Even its nickname – the ‘king’ of breads – can make sourdough sound like a mythical creature. One that takes up all your time in the kitchen and which requires a complex and demanding feeding schedule.
And whilst it’s true that there are some different stages involved, a lot of what you may have heard about baking sourdough bread isn’t quite true.
Read on to find out five things about sourdough bread baking that are more myth than reality. And if you’d like to find out more about starting to bake your own sourdough bread, sign up for my free guide to making your own sourdough starter here.
1. It makes the bread sour
This was a common question I’d be asked when selling my sourdough breads on my local Farmers Market – ‘but doesn’t it taste really sour?’
Sourdough bread refers to any bread made using a starter of flour and water that has been left to ferment. It is that mixture, particularly if it has not had fresh flour added in some time, that can smell sour. This is where the term arises from, rather than from the taste of the bread.
That’s not to say that sourdough breads can’t be sour. Those made with a larger amount of the starter, or left to rise for a very long time, will have a more tangy flavour. But you can adjust how you make your sourdough loaves to suit your tastes – they certainly don’t need to be sour.
2. It’s complicated
There can be seemingly endless lists of new terms – ‘autolyse’, ‘starter refreshment’, plus recipes that read like books. It all adds up to make sourdough baking seem complicated and even a bit scary.
But keep in mind that this process is how all bread was baked before commercial yeast became widely available. Everyone baked bread this way – they had no choice! I say that not to make anyone feel bad but to tell you that anyone can master and bake sourdough bread at home once they know how to. Baking sourdough bread can be simple and very rewarding to boot.
3. You don’t need to discard anything
I’m not a fan of any recipe that calls for half the ingredients to be thrown away – particularly if you have to do it every day! You might not be either.
So it can seem wasteful when you start reading a sourdough starter recipe that requires you to throw out half of your mixture whenever you feed it.
Luckily, it also isn’t necessary to do. You can make, store, feed and use your sourdough starter without having to throw any of it away. And if you do have spare, there are plenty of other ways to use it up in cooking that don’t involve baking sourdough bread.
4. It takes a long time to make just one loaf
Ok, it’s true. The last loaf of sourdough bread I baked took over three days to prepare, rise and bake.
But stop! Please don’t run away. This is, after all, another myth I’m trying to de-bunk. It’s true that the process of baking sourdough can take place over several days. And that does also require a little forward planning.
But the actual time you spend in the kitchen will be minutes at a time. Perhaps a quick stop to feed your starter. Or to mix your dough. And then to shape it and leave it to rise. In between these times, you simply leave the dough to do its things, often for many hours or even overnight. You’re free to go off and get on with whatever else you need to be doing. It’s actually one of the reasons I love baking bread so much!
5. Your starter needs to be really old and established before you can bake great sourdough bread
You do need a starter that can produce lots of bubbles of gas when baking sourdough bread. It’s that gas that is going to rise your dough and help you bake great bread.
And it’s possible to make a starter, using just flour and water (with no fruit juice, raisins, potatos or anything more) that will do just that within a week.
So don’t worry if your starter hasn’t been passed down through the generations or given to you by a bread baker friend. Whilst it’s lovely to receive such a gift, it really isn’t necessary.
Want to make your own successful sourdough starter?
From what ingredients you’ll need to how to know if your starter is active enough, plus easy storage tips. Sign up for my free guide on how to make your own successful sourdough starter here.
Plus, sign up and join the mailing list to hear more about my live five-day sourdough starter challenge, starting early September. A live video every day demonstrating the key steps to making your own sourdough starter.