If you are new to sourdough or have been frustrated by it, you might like to learn about these 9 sourdough secrets and myths.
In this article, I am sharing my top 9 sourdough secrets and myths that might keep you from enjoying sourdough and baking better breads.
Some of what I am going to tell you might go against established sourdough grain (so to speak) and be a bit controversial.
But this is a summary of my 40 years or so of keeping sourdough starters and baking sourdough breads.
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Sourdough Secret #1
Heirloom, San Francisco, or 150-year-old sourdough starters
I am not trying to diminish the value of a very old sourdough starter. On the contrary, I find it pretty impressive that people have been keeping continuous sourdough starters. Once active, ripe, and established they can be great for anyone new to sourdough.
However, did you know that after about 4 feedings (if you do the discard and feed method) or 4 bread bakings, that sourdough starter has nothing to do with the original one you got? You see, once you feed it with your flour, keep it in your kitchen, and environment, the microbial content has changed completely.
By all means, get an established sourdough starter if you like. But just know that it will quickly have nothing to do with the original one.
Sourdough Secret #2
Your first sourdough starter is often the hardest to make
I find it interesting that making your very first sourdough starter can be the most challenging to make. That is one of the reasons, people give up on sourdough.
If you are completely new to baking with sourdough, you may not have any wild yeasts in your kitchen. Therefore, when I teach people how to make a sourdough starter from scratch, I always tell them to not give up. Even though my sourdough method is really easy, it might still take longer to get a starter going if you have never baked with sourdough in your kitchen. Since young starters are the most vulnerable, I wrote a whole article on why you might have mold on your sourdough starter.
Sourdough Secret #3
Rye flour is best for your sourdough starter
Whether you’re trying to make a sourdough starter from scratch or activate a sluggish starter, rye flour is your best friend. I always say rye is like ‘steroids’ for your sourdough. It is higher in enzymes and holds on to water more than wheat (you can learn more about rye and sourdough here).
Sourdough Secret #4
You do not NEED to discard any of your sourdough starter
If you have a sourdough discard and feed routine that works great for you, you might want to skip this section.
If on the other hand, you find discarding wasteful, keep reading. There actually is another method that does not require you to discard any of your precious sourdough starter. You can learn all about my very popular no discards sourdough method here.
Sourdough Secret #5
You do not need to be a slave to your sourdough starter
Just the way you do not have to discard any of your sourdough starter, you also do not have to do regular feedings to keep it going. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when certain feedings will help to improve the activity of your starter. But as I am demonstrating in my signature sourdough method, you can use your sourdough starter on YOUR schedule. Whether that means baking once a week or once a month.
Sourdough Secret #6
There is a learning curve with sourdough
Think about how previous generations learned about sourdough baking: their mothers would teach them right there in their kitchens. They would show them what their doughs should look and feel like. In the absence of that, we have to rely on measurements and exact recipes.
But there are so many variables in sourdough baking: your flour, how fine your flour has been milled, the ambient wild yeasts in your kitchen, your water, the temperature, and humidity.
Therefore, I always tell people to never give up. Try again if it didn’t turn out the way you wanted it. Allow yourself to develop a feel for your sourdough.
Sourdough Secret #7
Big holes and an open crumb in your bread may be overrated
I get. Reading, learning, and upgrading my knowledge about sourdough is what I do. I also spend some time in Facebook groups and I am on Instagram where I see lots and lots of photos of beautiful sourdough breads.
But who says that a bread with a tighter crumb isn’t good or edible? And did you know that bakeries in my native Germany never bake breads like that? For a nation that often eats bread 3 times a day, big holes in their slices of bread would be highly impractical. You see, they like to spread butter on their open-faced sandwiches and the butter would just disappear in those holes.
Sourdough Secret #8
Making the Perfect Loaf of bread is overrated
Back to those online sourdough groups. There, I see these pictures of the “Perfect Loaf” (I did borrow that term from a really good book) with big holes and an open crumb.
As I said before that may or not be desirable depending on how you want to use your bread and even where you live.
I also think that there may be unnecessary pressure to create a certain kind of bread. I do recommend you find an easy, beginner-friendly sourdough bread recipe and try to master that. Once you feel comfortable with it, you can branch out to other recipes.
Also, who determines what a “failed” loaf of bread is? If you like the taste, I think it’s a success. If it’s too dense, just make croutons, breadcrumbs, bread pudding, or other creative recipes with it.
Sourdough Secret #9
You can add a pinch of yeast to your sourdough bread
I know, I know. Sourdough purists might scream that it wouldn’t be a true sourdough bread if you add commercial yeast to it.
Here’s the way I see it: yeasts are part of the microbial make-up of your sourdough starter. And the first commercial baker’s yeast products where made from sourdough. Granted, these days baker’s yeast is made in a lab.
But sometimes, a pinch of instant yeast can give you that feeling of success. It can be the difference between a very dense bread and a bread that you actually enjoy. You can always make your next bread a true 100% sourdough bread!
I hope that with this post I could inspire you to experiment more. Be less intimidated to “fail”. Book those denser breads under valuable “learning experiences”. Allow yourself to develop a feel for your sourdough starter.
If you need more help and inspiration, I recommend that you check out my Super Simple Sourdough online course. There I can give you a lot more personalized help, too.