How to fit sourdough baking into your daily schedule?

"Oh, sourdough, I know it's so healthy, but it takes two days to make it, right?" and "Sourdough bread baking just takes so much time and I should be at home all the time, I couldn't do it!", are the sentences I here most often when I say I bake sourdough bread.

Well, the answer is yes, sourdough baking takes a reasonable amount of time. But this isn't really your time, i.e. the time you would spent on making bread. The most of this time is waiting for the bacteria and yeast to do their job. Feeling releaved? Read on.

Most importantly, baking sourdough bread doesn't require you staying at home. However, preparing and fermenting sourdough while being away in some parts of the day will require some understanding of fermentation principles and planning ahead (similar to life, right?). Let's look into steps on how to fit sourdough baking into your daily routine.

Steps towards fitting sourdough into your daily life

1. Understand how fermentation works

Temperature of the water, temperature of the environment, flours used, and amount of starter in the dough are the variables that affect the dynamics of sourdough bread fermentation the most. By changing those variables you can easily adjust the time of the dough fermentation to fit to your absence from home. Increase the temperature and amount of starter and your dough will ferment faster and vice versa. Getting to the right temperatures and right amounts of starter will take a little bit of experimenting in order to avoid overproofed dough when coming back home. This is especially important in summer when temperatures get high.

2. Get clear on what kind of bread you would like to bake and then plan (ahead) wisely

Different types of dough (or better to say types of bread) might require different approaches of handling the dough. In all cases, baking will require planning ahead and adjusting the recipes to fit the times when you are at home and when you can work with dough (i.e. before work, after work, etc.)

Two easiest sourdough breads that you can make while away are the sourdough sandwich loaf baked in a tin and sourdough focaccia baked in a tray. With both doughs you would simply mix the dough, knead it for couple of minutes to develop strength of the dough, transfer it to a greased pans, leave it to ferment until doubled in volume, and then bake it. Easy, right?

Sandwich loaf

I usually mix the dough for sandwich bread or focaccia in the morning before going to work and, depending on the season, I leave it to ferment at the room temperature or in basement until I come home in the afternoon. In the best case scenario, the dough is ready to be put in oven in an hour after I come home (while the oven preheats). It is better to come home to slighlty underproofed dough than to overproofed one, where there is almost no way back. 

You can make both types of bread in the afternoon in shorter amount of time, by simply mixing the dough with larger amounts of starter which will make the dough to ferment faster (also put the dough into warm place). In this way, you can have simple (yet very delicious) breads for dinner.

Using seasonal fruits in focaccias is one way of upgrading your sourdough bread and it's basically making two in one - bread and dessert.


3. Make fridge your best friend

When I discovered fridge, I became one happy baker, or at least to say, I got more sleep. Putting the dough into the fridge after the bulk fermentation at the room temperature allowed me to go sleeping and to avoid overproofed dough in the morning. Using the fridge, my dough was ready to be put in the oven when I woke up in the morning. (OK, I once forgot to put the dough into the fridge and the scene in the morning was not pleasant.)

Fridge can serve you for choosing a cold bulk fermentation or cold final rise of the dough (or both). In both cases, the signs of the proper development of the dough are the same as in fermenting your dough at the room temperatures.

In addition to solving the sleeping issues, cold fermentation also brings out the special character of the dough, bringing out the subtle edgy sourness of the bread and making it extremely delicious.

Before you put the dough into the fridge, just make sure you cover it with a plastic bag or someting similar as the fridge dries up things.

4. Experiment and repeat

Practice make perfect (bread). As you will observe how your dough acts under different circumstances, you will be able to judge the temperature and the amount of starter needed to get to the wanted step of bread baking.

Sourdough loaf

What are your biggest challenges when it comes to baking sourdough during the busy days? How do you organize your baking? Let me know in a comment below.

14 thoughts on “How to fit sourdough baking into your daily schedule?

  1. Your bread is very beautiful. I would love to see your recipes, too. Your focaccias look great. Which fruits did you put on them? And what is in your round loaf in the above pictures?
    My biggest challenge this summer has been over proofing. I think when I over proof during the first rise even retarding in the fridge for the second rise doesn’t slow it enough. I have to shorten the first rise time and quickly get formed dough in the fridge.

    1. Hi Amy,

      Thank you! I often use roasted apples with cinnamon or plums in my fruit focaccias, it’s super delicious. But you can use any fruit.
      Yes, I agree, overproofing is an issue in the summer, same here. Decreasing the amount of starter also helps.

      Happy baking, Nataša

  2. Hi! I had a question about sourdough starters. I started mine three days ago and has grown a lot. It floats in water. The only thing is that it smells like cheese. Is it safe to bake with still?

    1. Unless you started your culture off with something acidic like pineapple juice, after 3 days, it’s probably the bad (and stinky) bacteria that are making the culture grow. I would suggest continuing to feed and discard for another 3-4 days. After another day or two things might go static again. But hang in there. Once the good bacteria have taken over, the funky smell should be replaced with a slightly sweeter smell. And you should start to see the growing, rising and falling to become predictable. Once this happens, you should be ready to start baking with it in another 2-3 days. For me, it took 7 days before I had a culture that started to grow consistently. Hang in there!

  3. I like this post this post very much. It’s like many things in life, you need to find your balance. Make the elapsed time work for you. You enjoy life and great bread both.

  4. I really bulking in the fridge instead of shaping because of time and also space. I can for the bulk container not easily. Also, I can save the preshaping, bench rest and shaping time for later. I would then do that the following morning after about 10 hours. However, I don’t know if I should use cooler water or less levain for the bulk? Which way is better for a well fermented bulk? Also, would you let it warm up to room temp before preshaping or do it on the bench after preshaping?

  5. I dropped two drops of starter into water to do the float test.
    One drop sank to the bottom and the second drop floated. Starter does not have a
    sour smell, but rather like flour and water.
    I mixed the flour and water for the autolyse part and added flour and water to the starter for the morning mix. I hope it all works out.
    I have to go to work in the morning. Should I put everything in the fridge until I get home around 1 pm?

  6. Hi! There is a (german) app I’m using to plan my bread baking. It’s called Brotheld and really helpful. Of course times are not totally fix when it comes to bread baking but it helps planning to have a generall idea when the next step is due.

  7. Can you share your recipe for the sourdough baked in a tin? That looks like a wonderful daily bread to bake.

  8. Because I work, I came upon your system myself and have been feeding the starter the night before on the counter, using a 5-6 hr bulk fermentation on the counter and overnight 12 hrs in fridge for proofing. The dough passes the indent test both times. But I am still not getting the rise or the airy bubbles I want and that are in your picture. Can you bee specific about the percent water or ratio of water to flour you recommend? Will increasing the amount of starter help?

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