Sourdough: one of the most popular and delicious of breads! For bakers: an art form. True, it’s one of the simplest formulas—pretty much four and water. However, the baker needs to masterfully control the ingredients and process to end up with a consistent, signature flavored bread.
The chemistry of sourdough
Inside sourdough, microorganisms feed on the flour to produce alcohol and acids. The acids are responsible for the “sour.” The alcohol and other fermentative by-products produce distinctive flavors.
The fermentation time varies from 6 to 24 hours. Too long, and the dough becomes slack. Too short, and you miss out on flavor and taste. The fermentation process is where you can really experiment with flavors to build a rich, unique taste.
If you’re looking for an easier or faster way to make sourdough, there are ready-to-use products:
- Liquid form: Made with either a cooling process, that keeps the micro-organisms alive but dormant, or a heating process that has a longer shelf life.
- Powdered Form: Made by either warm air drying, creating subtle and complex flavor notes, or by contact drying that enhances caramelization and toasted notes.
Sourdough starter formula
1. ½ cup flour. Typically bread flour or all-purpose unbleached flour
2. ½ cup warm water. It is important to have filtered water so that the chlorine found in much of the tap water will not kill yeast.
• Mix together flour and warm water gently, in a container that is at least twice the size as the initial mixture.
• Cover the mixture with a cloth, make sure it is not completely air tight, as natural yeast from the air will help the sourdough starter grow faster and add additional flavor. Let this sit in a warm place for twelve hours.
• After twelve hours, add an additional ½ cup of flour and ½ cup of water, stir again, and let the mixture sit again for twelve hours.
• Continue to refresh this mixture with additional flour and water in equal proportions for 2 to 3 days, to ensure that the starter is established. The starter is established once it doubles in size easily, containing large air bubbles. When this is achieved, it is ready for use. The starter can be used anywhere up to 50% of the total dough, for a stronger smelling sourdough bread.
•The starter needs to be refreshed by removing ½ cup of the starter, before mixing in another ½ cup flour and ½ cup water.
•After this, store the starter in a container and continue to refresh the starter once every twenty-four hours at room temperature. As long as it is being refreshed, the starter will stay active and continue to make sourdough. Starters can literally last decades, and older starters are often preferred for their consistency and stability.
• If a brown liquid appears on the top of the starter, simply poor this layer off. It is called the “hooch” and signifies that the starter received too much water. Although this layer will protect the sourdough from growing mold on the surface during its conservation.
• Do not let a starter sit at room temperature for more than three days, and do not let a starter sit in a refrigerated environment for more than one week without refreshing it. If this happens, the acidity of the starter will be compromised and the gluten structure will not be strong enough to produce light and airy bread.