Starting Sourdough

by | Sep 12, 2020 | Featured, Health & Nutrition, Plant-Based 101

I will admit, staying at home due to COVID, while pregnant sparked my curiosity to start sourdough baking. It’s also quite hard to find 100% animal-free bread in Japan – so why not bake at home? Through trial and error, I now bake tasty sourdough bread a few times a week at home. Sharing some tips and tricks to keep it simple and (hopefully) fail-safe. 

What is Sourdough?

It’s one of the oldest ways to bake bread and all you need is four, salt, and water (and a lot of time). The flavor is tangy, and through fermentation the bread has both probiotics and prebiotics. You’ll lose the probiotics when you bake in high heat, but the prebiotics will remain in the bread – hence it is also a great food for your gut health than other forms of bread.

Tools You Should Have – the bare minimum

Oven: I have not even attempted baking at anything lower than 180C. This is one of the first things I would say is a must-have. You want high heat (ideally 270C or 280C) to get what is called an “oven spring” – the burst of the dough in the first few minutes of the oven which determines how airy your bread is. I use this oven which at the time of purchase was the best deal. You want the high temperature (this oven has MAX 250C) and if possible a convection feature.

Proofing Basket: The real tool, called a Banneton is expensive for some reason. I use a plain basket like this which you can line with a cotton tea towel (or a cotton pillow case like me).

Rye Flour: I explain this in the sourdough starter recipe, but this is my starter and is based off a blog I found as I was looking for an easy and tasty way for a beginner to create a starter. I’ve used 2 different types of Rye and the verdict is – you want one that is ground as fine as possible for a lighter starter.

Strong White Flour: This goes for any bread-baking but you want strong white flour with at least 10% protein content. In Japanese, look for 強力粉.

Aside from these, I’m assuming you have the following tools in your kitchen as I consider them must-haves; Oven gloves, sea salt (not iodized), parchment paper, a big mixing bowl, a scale, 2 jars, 1 rubber band, and a sharp knife or razor blade.  

Tools You Want to Invest in – my own minimum

Dutch Oven: I started without one but ended up buying a Dutch oven as a) the bread touched the ceiling of my oven which limited the growth of the bread and burnt the crust, and b) I wanted to see how much better my bread could get with it. There are many out there, but I got a reasonable one which really did improve the oven spring and outcome of my bread.

Baking Spatula: I started without one of these and used a kitchen knife, but it’s cheap and really easy to use, so I would get this from the beginning in hind-sight. If you will start with a kitchen knife, wet it with water before use.

Tools You May Want

Bakery Mat: I don’t have a lot of space on the kitchen counter so I needed a mat to be able to work the dough on my dining table. Any silicone mat will do; I got this one. You won’t need this if you have sufficient space in the kitchen.

Lame: I didn’t have a simple razor at home so I invested in a Lame. If you have a super sharp knife though, you won’t need this.

Bread knife: Again, I started without one but our regular kitchen knife destroyed the beautiful bread every time we cut into it to eat.

The Ingredients and other things to note

I’m not fussy on the ingredients and always buy the cheap one when and where I find it. However, I have a few rules that I have found through trying many times that there are a few things you just have to be fussy about:

Flour: Always always strong flour with at least 10% protein content.

Salt: Not iodized. Kosher salt or sea salt will do.

Then, there are a few other things to note before getting started:

Practice makes perfect; Unlike the other recipes we share on this website, the sourdough one does not have much in the name of exact instructions. That is because the steps and time it takes can vary a lot on temperature, humidity, how strong your starter is, and how long you leave between each step. Don’t worry though, I never measure temperature or humidity, and sometimes I forget I was in the middle of preparing a loaf, but somehow (or maybe because I’m not such an exact person) I found a few fail-safe rules/tips along the way.

Enjoy the failures; I’m not a professional baker – so I still fail every now and then. I still enjoy these moments because each failure brings new insight and brings me one step closer to the perfect loaf!

Still with me? Happy baking!

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Noriko Shindo

What started as a curious experiment to opt for a completely plant-based diet consequently turned into a new and exciting lifestyle! Since my transition, I have been primarily interested in 2 things: to increase awareness on the plant-based lifestyle, and to help as many plant-based people in Japan sustain their plant-based lifestyle by providing useful information. I believe that a plant-based life is for everyone: you can do a meat-free Monday and still call yourself plant-based. Even if you still occasionally put some parmesan on your pasta, go ahead – declare you live a plant-based lifestyle. The point I’m trying to make is, plant-based, it is just another way of life.

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