Sourdough Literature Review

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May 7, 2020

Katherine Lee

Welcome to sourdough land! It’s tangy, blistery goodness. And honestly, once you’ve gotten into a routine with it, it’s pretty mess-free!

There’s a heck of a lot of resources about baking sourdough, and it’s hard to figure out what the difference is between recipes, and which video to watch, and what matters & what does, and what a poolish is, …

But I’ve done all that for you! Here’s a survey of some of the best resources out there for your reading pleasure.1

click me for more pretty pics2

Before reading on, ask yourself if you’re making sourdough to eat bread, or if you’re making sourdough to give yourself something to do. You’ll probably take different approaches! If you just want bread, then you’ll be pleased to know that almost nothing really matters. If you want to give yourself something to do, you’ll be pleased to know that everything really matters! It just depends on what your standards are. It’s also totally okay to switch around between “give me bread” and taking the temperature of your room to time your folds more accurately.

If you just want bread, here’s an awesome casual video for overnight sourdough from Elly’s Everyday3, one from Northwest Sourdough, and another just to show you how much nothing matters and everything is fungible and you’ll definitely get tasty bread.

If, on the other hand, you want to busy your hands and minds with super detailed and complicated recipes, I recommend Tartine’s country loaf or The Perfect Loaf.

If you fall far, far down the sourdough rabbit hole, Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast is hands down the best thing ever4.

So, let’s get to it. I’ll give you my bread routine, walk you through tips and tricks I’ve picked up, dump a lot of details, talk about pizza and foccacia , starter maintenance, what to do with your discard, and point you to other people who have baked far more loaves of bread than I have.

Super basic loaf

The only things you really need to get started are: flour, salt, and a kitchen towel. Life is way nicer if you also have a kitchen scale, plastic tupperware, and a dutch oven. Then, the next things to get are a bench scraper, a bread lame, and a banneton5. Everything else is optional.

This is my annotated version of Tartine’s recipe6. I like to spread it out over two days to get a longer proof which makes the bread a little tangier, but you can also totally skip the fridge and go ahead and bake. Also, I like baking smaller loaves more frequently because we’re currently in quarantine, and I have nothing else to do. Baking at least keeps my fingers busy. This makes a small hunk of bread (1/4 Tartine’s recipe) that my two roommates and I could devour in one sitting. It also makes 3 personal sized pizzas (that we, again, finish in one sitting), or one loaf of focaccia that we have also totally finished in one sitting, topped with garlic and avocados.

The most important tips

Detailed commentary

When we weren’t in quarantine, I did things very differently, and it also worked out great & didn’t take up too much time: about 1 hr active time start to finish. I can write that up if/when we ever go back to going into the office.

Variations: Pizza & Foccacia

Pizza & foccacia is literally the same stuff. For both, I skip the final shape, use a more hydrated dough (83% instead of 73%), and still proof overnight. For foccacia (which is basically over-proofed dough), you’re going to want to proof the dough on the sheet pan for a few hours on the counter-top before you bake (remember to oil the sheet pan before you lay the dough on top!).

More detailed starter notes

Keeping starter around is such a chore. Either just keep it in the fridge and feed it the night before you want to use it, or steal it from your neighbor when you want to bake. We’ve gone a full three weeks without feeding it in the fridge and it’s, like, okay.

Keeping starter around can also be fine. I keep my starter on the counter and feed it every day. It totally owns me and my morning routine. But if you bake more than once a week, then it seems worth it since you’d have to feed it the night before you bake anyways.

Keep it minimal. I keep just 30g of starter at any given time on the counter. I also keep a jar in the fridge for discard. Every morning, I:

I bet you could totally keep around even less with the scrapings method if it made a meaningful difference to your flour stash.

Also, apparently, the temperature you keep your starter at affects the smell & taste. Cooler temp (aka fridge) = more lactic acid = more sour. Warmer temp (aka counter-top) = more acetic acid = less sour, more floral.

If you’re starting a starter from scratch, check out King Arthur Flour’s guide

Use your discard

NYT Cooking said it best:

“Sourdough starters are generally a 1:1 ratio of flour to water by weight. Half of the weight is flour, and half of the weight is water. To add discard to any baked good, subtract the flour and water (or liquid) amounts in the discard from the original recipe. For example, if you want to add 115 grams discard to a recipe, remove 57 grams of flour and 57 grams liquid from the amounts the recipe originally called for.”

When the “discard jar” gets to like a 1/2 cup or so (I keep mine in a mason jar, so it’s easy to see the quantity of it), I go on King Arthur Flour and look up some discard recipes. Here are some I’ve liked:


Send me pictures!! I love seeing pictures of crumb!!!! and crust!!!

Thanks for making it to the end! This writeup ended up being far longer than I expected! Hope it was helpful & you got some good pointers to fall deep into bun land with me.

& thank you to my beautiful roommates who have eaten their way through all my experiments. You both make quarantine a lot of fun and hella tasty!

& thank you to Grandma for reminding me that the oven door is hot, and I should always remember to open it all the way to take something out.

More Resources

  1. Yes, I’ve read all of this. Don’t judge! It’s my version of unwinding.↩︎

  2. Photo taken by Daylen!↩︎

  3. Seriously, start here. It’s the easiest, least finicky recipe I’ve tried↩︎

  4. Don’t get me wrong, I love Tartine’s bread. I love the strong sour, and slightly sticky bread. Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast is a far more comprehensive book and includes how to debug your dough, what the parameters for baking are, how to compare recipes–things every baker could want to know about dough. You should seriously read it, its great bed time reading.↩︎

  5. You can also get all of these things on Amazon, but are we still speaking to Amazon?↩︎

  6. I had tried sooooo many different bread recipes, and I started writing down the franken-recipe I ended up with, but honestly, I just like Tartine’s best.↩︎

  7. My roommate says it’s pronounced luuuu-von.↩︎

  8. Spoon some of your starter into some warm water. If it floats, it’s active and good to go.↩︎

  9. I just do this with a spoon. It’s pretty easy to mix from the center first, then go and incorporate the rest of the flour on the outside. This makes it easier to hydrate all the dough↩︎

  10. The second addition of water here is game changing. The dough really comes together nicely and it makes the salt a lot easier to incorporate.↩︎

  11. Also, most of the stuff I’ve read around sourdough is all about learning about your own preferences, your specific dough, your kitchen, your climate–very SF. Maybe I’ve spent too much time in SF, but I feel like this is good life advice. Don’t just follow the formula, muck around with stuff and learn what good bread feels like to you.↩︎

  12. Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast goes into the differences in more detail between poolish and biga↩︎

  13. My hypothesis is the sugar in the potato was more yummy to the yeast and it was more active. It certainty rose more!↩︎

  14. Apparently my friend just straight up pours the starter onto the pan and then eats that with maple syrup. She claims to like it. I tried that once, and it was too sour for me. My theory is the baking soda reacts with acidity and it makes the final crumpet less sour. So don’t skip it! It also majorly helps with rise. I totally don’t have a “crumpet former” but you can use one, it’s still delicious and crisp on the bottom.↩︎

  15. If you know me, you know I looooove garlic, but every week we find only green garlic in our CSA box.↩︎