by: padre art

The original leavened bread was Sourdough. Until the early 1800’s all yeast leavening was sourdough yeast. The only yeast that wasn’t cultured directly from the air was that which was donated by the brewers.

The sour taste comes from lactic acid and some acetic acid produced by bacteria living off the wild yeast in the starter. These acids were essential to help preserve the breads freshness and retard spoiling.

Different geographical areas have conditions that allow various breeds of lacto and lactobacillus to develop. This is what gives the distinct regional flavors of local sourdough starters. Perhaps the most famous is the San Francisco area where the local sourdough yeast and bacillus give a distinctive crust and deliciously sour crumb.

Bakers yeast cannot be used in this type of bread recipe. Unlike wild yeast it cannot live in the acid environment created by the lactobacillus. Because the wild yeast can sometimes give unpredictable flavors to the bread it is necessary to maintain a successful culture of wild yeast that will give predictable results.

There are bread companies in the San Francisco Bay Area that have been using the same, refreshed starter for over 150 years.

Making your own starter takes almost a week from start to finish. It is an interesting process and very easy to do. Here are the simple, day-to-day steps to develop a yeast culture with your regional flavor essence.

Sourdough bread with black olives.

To Start the Sourdough Bread:

Note: Remove a cup of barm from the fridge about an hour before you will need it.

1 cup barm
1 cup bread flour
1/4 cup warm water

Adjust the flour to water ratio to give a loose sponge or firm dough. A firm starter will give a distinctive sour flavor to the bread while a wet sponge will be less acidic.

Knead (or mix) the ingredients just long enough to hydrate all the flour. Place in an oiled bowl, cover and let rise until doubled in size (about 4 hours) then refrigerate overnight.

Remove from the fridge about one hour before needed, cut into a dozen pieces.

Make the Sourdough Bread

In a large mixing bowl add the warmed dough pieces to:

4 cups bread flour
1 cup all purpose flour
2 cups water
2 tsp. salt

Blend thoroughly into a firm but still tacky dough.

Knead dough for 15 minutes. This is a long kneading time but it will develop a silky and elastic dough.

Place in an oiled bowl to rise until double (3 to 4 hours).

Handle the dough gently as you remove it from the bowl and cut it into three equal pieces for baguettes. If you prefer loaves then just divide it in half. Placed the desired shapes on a baking sheet that has been dusted with cornmeal, cover and let rise (proof) for another two hours.

Pre-heat the oven to 500° F. about ten minutes before baking.

Place baking sheet with loaves on middle rack of oven and lower temperature to 450° F. and bake for ten minutes. Rotate the sheet 180° to allow the bread to bake evenly for another 15 minutes.

Bread Recipes

Sourdough Starter
Daily Bread
Banana Bread
French Bread