How to Make Sourdough With...Beets? (Or Any Vegetable!)

Our Resident Bread Baker, Maurizio Leo, walks us through the process of adding beet puree—or any veg puree—to our loaves.

October 15, 2020
Photo by Maurizio Leo

The Perfect Loaf is a column from software engineer-turned-bread expert (and Food52's Resident Bread Baker), Maurizio Leo. Maurizio is here to show us all things naturally leavened, enriched, yeast-risen, you name it—basically, every vehicle to slather on a lot of butter. Today, a guide to making vibrant, flavorful loaves with vegetable purees.

Creating a recipe for a loaf of bread oftentimes requires a series of trials, where each trial inches you closer toward your ideal. It’s your job, as the baker, to figure out the inputs (flour, water, mix-ins, salt, preferment) and the process (mixing, bulk fermentation, shaping, proofing) to get you there. And for me, this is perhaps the most exciting part about baking sourdough bread: It’s like seeing a picture of a finished, beautiful puzzle, then being handed a box of scattered pieces to put together yourself.

In this “behind the scenes” post, I go into the development of my recent Roasted Beetroot Sourdough recipe, which required overcoming a few challenges to incorporate the added beetroot puree effectively. And while this post focuses on the most practical way to create and add this delicious mix-in, it also goes over some of the hurdles you might encounter when planning and baking any loaf of bread: adjusting hydration, whether or not to autolyse, when to add mix-ins, and how to effectively mix and strengthen the dough.

Creating the beetroot puree

I decided it would be best to blend the roasted beetroot into a smooth puree and add that to the dough at the end of mixing for easy incorporation. Before settling on the blender, I had considered grating the root into small bits, then adding them to the dough a little later while doing stretch and folds during bulk fermentation. I quickly dismissed the grating idea once I skinned the cooked vegetable: the beet was far too soft to grate effectively. Additionally, grating a juicy red vegetable would make quite a mess, and no one wants their counter covered in bright red juice (even during Halloween).

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Top Comment:
“I'm thinking I'm just going to puree the roasted peppers in the Vitamix with a little smoked pimenton de la vera, until it's finely blended and then use it instead of water. I'll do an 1 hour autolyse and not add the starter/salt until after that. Will probably also fold in some cubed Manchego and chives. But I would LOVE to get your thoughts on what you would do here - I am such an admirer or your breads and your methods!”
— Erin B.

My first stop was adding the roasted, skinned, and then coarsely chopped root to the blender. I popped it on and quickly realized some liquid needed to be added to the blender to get the mixture moving in the blender. I began adding water, a splash at a time, until the blender gracefully blended everything into a smooth puree.

Photo by Maurizio Leo

But then came the next question: how long should I let the blender run? Do I want a watery consistency to make incorporating the mix-in easier, or just a coarse blitz leaving behind larger chunks of beetroot for a larger presence in the final loaf? Of course, the longer I left the blender running, the smoother and more water-like the resulting puree. But in testing, I found there was a sweet spot that needed discovery.

When I blended the beetroot until I pulverized it entirely to a water-like consistency, it mixed very quickly into the dough—it was essentially adding a liquid, after all. But what I gained in ease of incorporation, I lost in color. While prominently displayed in the dough, the beetroot’s intense red color seemed to completely disappear in the final, baked loaf (both crust and crumb).

Photo by Maurizio Leo

For a happy medium, I opted to blend the beetroot and water only until the pieces in the blender were small but not completely pulverized, resembling short-grain rice. This way, it was easy to mix and incorporate the puree, but the resulting loaf still had streaks of deep red in the crust and slight coloring to the interior crumb. Additionally, the smaller rice-sized bits entirely disappeared when I baked the loaf—but I didn’t want chunks of beetroot scattered through the loaf, either.

Now that I determined the puree’s consistency, next up was to figure out how to manage the water used to blend the root.

Moving mixing water to the puree

The water added to the blender to make the puree was water taken from the bread recipe’s overall liquid components. Out of the total water called for in the recipe, (563 grams), roughly 10 percent of that weight (50 grams) was taken from the total to add to the blender along with the roots. It’s essential to be aware of water added to bread dough, whether it’s water added directly in mixing, water locked up in fruit or vegetables themselves (like a watery, juicy beetroot), or water used to prepare mix-ins (like soaking seeds or blending beets).

The last thing to keep in mind is the amount of water taken from the dough mix can’t be excessive, and I usually land somewhere around 5 to 10 percent of the total water weight. That water is key to allowing you to mix the main dough effectively—if there’s not enough water added to the flour, you won’t be able to effectively combine the dough as the flour can’t sufficiently hydrate.

