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Bread – one of the world’s most basic yet loved foods. We love It because it is homely, it is easy, and most importantly, it comes in so many different varieties and flavors. Of course, like anything, breads have changed, and new flavors developed, but the traditional loaves still stand strong.
There is little in the world that smells better than freshly baked bread. Even with a full stomach, it is hard to say no to a warm, straight-out-of-oven slice of soft bread with a smooth spread of melting butter.
One of the most beautiful tasting pieces of bread, and a traditional recipe that people still obsess over, is artisan sourdough bread. Sourdough stands out from the rest for its unique taste and texture, but also for the way in which it is made.
Today I am going to not only tell you why sourdough is a crowd stopper, but I am going to explain how it tastes, how it is made, and how you can make your own! So, stay tuned to find out more about one of the world’s most loved breads and how you can start filling your kitchen with the sweet tang of freshly baked artisan sourdough.
Table of Contents
- What is sourdough?
- What does sourdough smell like?
- Does sourdough bread taste nice?
- Is sourdough supposed to taste sour?
- How to make sourdough starter
- How to make sourdough bread
- What can I eat sourdough bread with?
- What’s the verdict?
What is sourdough?
Before we get into the details, it might help to understand what sourdough bread actually is.
Sourdough dates back to before commercial yeasts, and mass production was introduced to bread-making in the 19th century. Although it was not always named ’sourdough,’ it is one of the originals when it comes to bread.
This is because sourdough does not typically use yeast, and the traditional recipe consists of a starter, salt, and flour. Although this sounds ridiculously simple, sometimes the best things in life are the things we don’t overthink! These three ingredients are what make the pungent, unique flavor of sourdough that we all know and love.
The lack of yeast is what makes sourdough different from other breads. Sourdough uses a starter of water and flour which ferments over time and eventually produces a natural yeast. This starter has a slightly acidic taste which gives sourdough that stand-out flavor.
The lack of yeast also means that sourdough is extremely airy and light but has a very hard, crusty outer layer. The lack of yeast can make sourdough slightly more difficult to make for those who are not used to making bread, but we will hear more about how to make it later on!
What does sourdough smell like?
Despite the fact that sourdough bread has an acidic starter and is literally named ‘sour,’ it actually has a pleasantly sweet smell. Like the freshly baked yeast bread that we can smell coming out of the bakery, only sourdough has a slightly sour tinge to it.
The start can go through many stages before the loaf has finished baking. The acidic tones can cause it to smell yeasty, but it can also go through stages that resemble an alcoholic smell, but then also smelly feet, vomit, and aged cheese. These latter smells are not pleasant, but it is important to know that these stages are normal!
Once you get through the starter developing into a yeast, your loaf will begin to bake properly, and eventually, it will release those tasty smells that we have in mind when baking our own bread. It is important to be patient with the entire process!
Does sourdough bread taste nice?
As mentioned, the natural fermentation gives a slightly tangy flavor to sourdough bread, hence the name. Although it does still have the sweet taste of yeast loaves, this is balanced with a slightly sour taste.
Sourdough is commonly eaten with soups or used for breakfasts, but it can be eaten like any other breads. The taste can really add something extra to sandwiches, or alternatively, you can have sweet toppings on it like jam or curd, and the sweetness of these gives a really nice balance to the sour taste of the bread.
The longer you leave the starter to ferment, the richer the tangy taste will become when you bake your bread. So, depending on how strong you want the flavor to be, make sure you know that this will only increase the longer you leave the starter to develop.
Is sourdough supposed to taste sour?
As we have already established, sourdough bread does have a sour flavor, and this is absolutely correct as well.
The acid produced in the starter begins to get more and more sour as it develops, and this is reflected in the final product, giving it the unique taste that makes sourdough what it is.
Not only can you increase the level of sour by leaving the starter to ferment for longer, but you can find a cool place for the dough to rise and this will also increase the flavor. Alternatively, you can use a higher ratio of flour to water for your starter and this will increase the acidity.
