How to Add Inclusions to Sourdough Bread (With Over 40 Ingredient Ideas!)

by Heather

Have you ever seen those amazing photos of sourdough breads full of cheeses, herbs, bacon, apples, cinnamon, or cranberries? Those breads have inclusions. Adding inclusions to sourdough bread is a fun way to incorporate different flavors into the bread you know and love. 

Adding inclusions to sourdough bread is very simple, once you understand some basic principles. In this post, we will discuss the simplest way to add inclusions to sourdough, including optimal timing, different techniques, and options for shaping, plus a list of over 40 inclusion ideas for you to try!

This list of inclusion ideas was crowdsourced by the Sourdough Mamas over on the Sourdough Mamas Facebook group – thank you all for your ideas and suggestions!

First of all… Is a recipe necessary?

All too often on the Sourdough Mamas Facebook group I see home bakers sharing photos of their inclusion loaves and the comments below say “Recipe please!”

Here’s a little secret: a recipe is not necessary! You can use your tried and true sourdough bread recipe and simply add inclusions to it. It’s really that easy!

How to add inclusions

To add inclusions, you’ll need to weigh out the ingredients and then you will add them either during the third fold, or during the preshape phase, depending on what you’re adding. I write more about this in detail below. 

In the baking world, we use bakers percentages to calculate the amount of ingredients to add. As a general rule of thumb, you can start with 20% inclusions. If you find it’s too much, cut it back slightly, and if you find it’s not enough, you can add more! 

Bakers percentages can stump some home bakers, so here’s an easy example. Say you want to add cheddar cheese cubes to your bread, and you’re making my Simple Sourdough recipe. It uses 1000g of flour total, and 20% of 1000 is 200, so you would add 200g of cheese.

Easy cheesy!

Prepping your ingredients

Some ingredients you add will need to be soaked, cooked or toasted. This is done to prevent unwanted changes to your hydration and to add better flavor.

Soaking ensures that the inclusion doesn’t rob water from your dough, which would affect its hydration, fermentation and oven spring. Ingredients that require soaking (either overnight or for several hours) include dried fruit such as raisins, cranberries, dried cherries, dried apples, etc. Soaking also decreases the risk of the fruit burning if it’s on the outside of the loaf. TIP: Use a portion of the water from your recipe for soaking to maintain the same hydration in your dough.

Cooking is necessary for some ingredients, like rolled oats, sweet potatoes, bacon and quinoa. Cook as normal, and allow to cool completely before mixing into your dough.

Toasting is a delicious idea for certain nuts and seeds like pecans, almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and more. Toasting can be done in the oven or in a skillet on the stove.

Adjusting hydration

When soaking ingredients, use a small portion of the water from your recipe to soak (50g, for example). This way, you won’t need to adjust your hydration.

However, when using “wet” ingredients such as fresh apples, onions, or sweet potatoes, reduce your hydration by 2-5%. 

As an example, if you’re making a 75% hydration recipe by using 750g of water with 1000g flour, but including 200g diced apples, you’ll want to reduce your hydration to 70- 73% (700g – 730g of water).

Ingredients to add during third fold

Most sourdough inclusions can be added during the third fold. Things like seeds, nuts and herbs can be safely added at this stage. Simply sprinkle the inclusion on top of the dough, then work them in like you work in your salt. Don’t go crazy, as the inclusion will be dispersed evenly during the fourth fold, preshape and shaping phases.

Ingredients to add during preshape

Some inclusions should be withheld until the preshape stage. This is because we want to keep as much of the inclusion inside the dough as possible, to prevent the ingredients from being on the surface of the dough during baking and therefore protecting them from melting and/or burning.

Ingredients like raisins, cheeses, and orange peel are good examples of inclusions that should be added during the preshape. While preshaping and shaping, do your best to keep the ingredients inside the dough, although it’s okay if a few pierce through the surface. The inclusions you add to your sourdough will be protected inside the dough and away from the direct heat.

All that said, it’s completely up to you when you add your inclusions. Sometimes when adding during the preshape they don’t get dispersed evenly, but the flavor is there and there are no charred bits on the crust. But if you don’t mind some burned raisins on your crust and you’d rather have your ingredients dispersed evenly, by all means, add them during the third fold. You can always make changes based on your results for your next bake!

Adding liquid ingredients

Sometimes you’ll want to add ingredients that are considered a liquid, such as yogurt, purees or beer. In these cases, simply replace up to 20% of the water in the recipe with the liquid inclusion. You cannot add liquid in addition to your regular amounts of water, as this will significantly alter the hydration.

Different shapes for different inclusions (sandwich loaf vs boule)

Depending on your desired outcome, you can make your loaf a different shape. For example, a pesto swirl or cinnamon raisin swirl would work best as a sandwich loaf, rolled up like a jelly roll. Cheddar bacon and apricot pecan, for example, would present better as a boule or batard. Use your creativity when adding inclusions to sourdough!

As you’re baking, keep your final presentation goal in mind and determine which shaping would be best for your inclusion loaves!

And now, here is the list of inclusion inspiration! Have an idea that I missed, or a favorite combo you’ve made? Leave a comment below and I’ll add it to the list so others can try!

Oh, and by the way, if you’re looking for some more help understanding hydration, click here to check out The Beginner’s Guide to Sourdough Hydration.

And don’t forget I have a whole page of resources available to help you in your sourdough journey – click here to find it!


List of inclusion ideas, separated by sweet and savory

Sweet

  • Cherry chocolate
  • Sunflower seeds & honey
  • Oats & honey
  • Cinnamon raisin 
  • Cinnamon sugar & raisin
  • Cinnamon, raisin & apple
  • Cardamom, orange peel, cloves & honey
  • Pumpkin purée & cranberries 
  • Maple, pecan & cinnamon
  • Apricot & pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • Apricot pecan
  • Raisin walnut
  • Blackberries & yogurt
  • Cranberry walnut
  • White chocolate cranberry pecan
  • Mashed sweet potato
  • Chopped dates, pecans & cinnamon
  • Lemon & white chocolate
  • M&M’s (these create a fun rainbow crumb!)