Photo by Maurizio Leo

Mixing adjustments

Adding the Puree

Like I mentioned in my post on adding mix-ins into any dough recipe, with small, very soft items, you have a wide window when you can incorporate the mix-ins. You can add the mix-ins throughout mixing or even wait until bulk fermentation to work them into the dough. And similarly with this puree, because it’s so water-like, it shouldn’t have been problematic to add it at many points during mixing.

With both small, soft items and this water-like puree, it’s easy to add them at any point because they won’t significantly interfere with gluten development—it’s almost like water, after all. But because I added a relatively large percentage of puree, I noticed when it was added to the dough the consistency loosened and began to fall apart. Because of this, I decided to add the puree later in mixing, near the end. In this way, I developed the gluten in the dough upfront, building strength and elasticity, then I added the puree and mixed everything until it all came together into a soft, cohesive dough.

If I were to have added the puree very early in the mixing process, it might have meant additional mixing time to get the dough to come together and sufficiently strengthen. Delaying the addition meant a shorter mix time, and that’s always beneficial when mixing by hand.

Photo by Maurizio Leo

Leveraging the autolyse technique

I knew I was going to include a short 30-minute autolyse period for this dough from the start. An autolyse, which is merely mixing flour and water and allowing the mixture to rest for a period, helps kickstart the gluten development process ahead of mixing. This technique helps hand mixing by reducing the time you need to knead and strengthen the dough.

Additionally, an autolyse helps add extensibility to the dough, allowing it to stretch out and fill with gasses during fermentation. The extensibility factor is helpful with this recipe because I used a moderate amount of strong bread flour to help support the added beetroot puree. The autolyse helps soften this firm dough just enough to relax during the lengthy fermentation process.

Photo by Maurizio Leo

Using Other Veg

You can use the tips and techniques I present in this post to incorporate the beetroot puree for any number of other fruit or vegetables. Just be sure when experimenting, to always take the water content and texture of the vegetable into account. If the vegetable is juicy like a beet or very soft-textured like a sweet potato, the resulting dough might need a lower hydration to avoid ending up with a slack and weak dough.

With the right preparation and perhaps a few test bakes, just about any vegetable could make an appearance in a loaf of bread. I know I have my sights set on testing with roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes, and even carrots!

Photo by Maurizio Leo

Have you ever tried making sourdough with vegetable puree? Let us know in the comments

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jane
  • Erin Bloys
    Erin Bloys
  • Regine
  • Rhea
Maurizio is the software engineer-turned-baker behind the award-winning sourdough website, The Perfect Loaf. Since baking his first loaf of bread, he's been obsessed with adjusting the balance between yeast and bacteria, tinkering with dough strength and hydration, and exploring everything sourdough. His New York Times Bestselling sourdough cookbook, The Perfect Loaf, is now available.


