Sourdough Bread Baking: Ingredients and Tools

This is my second post in a series of posts on how to make sourdough bread.  In my first post, I gave you an overview of the process, with a few perhaps somewhat  deflating truths: what to expect in general, and some things I think you should be prepared to deal with if you want to give this rewarding process a whirl. In the third post, I’ll tell you how to refresh and maintain your sourdough starter. In the fourth, and last post, I’ll give you the recipe that I’ve found (after kissing a lot of recipe toads) that delivers the most delicious results. But I STRONGLY encourage you to pay careful attention to the information in this post, in order to achieve the very best results!

There are some critical things that I’ve learned in regard to the ingredients that one uses to make sourdough bread,  as well as a few must-have tools that will enable you to have an excellent outcome.  In this post I’m going to be sharing precisely why these specific ingredients and tools are so important.

If you’ve spent any time at all reading recipe reviews, you’ll notice that people very often give a recipe a poor review or a low number of stars, but if you examine their comments closely, you may notice that the person who had a bad outcome substituted critical ingredients, or  that they went about preparing the recipe in an entirely different way than was outlined in the recipe. And then, they blamed the recipe for their failure.

Let it not be so with you.

WHY THE TYPES OF INGREDIENTS YOU USE MATTER:

The number of ingredients in a loaf of sourdough bread is small.
Flour, water, sourdough starter, salt.
How hard could that be?
What’s the big deal? Why be so fussy?

As it turns out, this teeny weeny list of ingredients contains some critical adjectives/qualifiers. Qualifiers that will make all the difference in the kind of result you have.

Flour:

The flour needs to be unbleached, all-purpose flour, with a protein content of between 11-13 percent. Each element of that description is important. I want to specifically address the issue of protein content, as it is not one that is familiar territory to most home bakers, and an issue that you might be tempted to roll your eyes at as unimportant.

But I assure you that it IS important.

Yes, the type of unbleached all-purpose flour you use actually matters.

I admit to initially being a skeptic on this point.

I am frugal. I like to use store brands if they’re just as good, They help me save money. Sometimes, their product is just as good as the product made by a national brand. National brands tend to pour more money into advertising and then jack up the price of their product.

But the question arises:

Is the store brand of unbleached all-purpose flour every bit as good as, say, King Arthur flour? 

Comparing the labels on a bag of Publix Unbleached All Purpose Flour and White Lily Self-Rising Flour.
Note the difference in the grams of protein per serving.

The answer to that question is found in the protein content of the flour.

The sources I’ve been studying have all agreed on the importance of the percentage of protein content found in the flour that one uses to bake bread.  So I began to wonder precisely why this is such a critical issue. It turns out, there is a very good scientific reason for WHY your choice of flour matters, and it’s not just because they’re trying to sell you the more expensive flour.

You’ll note that the flour I mentioned has a protein content that is 11-13% protein content. Most store brand unbleached flour is 10% protein content, or lower.

You can find the level of protein content on the side of your bag of flour. Most labels say that a serving of flour is 30 g of flour. If you scan down the label, you can find the grams of protein in each serving. For example, looking at the store brand of flour at Publix, their unbleached all-purpose flour has  3 grams of protein in 30 grams of flour. You divide 3g by 30g, and you come up with a protein content percentage of 10%.  White Lily flour, the flour that I use for making biscuits, is milled from a soft wheat flour, and has an even lower protein content. There are two grams of protein to thirty grams of flour which equals 6.6% protein.

King Arthur flour, which has 4 g of protein in a 30 g serving comes out to having a protein percentage of 13.3%. Clearly, it has significantly higher percentage of protein, and it meets the requirements specified in the recipe.

Pointing out the higher level of Protein in a serving of King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour

Why is the level of protein in your flour so critical? Protein is what allows gluten to form. Gluten is the magical elastic substance that enables bread to rise. It also helps bread retain moisture, so a higher protein content means your bread will stay fresher, longer.

So: if you want your bread to have a nice, high rise, and to stay fresher, longer, take the time to be sure that the flour that you use has a protein level of between 11 and 13%.

Water:

Now what about water? Why does my recipe specify the use bottled or filtered water? Put simply, the chlorine that kills bad bacteria in your tap water can also potentially hurt the yeast in your sourdough starter. Use water that won’t discourage what you’re trying to facilitate the growth of. Got it?

I use water that comes from our kitchen’s reverse osmosis water filtering system, but I’ve read of some people who use a Brita water filtering system, others who use their refrigerator’s filtered water, and others who buy distilled or spring water. I’d just avoid your local tap water, unless you know exactly what you’re dealing with chemically.

Sourdough Starter:

I’m not going to tell you how to make a sourdough starter for this simple reason: I’ve never made one. My starter came from King Arthur, . Click the link in the name King Arthur, to check on their product and you can decide if you might want to order a starter from them as well.

TOOLS:

This is a picture of the Oxo Scale I use, and love, and the sourdough starter.
 

Scale:
In my opinion, the most important tool you can buy to help you make great sourdough bread is a scale. I really don’t know how you will successfully navigate the breadmaking process without one I have an Oxo scale. It is awesome. I’m not selling them. I just like them that much. If you only use a measuring cup, 1 cup of flour can vary in weight tremendously, depending on whether the flour is scooped or spooned into the measuring cup, and on whether the flour you are scooping from has been fluffed recently, or has settled. Use a scale, and worry on these points and how an incorrect amount of flour will affect the outcome of your bread (in terms of stickiness of dough if too little flour is used or heaviness, dryness, and density of bread if too much is used) will be eliminated.

Baking stone:

I use a large circular pizza stone that I ordered years ago from Pampered Chef. A baking stone that has been pre-heated will conduct heat instantly and efficiently into bottom of the loaves you are baking, producing what professional bakers call “oven spring”.

Spray bottle:

Any type will do, but you will want to be able to spray a large, fine mist over the loaves of bread, several times, after you have placed them in the oven. This helps your bread get that glorious crust that is so prized in artisan loaves. I use a Rubbermaid Heavy-Duty Spray Bottle, that I keep set aside for this purpose only.

 

So that’s it. I hope I’ve convinced you that ingredients and the tools that you gather together to make sourdough bread can and will make all the difference in the results that you’ll have.

In my next post, I’ll explain to you what I’ve learned about sourdough starters.

Were you aware of the important role that the percentage of protein plays in baking bread?

Please feel free to pin this post on Pinterest, or share it with your friends.

 
 


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