A Guide to the Most Common Sourdough Mistakes You Can Make

make your own sourdough

Are you curious about some of the most common sourdough mistakes we make while baking? If so, this article should point you in the direction – that way, you can avoid making those missteps in the future.

But first, I have a good friend I need to tell you about.

Her name is Ethel.

And no, she’s not a 75 year old with blue hair that lives on my road. 

Ethel is what I like to affectionately call my sourdough starter.

You see, baking sourdough bread is more of an art than anything else – but it’s also a science. Although it’s remarkably easy once you get right down to it, understanding the ins and outs of the craft can be a bit tricky. Make one small misstep – a seemingly inconsequential misstep, it might seem – and your sourdough will be thrown off entirely. 

At best, you’ll have a dense loaf that takes a lot of chewing to get through. At worst, you’ll have a blobby mess that fails to rise.

Still haven’t started making your own sourdough? Check out this guide for more information. 

So without further ado, here are some of the most common mistakes you can make while creating your own sourdough bread.

avoid common sourdough mistakes

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The Benefits of Making Your Own Sourdough

how to make sourdough

I’ve tried the whole gluten-free thing, the low-carb thing…you name it! On my quest for better health, there are very few fads I haven’t tried (pro tip – none of them work). 

But sourdough bread is really a trend I can get behind.

The ancient loaf has been around forever. I’ve eaten sourdough my entire life, as it’s one of my favorite kinds of bread.

It is believed to have originated in ancient Egypt around 1500 BC and remained the most popular way of making bread until baker’s yeast came onto the market a few centuries ago. 

Most leavened breads today rely on commercial baker’s yeast to rise. Sourdough, on the other hand, uses lactic acid bacteria and wild yeast, both of which are naturally present in flour, to provide the leavening effect.

This is what makes sourdough so tangy! 

It’s really a self-sufficient bread, with the lactic acid-producing bacteria working in tandem with the wild yeast. 

Sourdough is not the only food that contains these bacteria – they can also be found in pickles, yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and more. Because of these properties, sourdough is an excellent source of probiotics – you know, those gut-boosting little microorganisms that work wonders on our digestive health and immunity. 

You can buy sourdough at the store. While it still tastes great, these are often not made using the traditional sourdough method (though of course, your odds of bringing home true sourdough is higher if you shop at an artisan bakery or a farmer’s market). 

Sourdough’s nutritional profile mimics that of other breads. However, it has unique properties that actually surpass the nutritional profile of other kinds of bread. It’s more nutritious! 

Sourdough fermentation has lower phytate levels – which sounds complicated but essentially means that the unique composition of this kind of bread makes it possible for your body to absorb more minerals. There are some studies that suggest that the bacteria in sourdough can release antioxidants during the fermentation process.

It’s believed to be higher in folate along with other nutrients – plus it’s easier to digest. Additional studies suggest that a sourdough loaf is a viable option for people with gluten sensitivities who may not be able to digest other kinds of bread. 

When you bake your own sourdough, you’ll be rewarded with a loaf of bread that is flavorful, aromatic, and higher in protein than other kinds of bread. You don’t have to worry about pesticides, fillers, or preservatives – and it tastes absolutely wonderful.

You can even save money! By not having to spend money on store bought bread or yeast (literally all you need is flour  – you can even make your own flour – and water) you’ll have more to spend on…I don’t know…maybe some Nutella to put on that sourdough? Peanut butter? Hummus? Whatever floats your boat!

The Most Common Sourdough Mistakes – and Their Solutions

tips for making sourdough

Ready to dive in? Here are some of the most common mistakes you can make while baking sourdough – and how to prevent them or fix them in the future.

Baking Too Soon

I get it – you want to have that sourdough in your mouth STAT. But it’s important that you don’t rush the process.

Unless you’ve inherited a starter from someone else (or purchased a starter culture like this), it’s going to take a few days (or even a few weeks) to get a starter that’s really good and bubbly. And even after that starter is good and bubbly, it’s going to take a few more days to make it strong. For a heavy dough like sourdough, a lot of yeast is necessary to get the dough to rise.  

Be patient! Make sure you’re feeding your sourdough daily and don’t bake until you’re 100% sure that it’s ready. 

Using Cold or Unfiltered Water

While you don’t want to use hot water to feed your sourdough (this can kill the yeast), it’s also important that you don’t use ice-cold tap water. Water that’s too cold will shock and stunt the yeast. 

Y0u also need to make sure the water is filtered whenever possible – at least, if you have treated water. I’m fortunate to have well water so this is not an issue for me. However, keep in mind that tap water can be filled with chlorine and all other kinds of things that make it potable. These aren’t necessarily chemicals you want in your starter.

If you don’t have a filter to treat your drinking water, just leave a pitcher of water on the counter for a day or so. This will release the chemicals and you can use the water to feed your starter. 

Not Making a Leaven or Autolyse

The word “autolyse” sounds a bit scary – but it’s really the same thing as leaven.

