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Converting a normal bread recipe to sourdough

 
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I wrote this on my blog a few years back. I asked and gave my permission to copy and paste it here (with a few changes).

I almost never have commercial yeast in my house any more I much prefer to make and eat bread with sourdough. This is mostly because I'm lazy.

Lazy because commercial yeast acts really quickly and you have precise timing for each stage - sourdough is less fussy and gives you an hour or two leeway.

I also really enjoy the flavour of sourdough. I can make it strongly sour (making a stiff sponge) or mild and lofty (a runny sponge started several days before baking day). With sourdough you are the master.


Been hankering for a sourdough hot cross bun recipe but I haven't found one yet that captures that certain I don't know what, I remember from my youth. Instead of working from a sourdough recipe, I decided to start with a recipe I know and love, and transform it into sourdough.



The recipe I'm starting with is from my most favourite bread book ever: Homemade Bread by the Food Editors of Farm Journal. Now, I don't recommend this book to everyone. In fact, I think most people would be offended by it's attitude towards woman. But I find it a funny attempt to counter the feminist movement. I laugh at descriptions how on election night, a woman should be in the kitchen baking Election Night Bread (be careful how you spell that folks) to serve to her husband and his friends from work as they gather around the television watching the polls.


The other reference I'm using to convert this modern recipe is Baking with Sourdough (Storey's Country Wisdom Bulletin) by Sara Pitzer. It's an excellent reference for beginners and experienced sourdough lovers alike. I find myself referencing it time and again. I highly recommend it.

Sara writes:

"To adapt a yeast recipe, begin with a small amount of starter, about 1/4 cup... Mix the starter with some flour and some of the liquid from the basic recipe you want to convert. Figure that 1/4 cup starter has replaced about 1/4 cup flour and slightly less than 1/4 cup liquid in the recipe.... " She goes on to describes the method of making a sponge, mixing some of the flour and liquid with the starter and letting it sit 4 (for mild flavour) to 24 (for strong flavour) hours. Then proceed with the regular process, being careful to get the right texture of the dough (it helps to have made the recipe using commercial yeast before hand so you know what the desired texture and consistency of the dough should be) and allowing for longer time rising the dough. Sara finishes up saying, "If it 'thinks good,' try it." which is excellent advice.


A few things to note (and Sara's book goes into more detail about this) is that you can control how strong a flavour your sourdough starter gives your bread. You are not at the mercy of your starter.

One way to control the flavour, making it more mild, is to create a runny sponge a few days before hand. I usually keep my starter extra-thick and then create a runny sponge from it (using by volume 1 part starter, 1 part flour, and 2 parts water). Feed it at least once a day for at least 2 days, twice for a more mild texture, don't worry if you make too much, the extra sponge can become sourdough crackers or bread. By having the sponge runny and at room temperature for a few days before baking day helps make the bread more lofty and less sour.



As I'm always learning new things, I have different opinions now on some aspects. But for the most part, it's a good starting place for those who which to translate modern bread recipes into sourdough.
 
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https://recipeland.com/recipes/for/sourdough_198 Ranson, this ought to get your sourdough juices running. They even had a sourdough tortilla recipe.
 
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One way to control the flavour, making it more mild, is to create a runny sponge a few days before hand. I usually keep my starter extra-thick and then create a runny sponge from it (using by volume 1 part starter, 1 part flour, and 2 parts water). Feed it at least once a day for at least 2 days, twice for a more mild texture, don't worry if you make too much, the extra sponge can become sourdough crackers or bread. By having the sponge runny and at room temperature for a few days before baking day helps make the bread more lofty and less sour.



An added option for a less sour (really not at all sour) bread, along with a lot of sponge feeding, is to do a first 'proof' at a cooler temperature....we didn't have a refrigerator early on but once we did I would make up the dough, knead well and keep in a covered bowl in the refrigerator...it kept well and I could just pull off a bit for flat breads or whole loaves to then 'proof' again at room temperature for a week or so. The flavor would be very mellow....back in those days we were grinding our wheat with a corona mill after buying it out of an Illinois wheat field, really fresh flour.
I think I'm using the word 'proof' correctly...it's what I remember, not necessarily the proper word......feel free to correct.
 
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Sponge and proof are two words often used in bread baking, but the meaning has great variation depending where in the world you are. That's one of the joyful things about old words like these, they can mean so many different things. In the last 20 years or so, there's been a major attempt to standardize the meanings. There is still some regional variation, but they are almost there.

This is how I usually use the word sponge:

A word about Sponge. Although the word sponge can mean different things in various parts of the word, I use it here to mean a fairly active runny batter like substance made of sourdough starter, flour and water. Make the sponge at least 4 hours before you plan to begin the bread.



