We share our technique to integrate sourdough bread into your daily nutrition, whether or not you have a fridge in which to ferment the dough. Making sourdough bread at home is not that easy. But for you’ll learn from each mistake, each attempt comes out better and there is no bread that cannot be eaten in one way or another.
The base of the bread is hydrated flour, sometimes fermented and always baked, so there are many types of bread. In general, bread doughs have a minimum hydration of 50% (50g of water for every 100g of flour) and they exceed 100% of hydration when the recipe contains more water than flour.
Doughs with 65% hydration are easier to handle and provide the characteristics of homemade rustic bread.
In Campichuelo we have started with rustic sourdough bread, with 68% hydration and a mixture of whole and white flour. We make 4 breads of about 600 to fill the gas oven or 12 breads of 800gr when we cook them in the wood oven. In both cases we use the same recipe; an approximation of the numbers we’ll see below. The dough is suitable for bread, pizza, pattys, stovetop pita bread and slim bread on the pan. We ferment the bread without using the controlled temperature of the fridge, so we are all year varying the amount of sourdough in the recipe to adapt the fermentation to the ambient temperature.
To make bread you need to know how to combine flour, water, yeast and salt.
- Flour: Wheat flour is the most common for baking. You can start with white wheat flour, easier to knead, and add a small percentage of whole wheat flour to give it flavor, color and texture. The percentage of gluten (protein) in the flours is variable and we can start with flour that is close to 12% protein. Optionally, you can use strength flour, which tends to 14%, it is difficult to obtain but easier to work with and it is interesting to try it.
- Water: Chlorine can affect the development of the sourdough, if you have a problem with its growth, try changing the water. You can use tap water to make bread, as long as you can drink it and it is not extremely hard or soft, and you can remove the chlorine from the tap water by boiling it or letting it stand. The temperature of the water is a factor to take into account when making bread, since the temperature of the water vary the temperature of the dough, influencing the fermentation time.
- Yeast: There are other types of yeast, but with the sourdough you will get breads with an unbeatable flavor and texture. If you don't know it, you can find info at our article about sourdough. You can create it from whole wheat flour, preferably water without chlorine and time. For between 5 days and 2 weeks (depending on the room temperature) mix 1 part of water, 1 of whole wheat flour and 2 parts of sourdough. If you have excess, discard a part. At some point it will begin to bubble and smell like vinegar; that's sourdough.
- Salt: Normally is used between 1.5 and 2.5% of salt, understanding 100% as the sum of the weight of the flours in the recipe (I'll clarify that later). Direct contact between the salt and the sourdough must be avoided because the salt slows down the fermentation processes. Some people add the salt the last of the ingredients to enhance the start of the fermentation. In summer and at room temperature we can add 2.5% salt to make the slow down the fermentation process. In winter or fermenting in the fridge we always put 2% of salt.
The basic and necessary to make bread is a bowl, a shovel, a knife and the oven. You can also buy a mixer, a scale, a dough cutter ... and if you like to make art by making bread it is also interesting to have banetones to keep the shape, flour sifter, oil sprayer, blades to make cuts, dyes and templates to decorate the crust, a food thermometer to know the internal cooking temperature and a stone or an iron pot for a more homogeneous baking and a crunchier crust.
Understanding the recipe
We are going to explain the recipes with the baker's percentages. It is not difficult and it helps us to adapt the recipe to the room temperature. If you ferment in the fridge, you can always use the same recipe, without changing the amount of sourdough. The flour is always the 100% on this method.
- First decide how much bread you want to make, for example 2 kg.
- Then, recipe in hand, add the percentages of the recipe, the result will exceed 100%.
- 100% flour + 68% water + 20% sourdough + 2% salt = 190%.
- The second step is to divide the total weight of the bread by the number that the sum of the percentages has given us and multiply it by 100:
- 2.000 gr of bread / 190 x 100 = 1,052
- or simplifying: 2,000gr / 1.9 = 1052 gr.
- 1052 is the weight of the flour in your recipe, from which you must start if you want to use different flours and it is also the base number to calculate the other ingredients, as we see below.
Now, from the weight of all the flours in your recipe, we are going to calculate the weight of the other ingredients:
- 1,052 x 0.90 = 962 gr of white flour.
- 1,052 x 0.10 = 107 gr of whole wheat flour.
- 1,052 x 0.68 = 695 ml of water.
- 1,052 x 0.20 = 213 gr of sourdough.
- 1,052 x 0.02 = 21 g of salt.
The first time this information is known, it is even lazy to understand it, but once you see how easy it is ... you could do it almost upside down! And by knowing it you can always adapt sourdough to the room temperature.
Preparing the sourdough
To make the sourdough you have to mix 1 part of water, 1 part of whole wheat flour and, from the second day, 2 parts of sourdough. You have to feed the ferment every day or every few hours, depending on the ambient temperature and do it always with the same frequency, in some moment it is activated and starts to bubble. Depending on the ambient temperature it will take between 5 days, in hot times, up to two weeks in cold times. We can add ingredients that contain natural yeasts to help her to start fermenting. Bran works very well for us and there are those who add grapes.
Once we have it active we must identify the feeding cycle of the sourdough and we must use it when it has doubled or tripled its volume. The sourdough should be at its best when making bread dough. The sourdough cycle is:
- Food or refreshment: when we discard one part and feed another part. It seems like a porridge mixture.
- Fermentation: production of bubbles while the microorganisms consume their food. There are bubbles inside the dough.
- Acetic fermentation: You run out of food. The bubbles disappear, water and acetic odors appear.
A sourdough that floats on water is ready to make bread or to be feeded again.
