Saturday 20 July 2013

Is Light Sourdough Bread A Myth?

Perhaps the holy grail of all bakers: how to make a light loaf. This prize has been escaping me for a while now. Even after extensive consultation and blatant, overt picking of brains, my loaves came out on the heavy side. Whatever yeast I was using, the problem remained. Sometimes the loaves did come out reasonably light, but not light enough to my taste.

That is, until two days ago. I reasoned that the problem did not lie in my understanding of the oven and heat flow, nor was it vested in the ingredients. Therefore the problem had to lie in the process. So I sat myself down and started thinking.

I do knead the dough enough. Kneading for fifteen minutes appears to be OK. The starter or sponge also appears to be OK, with lots of large fermentation bubbles. So does the first rise, with a volume increase to almost triple the original volume.
So the problem should lie after that part of the process. After another round of consultation with my baker friends, I realised that I am treating the dough too harshly after the second rise and the loaves simply fall flat.
A bit like “listen to your Grandma, lest she box your ears like she did in your younger days.”

I then made up another batch of dough, following my normal mixing and rising regime. This time I allowed a full ten minute rest after turning the dough out on the kneading board. The dough was then gently folded. It was a soft dough after all. No added flour except for that which the dough picked up from the kneading board.

This lot was then split into two small humps and formed into loaves. These went straight into the bread pans and then back into the cold oven for the second rise of four hours.

This time I hit pay-dirt. The loaves rose perfectly. I took them out of the oven to allow the oven to get up to heat of 190ºC/ 374ºF before baking. My bread likes to go into a hot oven with some steam or a cup of boiling water in the bottom of the oven.

The loaves baked for 35 minutes and was then summarily taken out of the oven and turned out to cool on a cooling rack.

Tapping the loaves already gave me the right indication of success with a nice hollow sound. After cooling, the loaves were nice and spongy to springy, not hard.

And the proof was in the cutting of the first slice. Very light and airy. The lightest loaf I ever baked. A lesson well learnt, albeit the hard way.

Now for a repeat performance. In sourdough baking, the learning never stops.

This blog post also linked to Yeastspotting!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2013-07-20


  1. I agree, in sourdough baking the learning never stops!

    1. Yes, indeed. And a well developed sense of humor helps too!