I've seen 'proof' used as both noun and verb. I think there are several different 'correct' ways to use this word. Then there are traditional ways, and regional variations, and...
 
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Thanks for the neat link Mike, very inspirational. A few years back, there were hardly any recipes in sourdough, and the ones there were, involved a lot of ingredients I can't eat. Now there are some amazing resources like the one you linked to. Yet, I think having the skill to convert a recipe to sourdough is still useful.

There's been more than one occasion when I want to bake a recipe but I don't keep commercial yeast in the house, and too lazy to go out and get some from the store. Yet I want to make nettle bread, or hot cross buns, or a specific family recipe... all of which were written for commercial yeast. So I usually end up converting it.

Also, I feel sourdough makes the grain easier to digest, so the more recipes we can convert to sourdough, perhaps the less problems many of us will have digesting grain.
 
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I so much want to be able to make truly sour no-knead sourdough bread.  I love the tang!  But I've been an abysmal failure at managing to adapt a recipe from traditional kneaded bread to no-knead to come up with a sour loaf.  I'm off the grid and don't want to run a generator to use a bread hook (well, okay, I don't even have one because I don't want to run a generator to use one), plus my wrists just won't take kneading dough.  So no-knead is it.  

So far I haven't come across a no-knead recipe that delivers truly sour bread.  Periodically I just give up and make bread using yeast (and not sour) until I absolutely am dying for that tang I love so much.  I always come back to trying for sour.  I've used commercial starters, captured wild starters, used neighbors' starters -- so far with not very satisfying results.  Sourdough is pretty popular, seems to me, so I don't understand why it's so hard to make a sour loaf of no-knead bread.

[Note that I'm pretty lousy at following directions. So I'm a big part of the problem with my results!]
 
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Lif Strand wrote:I so much want to be able to make truly sour no-knead sourdough bread.  I love the tang!  But I've been an abysmal failure at managing to adapt a recipe from traditional kneaded bread to no-knead to come up with a sour loaf.  I'm off the grid and don't want to run a generator to use a bread hook (well, okay, I don't even have one because I don't want to run a generator to use one), plus my wrists just won't take kneading dough.  So no-knead is it.  

So far I haven't come across a no-knead recipe that delivers truly sour bread.  Periodically I just give up and make bread using yeast (and not sour) until I absolutely am dying for that tang I love so much.  I always come back to trying for sour.  I've used commercial starters, captured wild starters, used neighbors' starters -- so far with not very satisfying results.  Sourdough is pretty popular, seems to me, so I don't understand why it's so hard to make a sour loaf of no-knead bread.

[Note that I'm pretty lousy at following directions. So I'm a big part of the problem with my results!]



I never knead my sourdough!

I make it about 80% hydration and just fold it a little bit with my bread spatula. If you can find the book, tartine bread has the method i follow. Tartine Bread Link


The book explains it step by step.

 
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jordan barton wrote:
I never knead my sourdough!

I make it about 80% hydration and just fold it a little bit with my bread spatula. If you can find the book, tartine bread has the method i follow. Tartine Bread Link

The book explains it step by step.


Thank you so much for that info.  I'll ask my library for the book and I've found a recipe online and will give it a try.  Do you actually weigh, as per the recipe I found?  I don't have a gram scale but so many bread recipes nowadays use weight.  I guess I'll have to break down and invest in a scale.
 
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Lif Strand wrote:I so much want to be able to make truly sour no-knead sourdough bread.  I love the tang!  But I've been an abysmal failure at managing to adapt a recipe from traditional kneaded bread to no-knead to come up with a sour loaf.  I'm off the grid and don't want to run a generator to use a bread hook (well, okay, I don't even have one because I don't want to run a generator to use one), plus my wrists just won't take kneading dough.  So no-knead is it.  

So far I haven't come across a no-knead recipe that delivers truly sour bread.  Periodically I just give up and make bread using yeast (and not sour) until I absolutely am dying for that tang I love so much.  I always come back to trying for sour.  I've used commercial starters, captured wild starters, used neighbors' starters -- so far with not very satisfying results.  Sourdough is pretty popular, seems to me, so I don't understand why it's so hard to make a sour loaf of no-knead bread.

[Note that I'm pretty lousy at following directions. So I'm a big part of the problem with my results!]



I started a few years ago with the instructions here: https://www.theperfectloaf.com/beginners-sourdough-bread/

There's no need to kneed. Just a little folding. The instructions are very detailed and call for careful precision, but I've found that sourdough is very tolerant. My early breads weren't always beautiful, but they were always delicious. To get sour flavor, I use a long ferment in the fridge (~36 hours) after about 8 hours at room temp. Just experiment a little (take notes on timing, hydration, etc.) and you'll get the hang of it.
 
