Q. When I’ve made sourdough bread in the past, I always seem to end up with small dense loaves. How do I make sourdough bread that is light and fluffy?
A. There are generally three factors that influence the rise of the bread and the final texture:
1. Be sure your yeast is fully active before baking. If your sourdough starter has been stored in the fridge, it has been living in a dormant state. Plan to feed the culture at least three times 8-12 hours apart prior to baking.
2. Knead your dough well to activate the gluten. It is very important to allow the gluten to fully develop so thoroughly kneading the dough is a critical step. If you are kneading by hand, plan for a minimum of 20 minutes (you can take breaks–such as kneading for 5-10 minutes at a time). If you are using a mixer to knead, check the dough often to ensure it’s not overheating (which can damage the yeast) and stop the process once the gluten is well developed. While there isn’t any danger of over-kneading when kneading by hand, mixers can abuse the dough if not watched. To determine if the gluten is adequately developed, perform the “window pane test”. Take a piece of dough and stretch it between your fingers. If the gluten is sufficiently developed, the dough should stretch thin–so you can see light through it–without the dough breaking. If it breaks before it can be stretched thin, keep kneading.
3. Plan for a long proofing (rise) period. As a natural yeast, sourdough tends to take significantly longer to rise than bread made with commercial yeast. Timing is dependent on the specific starter and conditions in your home so until you have determined the best rise period for your particular starter, plan for a 4-12 hour rise period (if you desire more sour bread, plan for 12-24 hours).
For more information on making a light, fluffy and delicious loaf of traditional sourdough bread, click here to view our step-by-step video on making sourdough bread.