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Sweet and Sour Sourdough

Cranberry Walnut Sourdough

It’s that time of year when lots of folks around the world are baking. We are heading into spring in this hemisphere and on the other side of the world they are heading into fall. Often in the summer many people give up baking for a while, so during summer half the world isn’t as interested in baking as when it’s cold (although we still have to eat!). It is more fun to fire up your oven when it’s cool. It makes the house seem “homey” and inviting.

Which gets me to the matter I wanted to talk about in this post, “sweet” and “sour” sourdough. Many bakers are still after the elusive, “How do I get my sourdough more sour?” Or they want to know, “How do I keep my bread from being too sour?” Some people like a sour bread, others don’t. I have experimented for years with the sour in sourdough. I was strongly informed that it was the low hydration dough kept cold that causes acetic acid to build up in dough. I read that a wet starter will make a dough more acidic, but with more of a lactic acidity. It’s practically gospel that a low hydration dough, kept cold, will give you a sour bread.
Well you know what? IT DOESN”T. It just doesn’t work that way. I’ve tried it over and over and over. A cold fermented dough gives you a great sweet tasting loaf of bread. Let’s just admit it and quit with the “cold, low hydration makes a sour loaf advice.”


To get a great tasting “sour” bread, this is what I’ve found that works:

  • Warmer starter temperatures
  • Warmer dough temperatures
  • Dough with whole grains added
  • Starters with whole grains added

The opposite is true for making a “sweet” or “non sour” sourdough bread:

  • Cooler starter temperatures
  • Cooler dough temperatures
  • Starters without or with less whole grains or kept cooler
  • Less whole grains in the dough and if you want to use whole grains and not have sour bread, then keep your dough on the cooler side of things.

You can play around with hydration and how long to ferment as they also affect the flavor of the finished loaf but I find that temperature and grain type seem to matter the most. Of course many people will now take the warmer temperatures to extreme and overheat their dough to a gooey hot mess. Don’t do that. Experiment by starting at room temperatures 70-72F/21-22C and work your way up.

In my #9 course, which features extreme fermentation breads, I showcase “sweet” breads and “sour” breads and show the method to make each type.
Okay, now that I’m done with that rant, I would be happy to hear your feedback. Please comment below.


March is my birthday month. Each week in March I will discount a few of my online baking courses.  This week course #2,#3 and #4 are on sale for only $10.00 each. I will add more next week (come back and check):

Course #2: Bake Artisan Sourdough Bread Like a Professional

Course #3 Bake Classic Sourdough Bread Like a Professional

Course #4 Old Fashioned Sourdough Baking

Edited to add:

Course #5 Bake the Best Bagels

Course #6 Learn to Bake Magnificent Challah

Course #7 Make the Best Pizza Crust!

Happy “Sour” dough baking! Teresa

The photos in this post are taken from course #10, which I am working on right now.

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  1. Linda Linda
    April 9, 2017    

    I made the 3 loaf bread based on Yohan’s bread. All are great. The first one didn’t get as much oven spring but still had a great crumb and the best flavor (not really sour though). The next two I took out the 750 g of dough at left at room temperature over night (my frigerator is 38 degrees), then shaped and let proof 2 hours (oven heating the second hour). These two breads had fabulous oven spring, crust and crumb. The flavor was nice but not as distinctive as the first. I will try the other Yohan recipe with more WW and rye which I want in my breads.
    I made this after making the mother dough bread which has more hands on but the flavor, crust, crumb were the best.

  2. leona kadir leona kadir
    March 25, 2017    

    The most sour sourdough I’ve made so far is your salt fermented one which is kept at low hydration and low temp for an extended period (for those who haven’t made it). I add 10-20% wholegrain flour. Weirdly I’ve also found that adding a bit of extra malt helps the sour although i don’t know why as its sweet!

  3. March 16, 2017    

    I enjoyed your opinion on this topic. In my experience, if I use a large amount of very actively fed starter and encourage it to rise quickly in warm temperatures, my bread is less sour than dough that has less starter, or less active starter, and rises slowly at cooler temperatures. I have also found, as you said, that whole grains result in a more sour bread.

