Homemade Sourdough Bread: An Ongoing Project

 

Last year, as part of the Foodbuzz Project Food Blog contest, I tackled one of my kitchen fears:  Bread making.  For one who considers herself reasonably capable in the kitchen, I had a big fear of yeast and kneading bread dough.  It took a challenge to encourage me to go one-on-one with a sourdough recipe.  The good news is that jumping right in made a molehill out of the (yeast) mountain I feared so much.  My sourdough bread turned out just fine though I was not without disappointments.

I grew up in San Francisco, after all.  Sourdough bread is a big part of our food culture.  A breadmaking process that likely originated in ancient Egyptian times became part of San Francisco tradition during California’s gold rush.  It’s been said that men who journeyed here to have a slice of California pie–gold–would first stop in San Francisco to purchase bread “starters” (a fermented mixture of flour, water and yeast) to take with them to the Sierra foothills, sustenance as they sought their fortune.  These men even came to be called “sourdoughs”.  These days, San Francisco sourdough is considered the most popular in the country.

I did not use a starter with a San Francisco pedigree (did you know that you can buy starters from San Francisco containing lactobacillus sanfranciscensis, the bacteria that is said to give breads here their characteristic sour flavor) but my desire for improvement was not due to an inferior recipe.

Shape

To date, my homemade yeast-based breads have lacked the boule shape (ball) that I long to achieve.  Even my no-knead creations have produced somewhat flat loaves.  Enter the banneton.  I learned that a proofing basket (in second picture above) would help to provide structure to the dough during its final rise instead of spreading out flat.  Using wicker is also supposed to aid in absorbing moisture but I was after the round, ball shape–the nice ridge pattern would also be a bonus.

As you can see from the second picture above, my banneton did its job creating the beautiful ridges I was after (I don’t even mind the knotted look of the top which stuck to the basket).  However, I did not flour the basket enough before using it so my dough stuck to the bottom after an overnight rest.  I had to carefully peel off the dough without it deflating from too much handling.  Was I tempted to toss this batch? Sure, but only for a minute.  I waited to see if the last rising period would help the dough recover, and I can say that the baked bread did not look as pitiful as when I first pried it loose from the banneton.  It is rounder than my first try a few months ago, though there’s still room for improvement.  Overall, I’d say I made some progress.

Taste

Before attempting a new recipe, I decided to stick with the hobz Malti (Maltese sourdough bread) which I’ve used before.  I was happy with my first try but my San Francisco-bred taste buds knew something was missing.  The distinct sour flavor wasn’t as pronounced as I would like, but I suppose it was because my starter was new.  I suspect that my starter would have progressively developed  more sourness over time but my bread making experiments stopped after that first attempt and I finally discarded it.

This time, the bread was indeed much improved.  While the distinct sourdough tang is still only mildly discernible, the overall taste is noticeably better.  My husband, a bread aficionado, declared it on par with the artisan baguettes I pick up for him a couple of times a week.  I’ll assume most of that is encouragement rather than an objective assessment.

What did I do differently?  I used bread flour instead of all-purpose flour.  Apparently, the former contains more protein and the high-gluten content works with the yeast to achieve more rise and a chewy texture.  I still don’t understand all of this completely but I can say that using bread flour made a big difference.  I also waited until the bread cooled to room temperature before having my first taste.  My husband and I have never been able to wait before and we would dig in while the bread was still warm.  The drawback was that the rest of the bread would dry out.  Waiting produced a crisp, chewy crust with a soft and moist inside.

Half of the loaf is now history, after only a few hours, a sure testament that my sourdough project is heading in the right direction.  I will continue to work with my starter to see if the taste improves over time.  I’ll be sure to report my findings.  In the meantime, you can find the recipe here and I offer my tips below.

