Making sourdough bread is a hobby that many people have picked up over the last year. If you are one of the many who have, you know that while the process can be fun, the end result may not always be what you were expecting.
Sourdough experts know that a sourdough ear is truly a sign that you have mastered the craft. Unfortunately, it is not always an easy task to complete. If you are looking for tips to master the art of making sourdough ears, you’re in the right place.
Why Do You Want an Ear on Sourdough?
The sourdough ear is the extra-crunchy flap of crust that forms on your sourdough bread while baking. Aside from the fact that they create an aesthetically pleasing sourdough, the reason that many bakers want their sourdough to have an ear is because it indicates a loaf that is fermented to the right degree.
Not to mention, they also show the baker’s skill in imparting sufficient dough strength, shaping properly, proofing appropriately, and the ability to score effectively. All in all, it is a great way to show your friends and family that you certainly know what you’re doing when it comes to baking bread.
Why Doesn’t My Sourdough Have a Good Ear?
If you have tried time and time again to get an ear on your sourdough but to no avail, you’re not alone. A sourdough ear is not an easy thing to master, especially if you are a beginner. There are several reasons why you may not be getting a good sourdough ear on the first try.
For one, it may have something to do with the rise of the bread. You may not be getting enough early rise, or you just might not be getting enough rise during the bake to get a good ear.
In order to make sure that you are getting a good rise, you can ensure that your bread is not over or under-proofed. Follow your recipe as best you can to ensure that you are proofing with the right dough temperature and room temperature. Another thing you can do is make sure that your oven is hot enough to make the ear roll up off of your dough.
The second reason why your sourdough may not have a good ear could have to do with moisture. A Dutch oven is certainly ideal for making sourdough because of the fact that it helps trap moisture in and allows for the crust to remain pliable longer into the bake. As a result, the ear is able to fully form as the dough rises longer into the bake.
Make sure that if you don’t have a Dutch oven handy to bake your sourdough in, you are doing all that you can to get steam in your oven and keep it in there. One thing you can do to ensure that your dough has enough moisture on it is to splash a little bit of water onto the top of the dough before placing it into the oven.
Tips to Make Sourdough Bread Ears Bigger
If you are a beginner baker who is looking for ways to make your sourdough bread ears bigger, you’re in luck as there are plenty of tricks to do so.
1. Make Sure That There Is Surface Tension
In order to be able to form a good sourdough ear, your dough must have enough surface tension, which needs to be built from the beginning of the process. During the shaping phase, make sure that you lock in the surface tension on your dough so that when you go to score it, it is perfectly taught. You want to make sure that the dough is taut because trying to score on loose dough is nearly impossible, not to mention extremely messy.
2. Score Precisely
Speaking of scoring, be sure that you are doing it in such a way that you create a flap of dough. This flap is then pushed upwards and peels back to create the perfect ear. Another thing to consider is making sure that the knife or blade you are using to score your sourdough is sharp enough to do so.
The ideal way to score your sourdough is to score it off center and from end to end. All it takes is one single slash on the top of your bread to create the perfect score. Make sure that it is also the perfect amount of deepness in order to create a good ear.
3. Use Cold Dough
Another way that you can make sure that your sourdough bread comes out with a good ear is to make sure that you are using cold dough. Dough that is at room temperature will be much harder to work with. Cold dough is easier because it is stiff and tends to score much better. Another reason why you should use cold dough is to avoid dough that is way too stretchy and sticky.
4. Use the Right Type of Blade
When you are scoring your bread, you want to be sure that you are using the right type of blade, as this makes a difference. There are several options that can be made with a straight blade, and some bakers may even prefer to hold a blade in their hand for this type of scoring as opposed to a curved blade.
5. Use Dough That Still Has Spring
In order to create the perfect sourdough ear, you need oven spring. The oven spring pushes upwards and in turn forces the flap of dough that you’ve scored to be pushed back, thus creating the ear.
It’s extremely important that you don’t over-ferment your dough as doing so will result in it not puffing up in the oven. Bake your dough just before you think it is ready so that it has the energy it needs to spring back.
In order to check to see if your dough has the right amount of spring, simply brush some flour on your finger and then use that finger to make a small indent in the dough. If the indent stays there, your dough has overproofed. If the dough springs back almost instantly, this means that your dough is underproofed.
What to Do If Your Ear Keeps Fusing Back Together?
This can be an extremely frustrating thing, and is typically caused by overproofed dough. It may also just be over-hydrated. To fix this problem, be sure to either reduce your dough’s hydration or simply give it more strength with additional kneading time or even additional stretch and folds during the bulk fermentation process.
Again, you can also make sure that your oven has enough steam in it by spraying the dough over the course of the baking period in order to keep the dough’s outer wrapper moist and supple, allowing it to stretch before it becomes hard. If you don’t have enough steam, the crust will harden too quickly and won’t have enough time to lift off and peel back.
Creating an ear is difficult, but certainly worth the effort!