Savory

  • Cheddar bacon
  • Gorgonzola cheese
  • Jalapeño cheddar
  • Jalapeño, cheese & roasted garlic
  • Carmelized onions & gruyere
  • Sundried tomato & feta 
  • Parmesan, truffle & black garlic
  • Everything Bagel seasoning
  • Pesto
  • Colby Jack & pimento
  • Kalamata olive & parmesan
  • Black & green olive with tomato sauce
  • Roasted garlic rosemary
  • Green chili cheddar
  • Kalamata olive and fire-roasted onions
  • Turmeric, chili & poppyseed
  • Buttered quinoa
  • Roasted garlic parmesan
  • Buttered oats
  • Caraway seed
  • Beer & cheese
  • Rosemary
  • Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and Takis

What did I miss?

Leave me a comment below with new ideas for inclusion inspiration, or let me know which ones you’ve tried and which are your favorite!

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22 comments

Connie Rea March 3, 2021 - 11:53 pm

Thank you for this! I’m still new to all of this. Have only been baking sourdough for 6 weeks. This has given me much to think on and dream on! Can’t wait the try some of these suggestions.

Reply
Heather November 6, 2021 - 3:08 pm

Best of luck!

Reply
Dawnya M March 4, 2021 - 9:18 am

Heather, Great post! I hadn’t even thought of adding something like beer to a bread, even though it is not a new thing. LOL. Do you think the yeast in the beer would change how long I cold ferment the dough?

Reply
Heather November 6, 2021 - 3:08 pm

Hi Dawnya, I doubt it would make any difference at all, but keep detailed notes just in case!

Reply
Gabriela HL March 4, 2021 - 10:32 am

I’ve done pumpkin puree and cranberries inclusions on a pumpkin-shaped sourdough for Thxgiving plus wheat-cinnamon-raisin sourdough. They’re both awesome, although the second option is simpler. They both remind me of fall/winter, however, and now I’m trying to think what inclusions would say “spring & summer” …

Reply
Frank March 5, 2021 - 4:42 am

Prosciutto and pepperoni (2 separate loafs)!

Reply
Ann March 6, 2021 - 8:10 pm

Hi Heather,
When do you add cinnamon which can delay fermentation?
Another question is when dried fruit is soaked, do you squeeze out the water before adding it to the dough or add it when it’s all plumped up? Thank you!

Reply
Heather November 6, 2021 - 3:10 pm

Hi Ann!

I add cinnamon during the last fold or the final shaping, depending if I’m going for a swirl effect or not.

I simply strain my dried fruit and pat it dry!

I hope this helps 🙂

Reply
Keith Balmer March 7, 2021 - 11:02 am

Hi hope you and your family are well.
As we speak I have two loaf’s sitting in the fridge proving.
So I’m hopefully going to have success, No 47 attempt, so could you make jam tarts and mince pies with the discard.

Reply
Vincent Labruzzo March 12, 2021 - 4:29 am

Whats your take on inclusions consisting of dried or cured meats?

Reply
Heather March 18, 2021 - 8:22 pm

I say go for it! 🙂

Reply
Rebecca May 18, 2021 - 4:06 pm

My just bread flour sourdough rises well and had good spring but when I added olives as my inclusion my rise in bulk fermentation but it didn’t seem to get quite an oven spring. Is this normal when you add inclusions? I am working with a 75% hydration (400gram bread flour, 300gram water, 100gram starter, and I added 116grams of olives

Reply
Heather June 25, 2021 - 10:12 am

I haven’t tried olives yet myself, but I’ve heard that they can mess with fermentation due to their saltiness (salt inhibits fermentation). Once idea would be to add them during the preshape phase!

Reply
Laura May 26, 2021 - 4:29 pm

How would you fold in a pesto inclusion?

Reply
Heather June 25, 2021 - 10:04 am

Mmm, pesto. I would do a swirl. For the swirl, you do preshape as normal, rest for 30 mins, then very gently pull the dough out as flat as you can, being careful not to degas it. Then you would spread the pesto on the surface. No real measurements here, just trust your gut – but I did a pesto swirl once and spread it on thick, and the bread didn’t rise great presumably due to the weight of the oily mixture. I would keep it a thin layer. Then, tightly roll up the dough like a jelly roll. Once it’s rolled, tuck the ends under and place in either a bread pan or a batard proofing basket, and proof and bake as normal. Let me know how it goes!

Reply
Linda July 27, 2021 - 6:04 am

My favorite seasonings is 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon dried basil, 1 teaspoon dried oregano and 1/2 teaspoon ground thyme. Makes great bread for either just eating with a little butter or as a sandwich with spicy mustard, ham and provolone.

Reply
Sarah September 10, 2021 - 2:09 pm

Would you recommend adding roasted garlic in the 3rd fold or pre-shape phase?

Reply
Heather November 6, 2021 - 4:03 pm

The last fold should be fine!

Reply
TL September 16, 2021 - 12:02 pm

What about mushrooms like chanterelles? ( I can get them fresh from the forest around me)

Reply
Heather November 6, 2021 - 4:18 pm

Ummm that sounds amazing!!

Reply
Joe October 3, 2021 - 10:56 am

What about left over Paella, just the rice and the chorizo? A baker in San Francisco does this but no recipe. I will give it a try using the 20% rule. Thanks

Reply
Heather November 6, 2021 - 4:30 pm

Please let us know how it was!

Reply

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