Inspiration, tips and tricks to kick start your sourdough bread baking.
Bread baking is an art, that has been practiced by home bakers for centuries. Sourdough bread baking takes it to another level with the benefits of fermentation. The commitment to get started is well worth it. Making bread from scratch is not only rewarding, but economical, plastic packaging free and typically healthier.
Learn about the health benefits of sourdough bread, what a starter is, get our favourite recipes and inspiration to get in the kitchen.
What is sourdough?
Sourdough bread is a slow-fermented bread that uses fermentation as a natural leavening agent, rather than baker’s yeast. The live culture of flour and water is known as the starter. As the starter ferments it fosters a population of wild or natural yeast. Sourdough bread is known for its tangy flavour, dense and chewy texture inside and a crisp, crunchy crust outside.
The Benefits of Sourdough
The wild yeast combined with the fermentation process allows for the following:
- The naturally occurring acids in the starter and the long fermentation process work together to break down most of the gluten, making it easier for the body to digest.
- Increases the bioavailability of nutrients like folate, potassium and magnesium.
- The lactic acid increases the amount of antioxidants, which protect your cells from damage.
- The lactic acid effects the starch in the bread, causing slower absorption and lowering the GI of the bread.
- The fermented starter acts as a prebiotic, which means the fibre in the bread helps feed the “good” bacteria in your gut. Find out more about the importance of prebiotics here.
Baking your own bread supports a low waste lifestyle. Once you’re into a routine, buy your flour in bulk to reduce packaging waste. Every loaf you make saves another plastic bread bag from being used.
Due to the fermentation process, sourdough bread lasts longer than other types of bread, which reduces leftover bread waste. Simply store your loaf in a brown paper bag or tea towel in a cool, dark place like the pantry.
To produce beautiful sourdough bread, it’s essential to have a healthy, active starter which is bubbling and has a tangy smell. As this is a live culture, it needs to be fed daily with a simple mix of flour and water. If you’re not baking regularly, you can pop your starter into the fridge and feed it weekly. Remember to remove it from the fridge and ensure it’s active again before using it.
Where do I get a starter?
If you know someone who bakes sourdough bread, chances are they will be willing to give you a bit of their starter. Alternatively, you can make your own. Get specific details on how to do this here.
Organic vs Non-organic Flour
Baking with organic flour provides the best results because it’s natural and chemical free. In regard to sourdough baking, organic flour is even more important as it produces a more active starter. Non-organic flours are often bleached with a chemical treatment. This residue can interfere with the fermentation process of the starter.
Organic flour tends to have a higher mineral content and supports a robust fermentation process. The live cultures in the starter can better utilize the minerals from the flour without the interference of chemicals.
Types of Flour
The best way to know what flour is best for you is by trialing different varieties. These handy tips will help you get started.
- Rye flour is traditionally used in sourdough bread. It contains a high level of particular enzymes that make it highly active and ferment quickly. Rye flour has low levels of gluten and creates a very dense, moist loaf with a wonderful depth of flavour. Learn more about using rye flour here.
- For beginners, a strong white wheat flour is a great place to start. It is easy to handle and provides strong gluten development, giving the loaf a good rise. It produces a lighter, softer bread with a mild flavour.
- Wholemeal flour contains the entire grain of wheat (the bran, endosperm and germ) providing more nutrients. It makes a more flavourful bread with a dense and heavy texture. Play with using a mix of white and wholemeal flour to get the flavour and texture you desire.
- Ancient grains tend to be easier to digest and therefore particularly good for sourdough’s slow fermentation. Spelt is an ancient form of wheat and is known to be lighter on the digestive system. White spelt flour has a lovely nutty and sweet flavour and higher protein content. However, this will result in a denser bread with less rise. Start by using a small portion mixed with other flours.
- Gluten free sourdough bread is not only possible, but delicious! Just as with other gluten free baking, a combination of flour varieties provides the best results. White rice or brown rice flour and buckwheat flour are popular options. Adding psyllium husks and xanthan gum assist with the rise that gluten would otherwise provide. Get specific gluten free tips and a fool-proof recipe here.
Sourdough starter can be used in many other recipes. Get the health benefits of sourdough starter by sneaking it into pancakes, pikelets, crackers, pizza bases or muffins.
A Sample Schedule
Baking your own bread is rewarding, but it has to be practical and fit within your lifestyle. Here is an example of what a simple sourdough schedule may look like.
- Mornings: Feed your starter.
- Evenings: Mix the dough and let it sit overnight. No action is required if you’re not baking.
- Next morning: Bake the bread. Feed the starter.
Simple yet Delicious Recipes to get you Started
There are numerous sourdough recipes available, but our favourites are by Nicola Galloway. Check out her award-winning blog Homegrown Kitchen for a variety of sourdough recipes. Find a great selection of wholesome recipes from hot cross buns and beetroot doughnuts to pizza bases and flaky pastry. If you prefer to learn hands-on, Nicola offers workshops around NZ.