The top two questions from people who are new to this wonderfully addictive activity are:
- What is Sourdough?
- Why sourdough?
Here we try to answer some of these questions.
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There are so many reasons, but in a nutshell:
• It’s healthier:
- Bread made with sourdough has a better digestibility than bread made with just yeast. The gluten is made more digestible and less likely to cause food intolerances
- Sourdough bread has a low glycemic index, blood sugar levels are not heightened by just one type of sugar and therefore delivers continuously energy over a longer period of time. Better for diabetics, but remember that whilst it may be better than other types of bread, sourdough is still carbohydrate-heavy and does raise glucose levels.
- Sourdough is also a prebiotic, which helps to support the gut micobiome.
- No additives which are often to blame for some people’s wheat intolerances.
• It taste great! Thanks to the lactic and acetic acids that ferment the dough and provide its characteristic tang, the flavour is vastly superior.
• Most people find it an enjoyable, strangely satisfying and addictive pastime. There’s nothing like being greeted by a crusty loaf when you open the oven door – it is an object of craft and beauty.
Natural yeast breaks down harmful enzymes in grains, maximizes the nutritional availability of natural vitamins, minerals, and fibre in wheat, converts wheat into an easily digestible food which will not spike your blood sugar level.
The action of yeasts and bacteria also create a more complex flavour than using commercial yeast.
Regular bread is made commercial yeast that reacts with gluten making the dough rise. Sourdough bread, on the other hand, is made with a “starter”. This starter is made from a combination of wild yeast and bacteria growing inside a paste made of flour and water.
Natural yeast is both pre-biotic and pro-biotic, encouraging important good bacteria in the body. It discourages weight gain, and turns the phytic acid found naturally in wheat into a cancer-fighting antioxidant.
Some are, some aren’t. Some bread sold as “sourdough” is not, as we define it here, truly sourdough. You need to check the ingredients. If the ingredient list includes “yeast” as an ingredient, then it is not true sourdough. There are, of course, many local artisan bakers who do make true sourdough (but, again, check their ingredients).
When a recipe is stated in baker’s percentages, the percentages stated do not add up to 100%, This is because the percentages represent each ingredient’s weight relative to the flour in the recipe, not relative to the total weight. In other words, flour is 1, or 100%, and everything else is proportionate to the flour, i.e., 1 or 100%. If there is less of an ingredient than there is of flour, then the baker’s percentage for that ingredient is less than 1 (or 100%). Similarly, if there is more than the flour, the baker’s percentage is greater than 1 (or 100%).
Thus, for example, if your recipe calls for 300 grams of flour and 240 grams of water, the the baker’s percent is computed by putting the flour weight in the denominator and the water weight in the numerator, like this: 240/200 = 0.8, or 80%. If we compute the baker’s percentage for the flour, then it is: 300/300 = 1, or 100%. This is why flour is always 100%.
As a side note, when sourdough bread bakers talk about their dough being x% hydrated, they are referring to the baker’s percentage of water. In the example above, the dough is 80% hydrated. If the recipe called for 200 grams of water, then it would be 200/300 – 0.67, or 67%, hydrated.
There are three main advantages for using baker’s percentages. First, it makes it easy to adjust recipes to meet your needs. Say, for example, you discover you have 437 grams of flour and you decide you want to use it all to make bread. If your recipe calls for 75% water, then it’s easy to calculate that you need 437 X .75, or about 328 grams of water. This is much easier to calculate adjustments in cups and tablespoons. If a recipe calls for two cups of flour and a teaspoon of salt and you only have 1 ¾ cups of flour, how much salt do you need? If you know the amount of salt relative to flour, it’s easy to compute.
The second advantage is that you use a lot fewer utensils. When I mix my dough, I put the bowl from my stand mixer on my scales and add the ingredients right to the bowl. I have no need for measuring cups or measuring spoons. You can pour the flour from the bag, the water from a pitcher of any kind, and the salt from the box. Sometimes, I use a spoon to scoop out the starter.
A critical part of sourdough bread baking is allowing the dough to “proof” or rise. This is when the wild yeast and the lactobacillus feed off each other to form the gas (carbon dioxide) bubbles in the dough. If you let it proof too long, then the yeast has consumed all the enzymes it needs to produce carbon dioxide and the bubbles will dissipate. This is overproofing.
Questions about Starters
You can often buy starters from local bakeries, and many are available online. There are schools of thought that say it makes no difference what you buy, it will eventually change and adapt to your own local conditions. Personally I prefer to make my own anyway, you can choose the flour you prefer, and other variables like whether you use water or yeast water etc. Here is the process to get you started.
Starter is a symbiotic ecosystem in which wild yeast and lactobacillus interact to create gases. These gases create bubbles, which make the starter float in water. If the starter does not float, there is not enough gas in your starter and it is not ready to use. It either has not had time to fully mature since its last feeding or it has passed its peak and needs to be fed.
The easiest way is to simply drop a dollop in water and see if it floats. Experienced sourdough bread bakers know their starter and can tell by the way it looks and smells.
Questions about Ingredients
It partly depends on what method you are using, but generally I put the extras in at the same time I put salt in.
Professional bakers tend to use scales to weigh their ingredients rather than volume measures such as cups and tablespoons. There are two reasons for this: First, it is more accurate. A cup of flour, for example, may vary in the amount of flour that is actually in the cup depending on how firmly it’s packed. If weighed, it’s the same amount no matter how it’s packed. A teaspoon of course ground salt will weigh less than a teaspoon of finely ground salt. Again, if it’s weighed, you know how much salt you are adding.
The second reason for weighing is that it allows you to use baker’s percentages. Baker’s percentages allow you to more easily adapt recipes to different sized batches.