Don’t skip it! You’ll combine flour, water, and starter without salt and then let it sit. This process is essential to allow the flour to hydrate and the yeast to take over. Add the salt and it will halt the leavening process in its tracks. 

Depending on the recipe you’re following, you might have to make an autolyse as far as 12 hours in advance or as little as an hour. Just don’t skip this step, whatever you do! 

Ignoring the Windowpane Test

When you’re making sourdough bread, it’s important that you allow time for gluten development to occur. A good way to tell whether this has happened is to conduct the “windowpane test.” To do this, you will take a tiny piece of dough and stretch it between your fingers. It should be thin enough so that light can pass through.

What if the dough breaks? That’s how you know the gluten has not developed and needs more time.

If you are baking with whole grain flours, which have less natural gluten, you may find the windowpane test isn’t’ as accurate. However, the windowpane test can be super helpful with all other kinds of flours. 

Failing to Let it Rise

When you’re baking sourdough or any kind of bread, the proofing period is essential – don’t skip it! You need to watch that your dough has risen and proofed.

Ideally, 24 hours is what you should shoot for – but in warm weather, it might take less than 12. Some people proof in the fridge, others do this on the counter. Whatever the case may be – or whatever recipe you’re following – be sure to leave time for proofing.

Underproofed dough will result in huge tunnels cutting through your bread or a damp texture. That said, you also don’t want to overproof – this can cause The Blob to make an appearance in your kitchen! 

I learned the last tip the hard way – after letting my dough proof for 30 hours one time in the summer, I came home to a kitchen filled with sour, horrible-tasting dough. 

Not Forming or Scoring the Bread

Forming and scoring is also essential when making sourdough. You’ll know that you haven’t taken the time to properly form your bread when you find that your bread keeps coming out like flat little pancakes instead of actual loaves.

Forming is important because it creates surface tension on the exterior of the loaf, making sure it rises up and becomes tall, not wide. 

You’ll find all kinds of techniques when it comes to forming sourdough – here’s an example – but no matter which technique you follow, just make sure you do it!

Similarly, scoring will allow the dough to split so it doesn’t burst and cause your loaf to become misshapen or dense. Use a razor blade, scoring knife, or sharp serrated knife to do this at about half an inch deep.

Baking at the Wrong Temperature (or for the Wrong Amount of Time)

This is a tricky one too. I always bake my sourdough in a cast-iron Dutch oven, which seems to provide the perfect amount of heat for tasty loaves.

But it’s also important that you bake your sourdough at the right temperature and for the ideal amount of time. 

Recipes vary in terms of how long or how hot you need to cook your dough so I won’t give you advice on that. However, you may want to invest in a meat thermometer to check that your dough is at least 200 degrees Fahrenheit when you take it out of the oven. 

Not Allowing the Bread to Rest 

Who can resist the allure of warm bread, fresh out of the oven?

If you want the best possible sourdough, you should learn how!

I get it, it’s tough. But it’s important to allow your sourdough time to rest so that it can complete the final part of the baking process – that’s right, the process isn’t finished just because you took the loaf out of the oven.

Until the loaf has cooled, the very inside of the bread is still baking and excess moisture is evaporating. Slice into your loaf before it’s done resting, and your texture won’t be ideal. Wait at least an hour to cut into it – if you want warm bread after that, you can always pop it back into the oven to heat it back up.

Tossing Leftover Discard

I cringe (and die a little inside, honestly!) whenever I see people throwing out their leftover sourdough discard.

It might look moderately unappetizing, but the reality is that sourdough discard actually has many uses. Save it and try one of the many sourdough discard recipes out there – these sourdough biscuits are amazing, and pizza crust is another favorite that I rely on!

Oh – and let’s not forget these bacon brie bites on sourdough. They’re a must-have during the holidays! 

Improper Storage

Last but not least, make sure you’re storing those sourdough loaves properly. You’ve put so much work into making them – so make sure your hard work is not for naught! 

I freeze my sourdough (because I bake it 10-12 loaves at a time) but you can also store your loaves cut-side down on a board at room temperature or in a bread box.

The Takeaway? Patience is Key! 

making your own sourdough

The biggest mistake you can make while building a sourdough leaven and starting to bake? Impatience. I’ll admit it – this is my fatal flaw.

I get so excited about baking sourdough that I tend to rush into things. However, it’s important to remember that making sourdough is not for the impatient. You’ll have a few days between building your starter, preparing your loaves, and finally, eating your bread. 

Of course, if you want to rush the process, you can buy commercial yeast and make bread that way LINK. But doesn’t homemade sourdough taste so much better?

Be patient! Trust me – it’s worth it. 

Do you make your own sourdough? What are some roadblocks you’ve run into? Be sure to let me know in the comments!

Want to learn more about farming? Be sure to take a look at these other articles.

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Author: Rebekah PierceI'm a writer and small farm owner, and lover of everything outdoors. I'm hoping to share my passion for farming, gardening, and homesteading with you on my blogging journey.

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