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    You are in: Home / Community Forums / Breads & Baking / Helpful Tips for Sourdough Baking
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    Helpful Tips for Sourdough Baking

    Go to page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7  Next Page >>
    Donna M.
    Thu Sep 08, 2005 12:03 pm
    Forum Host
    People ask me questions all the time about how to do stuff and why their dough behaves in a certain way. I have decided to start this thread to post helpful tips that can be referred to whenever a person needs to know more, but maybe I'm not around to answer questions. I will add to it as I think of more things and I have more time.


    1.Bread Machines and Sourdough
    When making sourdough doughs in the bread machine, I have found that they turn out much better if you don't let it knead the entire length of time on the cycle. If your dough ends up looking wet and slack, you have let it knead too long in the machine. Machine cycles vary but I have found that 20 minutes of machine kneading is plenty and any more than that will be detrimental to your dough.

    2. Autolyse Technique
    Use the autolyse technique for better dough structure and improved rise. Here's how: Combine all the wet ingredients, including the starter, but omit any fat. Next, add all of the flour but omit any sugar or salt. Mix into a shaggy mass, just until combined, but do not knead and do not worry about it coming together into a ball. Let the mixture sit for 20 to 30 minutes, covered. Now, add any fat, sugar, and the salt and finish mixing and kneading until your dough is smooth and satiny. You will find that the kneading time is dramatically shortened because the flour has had time to absorb the moisture and the dough comes together quite quickly.

    3. Retarding the Dough
    Your breads will have a much better flavor and texture if you retard the dough. After kneading, place the dough in the refrigerator overnight or up to 36 hours. This can be done either before or after shaping the dough into loaves. I prefer to do it before, as it takes up less refrigerator space. You can even put the dough into a plastic bag that has been sprayed with a tiny bit of cooking spray. Upon taking it out of the fridge, let it come to room temperature and then shape, rise and bake OR in the case of pre-shaped loaves, let them finish rising to desired size and bake. Retarding the dough will also enhance the sour flavor of your bread and the longer the retard, the sourer the flavor will be. If you retard longer than 36 hours the gluten can start to break down. I have retarded up to 48 hours with decent results, but have found the rise to be better with a little less.

    4. Stretch and Fold Technique:
    I take the dough and pat it into a large circle. If dough has been retarded in the fridge, cover it and allow it to come to room temp. Then I do a 'folding technique' that strengthens the dough. Here's how: Visually divide the circle of dough into three sections. Fold the left side of the dough over the center section, then fold the right side over the center section (it's kind of like folding a business letter). Then fold the top portion down over the middle, and lastly, fold the bottom up over the middle.

    As you are doing this folding, stretch the dough firmly but do not tear the dough. After each fold, pat the dough down with the palms of your hands. Once you have finished the folds you should notice a definite difference in the strength of the dough. It will be firmer. After the last fold, turn the blob of dough over so that the folds are on the bottom and keep it that way when you shape your loaf. Let the dough rest for 10 or 15 minutes after folding before you shape.

    5. Cinnamon is not a friend of yeast.
    Cinnamon is made from bark and it cuts the gluten strands in the dough, interfering with the rise. You can use it in the dough in controlled amounts, but as the quantity increases, the rise decreases. Usually a couple of tsp. is okay.

    6. Fresh garlic is also a yeast inhibitor.
    I'm not sure of the details, but use it sparingly in dough. Cooked (or roasted) garlic is fine--cooking eliminates whatever it is that affects the yeast.

    7.Converting to Sourdough
    The easiest way I have found to adapt a recipe without altering the ingredients too much is to take all of the liquid from the recipe, stir in 2 Tbsp. starter, add the same amount of flour as the liquid. Let this sit, covered, overnight (room temp.) Next day, continue by adding the rest of the ingredients, remembering that you already used the liquid and part of the flour. If your recipe calls for milk rather than water, use water but then stir in some dry milk powder after the overnight proofing is complete and then mix your dough.

    Last edited by Donna M. on Wed Jan 23, 2008 11:23 am, edited 2 times in total
    Sun Jan 28, 2007 3:44 pm Groupie
    Hi there Donna, Im relatively new to bread making, (I started because Im English and cant get used to American bread, apart from good sourdough) I am about to make my own starter and have seen many recipes for starters, some with flour, some without and some with potatoe. Can you help me get an idea in what to look for. Also how do they get that loveley crackley crust on Panera bread. Its so good
    Donna M.
    Sun Jan 28, 2007 11:07 pm
    Forum Host
    Hi C.C.,
    Glad to hear of your interest in sourdough. I have a good starter recipe posted-- Wild Yeast Sourdough Starter. It is pretty much foolproof. Give it a try if you like.

