Monday, October 10, 2005

sourdough bread: a tragic lovestory

oh sweet victory. oh ye bitter ashes of defeat. both in the same loaf.

they say you never forget your first, and i do believe it's true. especially when the first we are speaking of is your first sourdough starter. especially when this first ends with an emergency visit from the plumber. especially when this emergency visit ends in a graphic excision of a tennis ball sized lump of a hardened rubber cement type substance. all of this under the rolling, accusing, i told you so, eyes of your partner.

and the second? well, the second can be no less memorable. especially when it sends you hunting around the house for that rotten garbage, lifting up the cat's tail to make sure there's nothing lurking down there, looking suspiciously at your own feet for days on end. little mr. second manically laughing on the kitchen counter. little mr. second bubbling down the toilet (much more accustomed to handling tennis balls of rubber cement type substances, no?). little mr. second wedging himself deep in the u pipe. little mr. second getting speared by the plumber's powerful suction device known as the "snake". more accusational eye rolling.

so it is no wonder that it took a while for me to get up my courage up to try again, to try for mr. third. but i'm a stubborn old ox and secretive to boot. quietly, in the dead of the night whilst my man slept i crept into the kitchen and began the dreaded alchemy all over again. hidden deep behind the stale rye vita crackers mr. third bubbled and festered. i tended to him, my secret passion for three weeks, creeping out of bed every night to mix and stir and sniff and hope. then back into bed to dream. three weeks passed before i deemed him, mr. third, mr. lucky, ready for the grand experiment.

and so i proofed. i proofed overnight. and i sponged. i sponged for six hours. and then i kneaded. actually my bread machine kneaded. then i waited while it rose. it rose for five hours. then i shaped and it rose again, my heart all atremble. then i slept and when i awoke there he was, mr. third time, mr. lucky, mr. sourdough. he was beautiful, big and puffy, shaped just like a baked alaska. my heart was light with giddy joy as i preheated the oven with a little pan of water for that magic crust inducing steam. i was going to do it right, by golly.

and imagine my glee when i pulled this out of the oven. oh my god, i might have shed a little tear. dancing and cavorting about like a drunken stevie nicks on horse tranquilizers impersonator as i snapped picture after picture of mr. lucky. so beautiful. my firstborn.


determined to do it right, i went away. i left lucky alone to cool and prepare himself for the knife. i walked around the block again and again and again as i waited for him to ready himself, a trail of saliva marking my rounds. and oh how he yielded to my serrated knife, showing me a textured airy interior cloaked by a dark, crispy outer shell. oh joy.

and then the ashes. mr. lucky was so beautiful. so well behaved. so goddamn perfect. but he was dull. bland. tasteless. not a bit of sourness. very little flavor. no character at all. just another pretty boy, square jawed, perfect teeth, full head of hair. dumb as a stick.

ready to try your luck? maybe these links will help you. they didn't me.
baking 911 sourdough information
sourdough baking basics
how to make authentic sf sourdough bread

15 Comments:

Anonymous Bryanna Clark Grogan said...

Rae, I don't know if you knew this, but I grew up in San Francisco, went to Galileo High.... So, I hanker for sourdough! Below is my recipe for SF style sourdough bread.
I use the yogurt sourdough starter from Sunset magazine or Sunset bread book, but I use soymilk and soy yogurt. Or, another good starter is Carl's Sourdough-- you can the starter free (and it's a great story that goes with it!) here:

http://home.att.net/~carlsfriends/
(PS: I don't use the sugar and potato they call for in the starter)


BRYANNA’S SAN FRANCISCO SOURDOUGH FRENCH BREAD (no commercial yeast)
makes 2 large loaves

This is the most authentic-tasting San Francisco sourdough bread, with a crust that shatters like it should!

NOTE: Sourdough should not be proofed at over 80 degrees F.

STEP #1: THE MORNING BEFORE BAKING DAY, refresh your starter.

STEP #2: THE NIGHT BEFORE BAKING DAY, mix together in a large bowl:

2 c. warm water
1 c. fresh, bubbly sourdough starter
2 c. unbleached white flour (*Canadian flour is high-gluten; in the U.S. you may want to use unbleached white bread flour)

Stir well, cover with a plastic bag, and let sit overnight in a warm place.

STEP #3: THE MORNING OF BAKING DAY, stir into the bubbly "sponge" or batter:


1 T. salt (do not reduce this)
about 5 c. unbleached white flour (see * note above)

Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, adding 1/2 c. more flour if needed. Knead by hand or with a heavy-duty mixer with a dough hook.

NOTE: Sourdough bread dough is stickier or "tackier" than ordinary bread dough, so be careful not to add too much flour in an attempt to make it drier. If necessary, you can use a little oil on the kneading surface and your hands, rather than flour, during the last half of the kneading process. Or, just use very small amounts of flour.

STEP #4: Place the dough in the rinsed, dried, and oiled bowl, cover or place inside of a large plastic bag, and rise in a warm place until doubled, about 2-4 hours.

STEP #5: “Knuckle” (rather than punch) the dough down to gently remove air bubbles, and divide it in half equally. Shape the dough into 2 round or oblong loaves and place on cooking-parchment-lined greased cookie sheets. Sprinkled the parchment with cornmeal. (If you are going to bake the loaves directly on baking stones or ceramic tiles, don’t bother with the parchment; use greased, cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheets without sides, or upside-down baking sheets.) IF YOU HAVE NO COOKING PARCHMENT, use pieces of heavy brown paper (cur from paper bags, if necessary) cut to fit the pans and greased thoroughly with shortening.

Cover and let rise again in a warm place for 1 to 4 hours, or until doubled. (The amount of time is less important than the doubling.)