The flour and water react together and two naturally-occurring components of flour – yeast and lactobacillus (a type of good bacteria) – combine together and grow over time.
This starter mixture ferments for several days and becomes bubbly. You need to add extra water and flour over time and this helps to increase its volume. This is then added to the bread dough when it is ready and helps it to rise. The lack of yeast means there are a lot of air pockets created from the bubbles of the starter but still a chewy texture, and the bread also has a crusty outside.
How to make sourdough starter
So, now that we know the ins and outs of what makes sourdough so unique, it is time to learn how we can make our own!
With such minimal ingredients, it seems like it would be easy to make. This is correct to an extent, but like all bread, it takes time and patience and a close step-by-step following of the recipe.
It is important to know that because you need to create your own starter for sourdough, the entire process of making your own will take about a week, so make sure you leave yourself lots of time.
To begin, you need to make sure you have some scales, and preferably a glass jar so that you can see the fermentation happening. The scales are not necessary, but for first time bakers they are highly recommended so that you ensure your ratios are correct.
The key ingredients you need are non-chlorinated water and unbleached flour. Chlorine in water can kill the yeast as it tries to grow. As a result, you are best to use filtered water – so any bottled, still water. Bleached flour does not have as much natural yeast as unbleached flour and so using unbleached flour will help it to ferment more and also rise more. You may be able to use bleached flour but again, if you are just getting started with your bread-making journey then try to stick as close to the recipe as possible.
As sourdough does take so long, I am going to break the steps of the process down into days to try and help you plan out your sourdough journey, but to also simplify. Although seven days sounds like an extremely long time for one loaf of bread, you will be doing very little on a lot of those days so don’t worry, it is manageable alongside your everyday life.
Start with a jar big enough to hold two cups of flour, place that on your scales and set them back to zero.
Add in 60g of whole wheat flour and 60g of warm, non-chlorinated water. This mixture will start off extremely thick, but just allow it time.
Cover the jar loosely with plastic wrap and leave it to sit at room temperature. If the room has an area that is slightly warmer then place your jar there, but not on top of a heater or anything.
Check on your starter and you should hopefully see some bubbles forming. Don’t worry if you can’t see any bubbles yet, they come and go and it may just be the case that you missed them.
Whatever you do, don’t mix it! Simply check on it and then wrap it back up for a further 24 hours.
On day three you are going to need to start ‘feeding’ the starter. No matter how it is looking, you will need to add ingredients. It should be stretchy by now.
Take half the mixture away and dispose of it. Go back to your scales and this time add 60g of all purpose, white, unbleached flour and a further 60g of warm, un-chlorinated water.
Mix it together – it will still be very thick so don’t worry about this. Then wrap back up and leave again.
Days Four, Five and Six:
On each of the next three days, do the same method of discarding half the mixture and feed in the same quantities of all purpose flour and water and mix well. No matter what your mixture looks like, you need to do this every day.
You will notice the mixture rising and falling each day. Be sure to observe this as it will let you know when the starter is hungry and needs to be fed. You can use a marker or a piece of tape to note down where the starter is when you feed it.
Your starter will begin to get higher each day and eventually it will be ready to bake.
Your starter should now be extremely bubbly and almost ready to bake! It should have quite a strong, tangy smell to it but should not smell harsh.
In appearance, it should be light and airy. If it does not look like this then you can continue the feeding process for a few more days.
Once the starter is bubbly and doubled in size, you are ready to bake! You can test if your sourdough is ready to bake by dropping a small bit of it into a jar and checking if it floats. If it does, you are good to go!
If you do not use all of your starter, you can continue to feed it daily with less flour and water (around 40g of each), or alternatively you can store it in the fridge and you will only need to feed it weekly. The longer you leave it, the stronger the taste will develop.
