Bakers: what's the trick to really sour sourdough?

I have attempted my very first batch of sourdough. Woo hoo!

My starter (milk-based) sat for 7 days at room temperature before I activated it. Once I’d activated it, it sat another 24 hours before I made four loaves of bread, two plain and two rye. They turned out beautifully, with lovely color and interior texture, but I have two complaints:
a) They aren’t very sour
b) They aren’t very crusty

For now I am casting my blame at the Better Homes & Gardens 1983 cookbook bread recipe I followed – it’s reliable for results, but also reliably middle-of-the-road for flavor. It called for one cup of starter to about 6 cups of flour.

What should I do to make really SOUR sourdough bread? The kind you can get easily on the West coast but never see here in the Midwest? The best I can get here is from Costco, but of course it originates in Seattle. :slight_smile:

I want tang! I want crust! Bring it on!

Ditch the milk. You want to use water. Use bottled so that chlorine does not interfere with the process at the start.

Get the ball rolling with organic rye flour. This introduces good natural yeasts.

1/4 cup water for every 3/8 cup flour. Keep in an 85 degree area and feed regularly, discarding half of the starter each time. Do this every 8 to 12 hours and you’ll usually have a good starter within 5 days.

Mmmmm, crusty sourdough!! All my recipes note that it is the addition of more or less baking soda that control the sourness in the loaf.

They also mention that you need to brush or spray water on the bread a few times during baking to come anywhere near the crustiness of the pro bakers.

As for me, I am gonna go finish that loaf of Nathalie Dupree’s Butter Braid bread!

My impression was that for a true sourdough, the taste is affected by the specific yeasts and bacteria in the starter. That’s why “San Francisco sourdough” is so specific - it comes from a starter started in that area, catching the culture Lactobacillus sanfrancisco, which isn’t as common, or isn’t in the right proportions, elsewhere in the country. I’m not convinced that this isn’t a bit of hoity-toity baking legend (or marketing by bakers and sellers of starter from SF!) but it’s certainly possible.

Baking soda might affect the flavor, but it’s a “cheat” to do it like that - real sourdough purists won’t use any leavening besides the starter. :wink:

Thanks for the tips! I’m going to try another batch this weekend, so I’ll be putting them into practice soon. Yay!

Here’s a piggyback question: why is sourdough so much more prevalent (at least in these parts) than good old white bread? Seems like whenever I want a baguette, it’s more likely than not to be sourdough. I can’t account for it. I would think the demand for white would oustrip the demand for mediocre sourdough by about ten to one. And I can’t think that making sourdough is actually easier for the bakeries.

FWIW, I don’t think I’ve ever had real sourdough, like San Francisco-style sourdough. Is it that much more sour than East Coast commercial sourdough?

I’m a stranded west coaster who has been trying for a year to make sourdough. While I have managed to make a good lively starter that will rise bread with no problems, it’s still not very sour, and doesn’t have that wonderful slightly rubbery crust I love.

Don’t discard that in-progress starter! Use it to make very good oh so slightly sour pancakes in the morning!

Try kneading the dough with your toes. :wink:

I just have to drool at the idea of San Francisco sourdough. I grew up in the area, live in Denver, and every visit I devour at least a loaf of sourdough. Bread just doesn’t taste the same here.

Or you could just boil the water or let it stand overnight.

For a very crispy crust, you can try the ‘Bittman bread’ method of baking, where you heat a covered container such as a dutch oven in a 450 degree oven for about half an hour, then plop in the bread dough. (Do not place this incredibly hot, yet empty, pot on your butcher block counter, like I’ve done, as you will be left with a circular souvenir mark.) Bake covered for about half an hour, then uncovered for about 10-15 minutes. The covered hot pot creates a steamy environment, which lets you skip the brushing/spraying the bread without investing in a professional oven.

I have also heard that the quality of your bread depends on the yeasts in the air. Some cities are apparently just naturally blessed - San Fran obviously, but apparenly Melbourne is as well.

From what I have read, most traditional Italian and French bread uses an initial starter dough from the night before, called a biga - it’s harder and less moist than a sourdough, and I think goes through less long term fermentation. So there will always be a slight sourness to their bread - but not nearly as noticable as a real sourdough.

I follow the water only, rye flour, no baking powder, low knead theory advocated by Dan Lepard , which has full instructions from beginning a starter, to the complete loaf. Just need a full day around the house as you need to fold the dough every hour for 5 or so hours, so a lazy weekend is good.

Yay, it’s Friday! <happy dance> Might bake me some bread this weekend.

You may want to try a friendship starter. I tried to make my own starter in March (affectionately known as “George”). George’s products didn’t have much lift and had an odd taste not entirely like that of an onion bagel, but not oniony in a good way.

Eventually I managed to kill George out of neglect, and ordered this starter (cost: one SASE). It just arrived today, but it’s really cold and windy so I’m waiting a bit before I reconstitute it. This starter has its origins in 1847 on the Oregon Trail, although the batch I got was cultured and dried in Maryland. I’m sure it’s changed a bit over time, but I can’t wait to try it anyhow.