Last month, my boyfriend and I took a trip up to San Francisco. It was fun for a lot of reasons, but one of the things I found most inspiring was going to the Boudin Bakery down by the wharf. I have a baking obsession, and I was delighted by the different ways that they shaped their loaves of bread. It was also delicious, and it made me want to try making sourdough bread at home.
Getting a sourdough culture started is easy in theory. All you have to do is make a paste of equal parts water and flour, then let it sit out on your counter for three days. Each day, you give it another 1/4 cup each flour and water. At the end of those three days, you should have a bubbling, sour-but-healthy-smelling sourdough culture inhabited by wild yeasts from your kitchen. In practice, it’s a bit more complicated then that. Google “sourdough starter” and you’ll get 58 pages of results. Most of these pages probably contain the same information; that flour+liquid+time=starter. But there are seemingly endless variations to the starter base recipe (for example, pineapple juice instead of water) and many pages offering tips and tricks for getting things started.
One of the more useful tips that I found was to stir the starter vigorously for 1-minute five times a day. Peter Reinhart, author of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice suggested it in this blog post. I’ve tried making sourdough bread before and had problems with it coming out smelling funky. Aerating it as he suggests helped my starter come out just perfectly.
Once I had my starter ready, I just had to try making a loaf. I mixed a cup of starter with about 2 cups of flour, kneaded it a bit, and then let it sit in the fridge for 3 days. I didn’t actually intend to let it sit that long–it just happened that I didn’t have time to bake the dough until last night.
Anyway, yesterday, I took the tough out of the fridge and “punched it down”. Then mixed in about 1 cup of flour, and 1/4 cup more water. I kneaded the dough for 5 minutes, then put it in a parchment lined cake-pan, sprayed the top with oil, and let it rise for an hour. I set the oven for 450˚ and scored the top of the dough with a serrated knife. Once the oven was hot, I popped the loaf in and let it bake for about 50 minutes. Once the top was golden brown and the scent of fresh-baked bread was permeating the house, I figured it was done.
I let the bread cool for about an hour, then cut into it. The bread I made is very chewy and rather dense–almost like foccacia. It has a mild sourdough taste to it. The dough was pretty wet when I put it in the oven, which I think contributed to the texture. It makes good toast, so, all in all, I’d say this was a pretty good first effort. But it still doesn’t have that fluffy hole-filled interior that I associate with sourdough. Next time I’ll add more flour, and spend more time kneading the dough before I let it sit for its final rise.