Everyone has a slightly different taste when it comes to the sourness of bread, and we all experiment to get the perfect amount of ‘tang’. The good news is that there are multiple ways to change your process or recipe that will make your sourdough bread more or less sour.
If you took our Sourdough Baking course, the standard sourdough loaf I teach in my online course is a great, crowd pleasing loaf of bread that pairs well with any butter, jam, or cheese. It’s probably about a 3/10 on the sourness scale. So what if you’re someone who would rather sink their teeth in a more sour slice of bread? No problem!
Here are my top recommended strategies for making your starter and bread more sour.
(Or, do the opposite if you prefer a less sour bread!)
Stir the hooch liquid back in your starter, rather than pouring it off
If you go to feed your starter and see a layer of liquid on the top, this means your starter is a little on the hungry side. By stirring this “hooch” into your starter, you’ll make it much more acid and sour, which will come through in the bread you bake.
If you want your bread to be on the milder side, pour this hooch away and then discard and feed as usual.
Mix your dough with a higher ratio of starter
My usual recommended ratio is ⅛ starter to 1 part flour and 1 part water (by weight). This will produce a mild taste. To make your bread more sour, try ¼ starter instead. A firmer starter with a high ratio of previous starter will lead to more sourness in your finished loaf.
Wetter starters with a lower ratio of previous starter tend to be on the sweeter, more fruity side.
Mix your dough with warmer water
To speed up the fermentation of your dough and give it a kickstart, add your water at a warmer temp. Be careful that the water is not too hot - luke warm will do the trick.
Mixing a starter with cool water will slow down the fermentation and give your bread a sweeter flavor.
Proof at warmer room temperature and proof for longer
Remember that warmer temperatures lead to more fermentation. By proofing your dough at a warmer temperature - say, about 75 degrees - you’ll be encouraging the yeast and bacteria to work at an accelerated rate, leading to more sour bread. Proofing your bread for longer either at room temperature or in the refrigerator will lead to more sourness as well.
To keep your flavor mild, simply mix with cooler water and let it rise slowly at a lower temperature.
Use whole grain flours
Whole grain flours are like rocket fuel in starters. They introduce starches and enzymes that produce real zing in your bread. Feeding your starters with rye, spelt or whole wheat flours will increase their sourness very quickly. Be careful though - they can turn really sour really quick!
Starters maintained with more white flour and less whole grain flour tend to be on the milder side of the spectrum.
Over time, you’ll find just the right balance of time, temperature, and ingredients to produce bread that’s just perfect for your palette. Happy baking!