By Elaine Boddy
I hope you have enjoyed reading how to make a sourdough starter, and how to make my master recipe in the previous couple of issues. As we move into the winter months and colder temperatures in the northern hemisphere, I thought it would be useful in this issue to share some tips about how to manage sourdough through changes in season.
The greatest lesson to learn for sourdough success is how sourdough is affected by the weather. In this article, I will be focusing on how the cold affects the process and providing some top tips about how to manage making sourdough as the temperatures drop.
Heat speeds up yeast and cold slows it down. Even though making sourdough is a slower process than using commercial dried yeast, the same rule still applies: cold weather just affects things in a slightly different way because we are working with a longer timetable, so proofing can take a lot longer than you may have experienced earlier in the year.
For example, my master recipe is designed to use 50g (1/4 cup) of starter, 500g (4 cups) flour, 350g (1 1/2 cups) of water, and salt to taste, in order to make the dough.
I proof overnight, so if this dough proofs at temperatures between 18-20C (64-68F) for eight to ten hours, it will double in size which is exactly what we want the dough to do in order to move onto the next step.
As the temperature drops, this process will take longer, so we need to allow more time for the dough to proof fully. This is the simplest way to manage the situation as temperatures cool: just give the dough the time it needs; it will get there.
However, if you’d prefer to continue to work within the same timetable, try my cold weather boost tips from my book, The Sourdough Whisperer:
“If it is winter and your dough is struggling to proof well overnight in the cold temperatures, use an increased amount of starter. The warmth of your kitchen plus the extra starter will give the dough a kickstart in growth before the temperatures drop. Alternatively, place the dough in a warm place in between the pulls and folds to encourage an initial growth, before placing it on the counter overnight. Placing the dough in your oven with the pilot light on would be ideal, but do not forget about it—remember to remove it before going to bed.
If the recipe states to use 50 grams (1⁄4 cup) of starter, use 100 grams (1⁄2 cup) instead and reduce the amount of water or other liquid by 25 grams (1⁄8 cup).
Another way to give the dough an initial boost is by using warm water when you first mix the dough. Water at 100°F (38°C) is ideal.”
You can also move the timetable around the clock, so that you can proof the dough during the day when it’s warmer in your kitchen, so you can watch it and catch it once it’s doubled.
Start making the dough in the morning so that you can leave the dough to proof all afternoon and evening; once it has doubled in size, pull it into a tight ball and place it into the banneton, cover, and place it in the fridge overnight. Then bake it directly after removing it from the fridge any time the next day.
Note: The cold will also have the same effect on your starter. Your starter will now take longer to become fully active after feeding, so you will need to build that extra time into your sourdough-making plans. You can make your starter grow faster with some warmth. After feeding the starter with your flour and water, stir the flour and water together with the starter, cover the jar your starter is in with your loose lid and try placing the jar in a warm spot for an hour or two. Just ensure that you don’t leave the jar there for too long; otherwise your starter will become thin and hungry — and, therefore, weak.
Happy sourdough baking!
For more help and information find Elaine at https://foodbodsourdough.com/
(This article appeared in the Winter 2024 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)