So you’ve decided to start baking sourdough bread – excellent! You’ll soon be baking some delicious bread using your own starter – which you can learn how to make using my free guide, downloadable here.
Before you dive in to your first recipe, read on for my top five tips to help you start successfully baking sourdough bread.
1. Plan ahead for your sourdough bread baking days
Sourdough recipes can seem long and complicated, written in a new language of levains, banneton proving baskets and the stretch and fold kneading method. Not to mention that some methods can extend over three days or more.
So take some time before you even think about refreshing your starter to plan out your baking. Keep the main activities of feeding your starter, making the dough and shaping the dough for the start or end of the day. Most steps in sourdough baking have an 8 – 12 hour window before the next thing you need to do. Start in the middle of the day and you risk having to next do something in the middle of the night (or, more realistically, not doing it and the dough or starter over proving).
So take a pen and paper and write out the key steps of your sourdough bread recipe, and the minimum time required between each step. Then put a time, for example 8am, against the first step and begin to count forward. Mark the time against each of the next steps so you know roughly when you should be doing each step.
2. Get the equipment you’ll need to bake sourdough bread
Don’t worry, it isn’t much. If you’re already baking bread, you’re likely to have what you need. Mixing bowls, a storage container for your starter, scales, a dough scraper if you can get hold of one.
You’ll also need something to rise your dough in. This is because sourdough bread dough is often more slack than yeasted doughs and so needs support once shaped. You can use a loaf tin for this or you can invest in proving baskets (bannetons) if you’d like to. However, you can also use a colander or bowl lined with a linen tea towel. Dust the tea towel heavily with flour before putting the dough in. Use a linen tea towel as it absorbs and wicks away the moisture from the dough, reducing the risk of the dough sticking to the tea towel. Turn the dough out onto a lined baking sheet once it has risen and is ready to bake.
3. Keep it simple when baking your first sourdough bread
You may be dreaming of slicing into a warm, crusty sourdough boule. The loaf is light, with many large and small holes evenly spread across each slice. You’ve even achieved the famous ear – the thin slice of dough that rises away from a cut along the length of the bread as the dough bakes.
These are all things that can be achieved when baking sourdough – and you will achieve them. Plus you’ll bake loaves with spelt and rye flour alongside wheat and add in a whole range of flavours.
But when you’re just starting out, keep it simple. Stick to one type of flour. Start with a simple recipe and don’t add in lots of extras such as new flavours, seeds etc at this stage. Focus on getting the basic steps of baking sourdough bread right first and you’ll have a good base to work from.
4. Be willing to experiment when baking sourdough bread
This might seem silly advice given you also just read that you should keep it simple when starting out. But even the most simple recipe will need adjusting for your kitchen. Your starter may take longer to become fully active than the time allowed in the recipe. Or your kitchen is warmer than that where the recipe was developed and your dough rises more quickly.
You’ll only learn these things if you experiment and keep a record of what you do each time you bake. You can then go back and adjust one thing at a time next time you bake. And you should continue the experiment even when you master your first recipe. Soon you’ll find what works best in your kitchen, not just in the text of the recipe.
5. Start with a good sourdough starter
Your starter is a mix of flour and water which has been left so that the natural yeasts contained in the flour multiply and begin to produce gas. This gas is what causes your dough to rise. Sourdough bread traditionally contains no other yeast or raising agents. So it’s important to get the starter rise or you’ll be baking a flat, dense bread.
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.