Friday, March 16, 2012

Ten Tips for Sourdough Success

Are you baking with sourdough but feel that there is still room for improvement? Here are ten tips for successful sourdough baking.

1. Make sure your starter has been fed at least once and became bubbly before using your starter to bake. Crackers and waffles are not as critical, but for bread baking, an active bubbly starter is vital. For best results, feed your starter twice, giving time to expand each time, before baking.

2. Patience, patience, patience! Sourdough does not work in a hurry. Give the wild yeast in your starter time to work. Time is also what softens your whole wheat, makes your bread softer, and may increase the nutritional value.

3. Find a schedule that works for you. I actually like the sourdough timetable. With commercial yeast, if bread needs to be shaped or baked, it needs attention immediately. Sourdough is more adaptable. I often mix up bread dough while I'm washing up the breakfast dishes. I can ignore the dough all morning while we are having school. At lunch time, I shape the dough into loaves. By late afternoon, I pop the bread in the oven for some fresh warm bread by the time my husband comes home. You will find a timetable that works for your schedule.

4. Always save some starter. This is obvious - but I can't tell you how many times I almost used up all my starter in a recipe. I've nursed it back to life with not much more than the starter clinging to the sides of the bowl. This is a good excuse to share a favorite starter with a friend - so I can always ask for some starter back if I lose it completely.

5. Sourdough likes it warm. Not hot, not cold, but just right. Have all your ingredients at room temperature before mixing. If your flour is in the freezer, let it warm up first.

6. If you have a Bosch mixture, all the sourdough bread recipes I have shared can be doubled. If you are just learning, I wouldn't recommend doubling, but once you are making bread successfully, baking a double batch and freezing the extra loaves is a blessing for a busy mom.

7. Sourdough grows best in a slightly wet dough. The dough should not be excessively sticky but during the long rising time, much of the excess moisture will be absorbed. Kneading a wet dough is easier with a machine. When hand kneading, I find that making my hands wet and using a dough scraper, I can avoid adding any extra flour.

8. For accurate measuring, stir your starter before measuring. Even better, weigh your ingredients.

9. For an enriched dough, you can add any of the optional ingredients from the potato bread recipe, into any of the other soft bread recipes. Mashed potatoes, potato water, egg, vital gluten, soy lecithin and vitamin C will all help bread in various ways. You can read about specific dough enhancers here. If you are not pleased with your sourdough bread, give one, or all of these dough enhancers a try.

10. I don't know why, but scoring the top of my sourdough bread seems to enhance the oven spring. I slash the top of the loaf immediately before sliding the loaves into the oven. If I forget, they don't seem to raise as high.

Any other sourdough baking tips that you'd like to share?


  1. Thanks for your hints and tips, just looking in to making sourdough bread, so will be most useful.

  2. This is a timely post as I'm getting a sourdough starter going again. Thanks. :0)

  3. I love the sourdough time table, too. It just becomes another part of life:)

  4. No tips here, but I do wish I'd gotten a starter from you! Maybe at Urban Evangelism, hmm?!-Wendy

  5. Regarding No. 4: Did you know that you can save your starter by drying it? Just spread thinly on baking paper. You can preserve it for months.
    - Rike

  6. Hello Gina, I have been following you since January and found your recipe for soft bread amazing. This is the one I'm staying with! It is now the end of June in Ontario Canada and I'm having some issues with my dough/bread/starter. My second last batch of dough went in the garbage, it was like mush. I made my dough again yesterday, it took about 9 hours to rise the first time after another 3 hours rising in the pans they had only risen about half way. I baked the bread anyway as it was time to get to bed, it turned out ok, just not fully risen. I read somewhere that summer is harder to bake sour dough bread than winter...which doesnt make any sense to me...have you had problems at all during summer. I appreciate any advice you can give. Thank you again, Sue

    1. Sue-
      It is no fun having a bread failure. I haven't had problems with sourdough in the summer. I'm not sure what may have happened. Is your starter still rising as normal when you feed it? If it can't double in a few hours, I would not make bread with it. I would work at just feeding it, discarding half the starter if necessary, until it starts doubling again. Try keeping it in a slightly cooler area (maybe in a cupboard) and see if that helps.


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