The term ‘sourdough’ doesn’t necessarily refer to flavor, but refers to the process of souring or fermenting bread dough.
Whether one prefers a tangy flavor to sourdough bread or a mild taste, one can learn to manipulate the sourdough starter/culture and dough to produce bread that tastes great for family and friends.
It all starts with the starter or culture. Starter is what I call the batch of flour and water maintained over the span of, let’s say, a week or so, to first develop the beneficial and friendly yeast and lactobacillus colonies from scratch. Once these microbial colonies are established in the batch, that is, the yeast and lactobacillus cultures are active, mature, or ripe, I call the batch simply culture. Others keep calling it starter throughout all the phases and/or stages of the entire bread-making process as these cultures start − when added − the fermentation in the main bread dough.
The yeast provides the leavening power. The friendly bacteria, however, produce the two flavor-originating acids in their culture: lactic acid and acetic acid. Acetic acid, or vinegar, is the acid that gives sourdough much of its tang. Lactic acid smells more like yogurt or mild cheddar, without strong odors.
HOW TO MAKE A MORE SOUR SOURDOUGH
Giving acetic acid-producing organisms optimal conditions to thrive and multiply will produce a more tangy bread.
1. MODIFY THE CULTURE
- Maintain your culture at a lower hydration level. This means using a higher ratio of flour to water. Acetic acid is produced more abundantly in a drier environment, while lactic acid-producing organisms thrive in a wetter environment.
- Use whole-grain flour, which the acid-producing bacteria love.
- Keep the hooch or brown liquid layer that forms on a hungry sourdough culture instead of pouring it off. Retaining hooch can add acidity to sourdough and help it develop tang.
2. MODIFY THE BREAD DOUGH
- Achieving a slower rise during bulk fermentation may also contribute to a more sour sourdough. Find a cooler spot for rising the dough as warmer temperatures speed up fermentation and cooler temperatures slow down fermentation.
- Punch down (degassing) the dough at least once, if not twice, before the final shaping of the loaf.
- Perform the final rise for at least four hours or overnight in the refrigerator (retardation).
- Take the dough out of the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for about 30-60 minutes before baking. Although many bakers recommend that the last rise be quick in a warmer environment, a better “oven spring” is achieved by putting a cooler loaf into a hot oven.
HOW TO MAKE A LESS SOUR SOURDOUGH
To create a more mild flavor in sourdough bread, try these modifications.
1. ADJUST THE PROCESS OF MAINTAINING THE CULTURE
- Feed your culture regularly. The temperature of your culturing area and the strength of your culture will influence how often your culture needs feedings, which can be anywhere from 8 to 24 hours. Try increasing the frequency of your feedings to create a more mild taste. This should minimize the alcohol content and reduce the overall acidity of the sourdough. Less acidity means less tang!
2. MODIFY THE BREAD DOUGH
- Use more sourdough starter in the dough. A larger percentage of sourdough culture in the dough allows it to rise in a cooler location and have a shorter rising time. Both of these conditions help tame sourdough’s sourness by lowering acetic acid production. (The amount of culture may need to be adjusted by season: more culture in the winter and less in the summer.)
- Add baker’s yeast. Adding it to sourdough neutralizes some of the acidity and gives the dough a little extra leavening boost.
Each sourdough starter/culture is unique and requires adjustments until it produces a bread that is suited to one’s taste.