Real Sourdough Bread

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There is a lot of confusion about what sourdough bread is. Is it bread with a sour taste? Do they only make it in San Francisco? What makes it so different?

Sourdough bread is bread that is leavened using a sourdough culture containing wild yeasts and bacteria. The yeast that can be bought in small packages and jars at the store is commercial yeast . It is one strain of yeast, raised because it is really great for making bread quickly consistently. A sourdough culture will probably contain many different strains of yeast, and several types of bacteria. While an envelope of commercial yeast is innumerable copies of one organism, a sourdough culture is a diverse ecosystem. Because of this, sourdough breads have a more complex flavor and texture than breads made with commercially available yeast.

So where does the "sour" part of sourdough come from? While yeast produce carbon dioxide and alcohol, the bacteria in a sourdough culture produce lactic acid. This give some sourdough breads their distinctive tangy taste. The increased acidity and other compounds produced by the bacteria  make sourdough breads more resistant to mold and staling than other artisan breads.
Although these bacteria can make the bread tangy,  not all sourdough is noticeably tangy. It depends on what bacteria are in the culture being used. However, there are methods that can create the sour flavor that some people enjoy in their bread.

Making true sourdough bread is more difficult, and more time consuming than using instant yeast. That having been said; sourdough creates loaves of bread that have a flavor that can't be matched by breads made using commercial yeast.
It is a common misconception that sourdough bread can be produced using a commercial yeast that is allowed to develop in a batter overnight. This is called a preferment, poolish , or biga . This technique can make really great breads, but it isn't true sourdough and tastes very different. Here I present sourdough bread and describe the techniques used to create it.

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nnasir11 months ago

Hi there

Do you use a shiny or dark baking sheet?


RebelWithoutASauce (author)  nnasir3 days ago


I use a beaten up old aluminum baking sheet. I also have a stone, which is what I prefer to use.

kjepson2 years ago
Hi there, why do you specifically state not to make a starter with pineapple juice? Also, I grew up in NH and Market Basket is near and dear to my heart!
RebelWithoutASauce (author)  kjepson1 year ago

A lot of people insist on making a starter with pineapple juice. I do not really understand why, but the "lore" is that without pineapple juice the starter will never work and be filled with too many bacteria (or something to this effect). I think this is bunk and have never used pineapple juice, it could contain growth-inhibiting preservatives (canned/bottled) or unwanted enzymes (fresh/raw).

I get a great rise and excellent flavor with just flour and water. Every really great sourdough bakery I have encountered has just used flour and water, so I am inclined to think the pineapple juice is unnecessary at best.
Hello there,
I see the ingredients but i don't see their respective amounts!!
Can you please tell us how much of each ingredient we need to add?!!
Mike :)
Hey Mike,

Step 11 has ingredient amounts and summary of the recipe. Here it is(although it is in volume, not baker's percentage):

Here is a summary of all the steps, and the ingredients, for quick reference.

Rye Levain
1 cup Rye Starter
1 cup Rye Flour
1/2 cup Water

All of Rye Levain
3 cups of Water
1/2 cup Rye Flour
7 1/2 cups Bread Flour
1 Tablespoon of Salt

Make levain, let age overnight.
Build levain, adding all remaining whole grains.
Mix and knead, 10-15 minutes.
Primary fermentation, 4 hours.
Divide and shape.
Secondary fermentation, 2 hours.
Bake at 400F/230C for 20 minutes
Reduce heat to 400F/200C and bake for 20 minutes.
bowow08073 years ago
what would i do if my dough is really runny as in it wont hold its shape? should i add more flour? because when ever i make sourdough it turns very runny even if my water is 65%. and can anyone explain why it does that?
RebelWithoutASauce (author)  bowow08073 years ago

There are various reasons that your dough might become too runny. One reason is that flours, depending on brand, type, age, and how it was harvested have different moisture levels. I have had the experience of getting used to using a "dry" flour only to have things suddenly turn very wet when I buy new flour.

