Do you need help troubleshooting sourdough? Is it too sour? Too dense? Too addicting? 😉 Here are some common questions I ran into when our journey into sourdough-making began. I found a lot of good sources, but the most helpful information was through GNOWFGLINS.com – a wonderful website about whole foods and sourdough.
Q. I like using whole grains, but my bread always turns out dense. Why?
A. Dense bread can be the result of several problems. Here are a few suggestions:
- Go easy on the flour
Whole grains take a bit longer to soak up liquids. What may feel or look right at the time of mixing can end up being too thick after several hours of rest.
When adding whole grain flour to a recipe, cut back and let it be a little sticky. Cover it with a towel and let it sit about 15 minutes. Knead/mix for 5 minutes, let it rest again for 5 minutes, and then knead/mix it for 5 minutes again. You want it to the point it barely cleans the sides of the bowl, or when you touch it, it makes the sound/feel of tape sticking to your finger. You want it to ‘want’ to stick, but doesn’t.
- You may want to use a lighter flour like spelt, or my favorite, hard red wheat. Soft red or soft white wheat don’t have enough gluten to rise as well.
- Depending on where you live, drier climates may need less flour and wet climates a bit more than the recipe calls for.
- Make sure your starter is active. When starter is going good and strong it will rise or dome a few hours after you’ve fed it. If it doesn’t do that, make sure you’re feeding it every 8-12 hours. Double-check the directions on creating an active starter.
Q. Why do my loaves turn out flat?
- Use a lighter flour like spelt, or my favorite, hard red wheat. Soft red or soft white wheat do not have enough gluten to rise as well.
- Let your loaves rise in a warmer/cooler location (70-80 degrees F).
- Bake your loaf in a non-preheated oven if your bread has not reached peak height. It can finish rising inside the oven as the oven is heating. How do you tell if it’s at peak? Put your ear close to the loaf. If there are popping noises it is still rising. It’s at peak when the popping slows down.
- Try not to let the loaf rise too long or it will deflate.
Q. I/my family doesn’t like the sour flavor in sourdough bread. Is there a way to diminish it?
- Make sure you’re feeding it regularly.
- Try a shorter soaking time. Go at least 8 hours though or you won’t get the health benefits of sourdough.
- Add a bit of baking soda – this tempers down the sourness.
- Drain the hooch (liquid that sits on top of the starter) before feeding. The hooch is perfectly normal and safe, but tends to add to the sour flavor.
Q. What is the least/most I can feed my starter at one time?
A. The basic rule to feeding is:
- by measurement – 1 part starter: 1 part water: *scant 2 parts flour. (So if you have 1/2 cup starter you would feed it with 1/2 cup water and a little less than 1 cup of flour.)
- by weight – 125 grams starter: 125 grams of water: 125 grams of flour.
If you want your starter to grow quicker, you can double (at the most) the amount you usually feed it. If you want to slow down how much you’re feeding it, don’t go any less than half the flour and water ratio of what you usually would.
Q. How do I convert yeast to sourdough?
A. 1 tablespoon of yeast equals about 1 c. of starter.
Q. Is there a difference between starter for bread and starter for cakes, muffins, pancakes, etc.
A. Yes, baked goods tend to like a little thicker starter. But it’s not crucial.
Q. How do I know if my starter has gone ‘bad’.
A. Although it’s rare, you can get a moldy starter. If the hooch (liquid that forms on the top of the starter) begins to look pink, toss it. Whole grain hooch can start to look pinkish if it’s not feed regularly when at room temperature, so make sure you’re feeding it every 8-12 hours before deciding if it’s mold or not.
Q. I forgot about my starter in the fridge and now there is black liquid on the top. Did I kill it?
A. The black liquid is the hooch. Take the lid off your jar and smell it. If it has a nice, albeit strong, sourdough smell, it’s still good. You can simply dump the dark hooch down the drain and give your starter a good feeding. Leave it out at room temperature and feed every 8-12 hours for several days before using.