What aren’t you telling me?

Talk to me!

Is this you: you feel that your sourdough could be better, it doesn’t look or taste or resemble what you want it to, you know you shouldn’t compare yours with others but you can’t help it and you want to figure out what you need to do differently? So, you’ve read everything, followed the steps, done everything you think you can to get this ‘right’ for you, but you still think it could be something more, and you still don’t know what you’re missing? So, what’s the missing piece of the puzzle? What’s your missing detail?

Well, I’m here to tell you, there’s always an answer, there’s always a specific reason something is happening, or not happening as you’d like it to. Whether you feel your loaves are flatter than you’d like, whether your starter isn’t behaving as you feel it should, whether your dough didn’t grow, or it’s too soft, or it’s liquid…whatever the issue, there’s always always a particular reason.

The trick is to find it.

There isn’t any one single answer for everyone, all sourdough experiences are different, which is why you’ll find lots of help and suggestions throughout my site and my book, but first, let me ask you:

What’s your missing detail?

And this is why I ask that question: when people contact me for help I ask as many questions as possible to solve the mystery, but there is so often something they don’t say and it’s that that tends to be the main missing piece of the puzzle. The things that people often think aren’t important, or forget to tell me, or are a throwaway afterthought, are often the vital piece of information that can fix things. And it can be as simple as that one thing being the answer to your sourdough question.

So what aren’t you telling me?

What is the missing piece of your puzzle that’s right in front of you without you releasing that it’s your answer. Let me give you a few examples of what this might be…

“I wet my hands each time I handle the dough”

“I live at high altitude”

“I changed my flour”

“I have an aga”

“My kitchen is always warm”

“I have been putting starter/dough in the oven with the light on all night”

“My flour is quite old”

“I use distilled water in my starter”

“My banneton is 25cm wide”

“I’m really gentle with the dough, I don’t want to squash the bubbles”

“I just tip the dough into my banneton”

“The temperatures here have risen/dropped recently”

“I didn’t do this step…”

These scenarios are all from many conversations that I’ve had, each of which has come up more than once, and they all make a difference to the outcome of your sourdough making, so if any of these things ring a bell for you, there’s your issue…and even if it’s not one of these, if you are having an issue, don’t skip any tiny detail, it could be your very simple answer.

To answer those comments above:

“I wet my hands each time I handle the dough”

This means you’re constantly adding more water to your carefully measured dough. The dough will therefore be wetter than you planned it to be and it will be unlikely to be able to hold the shape you hoped it would.

“I live at high altitude”

This will affect the doughs behaviour and easily leads to over proving. Use less starter to prevent that.

“I changed my flour”

Changing flour makes ALL the difference, they are not merely interchangeable without needing to make adjustments in your dough.

“I have an aga”

And..

“My kitchen is always warm”

This will affect how the dough proves and can lead to over proving. To prevent this, use less starter.

“I have been putting starter/dough in the oven with the light on all night”

This will make a starter thin and weak, and dough will over prove. It’s too warm for too long a time and not necessary.

“My flour is quite old”

The flour will have therefore lost some oomph and not behave as you expect it to.

“I use distilled water in my starter”

This can prevent your starter from growing.

“My banneton is 25cm wide”

Assuming you are using 500g flour in your dough, this is too big and your loaf will bake wide and flat.

“I’m really gentle with the dough, I don’t want to squash the bubbles”

Or..

“I just tip the dough into my banneton”

Your dough will have no structure and will spread as soon as you turn it out.

“The temperatures here have risen/dropped recently”

Weather and room temp massively affect how dough proves.

“I didn’t do this step…”

Leaving out a step in a sourdough recipe is your prerogative of course, but all of the steps are there for a reason.

I hope this all helps x

Don’t overthink it…

I have said this before and will keep on saying it because I think it’s so important. Overthinking spoils making sourdough for so many bakers and it truly doesn’t need to.

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Sourdough making is a thing of simplicity and joy, but all too often bakers overthink it and it ruins their enjoyment of making it. I have no doubt that this comes from an expectation that making sourdough is going to be complicated or hard to do due to the overwhelming amount of over complicated, conflicting information that can be found on the subject.