    I took my starter to Guatemala several years ago to visit a friend and we baked bread almost daily. The weather was tropical – very hot and humid – and we used only white flour. The bread rose faster than my bread ever rose at home in Pennsylvania and it was the mildest flavored sourdough bread I had ever made. I credited it to the white flour, the fast rises, the warm temperatures, and using the starter so often. I don’t know which aspect made the greatest difference or if it was all of them combined.

    I look forward to doing more experiments on this topic.
    Thanks for teaching me so much about sourdough.

    • martz martz
      April 23, 2017    

      Hi Gina,

      So that bread was not sour at all with warmer & higher starter % ? I do not like sour bread at all, Im more into french sourdough style which is not sour at all. Would you remember temperature and bulk & proofing times ? that would be very help full for me. Thanx a lot


  4. Maria Maria
    March 8, 2017    

    Hi Teresa, I have done your course #1,2,3, 9 and found them super helpful guiding my SD journey. Am now onto my 5th month or 43rd loaf but still have some fundamental questions which I hope you can help :

    1) is final proof after cold retard necessary before bake ? Ihave experimented both ways but didn’t see the difference except in my recent 100% Hydration 100% Whole Wheat loaf.

    2) on 100% whole wheat loaf, I like whole wheat but found the loaf very sour. I understand whole wheat characteristics but is there any way which I can make 100% whole wheat loaf less sour.

    3) I have yet to achieve ears or nice blisters which I often see from your loaves and other home bakers’ posts. Any tips for me to experiment ?

    4) on crumbs & crust, how to consistently get holy & airy crumbs ? I sometimes get it but sometimes don’t ( esp for 100% whole wheat ). It’s kind of elusive. Even if I get holy crumbs, they are not as big as those from your bake.

    As for crust, since I used the Emile Henry bread clouche, I always get soft crust, which is good for the teeth when compared to the previous stone like crust. However, is there a middle way for crispy and not hard crust ?

    Thanks in advance for your guidance !


  5. Laurel Laurel
    March 8, 2017    

    In my experience the sourness is influenced by the frequency of feedings. If I want a sour loaf I use a starter that has been fed less frequently and kept at slightly cooler temps to develop more flavour. If I want a sweet dough I try to feed it at least twice a day and use it earlier in its cycle. but I haven’t been particularly scientific about it. So I don’t know if my temperature theory holds true but my theory is that younger growth promotes milder flavour and it seems to work for me. This is where the hydration of the starter comes into play because I can maintain a lower hydration starter for a longer stretch of time to encourage more flavour without using up the active bacteria. Does that make sense? Now I am curious as to how my theory would hold up to a more scientific approach.

    • March 8, 2017    

      Thanks for your input Laurel, I am hoping to get a discussion going on this subject. I would like to see what other baker’s real experience has been. I think some more observation and experimentation are in order! 🙂

    • Gloria Gloria
      March 17, 2017    

      I would have to agree with the post Laurel put up. Even though I am very new to sourdough, I want to know what I am baking is SOUR, so when I want really sour, I extend times between feedings, nearly to the point of neglect, for two or three days prior to being ready to bake. Then, I feed heavily, and at rather warm temps to get it ready to use.

  6. March 8, 2017    

    My limited experience suggests that the quality of the starter can make a difference in the flavour and sourness of the bread. Back in 2006 I bought some dried starter from Linda Wilbourne at http://sourdoughbreads.com/ When fed, this starter is very vigorous and produces an excellent tasting, but mild sour-flavoured bread. After some success making sourdough bread, I decided to try making my own starter with Canadian flour and the yeast in the air of Bowen Island, British Columbia. This local starter flourished and made some fine bread, but the family agreed that it didn’t have the marvellous taste of Linda’s starter. I kept feeding the local pet for over a year, but the demand for its bread was so low that eventually I abandoned it. Generations of Linda’s starter have been shared with about two dozen Bowen Islanders. It is alive, well, and still making great bread.

    • March 8, 2017    

      It’s true that a starter will definitely have an influence on the outcome. Good point Robert.

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