Notes:

  • This is a two-day process so make note of this if you’re planning to serve the bread on a specific day.  The first day requires at least a six-hour (preferably overnight) wait for the starter to rise.  After the starter is split, the dough you set aside to bake will require another 2-5 hour wait.
  • This recipe offers two measurements and I always prefer weighing flour rather than using cups to ensure consistent measurements.  However, I noticed some inconsistencies so here is what I used:
          For the starter: 2 grams active dry yeast, 1/3 cup lukewarm water (about 105 degrees F), 100 grams bread flour
          To refresh the starter the next day: 1/4 cup lukewarm water, 100 grams bread flour
          For the first batch of bread:  1 teaspoon yeast, 1 cup water, 1 teaspoon kosher salt,
          350 grams bread flour.  400 grams would have been too much for me.  You can even get away with 340 grams.
You will have to knead your first batch of bread for about 12 – 15 minutes.  Be sparing when adding flour while kneading.  I added just the minimum to keep the dough from sticking to the counter and periodically, I dipped the pads of my hands in flour to keep the sticking to a minimum.

  • I “turned” my dough twice over a period of about 3 hours then I transferred it to a banneton and allowed to rest in the refrigerator overnight.
  • If you use a banneton (proofing basket), make sure to flour it generously, especially if it’s new.  You might be able to avoid the sticking I had to deal with.
  • I recommend using a pizza peel sprinkled with corn meal for the final rise before baking. This makes it easier to transfer the dough to the oven.
  • I recommend using  a pizza stone for baking the bread.  This helps to form a crispier crust.
  • I recommend adding a tray of hot water in the oven while the bread is baking.  The steam helps to keep the bread from drying out.
  • I baked my bread for about 35 minutes in a convection oven.  This would require adjusting down the temperature by maybe 10-20 degrees F to keep the bottom from burning.
  • Your bread is done when it sounds hollow when you tap it.
  • Make sure to let cool to room temperature before slicing it.

 

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Comments

  1. wow it looks beautiful great job

  2. Jean, the bread looks fantastic! I feel most accomplished in the kitchen when I manage to produce a wonderful, tasty bread. And just looking at the cut piece, I know that it was a success. Good job!
    I really want to start making sourdough bread, but I procrastinate and delay, always waiting for a perfect moment. I am glad that you have found your muse and won over the fear of the yeast:)

  3. Jean, this is inspiring! Sourdough is on my to-tackle list, perhaps I, too, am intimidated. This loaf came out beautifully, it looks so wonderfully chewy, with the right amount of air pockets inside! I must try this!

  4. Most yeast breads I am okay with, but the thought of sourdough bread is daunting to me for some reason! This post is inspirational, as your loaf looks wonderful :) Happy Easter :) Wishing you a fantastic week!

  5. Impressive baking there!

  6. Jean this sourdough is quite the accomplishment!! Beatiful air bubbles I can almost smell and taste it!! Fantatic job!

  7. I’ve been wanting a banneton for such a long time, I think it gives such a beautiful shape to the bread. Your bread looks great, nice crisp crust with an aerated crumb.

  8. Hi Jean, you are too humble. This sourdough bread is fabulous! I love bread so much but I’m also too scared to bake it at home. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I know it’s hard to make and I am not sure when I will try…haha. Your pictures are gorgeous as usual. :-)

  9. Wow. Your bread has a beautiful crumb. Congratulations!

  10. Jean I’m amazed, this bread looks worthy of being in any San Francico bakery, look at those air bubbles. I love the idea of the banneton- never even heard of it!! Great job!

  11. These pictures are awesome and the bread looks amazing!

  12. if you want to learn how to shape loaves, i think jeffrey hamelman’s book Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes is quite good. there are a lot of instructions with drawings so it’s very easy to practise with.

    i love sourdough bread!

