The #1 thing I've learnt about sourdough success (so far)

26 July 2018
Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I've been working on my sourdough baking this year. The reason for this has been two fold. Firstly, I wanted to try out different recipes and experiment with just how many things I can make with sourdough. Secondly, I wanted to build my overall baking skills and figure out why some bakes are good and others aren't.

There has been a lot of baking going on around here, and a lot of bread eating - which is an enjoyable experience in my book (although it wasn't always that way). There has also been a lot of learning and I've discovered the number one reason why some of my previous sourdough baking attempts were not so stellar.


Under-proofing.

Basically, not enough time in bulk fermentation. For those of you who don't know, bulk fermentation is the first fermentation you let your dough go through before you even shape your loaf. And, I've now learnt it's very important not to rush this step.

My biggest trip up here was going more on time instead of on the look and feel of the dough. With a little awareness and observation (plus a few 'brick like' loaves) I've learnt to wait until the dough is ready. A couple of times in my early attempts this year of a new recipe I felt like my dough was over-proofed but it led to a great bake. So, I've learnt to let my dough 'be' a little more.

This is even more so the case with winter/cold weather baking. In the cold weather I'm leaving my dough for at least 18 hours and up to 24 hours, with no detrimental effects. In fact, I think my bread is looking better than ever.

A recent bake - proofed for 24hours.

So, if you've been baking sourdough bricks and not sure why I'd encourage you to do some experimenting with how long you leave your dough to proof before shaping. Especially if you've been baking yeast breads in the past and only needing a couple hours of proof time. You might find that your sourdough just needs a little (or a lot) more time.

The other tidbit I've learnt is that with a long bulk fermentation I really only need a quick proof after shaping - usually no more than 30 mins and in summer I was only needing about 15 mins. Over-proofing at this step for me leads to 'pancake' loaves. The gluten loses it's strength and pretty much collapses on itself. Still tasty but not quite looking the part.

I'm no expert of course but just wanted to share my little 'aha' moment in case it helps someone else out.

The crumb of the same 24 hour proofed loaf above.

Have you had any sourdough failures?
If so, do you lean towards bricks or pancakes?

If you get a chance to play around let me know how you go.




12 comments

  1. Laura, I have been putting my dough in a stryofoam lidded box with a waterbottle during winter. I might try leaving it at room temp to see what happens in winter as it is certainly not an issue in summer. Sally from Jembella Farm has also done a post on sourdough so it is interesting reading both your tips about what is working for you.

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    1. Do you use a warm watter bottle Chel to add some extra warmth? Sally and I must have been on the same wavelength last week!
      Cheers,
      Laura

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  2. That loaf looks sooo delicious . 😊

    Several months ago I tried making sourdough starter. One failure and I gave up. Actually what happened was that I totally forgot that I had in in the oven. Out of sight, out of mind. 😮

    May be one of these days I'll start another batch again.

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    Replies
    1. Keep going Nil! I thought I killed my first starter and then started again. Many of my first loaves were absolute bricks!! It's definitely one of those skills in the kitchen that takes works - well from my experience anyway.
      Cheers,
      Laura

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  3. Hi Laura, I'm enjoying playing with sourdough as well - began with making my starter at Easter this year and been baking weekly or fortnighty since then. Nothing inedible so far but it definitely is a learning process! I agree that going by the look and feel of the dough is better than assessing by the time it has been fermenting, and the more experience you have with different doughs (and probably your individual starter) the more you can go by look and feel rather than following someone else's recommendations.
    Like you I've left some loaves longer than I thought I should before baking (usually because I didn't want to stay up late to bake, so just left it overnight) and these loaves have turned out fine. Winter is making a huge difference here too, but I kind of knew to expect that from The Man's beer brewing experience. I'll be interested to see how the extreme summer heat changes things - I may need to ferment in the fridge for a slower ferment sometimes!
    I'm off to pick up 30kgs of flour from the wholesaler this morning :)
    Cheers
    Sally

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    Replies
    1. Yes, it's definitely a learning experience! I find in summer it helps to use the fridge to slow down the fermentation to fit the bread in with my baking schedule. I also do a lot more bulk baking to avoid having the oven on too regularly and when it's too hot I bake in the hooded BBQ.
      30kgs of flour should keep you out of trouble for a while!

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  4. Interesting! What a great post!

    My poor sour dough starter has been chilling, unloved, in the fridge for a long time and it's about time I revive the jar of goo and make something useful out of it.

    I've tended towards the 'brick' side of things, although quite edible and tasty. I usually give the dough roughly 3 hours for first proof, but I think I'll put my patience to good use and let it go overnight. :)

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    1. It's interesting Matt, I found many recipes had 3-4 hour proof times and I just went by that too - perhaps they had super starters or something!! I think you'll notice a big change with the longer proof time. Happy baking.
      Cheers,
      Laura

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  5. Hi Laura, it's so good to read more of your sourdough stories. How about that... I was writing a sourdough blog at the same time as you! I suspect I may have been under proofing, or over proofing, but since I turned the process about and proof in the fridge over night, I've finally had consistently good loaves. Until now the photos of your beautiful loaves made me green with envy ...lol... but now I'm happy. As Sally (above) says, it takes time to know our starter and the way the dough should feel. Cheers from Jembella Farm X

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    1. Hey Sally, I'm glad you are finding your sourdough baking groove. The fridge really does help to get consistency - I use it a lot in summer when the temps are a bit crazier. Canberra winter is nearly as cold as the fridge :)
      I'm off to check out your post - great minds think alike!
      Cheers,
      Laura

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  6. Yay, sourdough! I love seeing other people succeed at this. Your loaves have lots of oomph! My failures in the past was from an inactive starter. I started one in winter and it just didn't do much - tried another in summer, and I couldn't stop it growing.

    I can see why you might have under proved, if you did your rises in a colder climate. I've heard some of the rise times in the US, go from 8 to 12 hours during the day. In Queensland though, we're more prone to the dough over proving, in a short amount of time. Especially in summer. Which means you end up with a soft-ish loaf, shaped like a brick but not dense, like one - smelling very sour and very inedible, lol.

    Good tip on under proving.

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  7. Yes, winter is not so conducive to starter action. I generally feed mine and have to wait a good 12-24 hours for it to be ready depending how warm a spot I can find it. Baking in a cool climate is definitely teaching me different things.
    When I was baking in Adelaide the heat always made things interesting - I ended up doing my proving in the fridge overnight. So, even though it took a couple of days to make a loaf it was a lot more 'controlled' then the crazy results from the bench.
    Always learning...

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Thanks for taking the time to comment. It's so great to hear from people who stop by and to know I'm not just talking to myself!

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