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My advise is always: don’t read too much. Find a single source that resonates with you and stick with it whilst you learn the basics of sourdough. Don’t confuse things, don’t get pulled in a thousand different ways by unnecessary advice from a thousand different directions. Only you are in your kitchen.

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Once you feel comfortable and confident that you understand how to use your starter, how the dough works, your best baking process, that’s the time to experiment and expand your knowledge, but never forget the basics. Once you know what works for you, stick with it.

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There are no rules here, there are no sourdough police, there’s just great healthy tasty bread – enjoy it!

Can I freeze my dough?

If you’ve ever wondered if you can freeze your dough, this post is for you. Or you’ve ever thought that a dough is just never going to do anything in cold weather, or if you’ve ever assumed that sourdough has to take control of your life with its timings, this post is for you…

Let me explain…following a course last year, I had two bowls of dough that had had their first initial mix, a rest, two sets of pulls & folds & had been sitting around for a few hours. I knew I wouldn’t be able to bake them the next day, so I decided to test the idea of freezing the dough as I’ve been asked about this many times.

I gave both doughs another round of pulls & folds, pulling them both into very tight balls then put them into small containers with tight fitted lids & into the freezer.

A few days later, I took them out & set the bowls on the side; as they started to slowly warm up I was eventually able to turn the doughs out into bigger bowls, covered with shower caps. It took several hours for each dough is to fully defrost, I gave them both a couple of sets of pulls & folds once they had, & left them on the counter overnight to prove again.

It was a cold day, followed by a very cold night, plus the dough had been very cold to begin with, so it took a few more hours than usual to fully prove, but they did and they did fill the bowls as they always do; I then put them into bannetons & into the fridge. This was now mid afternoon & as a result of life happening, they ended up being in the fridge until the next morning when I could finally bake them.

This loaf above shows the outcome of one of them, the other one I turned into rolls. And both doughs behaved and baked perfectly, the baked outcomes were light and fluffy and oh so tasty!

So as you can see there are many morals to the story: firstly that you can freeze dough at any point along the way, just allow it enough time to warm up again to continue with the process; that sourdough is forever & endlessly forgiving; that sourdough does not have to dictate to you & you do not have to jump to its tune; that we can make sourdough making & baking as simple as we need it to be.

Happy baking!

Making sourdough in hot and humid environments…

Loaf made using my master recipe and just 20g starter

One of the key things to know about making sourdough successfully, and something that I write about in everything I produce (and talk about endlessly) is how the weather, especially heat and cold, affects making sourdough.

As soon as I understood this connection, it exponentially improved my sourdough making and this is what I try and pass on to all of my foodbod Sourdough bakers: the weather is a key ingredient in the success of making sourdough bread, and as soon as you understand that, your bread making will fly!

Making sourdough can seem challenging in any environment, but when you throw in heat and humidity it can seem even more so, and as a consequence there will be tweaks and allowances that you need to make, so this is my guide to help you.

My first and strongest advice is to get a thermometer for your kitchen that reads temperature and humidity (see below). This will be your best friend in understanding how to make sourdough successfully and consistently in a hot and humid environment. Alongside that, I highly recommend starting a journal, or keeping a notebook, to log the activity of your starter and your dough making to assist you with making sourdough throughout the year where you live. This can become an invaluable reference book for you.

The key factors are that heat will make your starter and your doughs work faster, it can therefore make your starter become thin and hungry and therefore weak, and the heat can risk over proving doughs. Humidity will only increase that but will also add moisture into your starter or your dough, and can also affect your baked loaf. So here are my tips…

🌟 Starter 🌟

Every time you feed your starter (or make dough) always note the times, temperature, and humidity percentage. Once your starter has responded and grown in size to where you want it to be, make a note of how long it took to get to that point and note again the temperature and humidity in case they have changed. Repeat this across an entire year and you will be able to produce a pattern of behaviour that you can refer back to whenever you want to make sourdough in the future. To achieve this, I highly recommend feeding your starter when you will be able to watch it.

