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Sometimes I need to bake a loaf or loaves of bread as soon as possible with my sourdough starter. For example my few tablespoons of starter needs to become bread within the next three hours when dinner is served. I'm happy to enrich it with sugar, salt, fat, eggs, etc as required, so a really developed sourdough flavour (while fine) is not necessary. I would still like most of the other aspects of good sourdough, such as enough gluten development to hold a nice airy rise.

In other words, I am not interested in cultivating the lactic acid bacteria in the sourdough, only the yeast, but without negatively affecting other characteristics of the loaf.

Assuming I always start with a few tablespoons of starter, what methods and conditions would I set up to increase the yeast/CO2 production in the least possible time?

My thoughts so far relate partly to bread in general and partly to just sourdough:

  • maintain a firmer, more frequently fed starter?
  • drier dough hydration to reduce baking time and possibly kneading time to allow more rise time? (would this have other effects?)
  • rise at a very warm temperature - 25 degrees celsius? (but would this accelerate acid production and gluten breakdown too?)
  • add salt last?
  • add fats last?
  • several brief kneads during the first rise?
  • longer final rise after shaping?
  • bake from a cold oven instead of a preheated one to allow a slightly underproofed loaf to rise as much as possible before gluten structure sets? (what other effects would I anticipate?)
  • shape baguettes or rolls instead of loaves to reduce baking time and allow more rise time?
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Sourdough is not intended for quick rises, and the starter is not supposed to be used in such tiny quantities anyway. Why does it have to be sourdough? Three hours is a decent time for yeast bread. – rumtscho Jan 14 '14 at 22:22
It does not have to be sourdough, but that is usually what I have on hand, and I enjoy experimenting with its capabilities. I actually managed to make a sourdough loaf from a few tablespoons of starter yesterday in just over three hours, so I know it is possible - barely. The rise was okay but could have been proofed more, and the middle of the loaf just barely got to 82-ish degrees before I took it out of the oven. I just wondered if I could have improved it without taking more time. – ccsdg Jan 14 '14 at 22:27
my first thought: you need a DeLorean @ 88 mph... – Cos Callis Jan 14 '14 at 22:53
@CosCallis lol. Essentially, yeah. I suppose this is not really a practical question, though it's framed as such.. more wondering about the potential speed of sourdough leavening if it was manipulated as much as possible, assuming a few restrictions specific to this case. – ccsdg Jan 15 '14 at 2:09

Just take some of the commercial bread making tricks and add them to your process. If you keep a mature starter in your fridge, you can add some to sour the flavour of the bread, while using commercial yeast, or even baking soda to leaven the bread. The baking soda reacts with the acids in the starter to produce gasses. Check out a sourdough pancake recipe which uses baking soda to get the feel for this. Also, google "quick bread", which is a name for breads which use non-yeast rising agents such as baking soda - you can replace some of the flour and water in these recipes with starter to add the sour taste.

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If you've only got a few tablespoons of starter to begin with, then there's not a lot you'll be able to do -- ordinarily it would take a couple days to feed and multiply that starter enough to be able to bake a loaf of bread from it. Even then, true sourdough starters tend to rise much more lazily than commercial yeast, so even with a large quantity of starter it would be hard to go from start to on-the-table in three hours.

However, this is assuming you're using only sourdough starter to rise your bread. If you were to make bread using the starter and spike it with a normal amount of commercial yeast , you'll get some of the sourdough characteristics from the lactic acid in the sourdough culture, with the fast rise and predictability of the commercial yeast -- you're essentially bypassing the yeast part of the sourdough starter and using all-commercial for rising.

To save time, you could maybe do a straight rise, where you go from mixing directly to final shaping/proofing and skip the initial rise. It will give you a more rustic texture, but hey, you wanted fast. Rose Beranbaum has a prosciutto ring bread that's a straight rise and turns out pretty well.

I don't know that any of your other ideas are likely to save you a significant amount of time -- tweaking how you mix the dough isn't going to help a lot. Though making smaller loaves will decrease your baking time.

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A single tablespoon of starter, added to 200ml of water and 200g of flour will be usable to leaven bread in about 5 hours at room temperature. If you use the starter early in its feeding process, you get a beautifully mellow flavour. There's some great instructions in "Tartine Bread" for this. The starter is ready to use when you can drop some into water and it floats. If you get a vinegary smell from the starter, you over cooked it (for this method). This doesn't help OP, only added for interested bystanders. – Jeremy Jan 20 '14 at 13:47

Shorten the intervals for feeding, prove in a warm environment, use a high LA starter to begin with, (mine started life as a mix of live yoghurt, wheat flour& an apple from my garden). Highly acidic stable leavenings can be faster... Mine doubles in size in 2hrs.

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If I need a quick sourdough style bread I would normally add a 3-4 tablespoons of my sourdough starter into normal yeast bread. Sourdough should be at least 24 hours since last feed.

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