  13. Such a beautiful loaf!!! PERFECTION~

  14. That is one stunning loaf of bread!

  15. Jean – one of my challenges to tackle is to make bread. You have inspired. I love the bowl that you used to shape the dough. I am going make bread! Hope you had a nice Easter Holiday!! :-)

  16. Your sourdough bread is just gorgeous! I’m really impressed with how perfect it looks. :)

  17. I think it’s gorgeous! You are definitely getting closer and closer to perfection.

  18. Lovely! the top of that bread has such an artful appearance. :)

  19. Your bread is indeed beautiful. I am still afraid of the yeastie beasties! I hope to get over that fear as you have. But for me the scary part is not the yeast. It’s the 2 day wait! I’d probably eat the dough raw before it ever got to the oven. GREG

  20. Good job! This bread looks perfect with a light open crumb and doesn’t it look gorgeous! I did the tourist thing in SF and had the sour dough bread with chowder. It was delicious and I’ve been threatening to make some so thanks for demystifying the process.

  21. Congratulations, Jean! Your sourdough bread looks perfect. I learned making bread not too long ago with a friend of mine and once I feel confident with my bread-making sills, I’ll be tackling sourdough next. I’m bookmarking your post!

  22. What an adventure! I have never attempted sourdough (because honestly I really don’t like it! but hey I was not born here I’m used to different types of bread!) but I know from friends how hard it is to make. If I will ever decide to try it out, just for the challenge as I love bread making, I will make sure I come back and read this post 10 times aloud for your wonderful tips :)
    Your final result looks amazing by the way!

  23. I will eat homemade bread no matter how it looks, but I would swear yours came from a bread shop. I have seen the baskets and wondered if they would aid in the shaping. I wonder if a shot of no-stick cooking spray or oil would help with the release. Yeah so glad you with be in Pebble Beach, can’t wait to see you again.
    -Gina-

  24. Wow! The bread is wonderful. I love bread and I love the smell of bread baking. Thanks for sharing!

    Christine
    christinespantry.blogspot.com

  25. Hi Jean,
    Your sourdough bread looks perfect to me, I’m very impressed with your effort and thanks for all your tips on technique. My father was an avid sourdough baker, he made bread, scones, waffles and all kinds of baked goods with his starter after he retired. I think that was fun for him and also insured the house would be filled with willing tasters on the weekends.
    Have a great week and keep up the baking, you’re doing a fine job;-)

  26. Love the photos and now I want one of those baskets! I’m a big fan of the no-knead dough a la “Rocket Bread”, but I’ve been a little intimidated by making sourdough because, well, the whole starter thing feels like such a commitment. Maybe this weekend though. Thanks for the inspiration!

  27. I’m glad you didn’t give into the urge to throw out the dough when it deflated a bit coming out of the basket… the loaf may be imperfect, but it looks absolutely gorgeous nonetheless! I just love those floury ridges left behind by the proofing basket.
    Sourdough is on my list of breads to try, though I admit I’m a little leery of the whole process because it feels so much more uncertain than breads made with commercial instant yeast. Your success so far gives me hope, though. :)

  28. I love the rustic look of the bread, so pretty…! This just looks like something from a bakery!

  29. Jean, your bread is gorgeous! Crunchy crust, soft middle…yummmmy …it’s perfect!

  30. It looks like it turned out beautifully. Ive never seen the ‘stripes’ in bread before! It makes a really neat finished effect.

  31. Wow, you’ve been really busy! :) I’ve missed out on quite a bit while we were spring-breaking with my stepdaughter last week. I love your persistence with the sourdough bread. Bread baking for me too has always been elusive and I’ve only baked one bread in my entire life. I should try to find that recipe and give it a go. I guess I don’t bake bread often since I’m not a huge fan of bread, but I looooove clam chowder sour dough bowls. Lately I’ve been eating those quite a bit despite the warmer weather. Your bread is making me crave yet another clam chowder sour dough bowl. :)

  32. Jean, I admire your persistence. The bread looks perfect and I appreciate the notes section, when we return I’ll be referencing that section. Your photos are cookbook quality as is the writing. Keep up the good work!

  33. I must say your bread looks superb! I love San Fransisco bakeries (Tartine, especially) and your bread could be sold it is that good-looking!

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