Want to Convert your Recipe to Sourdough? Here’s How!


When I turned to a life free of highly processed foods, it included cutting out commercial yeast and sticking to all natural sourdough bread only. But this meant anything that had yeast in it had to also be cut out my diet. Now that I have a bit more experience behind me as a sourdough baker, I’m able to convert any recipe to a healthy sourdough version.

How do you convert a yeast based recipe to sourdough? The basic premise is:

  • 100 grams of sourdough starter is approximately equal to 5 to 7 grams of instant/dried yeast (or one sachet).
  • When you convert, you must also decrease the correct amount of water/liquid and flour from your recipe that you have now added from your sourdough starter. This is to make sure that your recipe’s consistency remains the same.
  • The fermentation time has to be at least double compared to the original recipe.

However, there is more than one way to convert a recipe. And different recipes will require slightly different adjustments, but once you understand the principle along with a few rules, you will easily be able to convert any recipe to a sourdough version. Here’s a more detailed guide…

Why Convert A Recipe to Sourdough?

You may be wondering why on earth anybody would want to convert a recipe to sourdough anyway?! After all, sourdough tends to be a tad more complicated than using instant yeast. Here are a couple of benefits and reasons why you may want to consider switching your favorite recipe to sourdough….

1. Sourdough Helps Make Recipes More Digestible and Nutritious

Some of us struggle to digest gluten unless it is in a sourdough form, or simply prefer to consume wheat in an easier to digest, more nutritional sourdough format, rather than the ordinary yeast version. Read more about the benefits of sourdough in my article “Is Sourdough Bread Good for You?”.

2. Adding Sourdough to a Recipe Brings About More Complex Flavors

Making a sourdough version of your favorite yeast recipes will bring a whole host of new and complex flavors into the mix, and truly turn ordinary recipes into amazing ones.

3. Switching to Sourdough Brings About A Fun Challenge to Your Baking!

On the occasions when I’m in the mood to challenge myself with my bread baking, I like to see if I can make a tried and tested recipe in to a sourdough version! This will bring a whole new flavor and texture to a tried and tested recipe that is a very rewarding experience when you manage to nail it!

How to Convert Any Recipe to Sourdough

For these conversions, we are going to assume that the reason for conversion is to get the entire benefit of sourdough and not just the flavor. (This is particularly important for those of us who can’t tolerate non sourdough foods due to gluten intolerances and such). But later on I go into some ways to add sourdough starter to your recipes if you want it just for added flavor.

There are several different factors to consider when converting recipes to sourdough and it mostly depends on what kind of recipe you’d like to convert. Here’s a break down of what to consider for each type of recipe…

Converting Yeast Based Bread Recipes to Sourdough

Bread recipes that require yeast can be converted quite easily once you understand the basic rules for making the switch. There are 3 main aspects you need to consider:

  1. The amount of yeast in your recipe
  2. The amount of time needed for it to rise
  3. The amount of water and flour in your recipe

Let’s go into detail for each one:

What is the Sourdough Starter Equivalent to Yeast?

Sourdough
Starter
Instant/Dried
Yeast
Fresh Yeast
100 grams5 – 7 grams12 – 15 grams

As you can see from the table above, using 100 grams of sourdough starter would be equal to 5 to 7 grams of dried/instant yeast, or 12 to 15 grams of fresh yeast. You can switch this over like for like for any given recipe, and most recipes for 1 loaf of bread would need around that much yeast.

NOTE: If you use instant dried yeast in sachets or individual pack sizes, this is the equivalent to 5 to 7 grams of yeast.

How Long Should I leave it to Rise Compared to my Yeast Recipe?

You should let your sourdough recipe rise at least double the yeast recipe time, and this is essential for both rises i.e. the bulk ferment (first rise) and the 2nd rise (after shaping).

For example, if your bread recipe calls for a 2 hour bread rising/proofing time, and 1 hour 2nd rise, you should let your sourdough bread rise for at least 4 hours, with a 2 hour 2nd rise.

