Talking Sourdough: Tips, Tricks and the Impact of Flour

When I first started making sourdough, like most people, I started off with flour I could get at a regular grocery. A plain white, bleached bread flour. It’s what I had access to. It works. It’s reliable. It makes good bread. But it was when I started messing around with locally grown, freshly milled flours that my love for sourdough bread really took off.

The thing about plain white, bleached flour from a large manufacturer is that it was probably milled a really long time ago. And because it was milled a really long time ago, it was bleached and preserved so that it could last years (yes, YEARS) on a grocery store shelf before going rancid. These days, we don’t think of bread as something that provides nourishment or nutrition. We think of it as a carb. We think of carbs as “bad.” Therefore, bread is bad. And when we’re eating store bought bread from a grocery store shelf or bread made from white, bleached flour, that’s kind of true. While I don’t think it’s helpful to label foods as “bad,” there’s nothing in that bread that is actually good for you or providing you with nutrients. But wheat as a grain is actually incredibly nutrient dense. It’s just that the more processed the flour is (whether white or whole wheat), and the more preservatives that are added to it, the more nutrients are stripped away.

This is why eating bread (or any other baked good) made with freshly milled, locally grown flour is such a game changer. Because it’s actually nutritious.

Now think about this. What does bread made with white, bleached flour taste like? If its a yeasted bread, then probably yeast. If it’s a sourdough bread, then probably a little sour. But honestly, it doesn’t really taste like anything. Your bread is supposed to taste like something! It’s supposed to taste like the grain it came from! There are so many different kinds of wheat and wheat berries, and they all taste unique depending on the strain, depending on the soil they were grown in, depending on the area of the world they come from.

sourdough bread

When I made my first sourdough loaf with Early Morning Harvest flour after moving to Iowa (and being DELIGHTED about finding locally grown and milled flour so close), I gasped out loud. It tastes like Honey Nut Cheerios, people! (Imagine me throwing my arms in the air). That’s not even their rye or whole wheat or buckwheat or anything. That’s just their plain, bread flour! Once you taste the difference between bread made with mass-produced, bleached white flour and bread made with locally grown and freshly milled Early Morning Harvest flour, you will never go back.

Now, I’m putting my arms back down and getting off my little soap box, and we’re gonna go make some bread.


What you’ll need to get started

  • Scale
  • Large Mixing Bowl
  • Dough
  • Whisk
  • Tea Towel
  • Mature Starter Flour
  • Water
  • Banneton
  • Lame

The dough whisk, Fischer Goods tea towel, Early Morning Harvest flours, bannetons and lame I am using are all available in store at Des Moines Mercantile. If you don’t have a starter going yet, you can also purchase a dehydrated starter pack at Des Moines Mercantile from Breadtopia - just take it home, rehydrate and voila!

Here is my note about using different types of flour, especially if you’re substituting a recipe that calls for plain, bleached bread flour: start with a small percentage of the new kind of flour and work your way up each time you bake to take note of how it behaves. Freshly milled flours are often higher in protein, which is why I use Early Morning Harvest’s general purpose flour rather than their bread flour when I’m swapping it for a recipe that calls for “bread flour.” Even though Early Morning Harvest’s flour says, “general purpose,” it has about the same protein percentage as a mass-produced, bleached flour that says, “bread flour.” In the same way, a rye flour and a whole wheat flour are all going to have different percentages of protein so pay attention while you’re making your dough.


You may need to adjust your water percentage because freshly milled flours tend to soak up more water. If you don’t increase your water appropriately, your bread will be more dense and dry. All these things take time to figure out and lots of trial and error, but don’t fret. Homemade bread is still lovely to eat even if it’s not perfect every time.

Here I’m using about 15% rye flour to 85% general purpose. It will have a darker, toastier flavor with the rye added that you can obviously increase to your liking.

My other general note is about fermentation. A lot of people want to know how to increase the sour flavor of their sourdough, and that is paramount to letting it ferment slowly, usually letting the dough rise in the fridge during the bulk ferment or during the final proof when your dough is already in its banneton. I opt for letting it proof for at least 12 hours in their bannetons in the fridge because I like the way the dough handles for scoring when it’s cold. This also lets me schedule the bread baking so that I can let it proof overnight in the fridge and then wake up and bake bread straightaway in the morning, and who doesn’t want their house to smell like fresh baked bread in the morning?!

bread and jam

(I used this peach, mango, habanero jam from Clear Creek Orchard that I also picked up at Des Moines Mercantile to make a grilled cheese with white cheddar and bacon… and it was BOMB.)

And if you’re like, “No thank you, I don’t want to spend my precious time folding dough every 20 minutes for an entire day,” then I don’t really know why you’re reading this post, but to you I say, “Good news!” because I, Rebekah of Bay Laurel Baking Co., am going to have country sourdough loaves available for purchase every Friday at Des Moines Mercantile starting this Friday, April 29th. See you soon!

The beautiful, introductory bread shot image was taken by photographer Austin Day


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