Secrets to Making Sourdough at Home - The Beginner Baker’s Essential Tips for Homemade Sourdough Success

Sourdough bread with scoring pattern

One of the lighter sides to lockdown was the social media frenzy and subsequent joke-telling around the sudden surge in amateur bakers becoming online experts in the art of sourdough making.

Before then, few Aussies considered baking sourdough bread at home. We still see sourdough as an artisan product. After all, it’s the priced-up piece of toast beneath the avocado smash that everybody within a six suburb radius raves about. 

That’s not just because sourdough is clearly the superior bread when it comes to the crunch, but because it’s commonly believed that sourdough is difficult to make at home. 

However – with some Australian Sourdough Starter, a reliable recipe and a few practice runs, you’ll soon be making successful sourdough from scratch faster than a celebrity chef’s career plummeting off a commercial ratings cliff edge.

Simple DIY sourdough tips, tricks and advice

Sourdough is seen as off-putting because of its tendency to be unpredictable.

Sure, your initial attempts may vary, but the beauty of sourdough is that every loaf has its own personality, and every sourdough lover has their own preferences.

Certainly, there are techniques you’ll want to master before every loaf arises to your liking, but keep at it and you’ll learn to dough like a pro.

Plus, every practice leaves your house smelling like hot toasted deliciousness straight from heaven’s kitchen!

  1.   Use a High-Quality Dried Sourdough Starter

Eventually, you’ll probably experiment with your own “signature” starter, since each starter’s mix of wild yeasts impart every batch from the same “mother” with a unique flavour.

But, the success of ‘raising’ a sourdough starter from scratch is often the make or break factor when it comes to creating edible end product whilst keeping your sanity intact! 

Apart from the careful sourcing and measuring that goes into starter, starter yeasts are living organisms that need maintenance and feeding.

Generally speaking, starters take a minimum one week to establish. A dried starter lets you enjoy that first taste of triumph in two days max - drastically reducing the risk of your baking endeavours becoming failed science experiments.

  1.   Find a variety of flour you like and stick with it

 While it’s the fermented starter that gives sourdough its signature tang and bubbly “big crumb” texture, flour is also vital in shaping its final form.

When starting out, it’s worthwhile working with a single flour variety. Different flours have different moisture absorption levels, and so behave differently when kneaded, cooked and cooled. By sticking with familiar ingredients, you’ll avoid (literal) sticky surprises, get comfortable with the process, and get better end results each time.  

Our Complete Sourdough Starter Kit comes with Flinders Ranges high protein premium grain, widely known for its consistency and contribution to great crusts.

  1.   No need to knead

Sourdough is supposed to be fairly wet - firm with a noticeable stickiness.

This can make handling a little harder to get the hang of, but heavy hydration helps ensure a fluffy interior with nice big air balloons.  

High-moisture dough is best served by a “stretch and fold” method as opposed to traditional kneading. Stretching gives the gluten a strong structure to hold bubbles and create volume.

Five stretching sessions every half hour is about average, with each session resulting in a firmer, more elastic dough that’s easier to work with.

  1. Dutch ovens – great, but not essential

A cast iron pot with a heavy lid, a Dutch oven stays hot for ages and seals in moisture and steam coming out of the bread, two factors that are pretty key to making professional quality sourdough.  ‘

However,as long as you can provide a hot, closed environment and plenty of steam, a Dutch oven isn’t an absolute necessity.  

When using a regular oven, slide in an additional shallow tray on the rack below. Pour in boiling water when you put your loaf in the oven. This helps to make up for any steam that might otherwise escape, giving you a lovely, soft, springy bite. 

  1.   Scoring – not just for show!

Those fancy stripes gracing loaves on the bakery shelf aren’t purely decorative. Scoring’s primary purpose is to allow gases to escape as the loaf heats up. Without a suitably deep score, gases become trapped and cause the crust to burst unpredictably - leaving the loaf you’ve so lovingly worked on with an angry scarred surface.

For scoring, a sharp small knife or razor works best. While a single slash down the middle is enough, some artistically minded bakers carve intricate designs into their crusts. It’s one of the wonderful ways you can make sourdough into something truly your own.

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