NOTE: Despite the recipe, try to make sure your sourdough recipe has had a minimum of 4 hours of TOTAL rising time to ensure you get the full benefits of sourdough fermentation, even if it means leaving it for more than double what is stated in the original yeast recipe.

Yeast
Bread
Sourdough
Bread
1st Rise2 hours4+ hours
2nd Rise1 hour2+ hours

Variations in Rising Times Will be Greater in Sourdough

The amount of time you let bread rise is of course dependant upon the temperature of the environment. This goes for yeast bread as well as sourdough. But be aware that the sourdough version of any recipe will have a bigger variation, simply because it has to rise for a lot longer. For more information about rising times according to temperature, check my article “Best Temperature to Proof Sourdough: Full Guide & How To”.

For example, although a yeast recipe may vary in rise time by about half hour here or there, a sourdough recipe may vary by a couple of hours here or there. If you want perfectly consistent results without having to worry about the temperature of your bread’s environment, this bread proofing station is a perfect way to take the guessing game out of rising/proofing time (Amazon link). For more information regarding the proofing station, have a read of my favorite tools article.

Flour and Water Adjustments When Converting a Recipe to Sourdough

A really important thing to remember when it comes to your recipe conversion, is the added ingredients from your sourdough starter. Dried yeast/fresh yeast doesn’t add anything in terms of texture or consistency, but sourdough starter will because it is made up of flour and water.

The recipe adjustment will depend on the hydration level of your starter. If you keep your sourdough starter at 100% hydration (which means you feed it the same amount of flour as you do water), then you have to take that much liquid and flour away from your original recipe to account for the extra from your starter.

My 100 grams
Sourdough Starter

Uses…
Recipe
Adjustment
Water50 gramsUse 50 grams less
Flour50 gramsUse 50 grams less

QUICK TIP: If your sourdough starter is not fed the same amount of water to flour, adjust the recipe accordingly. The amount of starter you use will still be the same (e.g. 100 grams), but the adjustment to your recipe will be according to how much flour and water you have in your starter.

An Example of Homemade Bread Converted to Sourdough

Here’s an example of a simple homemade bread recipe that uses yeast, except I have put in BOLD what you would need to adjust/change if you made a sourdough version of it…

Standard Homemade Yeast Bread Recipe

(changes made to the recipe are written in bold next to the original instruction/ingredient):

Ingredients:

  • 500 grams strong white bread flour – Use only 450 grams for a sourdough version
  • 300ml warm water – Use only 250ml for sourdough version
  • 7 gram sachet fast action dried yeast – Use 100 grams sourdough starter instead of yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Instructions:

  1. Mix all ingredients together and knead for 10 minutes
  2. Leave the dough in the bowl to rise for 2 hours – For a sourdough version, leave it to rise for around 4 hours (wait for it to double in size)
  3. Once proofed, or roughly doubled in size, shape the dough and place in a greased loaf pan.
  4. Leave to rise for an hour or so – The sourdough version should be left for at least 2 hours
  5. Bake your bread

NOTE: If your recipe calls for ‘knocking back’ the dough, SKIP THIS STEP. Sourdough should not be knocked back. (see notes below)

Can I Convert Other Recipes that Don’t Contain Yeast?

So far we have discussed the basic way to convert a yeast recipe to a sourdough version, but there are also other recipes that can be converted to sourdough. Here are a few common types of breads that can be converted:

Quickbreads (Pancakes, Waffles, Crepes, etc)

These are commonly turned into sourdough versions and bring a lot of extra flavor and fluffiness to the end result. But these types of recipes don’t require yeast, they usually make use of baking soda or baking powder to help them rise.

How to Convert a Quickbread Recipe

There are 3 simple steps to follow for any quickbread recipe:

  1. You simply replace part of the flour and water with sourdough starter.
  2. Add the baking powder and/or baking soda right at the end as the last step just before baking/cooking.
  3. Leave to ferment for a minimum of 4 hours. (This fermenting step can be skipped if you are only adding starter to your recipe for flavor rather than for other benefits).