In high temperatures starter could very easily only need 2-3 hours after feeding before it is ready to use.

Beware not to leave your starter out for too long in the heat otherwise it will work through its feed quickly, it will rise and fall then become thin and therefore weak and will need feeding again before you can use it.

If needed, feed it more flour than water to keep it strong, especially if it starts to become thin with tiny tiny bubbles. You can do this as often as you need to; the key is to give your starter what it needs to stay strong and healthy. In this instance, do not worry about feeding it equal weights of flour and water, watch your starter and get to know its behaviour and what it needs. This is far more important than equals weights of flour and water in hot and/or humid environments.

When you feed it, allow your starter to be a good thick mixture, giving it sustenance and body.

And forget ratios or percentages. I never use them, neither are necessary.

Water: Also consider using cold water in your starter and your dough to help protect them and slow down their activity in the heat.

🌟 Dough 🌟

In doughs, to successfully prove overnight on the counter:

Use less starter to offset the heat, literally go right down, even as far as 5-10g if you need to. This will slow down the proving process and prevent over proving. Nothing else in the recipe needs to be changed unless you need to amend the water for the following reasons. To read about making sourdough in the heat, click here. For details about making sourdough in hot AND/OR humid places, keep reading.

In high humidity: dough will absorb extra moisture so use less water to offset the humidity, again, go down in 25g drops. And take notes.

If your dough starts off quite stiff as you’re working with it, don’t worry, it will loosen up.

It’s okay to use 275-300g water if that’s what works. In a humid environment the dough will take on moisture from the air as it proves.

If you also live somewhere where you do not have access to very strong flour: use less water to offset weak flour if needed, reduce it by 25g if you cannot get hold of good flour this will help your dough to be firmer.

If in doubt: if you are worried about leaving the dough out overnight, put the dough in its bowl into the fridge when you go to bed and take it out again the next morning to finish proving on the counter whilst you can watch it.

To prove during the day, use the standard amount of starter but still less water if it is humid. And watch the dough like a hawk. Move it into the banneton and into the fridge as soon as it doubles in size.

If your dough becomes very bubbly in the surface and soft and sticky and hard to manage, it is too wet either from added moisture, or over proving, or both. In this instance, if it still has some body, try moving the dough into a loaf tin to give it support, prove again and bake. Or follow my process to make focaccia. If it’s really liquified, stir in milk and make pancakes, or yoghurt and make flatbreads.

Never ever waste dough, it can always be used. Plus, over proved dough has a lot of great flavour!

🌟 Baked loaves 🌟

Once baked, leave it an hour before slicing into it, but don’t leave it for several hours on the counter otherwise the humid can make the crust soften and the inside become damp.

A top tip: if you are trying a sourdough recipe that does not refer to room temperature or anything along those lines, you are missing information; I highly recommend you ask the recipe writer for more details, especially if you have had any issues with the outcome.

A rough guide: This is the result of some information I’ve been gathering, all of the doughs have been made using my standard master recipe with strong white bread flour. These amounts allow the dough to prove fully in 9 hours in your counter. The temperatures cover the time that I start making the doughs and overnight. Please note that these are the temperatures IN YOUR KITCHEN, across the making and proving time, not the outside temps.

Between 18-20C:use the standard 50g starter.

Between 21-24C: use 15- 20g starter.

Between 23-25C: use 10g starter.

Over 25C overnight, use 5g starter. For temps well over 25C consider proving during the day.

These smaller amounts of starter can seem tiny, and you may not believe it will work, but I promise it does.

I hope this all helps.

🌟 This is the thermometer I use: Therm Pro.

🌟 These are notes sent directly from the lovely, Nargess, a foodbod sourdough baker from the UK who I currently residing in Thailand and therefore having to allow for the change of climate in her baking:

“The thermometer and taking notes is so vital.