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Jake Esselstyn wrote:

Lif Strand wrote: [Note that I'm pretty lousy at following directions. So I'm a big part of the problem with my results!]


I started a few years ago with the instructions here: https://www.theperfectloaf.com/beginners-sourdough-bread/

There's no need to kneed. Just a little folding. The instructions are very detailed and call for careful precision, but I've found that sourdough is very tolerant. My early breads weren't always beautiful, but they were always delicious. To get sour flavor, I use a long ferment in the fridge (~36 hours) after about 8 hours at room temp. Just experiment a little (take notes on timing, hydration, etc.) and you'll get the hang of it.

I've done long ferments and they were okay but then the bread didn't really rise. I suppose I should be more scientific about this, but I've been resistant to doing so. My logic (or illogic) is that bread is such a basic food, has been so basic for thousands of years, that it should be a simple thing to make. I get put off by having to have the kitchen of a rocket scientist, and the skills of a master baker, and the patience of a saint, in order to turn out a decent loaf of bread.
 
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Lif Strand wrote: I suppose I should be more scientific about this, but I've been resistant to doing so. My logic (or illogic) is that bread is such a basic food, has been so basic for thousands of years, that it should be a simple thing to make. I get put off by having to have the kitchen of a rocket scientist, and the skills of a master baker, and the patience of a saint, in order to turn out a decent loaf of bread.



Jake's link in the post above looks good for a beginner. Don't be intimidated by those measurements.
I would suggest following a trusted recipe several times, but only once you have a really stable starter (mild, vigorous, refreshed often). Unless you do there is not much of a point choosing a recipe.

Then when you have successfully done some loaves, I would ditch the scale.
Nowadays I make bread at least once a week and never weigh or measure. I just observe the dough to see if it needs more water or not. It does not always turn out the same, but always delicious. Like in the link above, I use a mix of bread flour, whole wheat and rye.
I only follow a recipe for the sandwich loaves because I need to come up with an exact amount to fill the pans and an exact dough behaviour for the texture.

At least that is how I work. When I only follow instructions and work in a guided manner, I don't muster the courage to do it all by myself. The same happened when I was doing my driving lessons - at one point I was only able to drive with my instructor by my side. Or with sewing a bag: If you don't try to figure out the logic yourself (which seams belongs where, how do you turn the thing etc.) you will always be depending on someone giving you the step-by-step. Or even with handling my newborn baby many years ago... many examples.

For encouragement, I can recommend this video (I have linked it before when the pandemia hit us last spring):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhd1eeoM2Vg,  called Can I Make Sourdough Bread with No Baking Equipment?
 
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I would love any additional information on making the products not taste like sourdough. My housemates love all my baking but the majority want nothing to do with any of my sourdough anything. Even pancakes! I couldn't believe it. I see about making the sponge and then you refrigerate it right away to keep it mellow?

And how do you use the baking powder to mellow it?

I will be looking up that book mentioned by Sara Pitzer next time I go to the library. While I have done a considerable amount of baking, (And do not tend to follow the directions much, sort of taking R's route of observation.) I am afraid I cannot add anything to the recipe conversion process. My apologies.
 
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Aimee Hall wrote:I would love any additional information on making the products not taste like sourdough.


When I use long ferment sourdough to make Chinese bread recipes (steamed bread, pan fried pancakes, filled buns, or actual baked bread) the recipe nearly always calls for a bit of baking soda to be rubbed into your board before you sprinkle it with flour to roll out your dough. It neutralizes the sour taste, which isn't appreciated (though I like it).
That is great for something you have to roll out and manipulate on a board. For pancakes or some sort of wetter or more fragile dough you're going to drop, I'm not sure.

 
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I don't do a lot with a starter these days (terrible at keeping it alive and happy). I mostly use the no knead bread recipe (https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/11376-no-knead-bread) when I bake and I have adapted that to many recipes, including challah, potica, bagels, English muffins, and hot cross buns! I make a faux sourdough by substituting half the water with yogurt (or all of it with yogurt whey). The bacteria in the yogurt sour and ferment the flour just like a starter (indeed the species are closely related). I don't digest regular bread well, but both sourdough and yogurt soured dough agrees with my system.

Anyway, the conversion is: I combine everything in the recipe as called for, reduce the yeast to 1/4 tsp, and sub any water with yogurt whey if I want it soured. Then follow the usual no knead method, then the shaping and baking instructions from the recipe. I imagine sourdough would be similar, once you know what amount of starter you need, replace some flour and water with that and keep the rest of the ingredients the same.
 
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