Jane February 27, 2021
Thank you for the information, I enjoyed it.
I have been making a sweet potato white bread for years. I have used both roasted and boiled sweet potatoes. When I boil the potatoes I save, cool the water and use that for my liquid. It gives the bread a beautiful color.
Maurizio L. February 27, 2021
Ah that sounds delicious, Jane!
Erin B. November 15, 2020
I am trying to figure out how to hydrate my sourdough with ONLY roasted red pepper puree. I saw a similar loaf on @blondieandrye on Instagram and I was STUNNED by the look of it! I think hers incorporated 20% rye and some type of cheese as well, and now I can't get it out of my head! I've determined that raw bell peppers are 97% water, but I'm not sure how that translates to roasted red peppers. I am looking to make a loaf that's reminiscent of the flavors of romesco. I'm thinking I'm just going to puree the roasted peppers in the Vitamix with a little smoked pimenton de la vera, until it's finely blended and then use it instead of water. I'll do an 1 hour autolyse and not add the starter/salt until after that. Will probably also fold in some cubed Manchego and chives. But I would LOVE to get your thoughts on what you would do here - I am such an admirer or your breads and your methods!
Maurizio L. November 16, 2020
Hey, Erin! That sounds like a good approach. I'd try blending the peppers and then see the puree's consistency: is it very loose and liquid close to water? My guess is yes; I'd sub out water for that puree 1-to-1 in a recipe. If you wanted to try at either 30% or 50% of the water at first, that might be a good idea—it's always hard to tell what a puree will do to dough from the get-go! I'd also do a test without adding other mix-ins. First, the dough might be weak from using the puree, and if so, next time, using some higher protein "bread flour" will help give you more strength. Let me know how it goes!
Erin B. November 16, 2020
OK, Maurizio, thanks!! I'm going to be bold and try your suggestion of a 50% swap of the puree for water. And I might add some vital wheat gluten for strength in addition to using mostly bread flour. What's the worst that can happen, right?! I loose a batch of flour and some roasted red peppers if it doesn't turn out, but what if it DOES turn out?! How cool would that be?! It would open up a whole new realm of coloring and flavoring with puree!!
Maurizio L. November 16, 2020
That's my feeling! I'm sure it'll turn out great. And I have to say, the way you're approaching this is how I always approach the many baking experiments here in my kitchen: get in and get your hands dirty! Experimenting is half the fun 🙂
Erin B. November 22, 2020
Thanks for your suggestions Maurizio. This roasted red pepper sourdough ended up being insanely delicious! 450 g of puréed roasted red peppers with 150 g of water added to the purée. I could feel that the dough still wasn’t right and ended up adding an extra 150 g of water (800 g KA bread flour, 100 g spelt, 100g rye), plus 100 g mature starter, 200 g of reggiano parmigiano cubes, chopped rosemary, smoked pimenton de la Vera and cracked black pepper. I wanted the flavors of Spanish romesco. I did a loooooong bulk ferment (48 hrs) in my 50 degree garage and then the fridge, until it finally just about doubled. It’s not the most open crumb ever, but still pretty decent and holy smokes, THE FLAVOR!! Thanks for your help!!♥️
Erin B. November 22, 2020
Wish I could share a pic but I don’t see a way to do so!
Maurizio L. November 23, 2020
It's all about that flavor! Wow, that does sound incredibly delicious. I might have to take some of your cues and go with something in my kitchen as well! Thanks for reporting back and enjoy, Erin 🙂
TERRY J. October 29, 2020
Thanks for this post. A local baker, here, used purple sweet potatoes in his sourdough. I've been wanting to try it. Now, I can. Thanks. Looking forward to more yummy bread!
Maurizio L. October 30, 2020
You're welcome, Terry! Those sweet potatoes will work really well, it's something I want to try soon as well. Happy baking!
Regine October 22, 2020
Does the beet make a noticeable difference in taste? I would love to know before going to the extra trouble :-)
Rhea October 22, 2020
In my experience yes. Gave it a sweet veg taste.
Regine October 22, 2020
Thank you so much for your reply, Rhea, and the advice about the ascorbic acid. How much ascorbic acid would you add, and in what form? You seem to be a real pro!
Maurizio L. October 23, 2020
Yes, it definitely does! A wonderful aroma as well. Overall, a subtle "earthiness" to the loaf.
Regine October 23, 2020
Thanks, Maurizio. I'll have to try this very soon!
Rhea October 23, 2020
Hardly a pro. just like to experiment. I added 1 gr for my 2 lb loaf in powder form I purchased on amazon
Regine October 23, 2020
Thank you :-). That is really helpful. I had no idea of quantity, nor that it helps fixing colour. I wonder if I can use powdered vitamin C. I will do a research about that.
Rhea October 23, 2020
I’ll save you the time. I tried that first since that was all I had. Didn’t work.
Regine October 23, 2020
Thanks Rhea for your generosity in sharing all this info with me. Much appreciated :-).
Rhea October 22, 2020
is that your crumb shot of the beet bread? if you would have added a few grams of Ascorbic Acid the color would not have faded. you crumb would have been a lovely shade of....beet red!
Maurizio L. October 23, 2020
My next test!
Phillip M. October 17, 2020
I had a great success with pumpkin puree. I incorporated about a cup and a half to 500g flour at 70% hydration. The moisture level of the pumpkin puree increased the overall hydration. I incorporated the puree during the stretch and fold. The loaf looked so nice. I rolled it in pepitas to complete the effect.
Maurizio L. October 17, 2020
That sounds delicious, Phillip! I recently did a pumpkin puree loaf myself: It's a super soft dough, but pretty darn delicious. Now on to the next veg... 🙂
Phillip M. October 17, 2020
We added nutmeg with the pumpkin. Sourdough is so versatile. It's incredible. We also make a porridge loaf with 80g oats toasted in butter and approximately two thirds cup milk and honey.
Maurizio L. October 17, 2020
So funny you mention the oats, I thought of adding the same thing! Next time.
Phillip M. October 17, 2020
The porridge one is on the sweet side. I've used oats in a more savoury vein. I used quick oats and oat bran 40g each. Toasting lightly brings oat the flavour. Roll in oats for added effect. I usually add these to the water. I increase hydration as the oats are quite absorbent.
Deb October 16, 2020
I was hoping for an actual recipe.
Maurizio L. October 16, 2020
Hey, Deb! I do have just that, check out my roasted beet sourdough recipe right here: Happy baking!
Deb October 16, 2020
Found it just as you were replying. Thanks!
John C. October 16, 2020
About 10 Years ago I made a winter squash and roasted garlic boule, which may have been the best food I've ever made. If I recall correctly, I based it roughly on a potato bread recipe from either Baking With Julia or The Bread Bible. I've long since lost my notes but, having joined the Covid mass baking craze this year, I intend to figure it out again this fall.
Maurizio L. October 16, 2020
That sounds absolutely delicious, John!