    As for the crispy crackly crust on Panera Bread, I have never eaten Panera Bread. To get a nice crispy crust you need to start your bread in a very hot oven (475 to 500) and use steam. I put a pan of hot water on the bottom shelf while preheating my oven and then I also spritz the walls of the oven with water every minute for the first 5 minutes of baking. I take the pan of water out after about 15 minutes of baking and I also rotate the loaves then for even browning.

    The crust will soften and become more chewy if you store the bread in plastic but it crisps up really nice again if you toast the slices or reheat the bread in the oven before serving.
    Mon Jan 29, 2007 4:35 pm Groupie
    Thanks for that, I will go now and immediatly start making a starter.
    cook a ramma momma
    Mon Feb 19, 2007 11:52 pm
    Experienced "Head Chef" Poster
    Just looking through and thought I'd add my $.02. I have a book of Portuguese recipes. There are several bread recipes and it has a suggestion that has worked well for me. You can get plain, unglazed bricks from your local masonry many will give you some for free as a "sample"). Put 3 or 4 of them in a shallow, METAL baking pan, like a jelly roll pan (glass will break). Place the pan on the lowest shelf. Preheat the bricks and oven for a full 20 min. to 500 degrees. Then, as you cook the bread, you pour ICE water over them every five minutes, closing the door quickly (I use an olive oil bottle that has one of those nice metal spouts.). The ice water creates more steam. I just keep the bricks in the cupboard with my other baking things. This is the closest we Americans can come in our homes to having and "olde world" brick and steam oven. I have had GREAT experiences using this technique. CARM
    La Gourmande
    Tue Jul 24, 2007 4:30 pm
    Newbie "Fry Cook" Poster
    Duonyte suggested I check out this thread because I had so many questions about making the "Sourdough Starter" recipe. Good news: I made it and it was great, first in a pizza crust (using your recipe), then in a loaf, and later into biscuits.

    Unfortunately, I really have no understanding of starter and sourdough (even after reading this thread) because I'm so new to it. Can I just stir it once a day, and add a cup milk and a cup flour to it every week or so to keep it alive, and only stir it daily without adding flour, to use it up? I've heard I should save at least a quarter cup for the next batch---even if I don't plan to bake for another several weeks. Will that small amount be fine if I just stir it once a day until I need it? And then how do I use it to start my next starter:by feeding it again with milk and flour?

    I know the answers are probably in recipes and other threads, but I can't make heads or tails of it. My husband and I are so pleased we've had one pizza crust success, that we're hardly complaining, although I sense that I'm missing out on even better baking. (And I like to impress him. ^_^) Any suggestions or thoughts??
    Donna M.
    Wed Jul 25, 2007 2:10 am
    Forum Host
    Hi LaGourmande,
    I don't know if I'm going to be of much help to you. I only work with wild yeast starters (not made with commercial yeast added). I find them to be much more resilient and better flavored. I never feed my starters anything but flour and water. They can survive for quite some time without feeding if kept in the fridge, especially if enough flour is added to make a very thick consistency. It is best to keep it refrigerated unless you are preparing to bake with it. When you want to use it you would need to take it out of the fridge, dump out most of it and then feed it and let it proof for 8 to 12 hours before using it in your recipe. You can feed it as much as you want but at the bare minimum, twice as much flour/water as you have old starter. More is better.

    If you think you are interested in trying a Wild Yeast Sourdough Starter click on the link for the recipe.
    Tue Aug 14, 2007 10:04 am
    Regular "Line Cook" Poster
    i also have a sourdough question for donna. i have a recipe that says use unproofed starter? i dont know anything about starters or sourdough. i am very new at this but what is the difference between proofed and unproofed? also it sounds like to keep starter you have to throw a lot away? is this so or can you just add?
    i know i'm so confused.
    Donna M.
    Tue Aug 14, 2007 12:40 pm
    Forum Host
    Proofing is feeding the starter and then letting it ferment for several hours--ideally overnight or 8 to 12 hours. This is where the flavor comes from, and it also gives the yeast spores time to multiply so you will get a good rise.

    Yes, the dumping out is necessary. When you understand why you do it, it doesn't seem like such an unnecessary waste. Think of it in terms of waste much like how our own bodies process food. The nutrients in the food are consumed and what is left over is mostly waste which our body eliminates on a regular basis.

    With sourdough, after the yeasties consume all the nutrients in the flour they grow and multiply very quickly. You are left with a lot of new hungry yeast babies and no nutrients to feed them. The dumping serves two purposes. It eliminates a lot of the hungry new yeast babies and it gets rid of the waste matter that no longer contains any life-supporting nutrients.

    If you were to only feed and never dump, over a period of time you would build up such a large colony of yeasties that the food you are feeding would not be nearly enough to keep them all healthy. They would slowly starve to death, but in the meantime you would have very poor results with your breads because they are so weak.

