You have a starter, you have the basic tools, now let’s understand some of the terminology for sourdough baking. This is an overview to consolidate and share what I’ve learned as fail-safe ways for an amateur home-baker to succeed every time at baking sourdough bread. Where relevant, I have shared what I think are the best videos or sites should you wish to learn each of the components in more detail.
What is Bakers Percentage?
If you’ve ever seen a bread recipe that says “80% hydration”, it’s referring to the water to flour ratio in the bread recipe. The ratio of water, flour, levain (the starter), and salt is referred to as the “Baker’s Percentage” and it helps you play around with different flavors and textures without heading for disaster. I usually make a 80% hydration bread with flour : water : levain : salt = 100 : 80 : 15 : 2 but I recommend starting with lower hydration (70-75%) which is what I did until I became confident with handling the dough; The higher the hydration, the harder it is to handle it.
What is autolyse?
It’s a fancy name for “mix and leave the flour and water”. It helps to hydrate the flour and develop flavor. In my case, I use whole-wheat so this process is useful to fully integrate the flour and water, making it easy to stretch and fold (explained in the next section). Recommended reading on this step is here.
Developing the dough / gluten
For any bread baking, you want to make sure that the gluten structure in the flour is developed so that it can support itself during the process and keep the air trapped inside the dough when baking. This will help to achieve an airy, chewy bread. The only way I knew how to do this was kneading which I am sure you have done before. For sourdough, you can also knead. However, you can also use this technique called the “stretch and fold”, which in my opinion is a lot easier than kneading, and probably also fail-safe. I explain how to do it in the recipe, but you can also watch a nice video here where at 10:33, he shows you how it’s done. Once you start the stretch and fold process, you wonder “when do I know I am done?” The best answer I can give you is to try the windowpane test; Stretch and lift the dough against the window to see if it lets through light without the dough breaking or ripping. If it doesn’t rip, your dough is ready for fermentation.
So your starter is already a fermented product. Through the fermentation process for the bread, you let the starter “eat” through the rest of the dough. This gives the bread air and flavor. There are all kinds of tips and tricks out there to show you when fermentation is done. I personally like to leave it longer (and slower by letting the dough spend time in the fridge as well), but I’d say the minimum is to let it ferment until you see pockets of air on the dough surface.
This is when you shape the dough into a bread form and let it “set” into the shape. This process is unlike the fermentation in that, you don’t want to under do it, but you also don’t want to overdo it. The fail-safe way I use to check is to poke the dough and see it spring back. If it springs back all the way, it’s not done yet. If it doesn’t spring back at all, it’s overdone. You want to capture the moment when it springs back slowly, but not all quite all the way….
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.