I found that the weather temp.(heat) dictates the amount of time needed for dough to proof and starter to rise and humidity dictates the amount of water that needs to be added to your dough and starter. I know this sounds like common sense but not having experience with baking in such conditions I didn’t realise this until now. I say this because sometimes its very HOT but not humid.

For MY kitchen and weather I have found that when humidity is between 80-96% my dough needs approx. 2-21/2 hours to prove and then I fold and into banetton and when humidity is between 60-79% then approx. 3-4 hours to prove and as you said, I watch it like a hawk and check on it regularly and as you already know these times can still be variable.

Another thing I do for the starter feeding (the water part) is that I start with less, about 8grams (approx. 1 tablespoon) and if it looks stiff and feels dry after stirring then I add a little bit more, about another 8grams. I check it again after one hour to see how its doing to make sure it has enough water.”

If you’ve had similar experiences please do add them in the comments below…

Over and under proved doughs…

If you would like to learn more about proving dough, I recently made a video showing well, under and over proved that you can now watch as part of the Pastry Arts Baking Summit 2022 – discover how the doughs look, behave, handle and bake, and why. Click here to watch.

Bake the book…

🌟🌟 Group Bakes 🌟🌟

If you fancy joining me, the next few months, I propose that we work our way through the new book together. This will enable people to bake at their own level and pace, choose which recipe they want to bake and when, and share them along the way. Please ask questions and share outcomes.

Let’s start from the beginning with the master recipe collection; most of you have baked a version of my master recipe, some have baked several, I hope this will be your chance to try it in a different form. Happy baking gang!

🌟 Use the hashtags #thesourdoughwhisperer #groupbake when you share your bakes 🌟

The Master Recipe Sourdough Collection

Baby Master Loaf p72
Baby Master Wedge Rolls p74
Master Recipe Sandwich Loaf p77
Master Recipe Bundt Pan Loaf p81
Master Recipe Pullman Loaf p84
Ends of Bags Master Loaf p86

To help, these are the links to the various pans and items that I use:

Baby master pan

Pullman tin

Or this one

Loaf tin

Loaf tin liners

Bundt tin

Oval pan

8” Dough knife

For bowls, bannetons, pans, jars and more in the US, visit this site: Shana Sourdough

For bowls, bannetons, pans, jars and more in the UK, visit this site: EcoBakerUK

All of the recipes in my book have been made and tested with this flour. If you cannot find it where you are, check out this page for alternatives.

NOTE: these are the exact items that I use, these are not ads, or affiliate links, I am not paid or sponsored by any of these sellers.

Find the book here.

Fancy joining me for lunch?

Who fancies joining me for lunch….? For a long time I’ve wanted to organise some kind of get together for lots of us to be able to meet in person, but the world has had other ideas….NOW we can do it…

So…I invite you to join me for…

🌟🌟🌟🌟 a day of ‘foodbod, flour and food’ 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Join me, and Bertie Matthews from Matthews Cotswold Flour, on 3rd May in the heart of the beautiful Cotswolds, just up the road from his flour mill. There will be us, and you, some short talks, but mostly a chance to mingle and meet us and one another and talk and chat and laugh and share IN PERSON finally, plus enjoy some fantastic food in a fabulous venue.

And, if that isn’t enough, there’s a chance of a mill tour (hence the glamorous photo of me when I was there!), and you’ll go away with a goodie bag filled with gifts from me, and the guys at Cotswold Flour, and a copy of delicious. magazine, and the chance to win one of our sourdough boxes.

How good does that sound???

So if you fancy joining us, use the link below to book your place. I can’t wait to meet lots of you!

Click here to book.

Please note that numbers are limited so please do grab a place if you want to come. If you would like to come but can’t on this occasion or plan to visit the UK at a later date, I promise that I will be planing more events later in the year, I want to meet as many of you as I can!

Hopefully see you there 🥰🥰🥰

Which book?

As the date for the release of my new book approaches I’ve been asked several times: ‘Which of your books should I buy?’

So if you’re wondering that, I thought I’d endeavour to provide an answer…

Both of my books are good for anyone starting out with sourdough, but they are also equally good for anyone who already makes sourdough as both have lots of different recipes and ideas.

