The year of dough: Sourdough!

For the last few years I’ve been making food related new years resolutions. Last year, it was to cook more unusual meat which worked out quite well. This year, I decided to make it the Year of Dough (Doh!).  I will attempt to master, or at least try just about any dough related food. I’ve tried various breads, pasta, puff pastry, dumpling wrappers, pizza and beignets.  Most of them good, with a few glaring exceptions (I’m looking at you soba noodle…).  But I’m here to talk about sourdough.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with sourdough.  For the longest time I hated eating sourdough because of its sheer ubiquity here in San Fran.   I curse the day they tried to serve me Philly cheesesteak on a sourdough roll.  And too often the sourdough here was just, well, too sour.

Fast forward to 2010.  After making a few pretty nice breads, I decided to try making my own sourdough.  The whole process of making my own starter, keeping it alive and molding it into something unique overrode my dislike of sourdough.  I made my own starter and tried the Cooks Illustrated recipe.  It was good but it didn’t really taste like sourdough.  I did my research, made a different starter, slowed my rise, changed my baking method and voila!

This bread had shatteringly crispy crust, chewy crumb, nice medium size holes and the perfect tang of sourdough without being overwhelming.  It was pretty much perfect!  So why wasn’t I satisfied?  I wanted it to be more sour!  More more more! Like the stuff you can get at stores.  So I started researching again, googling and reading everything I could get my hands on.  Finally, I stumbled on He says:

“Still, at the end of the day, bread is about more than sour. It has to work with whatever you’re eating it with. If it’s eaten alone, it has to stand on its own, and that usually means a balanced taste, or at least a bread that has more going for it than the one trick pony approach of super-sour bread that so many sourdough beginners are striving for.”

A little light bulb went on above my head, I already had the perfect sourdough!  One that I loved and couldn’t stop eating.  Why was I trying to imitate some commercial sourdough that I hated eating anyway?  Purely for some unreasonable masochist satisfaction of being able to make sour sourdough?

I realized I had a great sourdough.  More than that, I made some great bread.

A few sourdough tips:

  1. Starters are relatively easy to start, but make sure you smell it constantly.  It should smell pleasantly sour and yeasty.
  2. For a crispy crust, I left a cast iron skillet beneath the baking stone and filled it with warm water when the bread goes in.  I also misted the bread with water.
  3. Think about the shape of your bread.  I like a lot of crust so a long loaf was better than the round ball style.  However, supposedly the round ball style keeps fresh longer.

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