Sometimes a runny dough is also caused by poor gluten development. Here are some ways that you might get your bread to have more structure:

Autolyse. Give your bread a 15 minute period after mixing and a few kneads to absorb water and develop gluten before you start kneading. This will make your dough firmer.

Knead. You might just need to develop more gluten, if you knead your bread for eight minutes try kneading it for 15. The more elastic your dough becomes, the better structure it will have.

Also, your shaping technique might be an issue. If a loaf is shaped loosely it will spread out quite a bit. With the proper shaping technique, you will have sealed the seam well and created a lot of surface tension on the outside of the dough. When I first made bread it would usually spread out quite a bit, once I learned how to shape more tightly I have noticed there is very little spreading.
well i guess ill make it again and see what happens, because i make my breads by feel, i feel when there is too much water or too little flour and salt, and also i test if my kneading is done that when i poke it if it springs back the way i like then i consider it done. or it could be my starter, my starter is a whole wheat natural starter i wanted to use rye but its really expensive around 6-7 bucks a kilo so i settled for whole wheat, i replaced all the rye in the recipe with whole wheat and followed the recipe as usual
RebelWithoutASauce (author)  bowow08073 years ago
Wow! Sorry to hear rye is so expensive in your area. After some searching I found a grocery store that sells it for about 80 cents a pound so it is affordable for me. There is a local discount grocery called Market Basket in New Hampshire that has decent prices for it. Surprisingly, you can even find good rye flour in some Wal-mart stores.

I used to keep both a whole wheat and a rye starter and I never noticed too many differences between them. The more rye you use, the less gluten you will have which also effects structure. So using whole wheat shouldn't have caused any trouble. Although now that I think about it, some of the coarser whole wheat flours have large particles in them that can interrupt gluten strands and reduce dough elasticity, because the strands of gluten can't get as long. If you have access to King Arthur brand White Whole Wheat flour I have noticed that it is milled quite finely, this could make things easier.
It also sounds like you know what you're doing when it comes to hydration and kneading.

So perhaps next time you could try shaping it a bit differently. Make sure there is a lot of surface tension in the dough, and seal the seam VERY well, making sure to place the loaf seam-side-down.

Good luck!
thanks! and im not in the USA so anywhere you can suggest is out of the question and also have you seen this kneading technique?
it is very useful for very wet dough so as to decrease excess flour additions this is actually what i used when i made a 80% hydration dough its really good so try it!
RebelWithoutASauce (author)  bowow08073 years ago
I have actually used that technique many times! It is excellent for developing gluten. I don't usually do it when anyone else is home; I have never been able to convince my roommates that it is a common technique, they just think I am crazy.

So how is your baking going these days?
well my baking has improved especially my shaping and scoring techniques. but unfortunately my starter got orange and moldy on me and my attempts to make a new one are going bad but it just might be i'm trying a stiff starter maybe i'll stick to batter starters loaves are better all i'm missing is a nice big oven. i only have a oven toaster right now and it can barely take a 400g flour bread with good oven spring without burning the top.
and by the way i forgot to mention this but if i remember correctly the acidity in the starter especially tenacious starters(like mine) the acidity can break down the gluten strands that is why and right now i just made this recipe again after an hour of the first fermentation of my nicely kneaded dough it became very soft and quite runny and so i had to knead it again -__- and i don't know why (note i used 1 cup of whole wheat and 7 cups of bread flour) i really think that it is my starter because when i first started it, it came to life on the 3 day!! so i think i have really tenacious bacteria in there.
MarknKS3 years ago
Sunset Cookbook is a treasure trove of delightful info about Cal cooking and history.

It says that Le Boudin's starter, started and kept alive since 1850 has a species of Lactobacillis, unlike any other previously characterized, and hence named L. sanfrancensis by a UC Davis microbiologist who analyzed the starter.