We must use the sourdough when it is at the top of bubbling, since it is when the microorganisms that will ferment the bread dough are most active. And not only to make bread, we must also feed it at that time, feeding it at least 3 times before using it for bread if the sourdough has become too acidic.
Normally the sourdough needs between 2h to 8h, depending on the ambient temperature and the amount of food we feed it with, to double or triple the volume. If the sourdough floats on water, you can use it to leavened bread. By refreshing the dough we can provide it with more food (flour and water) and less sourdough, so that it takes longer to be prepared.
We can start by mixing only the flour and water letting the dough rest for a couple of hours, so that the proteins in the flour, when hydrated, combine and generate the gluten. This process is known as autolysis and it is optional, you can also extend it as long as you want. Some people also add the salt half an hour after mixing the flour with the water. In any case, the sourdough will be added after autolysis.
We review the baker's percentages and mix all the ingredients (if we are not going to do the autolysis) or we add the salt and the sourdough to the hydrated flour (if we have done the autolysis).
The salt should not come into direct contact with the sourdough and is often added towards the end of mixing.
If you are leaving the bread dough to ferment in the fridge, use 20% sourdough in the recipe. If you do not have a refrigerator in summer you will use between 5 and 2% of sourdough and in winter 15 to 20%, with the aim of fermenting for about 8 to 12 hours in summer and 24 to 36 hours in winter and guiding you a bit with the answers to these questions:
- At what temperature am I going to ferment today? The higher the ambient temperature, the less sourdough we use.
- How long do I want to ferment? The longer the time, the less sourdough we use.
Controlling these elements seems crazy. Practice your breads taking into account the information and over time, intuitively, you will know what you have to do.
There are different ways to knead the bread, there is even the option "kneading without kneading" or "lazy bread". In this technic we knead the minimum and we take in count the natural development of gluten during rest. A simple manual kneading is this: Once the ingredients are mixed, move the bread dough to a floured table and stretch the dough and fold it on itself to form long and strong chains of gluten that will trap the bubbles from the fermentation. Repeat 3 or 4 times the cycle of 5 minutes of kneading and 20 minutes of rest. Don't use too much with the flour or you will vary the proportions of the recipe. At first it is stickier, then, with the rest, you will see that it sticks less and less.
If you knead by machine, you must make sure that the dough does not overheat and not to over knead the bread dough. To avoid this, you can do a couple of short kneading cycles with a rest in between; a first cycle to mix and readjust, if necessary, the proportions, then let it rest for about 20 minutes and do a second short kneading to finish kneading. Depending on the machine and the speeds you can make a different kneading, but in any case the machine kneading should last a few minutes, in our case we knead only once between 7 to 10 minutes. Dough that has been overkneaded will appear shiny. If the dough gets too hot, the fermentation is accelerated.
Gluten is a protein structure that is restructured in the form of a network that traps the bubbles of fermentation and allows creating bread with alveoli.
The end of the kneading is always the membrane test; to know if the gluten network is already strong enough and will trap the fermentation bubbles; Stretch a piece of dough with your fingertips towards the palms of your hands, stretching the dough to make a membrane. You need some practice. If you see that the membrane remains homogeneous while it is stretched and ends up being translucent, the dough is already kneaded. If the dough breaks into lines, it is not fully kneaded.
This is the step that distinguishes sourdough bread from a commercial leavened one. The yeast used in the bread industry is only Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which ferments sugars generating carbon dioxide and alcohol in record time. In contrast, sourdough contain different yeasts and bacteria that give bread very different characteristics, improving its flavor, its nutritional value and its digestibility, as we tell you in this article .
The fermentation time is highly variable and depends on:
- The quantity and quality of the sourdough: the greater the quantity and activity, the faster the bread dough ferments.
- The temperature and humidity of the dough and the environment: Higher temperature and humidity ferment faster.
It is better to do a slow first fermentation at low temperature because it will develop more aromas and give a higher quality final product.
For this reason, the first fermentation, also called block fermentation, is usually done in the controlled temperature of the refrigerator. In winter or in fridge fermentation we leave the bread dough in a warm place for an hour or two so it begins to ferment, since if it is very cold it will never begin to ferment. When we see some bubbles, we move it to a colder place or to the fridge.
During fermentation, the dough should double in volume. To know if it is already fermented, press lightly with your fingertip on the surface; when you lift your finger, the dough should return to its original shape. Be careful with over-fermenting the dough, if when pressing it is too soft, you may have over-fermented. Your bread will not have the necessary tension to rise as it should. If that has happened to you, skip the second fermentation and experience the result. If it has over-fermented so much that you cannot shape the bread, you can make a pizza or breadsticks (crusty bread).
A second fermentation is necessary for a more homogeneous and fluffy crumb. This is made with the dough cut into the pieces of bread that you will bake. When shaping small masses you must create surface tension so that it does not collapse under its own weight; there are several techniques to do that. Do not flour in excess, or when folding the dough the folds will not integrate and the bread will break when we eat it.
Once the pieces that we are going to bake are ready, we wait about 40 min until it double in volume and meanwhile we heat the oven, adding some water to add steam at the beginning of cooking.
With the oven hot and a water tray steaming inside the oven, we introduce the pieces to bake them, checking the cooking with a skewer to see if the dough is still wet inside. Our oven has no functions, so that’s what we can tell you so far.
When baking the temperature is raised and lowered, humidity is controlled, iron pots are used to improve the crust ... there are many tricks. We bake at maximum temperature with steam for the first minutes and after 45 or 50 minutes we remove the bread from the oven.
Then it is ready to rest on a rack and under a cloth so that with their own heat the inside is cooked.