    There are many ways to use the starter you are removing if it bothers you to throw it away. You can add 1/2 to 1 cup to most any non-yeasted recipe, such as pancakes, quick breads, and cakes. I even have a dog biscuit recipe that I use it in.

    Your starter should be kept in the fridge between uses unless you bake every day. Feed it and wait until it looks quite bubbly and then pop it into the fridge. If you make it quite thick it will keep for several weeks without feeding. When you want to use it again, take it out, dump most of it and then feed and proof before you make a recipe.

    The recipe you mentioned that calls for unproofed starter should have a pre-ferment that is mixed up with the unproofed starter. This preferment is then left to proof and takes the place of proofing the starter. That is the only instance when you would use an unproofed starter.

    Hope I have answered some of your questions. I know sourdough can seem very complicated in the beginning. Once you learn the basics it becomes very simple. I think much of it is understanding WHY we need to do what we do.
    Wed Aug 15, 2007 9:42 am
    Regular "Line Cook" Poster
    thank you that was very helpful just one thing i didnt understand, you said the recipe would have a preferement to mix with the starter... uh what is a preferment? like i said i am really a beginner. the recipe i am wanting to make is Classic San Francisco Sourdough Bread so what would be the preferment in that? anyway i am hoping this will soon become more simple for me. i also want to make a starter not using boughten yeast but natural yeast.. any tricks i should know before i start? also how large should the starter container be in the fridge and should it be sealed or will it explode?

    so many questions... thanks for your help
    Donna M.
    Wed Aug 15, 2007 11:19 pm
    Forum Host
    I took a look at the recipe that you want to make and steps 1 & 2 would be your pre-ferment. A pre-ferment is just a mixture of flour, water and starter that is left usually 8 to 12 hours to ferment. You then add that to the rest of your ingredients when you mix up the dough. It gives the bread a more intense flavor.

    If you think you are interested in trying a Wild Yeast Sourdough Starter click on the link for the recipe. It is a very reliable way to make a wild yeast starter. It is important to use very fresh whole grain flour and non-chlorinated water.

    When the starter is in the fridge the container doesn't need to be huge. It won't grow a lot when it is chilled. I usually just use plastic containers with snap on lids that will pop off if too much gas builds up pressure. If the container has a screw top lid, don't screw it tight.

    You don't need to save a lot of starter when storing in the fridge. I only save about 1/4 cup. When you take it out to use it you will be feeding it and that will increase the quantity to use in your recipe. You can feed it however much it needs to build the quantity you need, plus a bit extra to save.
    Thu Aug 16, 2007 10:13 am
    Regular "Line Cook" Poster
    thank you very much for your help.. i think i am beginning to understand.. i will try my luck and see what happens..
    thanks again.
    Tue Sep 18, 2007 11:26 am
    Regular "Line Cook" Poster
    well i made my first sourdough bread!!! it tasted really good but was really dense and didnt rise a whole lot.. this could have been because i used about 90% whole wheat flour in it or maybe my starter is weak or it was too cold? any idea why it wont rise? i tried to make it as warm as possible.. could the whole wheat have had an effect? anway i now have my starter and a bit more of an idea of what i am doing so thanks to all who helped me.. i will get better (hopefully) as i go on..
    thanks again!
    Donna M.
    Tue Sep 18, 2007 12:27 pm
    Forum Host
    Whole wheat doesn't rise as high and fluffy as white flour doughs do. There are a few tricks to help get a better rise.

    1. You can add some wheat gluten--use 1 to 1 1/2 tsp. per cup of WW flour.

    2. Add 1/8 tsp. of ascorbic acid powder (crushed vitamin C tablet is the same thing).

    3. Retard your dough overnight in the fridge before baking. This can be done either before or after shaping the loaf.

    4. Use an autolyse when mixing dough--mix your flour and liquid together just until it looks like a shaggy mass, let this sit (covered) for about 1/2 hour and then add the rest of the ingredients and continue with the mixing and kneading. The autolyse allows the bran in the WW flour to soak up some moisture and become softer, which prevents it from cutting the gluten strands as much (this is why WW doughs do not rise as well).

    5. Be sure you are letting your dough rise long enough. Sourdoughs (wild yeast) take longer to rise than commercial yeast doughs. Newbies sometimes find it hard to wait for the long rising periods. It can take several hours.

    6. Learn to do 'dough folding' (more on this in the class I'm doing this Saturday--including pics). This also strengthens the gluten, which helps obtain a higher rise.
    Sun Sep 23, 2007 6:15 pm Groupie
    Hi Donna~~My sourdough starter has become very liquid-y. Do I need more flour and less water?
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