Baking tips

Dormant Sourdough Starter

Many new bakers forget to feed their starter, but sourdough starter is pretty hardy and difficult to kill. However, if it sits too long in your fridge, or even on the counter a dark liquid will develop over the top layer.  This is known as hooch and looks pretty rotten. Hooch can be stirred back into the start and then reactivated with flour and water. This will give the start a sharper tang, but if you want it to be milder, just pour the hooch off and then add the flour and water. If your starter is dormant, just feed the way you usually would and if it is not very lively, feed it again every 4 hours until it is bubbly and happy. PJ Hamel warns that occasionally, “starter will attract some ‘bad’ bacteria. It may acquire an unpleasant odor (not its usual sharp acidity, but something ‘off’), and may have a pinkish liquid on top. If this happens, discard your starter and begin over.” I keep both dehydrated and frozen starts on hand for just such an emergency.

Sourness in Your Bread

I am not one to take to mild sourdough, I want a long-ferment that really breaks down gluten and increases the tanginess in the flavor. The tangy flavor comes from the bacterial interactions with water and flour in the starter. This interaction produces lactic and acetic acid (vinegar) which gives sourdough its distinctive flavor. The folks at Cultures for Health explain that if you want to make your loaf taste more sour for a tangier finished product:

  • Adjust the Starter • “Maintain your starter 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 like this while lactic acid-producing organisms seem to thrive in a wet environment. • “Use whole-grain flours, which the acid-producing bacteria love. • “Keep the hooch, or brown liquid layer that forms on a hungry sourdough starter instead of pouring it off. Retaining hooch can add acidity to sourdough and help it develop tang.”
  • Adjust the Bread Dough With a Longer, Slower Rise • “Find a cooler spot for rising the dough. (Remember, 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. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for about 30-60 minutes before baking. Although many experts recommend that the last rise be a quick one done in a warmer environment, you will have better ‘oven-spring’ by putting a cooler loaf into a hot oven.” “For stronger sour flavor, try keeping the dough in the fridge longer before baking,” suggests PJ Hamel at King Arthur Flour. Maybe even “for several days, or …a week. At some point you’ll come to a point of diminishing returns—the yeast will start to die, and your bread won’t rise well—but it’s worth experimenting with chilling duration to find your own personal ‘sweet sour spot.'” If you want a milder tasting loaf you might try these steps:
  • Feed your starter every four hours, up to three times or four before using it. This should minimize the acetic acid, which gives sourdough most of its tanginess.
  • Use more starter in the dough than the recipe calls for. This will help the loaf rise more quickly which helps to tame the sourness by lowering the production of acetic acid.
  • Use cooler temperatures during the ferment which may also decrease the acidity. The folks at Cultures for Health say you can also add baking soda. “Baking soda is an alkaline substance. Adding it to sourdough neutralizes some of the acidity and gives the dough a little extra leavening boost.”

Hydration Levels in Sourdough Baking

Today I was making another loaf of Malted Rootbeer Sourdough Bread from memory. It was then I realized once again that bread making is not a science but an art. I can tell this loaf is more hydrated than I can handle; it is a sticky mess that I am hoping will work out. The malted rootbeer recipe calls for 85% hydration and since it is loaded with whole-grain I am counting on those grains absorbing more of the moisture.* Nothing affects the texture and look of your bread more than hydration. Because the crumb is naturally tighter in sourdough bread, to get an airier texture you will have to have a wetter dough than with yeasted bread you may make at home. Hydration is calculated as a percentage of the weight of the flour. For two loave of white sourdough, for example, you might use 4 cups (508g) of bread flour, for 75% hydration you would add 1½ cups (380g) water.

“In general, sourdough bread tends to have hydration levels from 65% to 100% depending on the type of flour used. The higher the hydration level, the more open the crumb texture, and the thinner and crisper the crust.”—

I usually make mine between 65–75% hydration, but Abigail’s Oven maintains 79% hydration. That is quite wet for first-time bakers to handle. Some like this level because of the huge bubbles a wet dough yields. So, if you are after that traditional San Francisco Sourdough look, you will have to learn to work between 80–85 percent hydration. The folks at made up this helpful chart that helps you know what to expect as you increase hydration:

Use a heating pad to make frozen dough rise faster.

Rather than wait all day for your dough to rise, use this brilliant hack to have homemade bread ready in a fraction of the time using a heating pad. (via Lifehacker) What to Read Next: 31 Best Kitchen Hacks Nobody Told You About Hope you enjoyed these baking tips and tricks and at least one or two of them were new to you. What other life hacks posts what you like to see next?

Dust your cakes or cupcakes with powdered sugar sprinkled through lace.

Your guests will be blown away by these lace cupcakes that look so elegant and difficult to make. However, in reality, they are beyond easy! All you need is to sift powdered sugar through a piece of lace that acts as a stencil to create this gorgeous design. (via Sweet Verbena)

Wet your finger before fishing for a stray eggshell piece to easily remove it.

Ever try to fish out eggshell and it seems like it takes forever chasing it around. Well, this trick lets you fish it out in the fraction of the time by simply wetting your finger. (via BrightSide)

Avoid the mess and easily fill up your piping bag using a cup.

It can get messy when you are filling up a pastry bag with icing because it can stick to the sides and you end up wasting some of it. Instead, use a cup to easily fill your pastry bag every time. (via Creations by Kara)

Use masking tape on any container to level spoons without the mess.

With baking, it is so important to make all of your measurements precise. So, an easy way to do this is to add a scoop scraper to your dry ingredient containers using masking tape in just seconds. (via The Kitchn)

Use this magic cake pan release for perfect bundt cakes every time.

Leave no crumb behind with this genius homemade cake pan release using just 3 ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen. (via If You Give a Blonde A Kitchen) Speaking of nonstick baking hacks, if you haven’t picked up a set of silpats yet, they are a must have for any baker.

If you don’t have cupcake liners, use parchment paper instead.

I actually like the look of these parchment paper muffin liners even better! They look like they are straight from the bakery. (via The Kitchn)