The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Is sourdough a misnomer?

theresasc's picture
theresasc

Is sourdough a misnomer?

I am fairly new to the site and to baking bread, just started with both the site and bread at the beginning of the year.  I have been reading volumes of information on starters:  how to make, how to feed, etc.  Isn't a sourdough starter just another form of leavening?  Is it not a wild yeast vs. a commercial yeast?  And if that is the case, can I just substitute a portion of a starter into a recipe that normally uses a poolish as the poolish and drop the commercial yeast and get the same or similar results? 

I was always been put off of sourdough bread because of, well, the sourness.  Now after reading so much information am I right to say that the bread that I could bake with a starter will not necessarily be sour?  Will the starter just be a flavor enhancer and/or a leavening agent?

Theresa

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Hi Theresa,

Sourdough is a form of leavening, yes.  It is a culture of wild yeasts, yes, and various Lactobacillus bacteria.  Yes, you can substitute sourdough starter (aka levain, to French bakers) in place of commercial yeast for poolishes, sponges, or bigas.  Leavening characteristics will be similar to, albeit much slower than, commercial yeast.  If it couldn't leaven the dough, there wouldn't be much use for it.

Flavor can vary significantly, depending on the organisms in the culture and the way the starter and dough are processed.  Some breads may have virtually no sourness, others may be bitingly sour, with many shadings between. 

Hope this helps.

Paul

linder's picture
linder

Sourdough is just another leavening agent - the oldest known one for breads and a flavor enhancer.  It does not necessarily have to be sour in taste, for example the leavening in panettone is made up to be milder so as not to compete with the sweet dough. 

As for substituing sourdough for a poolish, it would depend on the formula but I can't see any reason why it would not work.  Peter Reinhart's book Whole Grain Breads has a substitution of sourdough/wild yeast ferment that you can use in place of a biga in his breads and it works quite well, but he also uses 2 tsp. yeast in his final formula. 

There are several threads on this site that discuss the substitution of sourdough for yeast in recipes/formulas. 

For example-

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/5569/converting-recipe-uses-instant-yeast-sourdough-starter-recipe

Enjoy,

Linda

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

You got it!

Slower, more flavorful and adjustable to your taste. 

Tommy gram's picture
Tommy gram

 

Sourdough, Levain, mother, starter, barm.Call it what you will, but once the baker gets the hang of the percentage/time/temperature continuum he knows he can depend on his flour and water turning  into a bubbling frothing ravenous cauldron--fresh and sweet, not sour! Timing timing timing. It does Not earn the sourdough name till the yeast start to run low on fuel, till they have been eating and eating without having been freshened up, stepped on, cut, by a fresh dose of flour and water. 
Tommy gram's picture
Tommy gram

 

Sourdough, Levain, mother, starter, barm.Call it what you will, but once the baker gets the hang of the percentage/time/temperature continuum he knows he can depend on his flour and water turning  into a bubbling frothing ravenous cauldron--fresh and sweet, not sour! Timing timing timing. It does Not earn the sourdough name till the yeast start to run low on fuel, till they have been eating and eating without having been freshened up, stepped on, cut, by a fresh dose of flour and water. 
theresasc's picture
theresasc

It does Not earn the sourdough name till the yeast start to run low on fuel, till they have been eating and eating without having been freshened up, stepped on, cut, by a fresh dose of flour and water.

This just explains so much!  In all the reading that I have been doing on starters, I do not remember seeing anything that explains the changes is flavors so well.  Thanks so much for the information!

spahkee's picture
spahkee

about sourdough - that it had to always be that San Francisco sourdough sharp and tangy flavor.  Now that I've been using the same starter batch from 18 months ago and continuing to revive it, I actually find that the "sourdough" is more often than not sweet and not at all sour.   I think it's a bit of a misnomer to call it sourdough starter for us novice bakers - maybe calling it a "wild yeast" starter might be more appropriate and then to say it can have a more sour taste when these conditions are met ....  xyz.....