Sourdough Part 4: From Dough to Bread

How does this sourdough starter become bread?

If you’ve ever made bread with factory yeast, this will have similarities and differences. The biggest difference is time. 

With factory yeast, when you mix the yeast with warm water it is activated. You then have about three hours to use it before it is fizzled out and loses some potency.

Sourdough is alive and it wants to grow. When you mix the sourdough (which is used as the yeast) with flour and water (and a bit of salt), it doesn’t fizzle and die, it eats and grows!

You should mix them well and then let the dough sit (we use a stand mixer, but real die-hards will use their hands). (My oldest son is a big fan of making all hand-made bread! ) Then over the next several hours you can “stretch and fold” the dough to mix it some more. (We use our hands for this part, to give it some quick folds and mixes) The dough will continue to grow. (It is eating the nutrition in that area of the bread and when you mix it again, it gets a new batch of food to eat.) You can do this throughout the day, and then again before leaving it out overnight for the “bulk fermentation”. (Leave it out in a container with a towel over it so air can come and go, but it won’t collect dust, etc.)

The next morning you will “shape” the dough, by putting it in a bread pan, making balls for rolls, etc. Then let it sit on the counter for a “second rise”. All of this time, it has been eating, growing stronger, calling more friends (good bacteria) to join them, etc.

The second rise will usually be around 1 to 5 hours, but is flexible depending on the temperature and how sour you want the bread to be. 

Note: Sourdough is very flexible and forgiving. You can let it ferment longer (more sour), put it in the fridge (to slow down the ferment to be used later), etc. Once you get the hang of it, you can play around. My 12 year old can now make sourdough bread without a recipe after only two tries. 

When you are ready to bake, put it in the oven, wait for it to bake and Yummm!

My son likes to “carve” for fun designs.
(This picture is before baking.)

How long should you cook it for and at what temperature? That gets a bit complicated. Are you cooking small rolls, or a giant one foot round loaf?  In an oven, toaster oven, an instant pot, in cast iron over a fire, etc.? Do you want a harder crust or softer crust? How high is your oven shelf? (We usually cook at around 420F for 25 minutes, then lower it to 350F for another 10-15 minutes, but this will depend on the size of your bread and your oven.) Once you get started you can see how it goes, don’t get discouraged, and modify as needed. 

Another trick is to use glassware at the beginning. You can lift it up and see the bottom. If the bottom is still pretty light brown, you may want to give another 10 minutes to give a firmer custer. If you like it softer, you can stop the cooking. Play around and have fun! 

We went traditional and cooked in cast iron for Thanksgiving.

Sourdough is very forgiving. It’s a very nice pet, that is full of life, gives you exercise as you stretch and fold, and wants your regular love and attention.

You can also get creative. Just look online for many sourdough ideas. We are homeschooling, with a mix of ages and young children. Our goal is good food in less time. :o) We may do more with “advanced” methods in the future, but for now shoot for healthy and simple. Some people will insist that sourdough must be cooked in a dutch oven (which we’ve done once, and it was delicious and had more of that traditional sourdough look and feel). Some will use ice or a spray bottle to create steam and create a harder crust, etc. We may do these occasionally, but they aren’t needed to have a simple, delicious loaf of sourdough bread. We want you to know that things can be simplified and you don’t need to be perfect!

Dinner rolls
Premade dough, kept in the fridge. Makes for a quick loaf in the toaster oven.

A few changes that you can make are:

  • When you make your bread (not your starter dough), you can use other liquids instead of water (almond milk, the leftover water after steaming sweet potatoes, kombucha, smoothie, etc.
  • You can mix other ingredients into your bread: herbs, garlic, honey, oil, eggs, etc.

There is so much to learn from making sourdough bread. You can play around, and again, it is very forgiving. If something goes horribly wrong and your sourdough should die, it is still just sourdough after all and you can go back to your friend and they will likely have more to let you try again.

Have fun with it! Just like you play with a dog and it can learn new tricks, your sourdough wants time with you and can also learn new tricks and play in new and creative (and delicious) ways.

A few additional resources:

Photo Credits: We rarely think to take pictures, so these are random pictures of our regular baking, likely taken by our children for fun. :o)

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