They recommend, for people living anywhere who want to get a reliable starter, to mix 3 tbspns of live-culture (gelatin-free) plain yogurt, a cup of non-fat or low-fat milk, and a cup of flour. Keep at 80-90 degrees in a sealed bowl. I use an incandescent lamp, positioned above the bowl to maintain temp.

They say 2-5 days, develops bubbles, and clear liquid on top, indicating acidification and coagulation of milk proteins. The milk contains lactose, which the bacteria convert first to lactic acid, and then the lactic acid to acetic acid.

I like tangy bread, so I let mine go (with periodic stirring) for 7 days. Waay more sour than the original yogurt!

Harold McGee also gives passing reference to bacteria. It's not just yeast that is at work here for true sourdough.

Anyway, then the recipe calls for mixing in flour, salt, sugar and regular active-dry yeast, to get your rise. It calls for 15 minutes of kneading, then 2-3 hours of proofing, one punchdown, a short re-rise, and 350 degree baking for 35 minutes, with some water spraying a few times to get a thick crunchy crust. (I prefer 500 on a preheated bakestone for 10 minutes.)

The Lactobacillis, fed on a lactose substrate that it can acidify makes a SF-sourdough-quality tang. It's a recipe worth giving a try, and playing with to suit your tastes.

If you are a cookbook collector Sunset Cookbook is a beauty. If you want to try West Coast cuisine, it has great stories, and awesome recipes from fine restaurant chefs to home-cook inventions.
Jeanette564 years ago
A good alternate for Whole Wheat flour is King Arthur "White" Whole Wheat flour. It is a whole grain but not as strong tasting or as 'heavy' as regular whole wheat. We have been using it for pretty much everything and it is a wonderful alternative to traditional whole wheat flour.
Here is the link to WWW flour if you are not familiar with it. Most main stream groceries should carry it as well quite a few health food type stores.
RebelWithoutASauce (author)  Jeanette564 years ago
Thanks Jeanette, I actually use white whole wheat flour quite frequently. I don't think I have made and all-white bread in years! I usually use about half bread flour and the rest whole wheat or rye.

It is definitely a good way to ease people into more strongly flavored breads. Much of the flavor of whole wheat but with none of the bitterness.
Dave555554 years ago
Wow! Excellent instructions (and I find most recipes very hard to understand!!). I appreciated the conversational style (and the background info about salt). Thanks again. ... dave in austin, texas
tycobb484 years ago
Hi - looks real good - and well written! I'm just a little confused on the rye starter. You say it's just rye flour and water, plus the need to feed it...How much flour to water, w/ what do i feed it, how often, and do i leave it out or in the fridge? Thanks!
RebelWithoutASauce (author)  tycobb484 years ago
Hey, thanks for the compliments.

I'm probably going to make another instructable for making your own rye starter. It is quite simple! The starter is a reservoir for the bacteria and yeast that create the flavor and the gas that helps the bread rise.

Everyone has their own technique. My technique is to keep it in the refrigerator if I am not using it and feed it at least once a week (I let it sit at room temperature for a few hours after feeding it). If you are leaving it at room temperature you need to feed it every 24-48 hours. To feed it, just throw out half and add in more flour and water.

The amounts are very simple, 1/3 cup of rye flour & 1/3 cup of water.

If you want to create your own starter it will take awhile, but I made mine from just mixing rye flour and water together and then feeding it. I will make a short instructable for making your own within the next week or so.

If you don't want to wait the 2-3 weeks it takes to make your own, you can try to find a friend who has a sourdough culture. Just give it a double feeding and have the friend give you the extra. Then you keep feeding that and it's your own little sourdough culture, no need to buy yeast at the store anymore!
tchitwood4 years ago
Great Instructable! Very informative. :) Makes me crave some good sourdough!
jen77144 years ago
Very descriptive. Makes me want to try to make sourdough bread again. :) Great ible!
RebelWithoutASauce (author)  jen77144 years ago