sourdough focaccia
sourdough focaccia

The Ultimate Sourdough Guide… All Questions Answered!

Chances are you’ve joined the Sourdough train, or you’re looking to hop on at the next stop! Well, have we got a treat for you. Mike Vaona of Rosehill Sourdough happens to not only be a sourdough master, but also our Head of Engineering here at Ooni - we are super lucky to have his encyclopaedic knowledge of the runaway hit of 2020.

Starting your own sourdough culture was once a daunting thing, a hobby reserved for the most skilful of bakers and epicureans. However, it’s become accessible due sourdough fans’ passion for sharing their successes and failures.

Mike jumped on a livestream with Kirsty, Ooni’s Brand Manager, to take questions from our community and to showcase a few skills live on air. Here is the ultimate guide to Sourdough!

Why is there water on top of my sourdough starter? That, my friend, is ethanol or ‘hooch’. It means that your starter is hungry. BUT, don’t just mix this liquid back in, pour it off first, then feed your starter.

How do you fold the dough? It’s important to wet your fingertips first of all, although don’t have too much moisture on your hands, otherwise you’ll find large air pockets in your bread when baked. There are a couple of ways to fold your dough. Fold one: pinch the edge of the dough, pull it up and over the top, rotate 90 degrees and do the same again for around 4 folds, until you have a neat-ish ball. Flip it over so the seam is on the base. You want a seam side and a smooth side. A coil fold is where you grab the middle of the dough, pull it back and allow it to fall in on itself. Turn 180 degrees and repeat a few times.

Do you have to use bread flour? Hell no! You can use all purpose, but drop the hydration (water) by around 5%.

What can I do with discard? What can’t you do with discard?! Crackers, dumplings, pancakes... There’s no reason to waste your discard.

Can I make discard pizza dough? Sure! You may have to alter the ratios slightly, but give it a whirl!

Can you tell us more about weekly feeding ratios? There’s people who feed it 1/1/1 or 1/0.5/0.5, whilst you recommend 1/2/2. What are the pros and cons? You can do all sorts! With a 1/1/1 you have more chance of acid carry over which can weaken your culture. I choose 1/2/2 because the maths is really easy. Anything over 1/5/5 and you risk changing the composition of the starter itself, so it’s best to stay lower.

Why do you dimple focaccia? If you don’t dimple, you essentially make a regular loaf of bread. Dimpling helps keep the focaccia a level base. Plus, you want those dimples for the delicious EVO and salt!

If I want to store my sourdough culture in the fridge for a week, should I feed it and then put it in my fridge straight away, or leave it to rise for a while before refrigerating? Let your culture do it’s rise, then just after it’s peak, pop it in the fridge.

Can you freeze sourdough starter? Yes! You can also dry it. I prefer drying to freezing. To dry, feed like normal. When it has peaked in volume, spread out thin with a spatula on a piece of parchment paper and let dry on a cooling rack for 24 hours. Then just break up and store in an airtight container. I’ve let mine sit for months before rehydrating.

How do I make the pretty patterns on top of my loaves? You need a bread lame or v sharp scalpel. We have a tutorial coming soon!

Can I put a dutch oven in Ooni Koda 16 or Ooni Pro? Absolutely! It’s something I do all the time.

Can I use a bread machine for sourdough? I never have but I am sure you can. Give it a go and see what happens! Sourdough is all about experimenting.

Is there a sweet spot for using your starter? There sure is, as soon as it doubles in size, that’s the sweet spot to use it.

How do you know if your dough is too wet for a sourdough baguette? If you are going over 80% water, it's probably too wet for baguette. If it is under 75% it shouldn’t be too wet. Just focus on good folding technique to build strong dough that would rather stick to itself than other your hands.

What happens if I overproof my dough? You’re in for a highly digestible, but very hard to stretch dough. Turn it into focaccia or ciabatta. It will be too difficult to shape into bread or stretch for pizza.

Where can I get a sourdough starter that’s been around the block? How do I care for and maintain it? Start talking sourdough with a fellow sourdough fan, and they will likely either have a very mature starter OR know someone who does. Older starters are much more resilient, so caring for a mature starter is easier than caring of one in its infancy.

When replacing dry yeast with starter in recipes, what’s the ratio? There are calculators out there, but the general rule is to 10 x the recipe. So if it calls for 2g of dry yeast, swap out for 20g of sourdough starter.

In the e-book it says when starting a culture, it says to pour 50g off in days 2-6, what should I do with this? Unfortunately, during the “making a culture (starter) from scratch” phase, you have to just dump this in the compost. Once you have a healthy culture, you can save this for discard recipes.

What are the functional differences between using a liquid starter and a firm starter? It is a little more difficult to break up a firm or “stiff” starter into the dough. Stiff starter is a little more forgiving than liquid starter because it has a longer “peak” but all in all, I prefer liquid starter to stiff starter.

Are there any tricks to align feeding and baking and reduce the need to throw the discard away? Any weekly schedules that might work well? You can save the discard for other recipes. Otherwise, just know how much you need for your recipe and only feed that much, plus a little bit keep it going. Example, if you need 80g for a recipe, I’d feed 100g so I have 20g left over that I can feed to get back up to 100g. I like to keep 100g on hand at all times.

If the culture grows but does not double, is that bad? What could it be due to? Temperature? It might be too wet, or you might be using a flour that can’t absorb as much water. Try dropping to feeding 1:1.8:2 culture:water:flour and make a stiffer starter.

I’ve noticed that if I make dough for two loaves at the same time the one I bake the very next day raises much more than the one I bake in, say, 3 days. Why is that so? Is it the increased acidity? Note, I keep both in the fridge until I bake them. As it sits in the fridge the dough loses structure because the bacteria is digesting the gluten. So that is why one seems flatter than the other. The one that has sat in the fridge longer will be more sour and more digestible. The lactic acid bacteria is breaking down the gluten and creating lactic acid.

Once you make the dough how long should it ideally be at room temperature before you put in the fridge? I like to leave it out around 4-6 hours before refrigeration, but different people prefer different timings - experiment and find a time that works for you!

Does it make a difference at all to keep the sourdough culture jar closed or open in the fridge? I prefer to leave my culture jar, a jar when it’s at room temperature… For two reasons. 1) I don’t like the idea of pressure building in a glass jar and 2) it allows the alcohol vapours to evaporate. However, in the fridge, feel free to tighten the jar, because the yeast will have slowed down.

Any plans for Montreal style bagels in your e-book? My bagels are a cross between NY, East Coast, and Montreal. NY since they are boiled in a basic bath. East Coast because they are sourdough. Montreal because they are wood fired. For a more traditional Montreal style, toss some honey in the boiling water and don’t wait as long between shaping and boiling so they stay a little denser. Also stretch them a little larger. For a more traditional NY Style toss some barley malt syrup in the boiling water.

If you’ve got further questions, head over to the livestream video on our YouTube channel and leave them in the comments.

Real Time Sourdough Q&A

Sourdough - something that haunts the minds of every pizza enthusiasts these days. We hosted an Instagram lifestream just recently to answer the most common questions about sourdough.

Don’t forget to subscribe and to check out @rosehillsourdough on instagram!

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