Sourdough Bread
March 6, 2005 11:11 AM   Subscribe

Bakers, help! How do I get my sourdough sourer?

The one thing I miss living Back East is real sourdough. Having despaired of finding it in stores, I have begun trying to make my own. However, I cannot get it to taste the way it should (like it does in Cali). I made starter according to the bread machine recipe & left it out for days, but no dice. Is it a question of the air and the water? Am I just doomed?
posted by dame to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know enough to help you out off the top of my head, but if you can still find the March issue of Cook's Illustrated magazine on the newsstand, it has a tremendous article on sourdough bread. Or join their web site (for a fee) and search for the recipe there.
posted by ChrisTN at 11:32 AM on March 6, 2005

Kuro5hin's useful on such odd occasions.
posted by Gyan at 11:42 AM on March 6, 2005

If you want your sour dough to be more sour, don't throw away as much when you're feeding it. Normally, you toss out have of your sourdough starter, and add more flour and water. Conversely, if your sourdough is too sour, throw more away.
posted by crunchland at 11:49 AM on March 6, 2005

Response by poster: My recipe says not to toss any, crunchland. I put half in the bread (1 cup) and then add a cup each of flour and water to the leftover half. Or am I misunderstanding?

Also, I have been doing it the half-assed way that involves yeast in the starter. Is that the problem?
posted by dame at 12:03 PM on March 6, 2005

Response by poster: Wow, the Kuro5hin is good. Thanks, Gyan. But I'd still like to hear other answers if people have them.
posted by dame at 12:06 PM on March 6, 2005

I just came accross this post today, don't know if it will be much help but I'd suggest contacting that blogger as well.
posted by scazza at 1:21 PM on March 6, 2005

Different yeasts have different flavors, the flavor you're looking for might not be acheiveable without some of the original starter. Luckily, many places sell starter in freeze-dried form. Try here.
posted by cali at 1:23 PM on March 6, 2005

I have experience with yeast based, naturally cultured (by me) and dedicated sourdough starters. I would go with one of the commercially available dedicated starters for the best and most intense flavor. The only problem is you need to keep refreshing it to keep it alive. This is not much trouble if you keep baking bread, but a big pain if you bake bread only occasionally. Someday I will try the natural culture process again as it is fun.
posted by caddis at 1:58 PM on March 6, 2005

It can be time and labor-intensive, but the methods in Nancy Silverton's Breads from the La Brea Bakery yield fantastic results. She's a "wild yeaster," so it's a long process, but did I mention that the bread is fantastic?
posted by deliriouscool at 2:24 PM on March 6, 2005

Yeast = teh suck. All the bugs you need are in the flour. Commercial bread yeast replicates way too quickly, so there's not enough time for the lactic bugs to do their thing. No lactobacillus, no sourdough.

Throw out that icky bread machine starter. Get half a cup of organic wholemeal rye flour. Add a quarter cup of water and mix to a paste. Cover and leave for 24 hours at 20-25oC (70-80 oF). Throw away half, add another 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 cup water. Cover, and wait 24 hours. By now it should be bubbling. Switch to regular white bread flour. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

You should be OK to bake after 5 days. You can then keep the starter as a liquid culture (quick to start, but requires feeding more often) or a sponge culture (less feeding, but much slower to start).
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:40 PM on March 6, 2005 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: You are all awesome. I think I may have picked up a new obsessive hobby. For now, I'm going to go with the freeze-dried starter Cali linked to; then, when it gets warmer and I don't have to worry about the little bacteria getting too cold at night, I'll try cultivating my own.

To that end, what happens in summer when it's a hundred? Assuming you don't have AC (I don't), are your edible pets doomed?
posted by dame at 3:04 PM on March 6, 2005

I'm going to vastly oversimplify things here, because what goes on inside a loaf of sourdough is really complicated. Basically, you have two types of fermentation going on in the sourdough: anaerobic and lactic, caused by the yeast and other microbes, respectively. The sour flavor that you seek is caused by the lactic fermentation of these other critters obviously.

One thing that might help you is to understand that the two different types of organisms prefer different types of environments. The yeast prefer a wetter environment, while the lactic bacteria prefer a drier one. Also, the yeast rebound more quickly from feeding than the lactic bacteria. What this means is that you have two crude controls to help make your dough more sour: first, keep your starter at a lower hydration. And second, allow more time between feeding the starter and using it in a loaf of bread. I would imagine that temperature may also favor one organism over the other, so look over some of the resources mentioned above.

Also, if you're doing this in your home kitchen, realize that controlling these factors is really hit-or-miss. But even if you can't control the elements quite as perfectly or scientifically as you like, you can still make awesome bread.

One more thing: absolutely start from scratch using obiwanwasabi's method. It is way better than using a commercial starter. Eventually, your starter will become home to your area's indigenous microbes anyway. Why slow down that process?
posted by casu marzu at 5:08 PM on March 6, 2005

I'm pretty much an expert baker, and obiwanwasabi's method is the one i'd follow, were i you.

My sourdough starter is almost 2 years old; i keep it covered in the refrigerator when it's not being used. My neighbour's mum has a starter that's 8. It's wicked good, and i keep forgetting to steal a bit from her and add it to mine. yum
posted by reflecked at 5:36 PM on March 6, 2005

Response by poster: Oh gosh, one more question: cheesecloth or plastic covering? I've seen both recommended.

Yes, I will go read some books. But if you're here anyway . . .
posted by dame at 5:41 PM on March 6, 2005

Try Or The second site is Darrell Greenwoods site with info, faq's and links galore
posted by flummox at 5:49 PM on March 6, 2005

Oh gosh, one more question: cheesecloth or plastic covering?

I don't think it matters much, it's mostly to keep bugs and dust out of the starter. Cheesecloth will allow the CO2 to vent but the top of your starter might get dry. Plastic will keep everything moist but need to be vented occasionally.
posted by cali at 10:19 PM on March 6, 2005

Plastic covering. Airtight is OK, but almost airtight is best.

As for making it more sour, a lot has been said that's good, however I will add that a good way to control the amount of sourness is to use a long sponge stage before mixing the final dough: get it to about pancake-batter consistency and let it ferment before mixing in the rest of the flour and salt, sugar, etc. Longer ferment=more sour.

In refreshing (feeding) your starter or making a sponge before mixing, you will want to double it at least; have no qualms about throwing some out in order to do this.

And don't use regular yeast.
posted by transient at 7:59 AM on March 7, 2005

late to the party here, and I'm totally an amateur baker, but I just wanted to say I agree completely with what obiwanwasabi wrote too.
posted by soplerfo at 9:29 AM on March 7, 2005

The only thing I've found comparable to west coast extra-sourdough bread in NY is the injera in Ethiopian restaurants. Sara Lee bought the San Luis Sourdough company a few years ago; the grocers here might be willing to order it (I haven't tried this, instead I've stocked up at Trader Joe's and Ralphs when I visit LA).
posted by brujita at 9:51 PM on March 10, 2005

Cheesecloth will allow the CO2 to vent but the top of your starter might get dry. Plastic will keep everything moist but need to be vented occasionally.

How about an airlock? Would this work? Will the starter develop normally in an anerobic environment?
posted by McWyrm at 7:28 AM on November 13, 2005

Okay - I can answer my own question.

I'm using obiwanwasabi's method to make a starter. I have it in a quart jar topped with a #13 drilled stopper and a two-chamber airlock (like you can get from a homebrew store). I'm currently on day 3, and things seem to be going well. There is distinct activity - bubbles and such.

I'll switch to a more conventional form of storage once the starter is established.
posted by McWyrm at 1:56 PM on November 14, 2005

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