Light and Fluffy Sourdough Bread

Sourdough is amazing.  Every time I work with it I am in awe of its ability to leaven baked goods with such ease despite the absence of those little yeast packets from the grocery store.  I do find though that many people get frustrated when working with sourdough–perhaps the most common complaint is that loaves of bread turn out small and dense rather than light and fluffy.  But you can make light and fluffy bread!  Here are three important techniques to get you there:

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. By the third feeding you should have light, bubbly starter that’s doubled in size within 2-8 hours of being fed.  Proper ratios are helpful here so check out this article on feeding your sourdough starter.

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.

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).

Julie Feickert

Julie Feickert

Julie Feickert started Cultures for Health in late 2008. She is the mother to three young children and enjoys cooking and reading. Her favorite cultured foods include water kefir and kombucha. Julie lives with her family in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

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  1. David says

    I’m new to baking in general, but years ago my best friend gave me start made with milk, not water, to make pancakes. Worked well for that, not so well for bread. In the past, I tried baking bread, only to get sour dough door stops and paper weights, so I gave up for a while and read some books and recipes. Two weeks ago, I got more start from him and decided to try switching to water, and was successfully rewarded with a fully active bubble-over-the-jar start. Each attempt is getting better, but the top of the loaf goes dry during the proof. I tried using a moist towel to cover, but it stuck to the top and ruined the surface. What can I use to keep the loaf top moist without ruining the top? Any help would be appreciated. David

    • Shaina says

      Try brushing the top of the loaf with melted butter before you proof it. You could use some other kind of oil if you prefer. You could also try putting it inside a cold oven with a pan of water, which will help keep the humidity high. Hopefully this helps with the dryness!

  2. says

    For shaping, try tying opposite corners of a tea towel together to make a sling, flour it well inside, and lay your slightly oblong loaf inside. Hang it all up on a hook to rise. When you are ready to bake, just dump it out onto the baking sheet.

  3. Liz says

    Every time I make sour dough bread, it proofs nicely but then I move it to the oven it collapses. Any idea of what I might be doing wrong?

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