How to make sourdough bread
Now that you have your starter, you are ready to make your bread! This can take about a day and a half, depending on how your starter is looking. If it has started to sink a bit, you may need to feed it one more time and then leave it for a couple of hours until it doubles again.
If you are running low on starter, you can use about 50g for this recipe, but the less starter you use, the longer the bulk fermentation will take. So, in this recipe we are going to use 90g of starter.
Place a bowl onto your scales and add your starter, then reset your scales to zero. Add 350g warm water and whisk the ingredients together. Then add 500g of unbleached bread flour, 9g salt and mix these ingredients until they form a rough dough.
Let this ball of dough sit for 30 minutes so that the gluten can begin to form in strands – this will help develop the texture of the dough.
Use your hands to form a ball with the dough. Make sure you don’t over-knead the bread – it should only take about 15 seconds as you are only forming a smooth ball.
Leave this to rest. That means popping it back into the bowl and covering it with plastic wrap for about 10 to 12 hours. This is when the magic happens, starter will make your bread dough go light and airy whilst the bulk fermentation happens. Using a glass bowl will allow you to see the bubbles forming.
Once the dough has fermented, you need to shape it. The dough may be very sticky, so you can lightly dust it with flour if necessary. As you shape the dough, it will naturally deflate but this is completely normal, just try to avoid putting too much pressure on it as you want to keep as many bubbles as you can.
Start from one side and fold the dough over. Turn the dough and fold it again in a different direction and continue this until you have gone all the way around in a circle. This creates tension on the outside of the dough which allows for a nice shape of loaf.
Leave to rest once more for about 2 hours. The dough should look light, however it will not fully rise again. Whilst this is happening, preheat your oven to 450F.
Place your dough onto a piece of parchment paper and score some lines through the tome of the bread. You can look for particular designs if you are interested in making your loaf look particularly pretty.
Pop the dough into a large dutch oven and place the lid on top. This then goes into the oven and you need to lower the temperature to 425F and bake for 40 minutes.
After 40 minutes, remove the lid of the dutch oven and bake for a further 10 minutes – this will really help to crisp up the crust of your loaf.
Let your loaf cool slightly and it is now ready to enjoy!
What can I eat sourdough bread with?
As mentioned, sourdough goes with anything that you would normally have bread with. It is a perfect addition to a big bowl of soup, or you can use it for sandwiches and paninis.
It does have a chewy texture so if toasted or grilled you need to bear that in mind.
The taste is complemented by just about anything, or you can simply enjoy it with a big slather of butter!
My personal favourite is to cover two big slices with some smashed avocado and top with some poached eggs, chilli flakes and a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds!
What’s the verdict?
So, sourdough dates back to before the current method of using yeast for bread was introduced. This traditional loaf is absolutely delicious, with a tangy taste and an airy, yet chewy texture.
Although you can find sourdough in your local bakery or supermarket, it isn’t too tricky to make yourself, it just takes a bit of time!
So, what are you waiting for? Get the starter on the go and have a shot at making your own, delicious loaf of sourdough. Serve it up with whatever you desire and your guests are guaranteed to be impressed!
How do you eat sourdough bread?
You can eat sourdough bread the same way you eat any other bread. Slice it up for sandwiches, have it with soup, have it with your breakfast – however you want really!
How do I make my sourdough taste better?
You can leave the starter to ferment for longer if you would like a stronger, tangier taste.
What does sourdough bread taste good with?
Sourdough bread tastes good with just about anything! It works with savory foods, but you can also have it with sweeter toppings as they complement the tangy taste very well.
Can sourdough make you sick?
Sourdough cannot make you sick if it is made correctly and eaten within date, like any bread. Find out more on how to know if your bread is in date
Is sourdough bread good for weight loss?
Sourdough bread is not much different to other breads when it comes to weight loss. The carbohydrates will help to keep you full for longer, however the calories in bread are quite high. The bacteria in the starter does make the bread easier to digest though, although this alone is not an aid for weight loss.