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After several flops I finally got some good results:
Adapting the Lahey recipe to use sourdough starter has proved to be tricky. My first try was a miserable flop. I used only one tablespoon of 3-day old sourdough (very wet) starter and essentially got no rise at all, even after 20 hours. So I tried again, starting by warming up the starter and feeding it and allowing about 3 hours of ferment in the starter jar, then using 1/2cup and adjusting flour and water of Lahey recipe down (went a little too far, dough wasn’t quite wet enough). Despite the big increase in starter I still had little rise after 16 hours so I went ahead with proofing to speed it up. I don’t like proofing because it dries out the dough and the Lahey approach needs a wet dough, plus higher ferment temps change the bio-activity in the dough.
I was surprised at the crumb, much better than expected, given less gas (compared to standard Lahey) when I did the shaping, plus very little rise after shaping. The total ferment time was about 20 hours. The crust was a little thicker than normal and very crisp but the taste definitely had a little more ‘tang’ than usual. I still don’t have the formula right though. Using this sourdough starter is more like using a poolish than just a small amount of yeast.
Now a brief digression on “sourdough”. This has a lot of mystique but is really simple, just a different strain of yeast than the normal cultured yeast. Both from the sourdough I created from scratch and the culture I got from Barry Farm, the “natural” yeast is much less active than the cultured yeast, so a lot more of it has to be used, even though the Lahey approach uses about 1/10th the cultured yeast compared to conventional fast ferments.
But it’s really not the yeast that creates the ‘tang’; it’s various bacteria in the starter (and the flour) that get a bigger bite of the sugars allowed by the sluggish growth of the natural yeast. And that leads to the real mystique of “sourdough”, which is correctly named San Francisco sourdough, where a particular strain of bacteria, unique to the San Francisco climate and environment provides the much desired ‘tang’. While this culture can be found on the Net most bakers suggests that it’s only good for a couple of uses as the unique strain will quickly be overwhelmed by other strains more compatible with the local climate and environment. In short, you can probably only make San Francisco sourdough, reliably, in San Francisco.
So in Omaha about the best you can hope for is a little more ‘tang’, primarily due to the long ferment times. Next time I’ll use more starter and a little more hydration so I can hopefully skip the proofing because the best ‘tang’ comes from bacteria that are more active at lower ferment temperatures.
Bread is a lot of fun and despite the huge amount of literature (often confusing) is actually fairly simple in its principles. But short of having a really good lab and DNA sequencer it’s hard to know what organisms are really active during the ferment.