Learning to bake Sourdough was a popular covid activity. For some it was a new experience working with bread and doughs and for others it was a return to the kitchen. There are lots of things to continue to learn and I find myself continually discovering things the more I bake. As I was talking about sourdough with my mom this week (yup, I like to talk about bread a lot), I realized that baking with sourdough comes down to understanding how time, temperature and moisture interact. All of your choices in how you use time affect how the dough and then the bread turns out. I’m not saying this to make it sound overwhelming, but instead to say awareness of time in your baking affects all of it.
One of the biggest difference from working with commercial yeast and natural yeast or sourdough is the time it takes to rise. The whole process of natural rising yeast happens over time. Years and years ago, all bread was made with the natural yeast that exists all around us. Some of the pioneers would mix up their bread, and haul it along as they walked. Then after a long slow rise throughout the day, they would then bake the bread over the fire in the evening. The commercial yeast production hurried that process up for bakers everywhere. I’ve read a whole book on yeast, but I assume most of you don’t want to take the time to do that so instead there is a great two part series here about the history of yeast. One of the biggest things to realize is how the time affects your working with the dough.
Sourdough and natural yeast are healthier for our guts of how the carbohydrates can start to break down even before you bake it. There is lots to learn about the science of all that. If that interests you, my favorite place for that information is the Sourdough school out of the UK. Slowing down the processes in the dough to let things help the flavours develop over the long rise in the fridge.
Knowing how use time to slow your rise allows you to adapt baking into your lifestyle. If your dough has risen and it ends up you have to leave or it’s night time and your tired, just put that dough into the fridge and slow down the rise. The next day, pull it back out and carry on. It is using the temperature (which I’ll share more about tomorrow) along with time to adjust the outcome.
Choosing to knead in a machine for 10 minutes or gently folding in every 30 minutes affects your outcome. As well as using time to fold the dough slightly with rests in between. In a way it’s letting the dough relax and rise and then reminding it how to keep together. This process with consistent timed folds helps the structure of the dough. Kneading the dough for a time (especially in a mixer) can be used to bring a tighter crumb. It is again the awareness of choosing for the outcome you want.
Even the being aware of how time affects the loaves and choosing for that reason: an ambient loaf (left to rise in the counter) or a retarded load (kept in the fridge at a cooler temperature for a slower longer rise.) If you are worried about gut health or tanginess of the bread, then you chose a longer rise. If you just want a sourdough loaf, then ambient loaves can work out great for you. When you learn to make the time work for you, it makes sourdough more possible. You’re life doesn’t have to revolve around sourdough to be a baker of it. You use the tools to make it work for you.
Sourdough seems so overwhelming when you first start for a lot of people. But it is understanding how it works together makes it adaptable into your life and it becomes realistic.