The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Toning down the 'Sour' in Sourdough

Paulg's picture

Toning down the 'Sour' in Sourdough

Hi everyone,

I'm still plugging away with my sourdough starter, and am using a very simple recipe: 200g starter, 400g water and 6-700g flour (either all white or a combination of white and wholemeal/rye).

The breads are starting to get a better rise (although I'm keen for any other tips on getting a better rise), but I as time goes on the bread is getting more and more sour, and more and more 'cheesey' in taste. I'm afraid I'm not quite enough of a sourdough aficionado to appreciate this, and wondered if there is a way to 'tone down' this sourness.

Any suggestion would be greatly appreciated!

Thank you so much,


tchism's picture

Hi Paul,

You don't mention your process such as first proof time, final proof times ect. That might help with diagnosis of what's happening. It could also be in how your are feeding your starter. How often, how much water & flour each time, hydration. It all plays into it.

For the most part though, I think your answer may be in your proof times. Too long will affect both sourness and rise or oven spring.

Paulg's picture

Thanks so much for the reply!

My method has been as follows:

Dissolve starter in water, mix in flour and knead, adding flour until the dough is no longer overly sticky. Continue to knead until gluten sufficiently formed according to the 'window' test.

Allow dough to rise for approx 4 hours in a warm area

Carefully shape dough into balls, trying not to over-handle the dough.

I then allowed a further rise for 3 hours for half of the dough, and then baked it in an oven at 200 degrees celcius (fan forced), on a baking tray, with a tray full of boiling water on the shelf below it, for 45 minutes until the crust was firm (water was removed at the 30 minute mark).

I've got another half ball of dough in the fridge that's been there since yesterday afternoon that Iplan to take out after I get home from work, and then I planned to let that rise for a few hours before baking in the same way.

Edit: In terms of how the starter is kept, I keep it in the fridge and feed it weekly by reserving 1/4 cup of starter with equal parts of water and flour, plus a Tbs of rye flour.

Before I started the dough, I waited for the starter to double in size since its last feed.

Yeti's picture

That's a very short amount of time for a sourdough to develop so I don't think you're over fermenting or anything.  From what I've read, the lactobacillus in starters prefers a cool and dry environment - the colder and drier your dough, the more sour it will be. Whereas yeast prefers a warmer, damper environment. Is your starter 100% hydration? Because that'll equate to 500ml of water and 700g of flour in your recipe, which is about 71% hydration. So long as you're not adding any extra flour to that, and given its relatively short proof time, you shouldn't be getting any overtly sour taste

Fred Rickson's picture
Fred Rickson

I think you have this backwards.  Both cereal and microbiological journals note that bread bacteria like slightly higher temps and moisture than yeast. The difference isn't great, but it does form the basis for long builds at various temperatures to customize a preference for sour and flavor.

FlourChild's picture

Best way to boost rising power is to remove your starter from the fridge and feed at room temp 2-3 times before making bread with it. Perhaps feed it 1:1:1, keep at room temp until it rises and just begins to fall back (how long will depend on temperature), then feed/rise again before making bread.  Refrigerator temps hamper yeast more than LAB, so keeping it in the fridge all the time will produce breads that are sour and don't rise as well (compared to breads made with a starter kept at room temp).

The other two things that reduce sour in naturally leavened breads are to reduce the proportion of pre-fermented flour and to use the starter to mix the main dough earlier in the feed cycle, before it is ready to be fed again.  There is a third thing, which is to limit bulk fermentation, but you are already doing that.

To reduce the proportion of pre-fermented flour, try reducing the amount of starter used to make the bread.  For instance, right now it sounds like there is about 700g of flour total in your formula, of which 100g or about 14% is pre-fermented in your starter.  Try reducing the starter to 140g (70g of flour) and increasing the flour added to the main dough to 630g so that only 10% of your flour is pre-fermented.   The reason for this is that salt inhibits LAB more than it inhibits yeast.

Just feeding your starter two or three times at room temp before making bread may be enough to reduce acid and boost yeast, but if not try mixing the main dough after the starter has shown some rise, but before it has peaked and begun to fall back.  

Good luck!

Yeti's picture

Another way to get a higher rise is with a very high initial baking temperature, I generally put a loaf of sourdough in for 10 minutes at 270C/520F (with steam) before dropping to 180C for the rest of the bake.  That combined with a high hydration (I find 72.5% to be just about perfect) should give a great spring

dabrownman's picture

omit the rye from the feed too.  Rye mens sour :-)

bobku's picture

What I do to make a less sour dough is to use a very small amount of starter feeding it with a massave amount of flour and water.

I'll start off with about 1 tablespoon of starter and add 200-300  grams of water and 200-300 grams of flour depending  what recipe calls for, and use it in about 12 hours after doubling.

Seems to have a less sour taste but plenty of rise.