Beginner’s Guide To Sourdough Baking

assorted sourdough bread

New To Sourdough Baking? You’ve Come To The Right Place!

So you’ve been seeing photos of those fluffy tall sourdough bread on instagram and wanted to try making your own bread too? You’ve definitely come to the right place! Sourdough recipes seem to be the most popular ones on my blog. And I often receive emails and instagram DMs from you guys asking about how to make your own sourdough starters, how to get an ear etc. Therefore, I decided that it’s about time to create a post about everything you need to know as a beginner on sourdough baking, from essential tools, to ingredients and recipes.

Sourdough baking is like learning a new language. It might be difficult at first and you might fail a couple times. However, once you get the hang of it, you will be able to do it without thinking.

What You Need?

sourdough bread flatlay

Tools

Digital Scale

Unlike baking a cake or making cookies, sourdough baking is a science. Everything has to be accurate. For those who are not used to weighing ingredients while baking, I’m sorry but cup measurement doesn’t work well in sourdough baking.

Bench Scraper

If you are looking to achieve those wild, open crumb, you have to handle your dough with utmost care. You want to be as gentle as possible so that you won’t degas the air bubbles during the process. Hence, a good bench scraper is necessary, so that the dough won’t end up a mess sticking onto the counter top. I have been using the Campbell’s dough knife since 2018 and it has been working perfectly since then. This dough knife is coated with a specially developed p.t.f.e non-stick coating for superior release of wet dough and is fully approved by the FDA.

Banneton

Bannetons, aka proofing baskets, are very important when it comes to sourdough baking. During final proofing, the dough will relax and flatten. Placing the dough in a banneton allows the dough to hold its shape while it rises.

100% Semolina Sourdough

Razor Blade

Scoring is not just for aesthetic. The purpose of scoring is to control the direction in which the bread will expand during baking, we call it the “oven spring”. A good loaf of sourdough bread will have a drastic oven spring in the oven. Together with a proper scoring, the bread will expand upwards, giving it a significant tall look that everyone is striving for. Without a proper scoring, the bread will open in unexpected areas chaotically.

Parchment Paper

Parchment papers are useful for transferring the dough from the banneton to the dutch oven.

Dutch Oven

The perfect sourdough bread is crusty with a tender, creamy well-developed crumb. In order to achieve these, you need to able to retain steam and high heat in an enclosed environment. Unless you have a fancy steam oven, which most of you probably don’t. Then, dutch oven is your best friend for sourdough baking. Dutch oven are made of seasoned cast iron, hence providing a hot and closed environment while baking, trapping steam created inside the oven.

There are mainly two kinds of cast iron Dutch oven that you can buy, with or without enamel coating. I have used both of them for baking and they pretty much did the same job. However, I prefer using Dutch oven without enamel coating for sourdough baking. Heating the enamelled Dutch oven under such a high temperature for a long period of time may cause the coating to chip and dark spots to appear in the interior.

Over the past 5 years of sourdough baking, I have “collected” 3 different Dutch oven, Lodge combo cooker, Le Creuset Enamelled Cast Iron Dutch Oven and the Challenger Breadware and I am proud to say that I finally found the perfect one!

chocolate sourdough and sourdough english muffins

Challenger Breadware

The challenger breadware is a revolutionary Bread Pan designed specifically for bread baker that gives the right amount of heat and steam for the perfect loaf.

Designed By Bakers. For Bakers.

The shallow base and top handles of the pan allow me to load the dough onto the extremely hot pan easily without having to burn arms. True, you can bake good sourdough bread in other cast iron pans, such as the Lodge combo cooker and Le Creuset Enamelled Cast Iron Dutch Oven. However, there have been countless times when I accidentally burn my arms while loading and unloading the bread from the pan as those pans are not designed solely for the purpose of baking bread.

100% semolina sourdough

Moreover, the special shape of the pan allows it to create the optimal amount of steam while baking. The size of the challenger pan is also perfect for sourdough baking. There are plenty of room vertically for oven spring and horizontally for me to place a couple of ice cubes to create even more steam. You can easily fit two small loaf, one large loaf or even a couple of baguettes in this pan, which I am not able to do this with the other dutch ovens I owned.

At first sight, the price of the challenger pan may seem a bit too high when compared with the other Dutch ovens. Yet, given the convenience and practicality of this pan, I can say it totally worth the price.

