Improving Sourdough And Adjusting The Baking Routine

Published on
14 June 2022
Gareth Busby
Gareth Busby

In this article, I’ll outline methods to change how you make sourdough bread. I hope to provide you with inspiration and perspective for adjusting the baking routine and making changes to a basic sourdough recipe. This guide follows the beginner’s sourdough recipe to make it special and unique to you. Still, these tips also work with any sourdough bread recipe. So if you want to change your sourdough baking schedule or add a few ingredients to spice it up, continue reading!

Changing the baking schedule

If you have followed my beginner’s sourdough recipe, you might find it inconvenient to make it in one day. What’s so great about sourdough is that using the refrigerator can benefit the flavour and structure of the bread whilst making it easier to fit around daily life. You can use the fridge to chill your starter overnight, bulk ferment the dough overnight to be shaped and risen the next day, or final proof in a banneton. Chilling or retarding (as it’s known to bakers) sourdough benefits bread’s flavour, structure and aroma.

When a sourdough starter or activated yeast is maintained at cool temperatures, dramatically less gas is produced as the cultured yeast and lactic acid bacteria work sluggisher. However, naturally occurring hydrolysation continues to break complex starches into simpler sugars. This is an advanced topic, so I won’t be discussing it in this beginner’s guide, but if you want to learn more, see the sourdough fermentation article

Upon entering the fridge, the dough’s temperature takes a while to drop, which means it continues to rise during the first couple of hours. We can use this to our advantage to ferment at proofing temperature halfway before it goes in the fridge, with an expectation that it will be ready a few hours later. Larger masses of dough take longer to drop in temperature than smaller ones.

Sourdough baking timetables

You can use these timetables to change the beginner’s sourdough recipe or another sourdough recipe. These timings are guidelines based on using an active starter, a room temperature of 20C (68F) and a fridge temperature of 3C (35F). If your room is warmer, it will take less time to rise and ferment, whereas if it’s cooler, it will take longer. It’s handy to be confident at reading the dough to tell when bulk fermentation and proofing should end. You can learn many of these skills by reading the sourdough proofing article. 

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One-day bake schedule

Friday

20:00 Feed starter

22:00 Place starter in the fridge

Saturday

08:00 Remove starter from the fridge

09:20 Prepare the ingredients

09:30 Start the autolyse

09:50 Add the salt and knead

10:00 Bulk rise

11:00 1st S & F

12:00 2nd S & F

1300 Shape

13:25 Final proof

15:00 Preheat oven

16:00 Bake

16:40 Take out from the oven and cool

Prepare in the evening and proof overnight schedule

Friday

07:30 Feed the starter

08:30 Place starter in the fridge

15:00 Remove starter from the fridge

17:00 Prepare the ingredients

17:10 Start the autolyse

17:30 Add the salt and knead

17:40 Bulk rise

18:40 1st S & F

19:40 2nd S & F

20:40 Shape

21:00 Final proof in the fridge

Saturday

09:00 Check dough – you can take it out of the fridge to proof at room temperature if it’s not risen high enough

09:00 Preheat oven

10:30 Bake

11:10 Take out from the oven and cool

The overnight bulk rise schedule

If you start a bit late or your starter wasn’t ready till later, you can use this method. It works just as well:

Friday

19:50 Prepare the ingredients

20:00 Start the autolyse

20:30 Add the salt and knead

20:40 Bulk rise in the fridge

Saturday

08:00 Remove from the fridge

08:00 1st S & F

09:00 2nd S & F

10:00 Shape

10:30 Final proof

12:00 Preheat oven

13:00 Bake

14:40 Take out from the oven and cool

Changing the flour in your sourdough recipe

You may wish to change the flour used in the beginner’s recipe. This will impact the flavour and texture of your bread, so trying out a new flour can be just as interesting as adding an extra ingredient to the recipe. If you wish to continue with white sourdough, try another flour brand. A new brand will have different stretch and resistance properties, so expect the dough to feel and behave differently. Your dough may require more kneading or stretch and folds to achieve 100% gluten development by the end of the first rise. It may also require less.

I recommended that you get started using high-protein bread flour in the recipe. You can save a bit of money using cheaper low protein or all-purpose flour to make sourdough. Weaker flour will need an extended bulk fermentation in the fridge to repair the gluten and strengthen the structure. As a ballpark rule, make the dough the night before and place it in the refrigerator after it’s kneaded. In the morning, continue bulk fermentation on the counter until the dough is ready to shape.

If you want to change a white sourdough recipe to a brown or whole wheat loaf, it’s best not to go 100% whole wheat immediately. Instead, switch 100 grams of white flour for whole wheat. Once you get good results, increase the whole wheat to white flour ratio if you wish.

If you swap the flour will need to change the amount of water!

