A full guide on what flour to use for sourdough bread in order to get the best results in your sourdough baking.
Want to make beautiful loaves of fresh sourdough bread? Really, who doesn’t?? A golden, fresh handmade loaf of bread sitting on the countertop. What a lovely sight.
First, you will need a sourdough starter. Of course, there is more to baking sourdough than just a mere, starter. But it is essential to have one to bake sourdough anything.
I would have to say beyond the starter when you first start, there is so much information out there. It seems almost impossible to get started. At least, for me it was. I was so intimidated and honestly having baked typical yeast bread successfully for so many years, I didn’t see the point of devoting so much time and effort to baking with it. I mean, yeast works, so why bother?
Then after finally clicking on a site, similar to this one, I found the reason why. Or at least my reason to sift through all the information out there and find the proper steps to get the result I wanted. To my surprise not only was sourdough much more healthier as a bread or baked good option. It was not as complicated as it first appeared to be.
Sourdough baking is not so much about a recipe as it is about understanding it’s process.
What’s that expression, the devil is in the details, only in this case, the details can very much be simplified. For instance, a simple swap of flours can yield greater results whereas using the wrong one can end in disaster.
Organic Vs Non-Organic Flour
When baking with sourdough it is important to understand that we are relying on wild yeast and bacteria captured in a sourdough starter. Therefore, it is safe to assume that using a natural, chemical-free flour to bake with is a good idea whenever possible. Using a nonorganic option means to use a flour that is bleached, and chemically altered to lighten and age the flour.
Whereas organic flour will typically contain a higher mineral content. This higher mineral content can be more accessible to the sourdough starter as there is no chance of interference from added chemicals.
I have used both in baking sourdough bread and these are the differences I have found:
- When using organic flour to feed my starter, it smells less chemically and more like fresh bread.
- My starter seems more active and bubbly quicker than with nonorganic flour
- I get a good rise from both kinds of flour however, I do notice that bread made with organic flour tends to have more flavor than its counterpart.
Learning About Flours
You might think that the one-and-done approach to baking is best. Meaning, you pick a useful flour and stick to it every time. I say this cause, I have been there myself. But it might surprise you, as it did me, that there are tremendous differences in the taste, texture, rise, and overall result you get with different flours.
Even if you don’t plan on veering too far away from what works currently for you. Learning about different flours can be useful to the home baker as this will allow you to stretch your sourdough bread baking knowledge. Gives you the ability to create various forms of sourdough loaves with whatever flour you have on hand.
But if you are a total beginner, the best flour to start with is organic strong white bread flour. This will give you the very best results early on in your baking journey.
Organic Bread Flour Will…
- Give a nice rise to your loaves
- Be the easiest to shape and knead
- Have a strong gluten development
- Be a popular flour to use when finding new recipes
Different Types of Flour
Bread Flour- Bread flour has a higher protein content. Bread flour contains about 12-13% of protein. It will yield great results for most bread recipes even the kind made with commercial yeas It is normally made from hard wheat and is a strong flour that provides excellent height and structure to loaves while also providing a nice chewy texture to things like bagels and sourdough bread.
All-Purpose- All-purpose is a flour that most of us keep on hand. The fact that this flour can be used, just as the name implies, for all purposes. From cakes to breads and even pastries, a good all-purpose flour is versatile; and does provide a great option to many home bakers.
However, even though versatile, it is not the best option for baking great bread. All-purpose flour generally has a protein level between 9 and 10%. Some brands might be up to 11.7% (so check the label). A higher protein factor makes for a strong dough that rises better and provides a classic sourdough chewy texture.
More Advanced Flours
Rye Flour- Rye is a type of grain that is different from whole wheat. Rye grain contains a low amount of gluten and is very popular with sourdough bakers. This could be because rye flour provides a richer more complex flavor profile. However, since rye flour is lower in gluten it really should be paired with another flour that has a higher protein content. Doing so will help provide a dough that is easier to shape.
Whole Wheat- Both whole wheat and white flour are milled from wheat berries. The difference is, is that white flour is sifted to remove the bran and germ of the grain. Whole wheat contains the natural kernel proportions of bran, endosperm, and germ. Using this flour will result in a nutrient-rich but dense loaf with a more complex flavor profile. Something to be aware of is that whole wheat flour tends to have a shorter shelf life than white flour due to the oil present in the bran and germ.
Einkorn Flour– Einkorn flour is the oldest wheat known to scientists dating back roughly 12,000 years. This ancient grain flour has never been hybridized, is grown organically, and has a weak gluten which makes it easier to digest. There is a learning curve to baking with einkorn flour as the crumb is heavier and it does not rise as high as conventional flour.
Stoneground Vs. Regular Flour
You may have heard of stone ground flour as it is gaining popularity. Stoneground flour refers to the way flour was milled before industrialization. The process involves two large stones that grind the wheat until it is reduced to fine flour. These days the majority of flour is milled which is a quicker process that produces more consistent results.
A great option for stone ground flour is spelt flour. Which is 100% stone ground flour made from an ancient grain. Stoneground flour is thought to be the healthier option. Yet, its texture is not as fine as milled flour and may be more difficult to handle. Especially for new bakers.
Milling Your Own Flour
It has become more and more popular to mill flour at home. One great mill to use for doing so is this NutriMill classic. Some benefits of milling your own flour include:
- More nutrient dense flour
- The flour is fresh and tastes better
- Could save you money in the long run
- Wheat berries have a longer shelf life than plain flour
Most home bakers stay within 65%-90% hydration levels in their sourdough baking. Hydration levels vary for many factors but I mention them because the type of flour you use is one of those factors. If you would like to learn more about hydration levels you can do so here.
What types of flour should I feed my starter with?
To bake sourdough bread you will need an active sourdough starter. You will also need to maintain your starter by feeding it regularly. To feed your starter, you can use any flour that contains starch as this is most suitable for a sourdough starter. Remember the microbes feed on the sugar.
Note: It is suggested to use organic flour to feed your starter so that the flour does not disturb the wild yeast and bacteria contained within the starter. I have used both organic and non-organic, and have found that the organic flour creates a nice sweet smell whereas the nonorganic has an almost chemical smell.
Any flour containing starch is suitable for a sourdough starter since it is the sugar that the microbes feed on. Glutenous flours work best but with a little bit of help, it’s possible to use gluten-free flours including buckwheat and brown rice. Make sure to choose the right flour for your needs.
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