Sourdough bread has a bit of a reputation when it comes to complication. Many a baker feels intimidated by the very thought of learning the in’s and out’s of sourdough bread in a worry that it’s just too much information to learn to make a decent loaf of sourdough. But is this a myth or is there some truth to it?
Is sourdough bread hard to make? Sourdough bread can be as simple or as complicated as you make it. There are many technicalities and tweaks that can be made, which may make it seem intimidating, but there are also EXTREMELY MINIMAL and simple ways to make sourdough bread. It can simply be a matter of mixing the ingredients, putting them into a loaf tin, and baking!
Let’s go through some of the myths that are associated with making sourdough bread, and why people think it’s hard to make. But to give it some balance, I’ve also admitted to some of the truths behind why sourdough bread has its reputation for being difficult, and you can decide for yourself if it’s really worth it or not.
Myth #1: Sourdough Bread takes too much Time to Make
It is true that sourdough bread needs time, but it’s not hands on time. Sourdough bread can be made with only 10 minutes worth of effort on your part. The rest is all waiting, waiting and waiting. Waiting to ferment, waiting to bake, waiting to cool. This is not active time at all and you don’t need to be there to supervise your bread during these times! There are also ways to adjust the recipe of your bread, so that there’s not as much waiting time, so you could have a freshly baked boule of sourdough bread in your oven in no time!
Myth #2: You have to stick to a Strict Schedule to make Sourdough Bread
This one is a big turn off for many. There is a belief out there that you have to be really accurate with your timings and do certain stages of the process at exact times, but this is simply not true. The sourdough process is VERY flexible when it comes to when you need to tend to it.
In fact, once you know the basics of how sourdough works, you can make sourdough bread baking fit into YOUR schedule, and not the other way round! There are plenty of ways to manipulate how long sourdough will take to ferment and rise, so that you can fit it into even the busiest of schedules!
Myth #3: Sourdough Dough is Tricky to Handle
This is a big one. We’ve all seen those YouTube videos out there of experienced bakers showing off their shaping skills by handling extremely wet and sticky doughs with ease. But this is not the only way to bake sourdough bread. In fact, a pretty decent loaf of sourdough bread can be made WITHOUT having the skill of handling wet dough AT ALL.
Myth #4: You have to be at Home a lot to make Sourdough Bread
Similar to Myth #1, people believe that because sourdough bread takes time to make, that you have to be at home to be able to make it. The truth is, you only need to be at home during the active time of making sourdough bread, which can be as little as 10 minutes. The rest of the time is spent letting your dough sit and do most of the work by itself.
Myth #5: You have to be Really Accurate with your Measurements
This is one of the biggest myths out there. There’s a notion that sourdough bread can only be successfully made if you have been super accurate with your measurements. This is probably in part due to the fact that there are many recipes out there that have what seems like super accurate proportions of ingredients just to make a simple loaf of bread.
Now, it is true that you need some degree of accuracy to bake sourdough bread. But, can you get away with using cup measurements to bake the bread instead of digital kitchen scales accurate to one tenth of a gram? Yes, you most certainly can.
In fact, once you learn how to go by ‘feel’ of the dough, rather than the numbers on the scale, you can be pretty lazy with your measurements and still get a decent loaf of sourdough. Feeling the dough will give you a general idea of if you need to add more water or flour etc.
Myth # 6: Sourdough Starter Maintenance is Complicated
Sourdough starter is the natural ‘yeast’ that makes sourdough bread rise, which admittedly needs some taking care of. But there is a misconception out there that the sourdough starter will die very easily if you’re not super careful. The truth is, a mature sourdough starter is pretty hard to ruin, and it takes A LOT of neglect before it starts to fail you.
And you don’t have to feed it on a daily basis. Especially if you are not using it regularly. Sourdough starter can be tucked away in the fridge for months if needed without being touched, and it will still survive to make you good bread when you need it. You can even store it away for longer than that, and not have to worry about it until you want to bake again. Have a read of my article “How to Store your Sourdough Starter Long Term” for a step by step guide on keeping a completely maintenance free starter!
Myth #7: Sourdough Bread is too Expensive to Make
It’s sometimes assumed that sourdough bread uses expensive ingredients due to its high cost compared to other breads when you buy it from the store. But the truth is, sourdough bread can be made using the cheapest strong bread flour available, with a touch of salt, and water. This means it can cost you pennies to make a loaf.
So, now that we have all the myths out of the way, let’s go into some of the TRUTHS BEHIND WHY SOURDOUGH BREAD BAKING HAS SUCH A TRICKY REPUTATION!
Truth #1: Sourdough Bread is More Difficult to make than Homemade Yeasted Bread
This one is true simply because there are more ‘things’ to deal with and understand when it comes to sourdough, which ultimately makes it more difficult to learn about than yeasted bread. Having said that, it’s not infinitely more complicated…
There are a handful of extra things that you need to learn about. For example, commercial yeast is not used in sourdough bread. Instead, sourdough starter is used. The sourdough starter (and its maintenance) is the main learning curve on top of what you need to know to bake conventional bread. But other than that, the majority of the bread basics remain pretty much the same.
