We share some tips that we picked up from the new Sourdough Workshop by Tiong Bahru Bakery

This story was first published on October 21, 2021, and updated on March 30, 2022.

National Sourdough Bread Day 2022 falls on April 1. As many bakers know, the world’s oldest leavened bread is one of the hardest and most time consuming foods to make. It is no wonder it takes many years to master the art of sourdough making, which involves proofing the dough at the right temperature and folding the dough correctly. While it may seem like an intimidating process to do, especially at home, the results are worthwhile. 

That said, we sought the help of Tiong Bahru Bakery’s chef Paul Albert at his sourdough workshop on how we can up our game in baking sourdough at home. Here are his tips:

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1. Temperature

Finding the ideal temperature to proof your sourdough for predictable and consistent results may be challenging, especially in Singapore’s unpredictable weather. Nevertheless, it is an important factor when it comes to preparing the dough.

Ideally, dough should be fermented and proofed between 24 to 30 degrees Celsius, as it is the temperature which yeasts work well at, to provide a loaf with mild sourness. However, as temperature can affect the flavour of the bread—at higher temperatures, the dough produces lactic acid, which gives the bread a more sour flavour, while lower temperature results in the production of acetic acid, giving a more tang flavour to the dough—the temperature at which you proof your dough can change depending on your sourdough preference. 

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2. Handle the Dough Gently

For an open crumb sourdough (one that is light and airy), it is important to handle the dough as gently as possible. As the dough is filled with constantly expanding air pockets, being forceful with it can break them, tightening its overall structure.
When it comes to folding the dough, Albert notes that a gentle stretch and fold is enough to strengthen the dough—refrain from pulling the dough too much, but just enough to fold three-quarters of the way up. This gentle stretch will help activate gluten in the dough, allowing it to hold its shape when baking. Similarly, preshape the dough with a light hand, getting it into its final shape without removing any air from the dough.

3. Baker’s Percentage

When making sourdough, every variable plays a part—knowing more about Baker’s Percentage can help bakers work with precision. Baker’s Percentage refers to the percentage of the weight of flour in the recipe—this means the percentage of flour will always be 100 per cent, while other ingredients are expressed as a percentage of the flour’s weight. With this knowledge, bakers will be able to create consistent results for their sourdough, even when tweaking a recipe (whether by doubling the recipe or substituting ingredients).

For example, the Baker's Percentage provided in TBB's Sourdough Workshop's recipe calls for 100 per cent of flour, 70 per cent of water, and so forth. This means that if 200g of flour is used, 140g of water should be used. This also makes calculations easier, as it will always be measured in weight (as compared to cups, for example).

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4. Know the Peak Time of Your Starter

The point at which your starter is used has a direct impact on the sourdough’s results. Generally, sourdough starters peak between four to 12 hours after feeding. However, as each sourdough starter behaves slightly differently from another, there are some general signs bakers can look out for to obtain its peak, including bubbles and the size of the starter.
Bubbles are a result of the fermentation of flour and water, and a sign to show that the starter is active. Once the starter has been fed with fresh flour and water, the starter should begin bubbling, continuing to increase until it reaches its peak, before dying down again. A good time to use the starter is when the starter is filled with bubbles of different sizes.
These bubbles will also raise the level of the starter, increasing in size. The level at which the sourdough starter rises can also be a sign of when it is ready to be used—the peak time of the starter will be when it doubles in size, before deflating back. As the level at which the starter will rise and deflate differs depending on the type of flour used, experimentation is encouraged, too.

5. Scoring

Scoring the dough before placing it in the oven is essential to allow gases to escape the loaf as it bakes. The process of scoring refers to cutting a slash in the bread dough, allowing it to expand easily, resulting in a light and balanced loaf. This process can be done with a straight or curved blade. When scoring, make swift slashes with a blade or knife, ensuring that the cut goes deep into the dough. While these cuts do not need to be excessively deep, it does need to be deep enough for the surface of the dough to not join back together when baking—this creates a pronounced ear (the raised area of the crust, as seen in the image above) in the loaf.

Don't be discouraged if your first loaf is not scored precisely. Albert noted that some chefs practice scoring for up to a year, just to get a perfect cut. 

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