One of the things that I love most about learning a basic sourdough bread recipe is that once you’re comfortable making a loaf of bread with it, you have a blank slate to be creative. Just get a little confident with your process, and then go nuts exploring the possibilities of sourdough bread flavor combinations.
First, get comfortable with the basics
Make a “plain” sourdough loaf several times before you start experimenting with other flavors. You should be at a point where you can make a loaf of bread and understand how adjusting a bit of this or that will affect the outcome. This goes for flavor, texture, structure, and everything. You definitely don’t have to master the bread-making process, just be comfortable with it. If you don’t have a good handle on the basics, it can make troubleshooting a lot harder when you start adding in other ingredients.
Understand that you need salt. If your bread is consistently bland, this may be your issue. I didn’t realize how much the right amount of salt changes a loaf of bread until I started playing around with different amounts of it in my dough. As you add in other flavors, you can adjust the salt as well. Just be aware of how much salt plays a part in the base flavor of bread.
How to find sourdough recipes
Finding good bread recipes is almost too easy these days. I say that because it can get a bit overwhelming. Try sticking to the well-tested resources first. Once you know how dough behaves in your environment and you’ve built up some troubleshooting skills, searching out recipes and sourdough bread flavor combinations in spots like the odd corners of the internet can be fun.
Well, you’re here. So, clearly, you are aware of this category. My advice is to stick to the ones that have been vetted and visited by lots of people at first. You’re more likely to get good advice and find lots of helpful tips.
Try these for example:
There are loads and tons and bunches of awesome bakers on YouTube these days. I love YouTube for baking resources. Watching someone go through the process of working with their dough can be so helpful. You also get that satisfaction of seeing the end product come out of the oven and hearing the crust as the baker cuts into it. Just wait for YouTube with Smellovision. But that could be really scary.
So, this is still a thing. We still have libraries. We still have book stores (most of which are online, but anyway). And you can always borrow great books from friends and family. Having a cookbook means that even if the internet goes down, which it does WAY too often here in Hawaii, you can still follow your recipe. Think of it!
One of my all-time favorite resources is the book The Way to Cook, by Julia Child. This was a book given to me by an aunt that I loved a lot, and it was also the first book that showed me how to bake bread. It was one of those books that explained so much but was still accessible and interesting for a young guy who was pretty passionate about cooking. It’s still one of my favorite books on cooking, and I recommend it highly!
We should never forget that the people around us have a wealth of knowledge and skills to transfer to us if we just show interest and give them a chance. I’m sure you know someone in your family who is “that baking” person. The one who always brings the best cakes, pies, and cookies to family gatherings. Find those people! Learn from them and treat them well.
How to make DIY flavor combinations
When you start to experiment with your own sourdough flavor combinations, think of types of flavors that might pair well. For instance, consider the categories we have, like salty, savory, sweet, etc. Try to imagine how they might taste together. Caramel sea salt is popular for a good reason. The sweetness gets punched up a bit because of the contrasting flavors. At the same time, it isn’t overly sweet thanks to the salt. The same goes for chocolate chip cookies.
Try existing combinations that you know you like already. Jalapeno and cheddar cheese are a classic pairing, and sundried tomato with oregano automatically suggest pizza. There are a lot of different ways to mix ingredients to achieve something very familiar, and very delicious.
It’s important to consider how they might react with your dough as well. If you’re sprinkling in some oregano, it might not alter your baking time and temperature much at all, especially because you don’t need to add much to get a big punch of flavor if you’re using ground oregano.
A bunch of chopped basil, on the other hand, will affect how your dough bakes. Just remember that you might need to add a little baking time if you add lots of herbs. Also, be watchful over your dough as it rises the first time or two that you try a new ingredient.
Be brave and creative. If your loaf doesn’t work out, remember that it’s just flour, water, starter, and time (or thyme if you’ve gone that direction…sorry for that one). The more you can just relax and have fun, the more creative you’ll let yourself be.
Some sourdough bread flavor combinations to get you going
Herbs are always a good, relatively safe way to get started
- Rosemary and thyme are a really nice combination. Kind of classic. This will produce a loaf that’s great on its own or with soup or stew for dinner.
- Dill is fantastic in almost anything. It’s one of my favorite herbs. I know not everyone loves dill, but it’s great on its own and pairs really well with lots of other herbs and spices I think. Try dill and a little bit of tarragon or basil for an interesting combo. Great toasted with a little Kerrygold butter or maybe some smoked salmon.
- Basil has a classic and strong flavor. It’s another one to try just on its own in one of your bakes. However, you can’t go wrong pairing it with chives, oregano, or rosemary. Sneak in some sliced olives too!
Seeds are a great way to add flavor and texture at the same time
- Caraway seeds are especially good with rye bread, but give them a try if you’re doing a white whole wheat loaf to add a punch of flavor to a milder bread as well.
- Anise seeds can be a good way to inject a lot of flavor, as long as you like that black licorice taste. Be careful, as this can be an overwhelming taste if you add too much.
- Sesame seeds are both traditional and tasty. They’re great when toasted during the baking process. You can cover the top of your loaf before you put it in the oven. It smells amazing too!
- Trader Joe’s has an everything bagel seasoning mix that is really nice in sourdough bread. It’s great in crackers if you have sourdough discard lying around too. This is a super cool hack if you’re looking for something impressive, quick, and easy.
Garlic and cheese in sourdough bread
These are two ingredients that I’ve had particular fun with when baking sourdough bread loaves. Garlic packs so much pungent goodness in every punch. You really do get your money’s worth with garlic. It also just seems to pair so well with that sour, bready taste that you get in a sourdough loaf. Definitely try some garlic at some point.
Cheese is also wonderful in bread. You do need to be aware of how it might affect your end result though. As I mentioned, some additions will change your bake time, and this is definitely one of those ingredients. Also, less is often more with cheese. It can be a balancing act, but too little and you won’t taste it, and too much will make your bread gummy or just altogether unpleasant. Try small amounts at first, and boost your bake time very slightly.
One note about bake times here, especially if you’re trying new ingredients. Get yourself a good instant-read digital food thermometer, and use it. I like to shoot for between 208 and 210 degrees Fahrenheit for most of my sourdough loaves. If you stick to temperature for doneness, you can avoid some of the guesswork when you’re trying out new ingredients, such as cheese.
Know your ingredients
One thing you might want to do is try every ingredient on its own or in some other small recipe before you dump it into your next loaf of bread. You should be knowledgeable about the ingredients you put in your food for sure.
Let us know what you’ve tried or what your favorite sourdough bread flavor combinations are…I’d love to hear some new suggestions.