Perhaps you’ve recently jumped on the popular sourdough train that is making headway in our current society. You’re excited about the beginning steps of creating your starter (see how to do that right here), watched the bubbles form, and maybe even baked a few good loaves of bread, pancakes, pizza crust, or muffins. That’s fantastic! I’m relatively new to the sourdough world as well and I think it’s a great place to be.
But maybe somewhere along the way you began experiencing issues: bread loaves that are extremely dense, an inactive looking starter, a wimpy rise in the dough, and so on. These are a common occurrence for any sourdough baker, but especially those of us who are still beginners.
Let’s discuss some of the most common errors that beginner sourdough bakers make (I’ve made quite a few of these!), determine how to right the wrongs, and sharpen our sourdough baking skills together!
Baking with sourdough is quite different than simply pulling out yeast packets and following a recipe, but it may not be as complicated as you may think! Once you learn the basics to feeding your starter, implementing it into recipes, discarding excess (in a non-wasteful way!), and which mistakes to avoid making, you’ll be a pro sourdough baker in no time! All it takes is some info on what to do and what not to do, patience, and practice. In this blog post we’re focusing on some common mistakes people who are beginning with sourdough make. As well as how to fix them! Just below you’ll find 6 mistakes and their solutions. There’s even some additional info about sourdough at the end of this post. Enjoy!
1. Thinking it’s Too Hard
Sourdough is a learning curve, but not overly challenging after some patience and practice.
I’ve often heard people comment that they would love to bake with sourdough but they don’t have time to feed it so much. 3 minutes in the morning and 3 minutes in the evening…that’s pretty doable!
Once you get used to the feedings and what an active starter should look and act like, the process will become as second nature as pulling out yeast packets (or a store-bought loaf of bread).
Plus, there are a myriad of cookbooks available that focus on sourdough. You’ll find info about feedings, care for your starter, problems other people have run into, and baking recipes. Oh, and lots of detailed pictures to help you relate your situation to their discussion!
2. Throwing Your Starter Out Because You Think It’s Dead
Sourdough starters are much more resilient than people often imagine. I’ve heard stories of starters being left in the fridge for 9 months, pulled out again, fed, and still living!
I’m not suggesting this is the best practice to implement in your sourdough journey, but the point is that they are not that easy to kill.
3. Baking With an Inactive Starter
This mistake results from simply not feeding your starter regularly. Ideally you should feed your sourdough starter 1-2 times per day (when using on a regular basis).
An inactive starter will produce breads with less flavor and a lower rise because less yeast is present.
4. Using Your Starter at the Wrong Time
The best time to use your starter is when it reaches peak activation. You’ll know it is at its most active point when the following attributes are present.
- it has at least doubled in size from when you fed it
- rounded at the top (showing no signs of deflation)
- it smells tangy and sour
- the float test (Placing a small amount of sourdough starter in a bowl of water. If it floats, it’s active!)
Baking with starter that is still inclining towards activation or is on the decline will not give you the best results.
5. Feeding Your Starter Too Often
Certain sources will encourage you to feed your starter 2-3 times per day, but I find that to be excessive for the amount of baking I do. If you spend all day baking for fun or profession, maybe that many feedings are needed, but not for the regular home cook like me!
I find that one feeding each day (usually in the morning) is sufficient as I typically use my starter once every-other-day.
6. Throwing Away Excess Starter
Feeding a starter involves adding more flour and water to the mixture and discarding what you don’t need. Sounds pretty wasteful, right? It doesn’t have to be! Sourdough discard (this is what we call excess starter that you might throw out) works extremely well for certain recipes like Sourdough Pancakes, Waffles, Chocolate Chip Muffins, Crackers, and biscuits.
Just search ‘Sourdough Discard Recipe’ and the internet will give so many ideas!
How Can I Make My Own Sourdough Starter?
Interested in implementing sourdough into your kitchen? Here’s everything you need to know to get your sourdough starter going.
All it takes is flour, water, and about 7 days time.
I also answer a few of the most frequently asked questions about sourdough over here.
How is Sourdough Healthier than Regular Bread?
Read more in depth about the health benefits of sourdough here. I explain four reasons that sourdough is one of the healthiest breads you can consume, as well as describe how the fermentation process of sourdough works.
Yummy Sourdough Recipes
- Homemade Tortillas
- Pizza Crust
- Naturally Sweetened Sourdough Pancakes
- Honey Sweetened Sourdough Chocolate Chip Muffins
- Sourdough Peanut Butter Crepes
Hey Annie! What is your thought on starter temperature? Should it be used from room temp or cold? I have a fridge fed starter from Azure that I don’t grow on the counter. Would that impact my baking? Should flour also be room temp? What about water? I think some of these things may be impacting my loaves!
Hello Sarah! Thanks for reaching out with your questions 🙂 I’ll do my best to give helpful answers!
First of all, I don’t have any experience with a cold starter and never heard of anyone having one before, so this concept is new to me.
1. I have noticed a difference the temperature when using my sourdough starter. Normally, I’ll use cold sourdough discard when making things that don’t need a large rise (pancakes, waffles, crackers, tortillas…), but I’ll feed it, allow it to ferment, and warm up to room temperature when making items that I want more rise (bread, biscuits, muffins…). I do think that a starter that’s been fed and allowed to get to room temperature produces a better rise.
2. As for the temperature of the flour…I’ve only used flour that is at room temperature. I think I’ve heard that using cold flour can cause bread doughs to rise at a slower rate. I’d suggest setting out the flour for a 15-30 minutes before baking with it.
3. The temperature of the water follows the same concept as the flour. Cold water can cause the dough to rise at a slower rater. I suggest using room temperature water if possible.
I hope that cleared up a few things for you!