This is a part of an in depth 'beginner's guide to sourdough baking' from CooklyBookly founder Freddy May. Click here to see the full collection. Feedback is very welcome, so please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mixing with a machine or by hand
You can mix sourdough using a machine or by hand. Hand mixing is a bit messier but it doesn't really take any longer than the machine method. It also saves you forking out a lot of money for a decent mixer. the objective of mixing is to mix until there are no lumps of flour left. You're not looking to develop gluten strength. This gets done in the "stretch and fold" phase.
- If you're using a machine, put the warmed water in first and dissolve the salt in it. If you put the flour in first, you will end up with a nasty clump of flour at the bottom of the bowl that will end up in your dough. Watch
- Then add your flour. Watch
- Finally, add the starter. Watch
- Before I start mixing with the machine, I give everything a quick stir so flour doesn't fly everywhere. Watch
- If using a machine, mix for 5 minutes on its lowest setting. You should mix until there are no dry lumps of flour. Watch
- Add the warm water and salt. In the video I say the water should be prewarmed to 25℃ but I would go closer to 30℃ as the flour temperature will lower the temperature. See the comments on final dough temperature above. Watch
- Add the flour. Watch
- Finally, add the starter. Watch
- Get mixing. Watch
You might come across this expression if you've done some research. Autolysis is the process of mixing just the flour and water before adding your starter and salt. The idea is to let the gluten pre-develop, which it does all on its own and without kneading, as well as to extract more flavour.
This guide doesn't bother with the autolyse and it's not necessary while you're learning. Once you get more confident though, why not experiment with the taste difference by mixing your flour and water an hour or so before you add the salt and the starter.
Water is water, right? Yes, except when it's full of chlorine. In some parts of the world you can really smell the chlorine. Chlorine is a disinfectant and will kill bacteria. Heavily chlorinated water will still work but why take the risk?
All you need to do is fill a jug or two with regular tap water. The chlorine will then evaporate overnight and it's chlorine free. Smell it and smell water straight from the tap and you'll probably see what I mean.
Final dough temperature
One of the things I have learnt is that if you're after reliability, then you should think about the temperature of your dough after you have mixed it. I warm my water in the microwave to about 30℃ before I mix it. This means that once I've added the flour and the starter, the final dough temperature is roughly between 24℃ and 27℃. It doesn't need to be exact at all and experience will tell you how warm your water should be. But I really find that having mixed dough that is not cold speeds things up and makes for a good fermentation.
If your dough temperature is colder, fermentation will take longer. A cooler fermentation (and proof) will result in a more intense and 'sourer' taste. You can push this by doing the last part of the fermentation and the proof in the fridge.
However, one thing I would strongly recommend is that the initial part of the fermentation is done at a warm temperature. Once you've done all your stretch and folds (next step) plus about an hour, you can control the taste and, importantly, your timings, by finishing the fermentation and/or the the proof in a cool place or the fridge.
I would recommend that beginners do everything at somewhere around 25℃ until you are producing consistent loaves. But you really don't need to be exact.
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