STEP #6: PREHEAT THE OVEN to 400 degrees F and set a shallow pan of boiling water in the bottom of the oven. Slash the tops of the loaves with a razor blade about 1/2" deep (3 diagonal slashes on an oblong loaf; an x, square, triangle, or crisscross design on a round loaf). Brush or spray the loaves with cold water before putting the loaves in the oven.

TO RECREATE “HEARTH BAKING”, line the oven (before heating) with unglazed ceramic tiles, or using 2 baking stones.

If you are baking the bread on tiles, slide the risen loaves gently off the flat baking sheets directly onto the tiles or stones. OR, you can place the sheets on the tiles.

BAKE the loaves for 20 minutes, brushing or spraying the loaves and the sides of the oven (cover glass oven door with a heavy towel when you do this to avoid breaking the glass) with cold water every 5 minutes during this time. (This encourages good "oven spring", or rising in the oven, and a nice crust.) Turn the loaves around to face the other way and reduce heat to 325 degrees F.

Bake about 15 minutes more for long loaves or 30 minutes more for round loaves, or until dark golden brown. (The crust of sourdough bread is slightly darker and harder than ordinary French bread.) Remove to racks to cool for 2-3 hours before cutting (the loaves continue to cook during the cooling process).

WITH A CONVECTION OVEN reduce temperature 25 degrees F. and expect a slightly shorter baking time.

This dough makes excellent hard rolls , too.

VARIATIONS:
WHOLEWHEAT SOURDOUGH FRENCH BREAD: when you add the flour to the sponge in the morning, use a hard wholewheat flour (bread flour) instead of unbleached white. If possible, use white hard whole wheat flour.

SOURDOUGH RYE-- Make the sponge the night before as instructed. In the morning, use 2 c. dark rye flour and 3 c. wholewheat flour (this can be hard white whole wheat flour).

Optional additions could be:
1 T. caraway seeds and 2 T. molasses. Knead the dough for 15 minutes. Rye sourdough bread dough is VERY sticky. Make oblong loaves.

FINNISH SOURDOUGH RYE BREAD: (My favorite!)
Use 2 c. warm beer in place of water in the sponge. Use 3 c. dark rye flour in the morning instead of an equal amount of wheat flour. Add 1 T. caraway, dill, anise or fennel seeds and 1 T. poppy seeds. Knead 15 minutes. Make oblong loaves.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Sara, The Wine Makers Wife said...

I'm determined to try this out one weekend... I have a feelign I'll be disapoitned withthe results, but nothing smells better then sourdough baking in the oven.....

12:12 PM  
Blogger obachan said...

Oh rae, I almost jumped with joy when I saw the pic of Mr. lucky. I mean, it's an art! Too bad about the flavor...It's just one of those step-by-step things, I guess. Just like in real life, nice outlook is not everything, but it DOES count --- A LOT, doesn't it? You got to that point this time, and next time you'll have a nice-looking Mr.SB(sourdough bread) with a true flavor.

6:15 PM  
Blogger Harmonia said...

I am in SO NEED of a vegan sourdough bread it's not even funny! HELP!

6:39 AM  
Blogger rae said...

bryanna: wow, so you're a local girl...i didn't know that. i still have my starter nesting in the 'fridge so i'll break it out and try your recipe. fingers crossed.

sara: good luck with your bread this weekend and let me know how it turns out!

obachan: yeah, hopefully it'll be tastier next time. have you tried to make bread with your starter yet?

harmonia: scroll up to bryanna's comment above - she has some links and a recipe there, all vegan. it's kinda fun to make a starter from scratch...

8:59 AM  
Blogger cookiecrumb said...

Well, it certainly LOOKED like a good loaf.
Technique: 10. Flavor: Workin' on it.
Good luck. You're far ahead of me.
xx

7:01 PM  
Blogger Rachel said...

Oh, I'm *SO* jealous. An entire year of coddling, and my sourdough starter never produced a loaf with such a pretty crumb. I don't know why--sigh.

I'm not a professional baker, so I don't know if I should be giving advice... but my sourdough dough always took a really long time to proof and the flavor was seriously potent. Too potent. So if you could slow down the proof time, maybe the flavor of the bread will then have more chance to develop?

And sometimes you just need more salt.

9:40 AM  
Blogger michelle said...

LOL! damn bread! 'dumb as a stick!' you are far braver than i, my fair swegan. i have yet to try real bread as all my pseudo attempts have yielded much the same as yours. much luck in future bread-making!

5:12 PM  
Blogger rae said...

cookiecrumb: thanks for the words of encouragement cookie. i'm gearing up to try it again this weekend. fingers crossed.

rachel: i am so jealous! "seriously potent" sounds just up my alley.

michelle: thanks for wishing me luck. i think i'm gonna need it...

9:11 AM  
Blogger farmgirl said...

LOL, I loved this post. Though I'm sorry your baby didn't live up to your expectations. Try, try, again. . . . : )

P.S. I was born in SF and probably teethed on sourdough. When I made the recipe for SF Sourdough in Daniel Leader's book, Bread Alone, I took one bite and was instantly transported back to my childhood--nabbing a slice of napkin wrapped bread and trying to spread one of those incredibly chilled butter pats on it at some probably long closed SF restaurant.

Anyway, the recipe took two days, as opposed to the one day for the (barely sour) pain au levain I usually make--and that supposedly was the trick.

7:52 PM  
Blogger chanit said...

Thanks for all the information!!:-)

11:47 AM  
Anonymous Bryanna said...

A great resource is:
http://www.nyx.net/~dgreenw/sourdoughqa.html
Sourdough QA

4:16 PM  
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