My first book introduces sourdough and includes full details about what a starter is, and how to make one; it then goes into detail about wholegrain/wholemeal flours and ancient grains and heritage flours (spelt, emmer, einkorn, khorasan, rye), what they are, how they differ and how they behave in starters.

It then introduces my master recipe with lots of detail and answers all the questions you may have as you make sourdough. The book also discusses how the different flours will behave in doughs.

The recipes that follow include all of these flours too, in varying quantities, with tips about how the doughs will feel and behave, adding extras into doughs and handling doughs differently to make other things. They include full sized loaves, baby loaves, rolls, sandwich loaves, coil filled rolls, focaccia, same day recipes and crackers.

My new second book benefits from the fact that I’ve done even more sourdough making and baking in my kitchen since my first book, utilizing the help and guidance I’ve been able to give others. I learn more about this wonderful world daily and this is what I’ve worked hard to share.

This book also introduces sourdough and starters but goes into more detail about managing and using your starters. I spent a lot of time testing ideas, timescales and experimenting with my starters; pushing the boundaries of how I’ve used them in the past to be able to share different timetables and give you full confidence in using your starter.

This book also includes my master recipe, but with even more details and tips to help bakers with frequently asked questions, new timetables, and as much of information from my sourdough brain as I could download onto the page. It focuses on the freedom and confidence to know that the dough does not need to control you but that you are fully in control of the DOUGH, and how it to make that happen.

The recipes that follow are full of flavours, and shapes, and different timings. The recipes, all different from the first book, include full size loaves, baby loaves, enriched doughs, spices, fillings, same day recipes, focaccia, pizza, rolls, ciabatta, and more.

These books compliment one another, and both also work perfectly as stand alone books. Bakers do not need to have both – unless they want to of course 🙂

(You should find that the price of the first one is reduced now that there’s a new one coming too, and the new one will have offers on, so you could always get both if you don’t already have the first one… 😉☺️)

I hope this helps, if you have any further questions, please do contact me xx

New book: https://foodbodsourdough.com/my-new-book/

Current book: https://foodbodsourdough.com/my-book/

Is your pan big enough?

Todays top tip: if your pan is too small for your dough, your loaves will not bake properly.

Once again, in this instance, size matters; the size of your pan makes a big difference to your baked loaf.
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Let me explain why I’m posting this… Recently I’ve been contacted by a few bakers who have found that their loaves aren’t baking fully all the way through, or are soft and under baked round the sides, and sometimes also the base, of their loaves. In each case, the reason this has happened is because the pan has been too small for baking the loaves. What this means is that all the wonderful work you’ve done to create your starter and then to build a lovely strong dough, is that the dough can’t spread its wonderful wings and grow sufficiently so it get stunted and stopped in its tracks and therefore underbaked. The limited space means that the steam and heat can’t circle the dough which it needs to bake it evenly; plus the dough being inhibited by being in a small space means it gets compacted so the inside doesn’t get fully baked.
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Just as the right size banneton is important, a good size pan is too.
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If you feel your loaves are not baking fully, the top 5 reasons will be…

They need to be baked for longer: try adding an extra 5-10 mins to the bake.
The dough was too wet: next time use 25g less water in your dough.
The dough was over proved: watch the time and temp you’re proving at.
The dough was under proved: give the dough more time to prove.
The pan is too small: ensure your loaf isn’t hitting the sides of the pan or the underneath of the lid.

For info: I use my standard master recipe dough with a 21-22cm diameter banneton and a 26cm diameter enamel pan. You’ll find full details on my equipment page.

There’s more help about all of these issues throughout my site and in my books.
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To answer the other question of ‘is my pan too big?’, the answer is no, a pan can never be too big. If you are asking that because your dough spreads in the pan, the issue is the dough, not the pan. Your dough should happily hold its shape when you turn it out into the pan, and not rely on the pan to hold it. I have a post fully explaining why your dough may spread here.
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Have fun!