Bread 6: Sourdough Bread

2006-02-20

My disappointment with this class deepens.

Sourdough has a rich history: natural leavening techniques were used in ancient times to make bread and many bakeries have starters that have been carefully nurtured and used for years. So when the recipe we used included commercial sourdough base (!) and fresh yeast (!!), I finally accepted that this class would not be teaching me anything about artisan baking. Worse, our instructor said that everytime she uses this sourdough base (which, incidentally, was merely identified by a string of numbers and letters on the box), she gets a surprise.

For demonstration only, Chef made a somewhat more authentic sourdough starter earlier in the week, but she still used baker's yeast in the mixture. She fed it with sugar and let it ferment for about three days. That's still not enough time for the lactobacilli to make a tasty bread so her loaf was virtually indistinguishable from plain white bread.

Sourdough BreadOur own loaves began with a mixture of water, bread flour and sourdough base which we mixed until it came together. Then, we threw in fresh yeast and kneaded it on medium speed. This dough was very unusual: it climbed up the dough hook and even started spitting out little pieces onto the counter. Since the sourdough is fast-acting, we didn't need any bench time and proceeded directly to shaping. After four parallel slashes and an egg wash, they went into the proofer before being baked. The loaves grew handsomely if somewhat unevenly. At home when I cut into mine, I found it was still slightly underdone, and there was a huge air pocket underneath the top crust. As expected, there was very little sour taste. Both loaves went into the trash.

I guess there's no way to make a real sourdough bread in a classroom setting, especially one that meets once a week. Unless, we made a starter at home ourselves and brought it in. Something to suggest on the course evaluation.

Update: The following week, no less than three people I spoke to said they threw their loaves out too due to the uncooked interior and odd taste. We discussed our loaves with the instructor who said that she's tried to get the school to either replace or improve the sourdough component of the course.

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