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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.
 
r ranson
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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...
 
r ranson
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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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