When changing flour, the dough’s hydration may need to be adjusted. If using a weaker gluten flour, reduce the water in the recipe by 2.5% for every 1 gram of protein lost. Whole wheat flour takes longer to absorb water, so it may feel sticky when you bring the ingredients together. If you notice this, leave the dough to autolyse, and by the time it ends, it will be more elegant.

Rye flour

Rye flour is especially popular for making sourdough. Its earthy aroma expands on the rustic taste of sourdough made with wheat flour to make incredibly delicious bread. There are also fermentation benefits for rye flour in sourdough, and it’s common to use a percentage in a sourdough starter recipe to improve the vibrancy of the rise.

A dough made with rye flour behaves in a different manner from one made with 100% wheat flour. Instead of gluten, rye contains pentosan proteins. They have less stretch than gluten and retain less gas. They are susceptible to heat, frequently making the structure collapse in the oven. When a rye-based dough is acidic, the structure is somewhat protected, making it less likely to collapse. If you want to make 100% rye sourdough bread, it’s best to follow a dedicated recipe. Still, you can switch around 5-10% of the white flour in the basic recipe for rye flour to provide a delicate flavour boost.

Changing how you shape sourdough bread

Applying a different amount of pressure or using another method when shaping your sourdough will create different textures in the crumb and crust. One of the most notable changes can be observed by how much you degas when shaping and preshaping. Being gentle during these stages retains more gas which encourages a more irregular open crumb. Removing more gas produces a more even structure, but in my experience should only be done if the dough has risen by less than 50% during the first rise. Otherwise, you risk running out of sugar necessary for the starter to consume, leading to the dough collapsing before reaching its height potential.

How much the outer perimeter of the dough is stretched will change the strength of the crust. A thin crust is generally preferred when making sourdough bread as it hardens and becomes noticeably more crispy. To improve your crust, stretch the dough when you shape it in your usual method or try another shaping technique to see if it makes a difference.

Changing the hydration of sourdough bread

The amount of water in your recipe will impact the texture and structure of the crumb. Suppose you want to experiment with increasing or decreasing the hydration of a sourdough recipe? In that case, you can expect to see the following results:

Increasing the amount of water in a sourdough recipe

A wetter dough accelerates fermentation. This means that the dough will rise quicker, and because of this, more lactic acid is produced. Lactic acid makes sourdough bread taste more creamy and sour. The extra water also encourages the gluten to fully hydrate and extend. The gluten strands are thinner, which means the dough can retain more gas, so the crumb is more aerated.

Decreasing the amount of water in a sourdough recipe

Doughs with less hydration will rise slower and taste more vinegary. The crumb will be more close-knit, which provides a denser crumb texture. It’s often thought that an open crumb cannot be achieved with low hydration doughs. But this is not true. An open crumb is more about shaping and dough maturity than hydration. The baguette is an excellent example of an open crumb with a typical hydration of just 60-65%.

Adding ingredients to sourdough bread

You may want to add extra ingredients to drastically change the flavour of your bread. Typical inclusions include oil, seeds, grains and fruit. To learn how to add extra ingredients to any bread recipe, click the link. Here are my top choices:

Seeds

Seeds should be soaked overnight in water and salt to prevent them from soaking up water in the dough and bringing out their flavour. If desired, they can be toasted in a dry pan or oven to bring out their nuttiness.

Malted wheat

Malted wheat flakes can be added to a white or brown sourdough bread recipe to make malted or “Hovis” bread. Add a touch of sugar and deactivated malt flour to reduce bitterness.

Beer

Switch water for beer to make a beautiful beer barm.

Dried fruit

Dried fruit such as raisins and apricots add a sweetness that can contrast bitter flavours such as walnuts. They can also be used in enriched doughs such as panettone or fruit loaves. Figs also complement olives and other Mediterranean ingredients.

Before adding to the dough, it’s best to soak dried fruit in alcohol or a light syrup overnight. This prevents the dried fruit from soaking up the moisture in the dough and dehydrating the flour.

Cheese

Add small cubes of cheese midway through bulk fermentation to make a cheesy loaf.

Spices

Crack a couple of cardamom pods into any sourdough recipe to add a beautiful aroma.

Herbs

Hardy herbs such as rosemary and sage can be used to flavour bread as they can withstand long cooking times without becoming bitter. They complement nicely with slightly sweetened doughs and/or Mediterranean olive oil.

Sourdough bread troubleshooting

Adding these inclusions or making changes to the beginner’s sourdough recipe can fail. This is why I always recommend that you become confident in a basic recipe before changing things. If you can’t work out where you went wrong, head to my sourdough troubleshooting page to solve your issue.

Ending thoughts on adapting a sourdough recipe

We’ve covered many ways to change your sourdough recipe and baking routine to make it memorable. I hope I’ve done enough to change your perspective on sourdough baking! What will you be doing next time you bake? Let me know in the comments below.

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