100% semolina sourdough

A Notebook Or Journal

I know what you are thinking, why on earth do we need a notebook for bread baking? Trust me, you need it. Sourdough baking is not simple at all. You need basic knowledge to understand how sourdough works, and after you are more comfortable with it, sourdough bread can be made on a regular basis without too much time or effort. But first, you need to learn and understand it.

So if you really want to be good at sourdough baking, I highly recommend you to mark down every steps and some notes to yourself throughout the process. Every Single Time. This is the only way you can improve and master the science of sourdough baking. After baking for almost 6 years, I still use a journal.

Making Your Own Sourdough Starter

Making your sourdough starter is very simple, but you need to be patient and learn to understand your starter. It may take up to two weeks or more for the starter to become active enough for baking. Using an active sourdough starter is crucial to sourdough baking. If your starter is not active or strong enough, the dough may not be able rise properly. All you need is a clean glass jar, flour and water.

Sourdough Starter

Recipe by Angie @ The Floral VeganCourse: SourdoughDifficulty: Easy

Making your own sourdough starter is super easy. All you need is a clean jar, some flour and water.

Ingredients

  • 1 16 oz clean glass jar

  • 30g all-purpose flour

  • 30g whole wheat flour

  • 30g water

Directions

  • Before making your starter, weigh your jar (without cover) and mark the weight down.
  • Day 1: Mix together 15 g all-purpose flour + 15 g whole wheat flour + 30 g water = 60 g starter. Cover the lid loosely and leave it at room temperature for 24 hours.
  • Day 2: There should be air bubbles appearing on the surface, this means fermentation is currently taking place. Leave it at room temperature for 24 hours.
  • Day 3: Remove all but 30g of starter. Here is when the weight you marked down comes in handy. Simply remove starter until the weight becomes (weight of the jar + 30g). Then, add 15 g all-purpose flour + 15 g whole wheat flour + 30 g water. You now have 90g of starter.
  • Day 4-7: Repeat step 4 until your starter begins to double its size 6-12 hours after feeding.

Common Ingredients

sourdough sandwich bread

The basic ingredients of sourdough bread are flour, water and salt. Sounds simple right? As simple as the ingredients may look, the difficulties in sourdough baking is the way you handle the dough.

Flour Choice

50% kamut sourdough

Different brands and types of flour absorb different amounts of water. Hence, for beginners, I suggest you start with bread flour. After you get more comfortable with baking, you can start experimenting with whole grain flour. Ancient grains such as spelt and kamut flour are some of my favorite flour to use in my bread. I usually use 30% of whole grain flour, sometimes 40%. But you should note that the bread will have a less open crumb when using whole grain flour, compared with 100% bread flour.

Recipes

I have been baking more and more sourdough bread lately, especially since I got my challenger breadware. So, expect to see more and more sourdough recipes coming your way and stay tuned!

Here are some of my favorite sourdough recipes on my blog:

Learn From Other Bakers!

Throughout my sourdough journey, I found that asking questions and learning from other bakers are two things that helped me the most. There are a lot of great bakers on Instagram sharing their experiences, tips and tricks on sourdough baking. To save you some time, I compiled a list of useful resources for you to look into.

Resources

“Don’t be afraid to fail. Be afraid not to try.”

Michael Jordan

My Advice

As I said, sourdough baking is a science, and there are so many factors that could affect the result. You will probably fail miserably for your first few bakes. I have failed. A LOT. But that’s how you learn.

Don’t Follow The Clock. Observe Your Dough.

Take notes and adjust according to your real situation, such as room temperature and flour absorption. The person who wrote the recipe most probably doesn’t have the same room temperature as you are when you are making the bread. Sourdough starters are living cultures that can be easily affected by ambient temperature and moisture. So, if it’s a bit warm when you are baking, you may want to cut down the proofing time. If it’s cooler, proof your dough in the oven light on.

Patience, Persistence & Practice

Sourdough baking is fun. I’ll never forget the excitement when I got my first “ear”. And the time when I cut the bread open and realize I finally got the open crumb I’ve been looking for. It might take some time, but with patience, persistence and practice. YOU WILL GET THERE. And even though your bread looks bad or doesn’t have an open crumb, it will still be delicious with vegan butter, nut butter, avocado or jam.

If you are still reading, THANK YOU! Please let me know in the comments below if you have any questions! I will answer to each and everyone of your questions. 🙌🏻

 

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