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I have a bread proofer machine and would love to make Sourdough bread.

I have no idea if I'm supposed to use active yeast or follow a recipe that calls for basic Sourdough Starter, and if so, what is the difference?

What purpose does the proofing machine serve? And when do I use it during the bread making process?

I'm very green at bread making, as you probably have ascertained.

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The bread proofer machine serves mainly one purpose:

Keeping a choosen temperature.

This comes to play whenever you want to let yeast grow and multiply. Yeast can develop at very different temperature ranges, from fridge to warm room. But "cosy & warm" is usually the temperature where it's most active.

The most obvious use is:

  • proofing dough, both during bulk and final rise

But looking closely there are other yeast-related uses:

  • refreshing sourdough
  • brewing (don't ask me for details here!)

And even non-yeast uses like

  • making yoghurt

Now, you are asking for a sourdough bread. I won't give you a fixed recipe, but encourage you to choose something nice from the vast realms of the WWW. Try The Fresh Loaf, Wild Yeast or whatever strikes your fancy. I'd assume a Sourdough bread to be made with - obviously - sourdough. But that doesn't exclude yeast, some recipes use both.

The main differences are that sourdough (which contains yeasts and strains of lactobacillus in symbiosis) is more the slow-and-steady type of dough with rather long rising times (as in hours up to days) whereas pure yeast-based dough may be ready to bake after only one to two hours or so. (But there are yeast-only recipes like baguette which take days of proofing in the fridge.)

Choose a simple recipe to start and use your proofing machine whenever the recipe says something along the lines of "let dough rise in a warm place / oven with pilot light / ... for X time / until doubled in bulk.

Remember: When you start baking, it's a good idea to follow the instructions, note what you didn't like and work from there. Perhaps you'll be back here with a more specific question after a few trial-and-error runs - we'll be happy to answer again. And: Have fun!

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Bread making means that you are tending a culture of live yeasts - and, in sourdough, also bacteria. Just like the lizard in a terrarium, they thrive best when given optimal temperature, humidity and food.

Your dough already takes care of the food and pH of the environment, but if you want your bread to rise either with a given speed (to fit your schedule) or in a given manner, you can use a proofing machine. "Given manner" means that the yeast colony will create different byproducts depending on growth rate and the presence of overpopulation stress. These byproducts taste differently, so your bread will have a different taste depending on the circumstances under which it rose. "Proofing" is a synonym for letting the bread rises.

When you know have determined which temperature and humidity produce the colony growth pattern you like best (or the recipe has this info for you), you can use a proofing machine to achieve it. It is simply a controlled environment when you set up your preferred temperature and humidity and the box maintains it for you.

So much for the theory. In practice, I'm surprised that somebody so new at baking bread has this piece of equipment, as it is quite uncommon. It is something which can give a specialist the last 5% of quality which are hard to achieve any other way, but until you have arrived at that point, it is unlikely to give you much advantage over proofing on the counter or in the refrigerator.

Still, now that you have it, the way to learn to bake bread is to first learn the right process. There are many extensive books on this, but you can also find shorter resources on the Internet, Stephie linked some sites which have articles on bread baking. After that, you'll know when the proofing step is, and then you will be able to use your machine when a recipe says to proof on the counter.

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The big difference between a sourdough based bread and one made with what you are calling active yeast is the sourdough yeasts are wild and take a while to develop into a starter that is as strong as purchased yeast. The biggest difference is in the flavor and texture of the bread. As I understand a proofer just adds another level of control to the environment and thud ultimately the taste. Making bread from scratch (sourdough) requires more time for the starter yeasts to develop the taste(longer cooler fermentation = better taste and texture). A starter that is"new" won't produce the same bread as one that is older and more robust. My first loaves were like hockey pucks, but I love what I am able to do today (5 years later). I usually start my bread process the day before I plan to bake, so if a quick loaf is desired use commercial (store bought yeast), and if you can wait, the sourdough is the best way to go, BUT you have to have an active starter which at the beginning is a time investment of days into a week.

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