Truth #2: You Need some Technical ‘Know-How’ to Bake Sourdough Bread
This is also true. There are certain things you need to know before embarking on the journey of sourdough. And this is perhaps the biggest reason why sourdough has a reputation for being difficult and complicated to make, but you most definitely DON’T need a science degree to be able to understand how to bake it. Far from it. In fact, when I teach people how to bake sourdough bread, they are always surprised at how simple it can be.
Knowing a handful of practical things is enough to get you making sourdough bread without all the fuss of too much technicality. Sourdough can be complicated, but that’s if you’re in the business of enhancing your sourdough skills to improve certain aspects of your bread. It’s definitely NOT necessary in order to make basic sourdough.
Truth #3: You Need Some Degree of Organisation to Make Sourdough Bread
There’s no getting around the fact that sourdough bread needs time to ferment. Time meaning at least several hours. So that means you do have to plan ahead to some extent to be able to make sourdough bread, which does require some organisation. But if life takes over, it’s ok. Because you can just pop your dough in the fridge and worry about it later when you are ready to bake!
Why does Sourdough Bread have such a Reputation for being Complicated?
The difficulty comes in when ‘advanced sourdough techniques’ are being used. This requires additional skills such as learning how to use lamination, higher hydration levels, a variety of dough handling techniques, etc. In addition to this, several extra steps can be added in at various stages in order to improve the bread’s texture, shape and crumb.
As a natural consequence, it means that there can be several ways of making sourdough bread. Everybody finds that different things work for them, and ultimately, everybody has a different way of making it. And of course, because everybody has different schedules, what works for one person, is not necessarily what is going to work for another.
This is why, when trying to research how to make sourdough bread, there seems to be an endless amount of information out there about what to do, and everything seems to be contradicting everything else! It’s because there are so many combinations of methods that can be used to make sourdough bread.
To make a basic loaf though, without all the advanced techniques, is relatively simple. You need a base amount of knowledge to understand how sourdough works, and once this has been mastered, sourdough bread can be made on a regular basis without too much time and effort at all.
What are the Basics of Making Sourdough Bread the Easy Way
There are few basic bits of information you need to make regular sourdough bread. The first of which, is building and maintaining a starter. This is usually a stumbling block for many bread bakers, as it sounds like a hassle, but it really is one of those cases of ‘easy when you know how’.
What is Sourdough Starter?
Sourdough starter is a mixture of flour and water, which has developed a collection of live bacteria and yeasts inside it over time. It is ‘fed’ some flour and water every day in order to keep it alive and is the secret ingredient to great sourdough bread.
(By the way, if you don’t want to make your own sourdough starter from scratch, Etsy sell a wide selection of starters; click here to check it out.)
If you already have a starter going, and would like some tips on when best to use it, check out my article “When to use Sourdough Starter at it’s Peak to Make Good Bread”
Steps to Make Easy Sourdough Bread
Assuming you have your own sourdough starter, the easiest and simplest way of making sourdough bread requires 5 basic steps:
- Combine all the ingredients
- Leave the mixture to rise for a number of hours
- Place it in a greased loaf tin
- Leave it to rise again
Here’s a brief break down of what ingredients you need to make sourdough bread. (i.e. what you put into the bowl when you combine all the ingredients)
- Sourdough starter
When it comes to proportions of the ingredients, there is a lot of room for maneuverability. Beginner friendly recipes tend to have more flour. And more advanced recipes tend to have higher water content (as the dough then becomes more difficult to handle).
My recommendation if you’re a newbie, is that you find someone you trust, either online or somebody local to you, and learn one technique/method of making sourdough bread, which is:
- suitable for beginners
- not too labor intensive.
Stick to practicing one recipe until you feel ready and confident to expand your skill base.
Can I make Sourdough Bread if I have a Busy Lifestyle?
As mentioned earlier, sourdough bread can be as easy, or as hard as you make it. I tend to follow easy recipes that don’t require much attention. This is how I manage to cater for my large family who live exclusively on sourdoughed breads. I get the sourdough to do most of the work for me! Even with the busiest of schedules, sourdough bread can be made without too much complication. Here are a couple of examples of schedules:
Example schedule 1:
This schedule is more suited to someone who works a regular 9 to 5 job.
- In the morning before work: Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl.
- When you get home from work: Place your dough in to a loaf tin
- Later that evening: Bake your bread!
Example schedule 2:
This schedule is good for someone with a more flexible schedule.
- In the evening: Combine all your ingredients.
- In the morning (or at some point during the day): Place your dough in to a loaf tin
- Later that day: Bake your bread!
These schedules are open to flexibility, and there are ways of manipulating the recipe so that you can let the dough rise for a shorter or longer time according to what you need.
If you’d like to learn more about the basics of making sourdough bread on a tight schedule, join us on one of our workshops, or subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to hear about our online courses. They are designed with busy people in mind, who don’t like complication, but love sourdough bread!
Check out my Baking Tools section to get an idea of what kind of equipment you need to get started with sourdough baking.