I have a confession to make, and it may not sound like much if you’re not in the artisan sourdough bakers community but… I make sourdough in a breadmaker. I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to even be able to do this!
I first started making sourdough because I wanted to eat more healthily. I saw a lot online about giving up bread and reasons you might want to, but I just couldn’t imagine life without bread.
I wondered if there was a compromise. Were some types of bread more digestible? Lower in gluten? Less processed? Less likely to spike blood sugar? More nutrient-dense?
I experimented with spelt bread, which ticked a few of those boxes but I never quite fell in love with the taste. A bit of googling later and… I discovered sourdough.
I remember being at work one night and nervously ordering a starter online (a live colony of wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria). I had little idea what I was doing, but I was determined to learn.
Well, I followed some instructions online and baked a heavy, dark, deeply sour monster. I gave it to my dad, the only person who liked it! Then I decided in my wisdom to change the type of flour my starter lived on. And promptly killed it.
I’ve revisited sourdough baking since, and my second starter is still going strong. And, I learned how to make it in my breadmaker.
It isn’t as pretty as hand-baked artisan loaves with the much sought-after open crumb structure. But you know what? I’m still baking sourdough, and it’s still much better for me than any bread I could buy.
BENEFITS OF SOURDOUGH
There are many things wrong with modern, mass-produced bread, and there are people who benefit from cutting it out altogether – including coeliacs and those with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity.
For my part, I just knew I wanted to eat something healthier than the loaves you can buy in the supermarket.
Enter sourdough, which is fermented with wild yeasts and lactic acid bacteria naturally present in flour. Naturally leavened bread, the way it was made since Neolithic times.
This long, slow fermentation makes a huge difference to digestibility. The lactic acid bacteria acidify the dough and transform the taste, nutritional value and digestibility of the bread.
Gliadin, one of the proteins in gluten, is broken down, meaning that even some coeliacs can tolerate sourdough (although it’s not gluten-free).
Lactic acids also help to break down phytic acid, making the bread more digestible. And 12 hours of sourdough fermentation reduces FODMAP compounds (thought to cause IBS) down to levels of 10% and below.
For me, I love the taste of sourdough and it really fills me up. My blood sugar levels can be all over the place, but two slices of sourdough with peanut butter will keep me full until lunchtime.
BUT the stuff you can buy in supermarkets is just standard bread made with commercial yeast, with a bit of sourdough starter for taste. That’s all I can get in my area, so if I want real sourdough, I have to make it myself.
LOOKING AFTER A SOURDOUGH STARTER
A starter is made up of flour and water colonised by wild yeasts and lactic acid bacteria. It allows you to ferment flour and water to make bread, and this fermentation makes the bread rise – in place of commercial yeast.
Although it’s possible to make your own starter, there are so many factors in sourdough baking and if it doesn’t work, you won’t know if it’s the starter or something else. For that reason, I would recommend buying a live starter that you can be confident in.
I bought my organic rye flour starter at Hobbs House Bakery and it’s working really well for me, and still going strong. Rye flour starters are more stable, so it’s a good place to start.
EQUIPMENT: You will need 2x 1 litre kilner jars.
FLOUR: You will need organic wholemeal rye flour (to feed the starter), organic white flour and organic wholemeal flour to bake with.
You don’t need to use strong bread flour, which is higher in gluten. But organic flour contains more nutrients which the sourdough will feed off, so this is highly recommended.
WATER: Chlorine can kill wild yeast, but I’ve read that you CAN use water straight from the tap, just let it breathe first. Don’t use cooled boiled water or mineral water as they are deoxygenated.
Use warm water when you’re baking, and cold water when you’re about to put your starter in the fridge (where it will live, in a fairly inert state, in-between baking. Feed it about once a week.)
Keep your starter in a 1 litre kilner jar, which will give it room to grow. Keep the rubber seal off though, so that oxygen can get in.
REFRESHING YOUR STARTER: A few hours before you want to bake (try 6 hours), take 250g of starter out of the fridge. Add 75g flour, 75g warm water = 400g starter. Keep this out on your worktop until you’re ready to bake.
Feeding the starter will wake it up. It will rise and become bubbly and stronger smelling.
In the summer, make sure your starter doesn’t become too warm. Keep it in a cool corner of the kitchen.
If your starter has sat in the fridge for a good few days, you might need to give it two feeds in succession before baking. If you get into a routine of baking every 2-3 days this may not be necessary.
After a few hours, your starter is ready to bake with. You will need 300g in your bread recipe.
AFTER BAKING: Keep 100g of starter in your kilner jar. Add 75g flour, 75g cold water = 250g starter. Keep this in your fridge until next time you bake (if you don’t bake within a week, add some more flour and water and pop it back in the fridge).
If you find that adding 50% flour and 50% water gives you a mixture that is too thick, just add a few drops of water until you have the right consistency. You’ll soon get the hang of this.
It’s very useful to have two identical kilner jars. Occasionally you’ll want to give your jar a clean, and it’s easier to put the starter in another jar. Also, you can weigh your starter more easily. Put the empty jar on some digital scales, set them to zero, then put your jar of starter onto the scales.
These instructions are based on the research and experimentation that I did when I first started baking with sourdough. My jumping off point was the instructions that came with my sourdough starter, but I also read a lot online, watched some videos, and tried different things. I’m no expert, but this has worked for me and should be a good starting point.
HOW TO BAKE SOURDOUGH BREAD IN A BREADMAKER
I have so much respect to those who bake beautiful bread by hand with love. BUT if you’re tired, busy, overworked, maybe you’ve got young kids – hand baking sourdough may be out of your reach right now. Perfectionism serves no one, so I’m all for finding an easier way.
If you already own a breadmaker with a dough or pizza cycle + a bake only cycle, you can bake a basic loaf, you want to try something healthier and you like dense, chewy bread – THIS is for you!
If you want to bake a loaf of bread as soon as you get up in the morning, make the bread before you go to bed. So, you’ll need to feed the sourdough a few hours before this.
You will need:
- 230g warm water (filtered or let it stand for 20 mins so chlorine can evaporate)
- 460g organic flour (I use 50/50 wholemeal and white, but a good starting point is 300g white and 160g wholemeal. Over time, increase the wholemeal until you find the sweet spot)
- 10g salt
Add water, then flour, sourdough and salt to the breadmaker pan. Mix for 10 minutes on the dough cycle. Don’t mix for any longer than 10 minutes, as wild yeast is delicate.
Take the paddle out of the breadmaker, and leave the mixture overnight to prove. Timings will depend on the temperature and other factors. I find it’s more like 8hrs than 12hrs. If you leave it too long it will collapse back down.
In the morning bake for 1hr, then cool on a wire rack.
The bread keeps for a few days, and just gets better and chewier. It tastes great with peanut butter!