Monday, October 16, 2017

How much time does sourdough baking really take?

My sourdough baking routine is one that ebbs and flows with the seasons. Sourdough isn't a rigorous thing that requires strict baking procedures to work, which is why I find it a practical thing to fit into my daily life.
Making a loaf is actually a very hands-off process for me, which is excellent for the day-to-day. When I want to spend a little more time having fun with my sourdough I usually bake some scrolls or put together an interesting pull-apart.
And just how hands-off is my sourdough baking routine?
When I want to bake, I get my starter out in the morning and feed her, to activate her. By evening she is bubbly, or sometimes sooner if it's summer.
I mix up my loaf of bread in the evening, sometimes before I start cooking dinner and sometimes just before I go to bed, the timing really isn't very important. The bread rises overnight, peaking to its maximum height. In the morning it is a simple case of a quick 5 minute knead before shaping the loaf (less than a minute) and putting it into a banneton or tin to rise. I return in a couple of hours (again depending on the season) and put the loaf in to bake. That's it.
With less than 15 minutes of hands-on time, I have fresh sourdough ready to eat by lunchtime. The bulk overnight rise/ferment means that it's done everything that sourdough is supposed to - predigested the grain, broken up the phytic acid that inhibits nutrient absorption - and it also means that the loaf doesn't take very long to rise back up again before baking.
I do have a few other sourdough routines that I do, depending on when I need the bread to be ready. But this one outlined above is the main one I use for quick, everyday bread.

Which brings us to the second equation of sourdough baking - the idea that you have to bake bread every single day to keep using your starter.
You absolutely don't, due to something called short-term storage - aka putting your starter into the fridge between bakes. You can also do long-term storage which involves drying your sourdough starter out, but it really is for the long-term because you can keep the dried starter in the cupboard for years.

My sourdough starter survives a short-term storage stint in the fridge for up to two weeks. I haven't pushed it any further than that and wouldn't like to. It's rare of course that I go that long between baking, I usually bake sourdough one to two times a week, but if for some reason no one feels like fresh homemade bread for a little while, the starter survives quite well in the fridge.
It's like putting your sourdough starter into hibernation - she's still alive and very slowly using up the flour and water she was last fed, but it's a really, really slow process.
Your starter might look a little grey on top when you get it out of the fridge, and even have a shallow pool of water accumulated on top. If it's a lot of water you can drain it off, but because I feed my starter even amounts of flour and water (something called 100% hydration), it only ever lets out a little bit of water during fridge time, so I just stir it back in.
As for the grey colour on top, that's just oxidisation. It's the same as a cut apple turning brown in the air.
The longer you keep your starter in the fridge, the slower she'll be to wake up. That's not a problem if your starter is quite mature because you can actually use it straight from the fridge, inactive. (I explain the method in detail in Spelt Sourdough Made Simple). This is very handy when I decide at bedtime that I'll want bread for lunch the next day, but I didn't get my starter out that morning.
On a side note, if your starter is very young (under a month), I wouldn't recommend storing it in the fridge for any more than 4-5 days. The strength is still building up in it.

So, what's your sourdough baking routine?
I hope if you haven't tried sourdough yet because you think it's too time-consuming, you feel like you can manage to fit it into your life after reading this. I know some people describe sourdough starters as being like pets because you have to feed them, but I must say it's a pet that thrives on lots of neglect! (Especially compared to my two Border Collies!)

Happy baking,

Sarah x

Further reading of some things mentioned in this post:
2 Bread Baking Terms You Might See + What They Actually Mean (explains hydration)
Reviving a Spelt Sourdough Starter
How Your Sourdough Starter Actually Works

If you enjoyed this post, check out Spelt Sourdough Made Simple.
Filled with delicious recipes designed for baking with whole spelt flour (and other variations of spelt) with no mixing in of other flours - this is truly 100% spelt sourdough. The no-fuss methods will have you baking delicious whole spelt sourdough in no time - also suitable for whole wheat flour baking. Learn more or purchase your instant download copy here.

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  1. Indeed, great information Sarah. It is a wonderful thing when sourdough fits in around our lives and not the other way around. Happy baking x

  2. I can't eat bread at the moment, but that looks so good!!

    1. I can't imagine not being able to eat bread ;-)


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