I have succeeded in my life, it has been in bread baking. I have worked in various bakeries and I am actively thinking about opening my own bakery. I have shared various posts about how I use my bread in cooking, but I have never shared my bread baking process! So please see how I make sourdough bread, and for some tricks and tips, and how you can use them in your own baking journey if you want to begin to bake. But first, some bread-related terms and what they mean. This will help you tremendously on your baking journey.

Sourdough bread is about slowing down. There is no stock method you can use, you need to "feel" the dough literally and figuratively. I do not use any equipment other than my hands. They say that sourdough bread baker's hands are covered with their sourdough starters' yeasts and bacteria. If you start a new one or use someone else's, it will start to change and become like your own. A baker, in my eyes, is his/her starter, and their hands are so important.

But now, please enjoy the post, as there are various images to show you my process and what "key" things I look out for. It is winter here, so the process is very slow. Sourdough bread cannot be rushed, and the same information about "normal bread baking" does not apply to sourdough.

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Key Terms

I follow a very slow process, and this is in part due to what bakers call "Autolyze". This is basically a process in which you mix the flour and water, and leave the dough for an hour or up to 5-6 hours. In autolyze, the flour and water completely mix without you needing to knead or mix the dough in a machine. All the proteins form and according to some studies, the starches become more accessible to the bacteria and yeast in your started culture.

"Bulk Fermentation" is the time when the dough ferments before you divide it to "cold ferment" it. There are various ways in which you can divide the time when you bulk and when you cold ferment. I personally cold ferment the dough and then I divide the dough. This is due to the dough having a high percentage of water.

This leads to the last key term, "Baker's Percentages". Bakers seldom use recipes as such. We use percentages and hence there is no secrecy about different recipes. This also helps when you increase the amounts of bread you bake. Basically, everything in a bread "recipe" is written in percentages of the ratio to the flour. The total amount of flour is always 100%. Depending on (i) what you want to achieve, and (ii) your skill level, the water % is normally anything between 59% (Pizza dough) to 95% (Ciabatta). My sourdough normally contains 83-85% water. How you read the percentages is simple: take the weight of the flour, and multiply it with the percentage of the other ingredients.

Enough theory! On to the bread-making process. I will place the time as heading so you can see the time it takes to make the bread.

Recipe

As stated, the recipe is written in percentages. Here is my "Recipe":

The flour is 100%, but I divide the 100% into the following:
40% Whole wheat
40% Bread flour
10% Rye flour
10% Barley flour

The rest of the recipe:
83-85% Water
25% Starter
2.3% Salt

(As an example, if you have 1000 grams of flour, the recipe reads: 830 grams of water, 250 grams starter, and 23 grams salt.)

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Friday 7 PM

I feed my "mother" with a mixture of bread flour and wheat bran. I find that my mother is most "active" when I feed it with this. As noted in the heading, I fed my mother the Friday night at 7 PM.

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Saturday 9 AM

The next morning, the mother in my very dirty container has risen nicely.

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I use the spoon to see that it raised almost half, or it almost doubled.

I then proceed to mix the mother and more flour to create my actual starter for baking. I use 1 part mother, 2 parts flour, and 2 parts water. I find that this ratio works best. It takes roughly 6 hours to be ready.

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(Here is my 25% starter mix, containing new flour and water and the mother. This ferments for roughly six hours.)

Simultaneously, I mix the flour and water to autolyze for six hours. As noted, there are some studies indicating that this process helps your yeast and bacteria access the starches in the flour better.

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Saturday 3 PM

It has been roughly 6 hours. The starter is ready. Mix this into the dough that has also been "autolyzing" for 6 hours.

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(This is the starter after 6 hours.)

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(Mix the starter in, preferably with your hand.)

I wait around 30-45 minutes to add the salt. I think it has been disproven that salt kills yeast, but I have never really stopped waiting the 30 minutes before I add the salt.

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(Mix the salt into the dough. I add some extra water to help the salt dissolve.)

And now I follow the method of stretch and fold. There are various videos online that show you how you can do it. Basically, you take your hand and grab a piece of the dough, stretch it and fold it over itself. You do this for a couple of hours, spread with hour intervals until the dough has "risen" enough. And this is where personal experience comes in handy. Simply stating that it needs to "double in size" does not always work with sourdough. You will "feel" when the dough is airy. If you want to judge it by sight, it should not completely double in size, it should be about two-thirds of the way. It should ferment the last third in the fridge.

Saturday 4 PM "Bulk Ferment"

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Some of the visual keys are the bubbles in the dough.

Saturday 11 PM "Bulk Ferment" Ending

At roughly 11 pm I put the dough into the fridge. I did not divide it. Normally, and most sourdough recipes, will have you divide the individual loaves now. I cold ferment before I divide the loaves.

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Sunday 6 AM

At roughly 6 AM, I took the dough out of the fridge. It needs to sit at room temp for roughly an hour to an hour and a half.

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Sunday 7 AM Divide the Loaves

Now, I divide the loaves and shape them. There are various ways you can shape them. Every baker has their own way. Shaping helps your loaves to get structure. It also helps the loaves to bake in the shape you want them.

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Sunday 7:30 AM Put on the Oven

The oven and the cast iron pots take roughly an hour to warm up. This is also what the stage bakers call "proofing". The bread is ready to bake, but they have a last stage of resting. You can put them in the fridge again for a cold-proof and bake them only the next day. You will then have a 48 hour ferment then. I have done this, and the breads only get better!

In any case, now you will bake the breads with the lid closed for 20 minutes at the highest your oven can go. My oven will only go to 260 C. Uncover the loaves and bake them for a last 20 minutes at 180 C.

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Baking sourdough bread can be intimidating. My first loaves were disasters. It is in practicing that you get better. So please try this method, or ask me any questions in the comments! I will gladly help. There is so much information on Sourdough bread, it can sometimes be daunting to start. But you need to start, that is most important! And nothing beats the smell of freshly baked bread in the morning.

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