Adding the baking powder or baking soda at the end will mean you can get the maximum impact of rise when cooking or baking your quickbreads. You will visibly notice your mixture rising as you add it in!

NOTE: If your recipe requires the same hydration level as your starter, you can get away with not fermenting it at all and only using the starter in replacement of the mixture. For example, a pancake mixture that uses 100 grams flour and 100 grams water/liquid can use a 100% sourdough starter as all it’s flour and water mixture, leaving no reason to ferment because no extra flour has been added. It’s a brilliant way to use up sourdough discard!

Can I Add Sourdough Starter in Addition to Yeast for my Recipe?

Many recipes call for yeast to be added in addition to sourdough starter, but this is not a traditional sourdough recipe, because the addition of yeast will stop proper sourdough fermentation happening in the dough/mixture.

Fresh yeast is broken up and added to liquid in preparation for a bread recipe

If the purpose of adding sourdough to your recipe is solely for flavor, you can definitely go ahead and add some to your mixture and continue as usual. However, if the purpose of adding sourdough to your recipe is due to having easier digestion and more nutrition in your recipe (such as if you have a gluten intolerance), then the addition of yeast will stop proper fermentation, and will NOT fulfil it’s purpose of breaking down the flour adequately.

How to Add Sourdough to A Recipe Just for Added Flavor

Simply add some sourdough starter to the recipe at the same time that you add your yeast. Depending on how much you have added, you may need to decrease the amount of flour and water in your recipe too.

QUICK TIP: The more sourdough starter you add to this type of recipe, the stronger the flavor will be, so play around with how much you want until you are satisfied with the result.

Can I Convert Cakes to Sourdough?

Due to the amount of sugar found in cakes, sourdough starter doesn’t really work too well in terms of fermenting the flour in a cake mixture. It is however, a good way of adding some exciting flavors to your cakes, and an excellent way to use up any excess sourdough discard you have!

Simply add a little sourdough starter into your cake mixture and discover how it changes the flavor of your cakes. As said earlier, the mixture won’t ferment like traditional sourdough, but it will change the flavor.

Important Things to Consider When Converting Recipes to Sourdough

When thinking about converting recipes to sourdough, there are few important factors to bear in mind:

How Much Sugar Does the Recipe Contain?

Sourdough just doesn’t work too well in terms of fermentation when there is too much sugar in the recipe. You shouldn’t use more than 10% sugar in a sourdough bake. More than 10% will distract the wild bacteria and yeast from fermenting the wheat and it will ferment far too quickly, ruining the texture and structure of your recipe.

So, if the recipe you want to convert includes more than 10% sugar e.g. cakes, you can add sourdough starter into the mixture purely for added flavor, but not for the added benefits of slow fermentation. It’s an excellent way to use up any excess sourdough starter/discard. But be aware that it cannot be converted to a traditionally fermented recipe.

Never Knock Back or De-Gas Sourdough!

Many bread recipes that use yeast instruct you to ‘knock back’ or de-gas the dough. This should never be done to a dough that has risen through slow fermentation. Sourdough is far too delicate to be knocked back or de-gassed in any way and should be handled gently. It has spent hours developing and increasing in size, and knocking it back will simply undo it all! So, skip this step completely if you are converting a bread recipe that calls for it.

Sourdough Can Have A Mind of It’s Own!

These general guidelines have always worked pretty well for me, but it’s important to remember that working with sourdough tends to be slightly different for everyone. Get to know your starter and be ready to use your instinct if a recipe seems to need a little more flour than suggested, or a little less time to ferment than what you’ve read. Sometimes it may take more than one attempt to convert a recipe before you nail it, but when you do, you won’t regret it!

Aysha

I've been baking sourdough bread at home for years now and have had a journey full of successes and failures. This has given me great experience in understanding what makes a good bake!

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