The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Super Sour Sourdough à la Pal

PalwithnoovenP's picture

Super Sour Sourdough à la Pal

Sourdough: sweet or sour, I like it but each have its own place where it shines and complements whatever it was paired with. A pairing that is greater than the sum of its parts; the bread and its pair become exponentially more delicious that if one was to eat each one separately and alone. I was focused for a long time in baking mild sourdoughs because my parents do not like sour breads and I haven't met anyone with a greater or at least the same "Sour Threshold" as mine. My sourest loaf for them is still mild for me and for my favorite combination a super sour bread is the order for the best experience.

Recently, I was inspired by Lechem with a post on A lesson in bringing out the tang but I took it to the extreme with my wild style. There are a lot of techniques for getting a more sour bread like manipulating time and temperature and altering the flour and liquid makeup of the bread including Uncle Dab's bran levain and bran water as liquid in the levain originally done and explored by Doc.Dough but finding whole grains in my area is still a hit and miss for me so all of the tang of this bread was coaxed from all white flour. I decided to preferment a greater quantity of flour as said by Hamelman and ferment it cold and slow. 

I also took a page from Abel's book; that is the super levain which is super enlightening since that prefermented flour considered an insane amount by conventional knowledge appears to have no ill effects on the dough. I bake with a lot of uncommon ingredients especially for those who grew up in the bread baking world but sometimes my purist side as a baker comes through occasionally wanting to make bread using only flour, water, yeast and salt. I don't want this bread to be one dimensional sour but have a complex taste with the tang taking center stage. I also want the tang profile to be 2/5 acetic acid and 3/5 lactic acid or a 40/60 acetic-lactic acid ratio. Here's what I did based on different sources and my own experiences.

My starter has been retarded for 3 months already but no matter how long it stays there; once I feed it, it loses its tang. My tangiest loaf used a levain built in 2 stages 12 hours each; tangy for sure but I want a bit more so from that I modified the process a bit. 66% of the flour was prefermented in 3 builds with each build almost doubling the amount of flour and the final build retarded in the fridge for 3 full days, I mean 72 hours. In my case, instead of doing a single "big build" with the same amount of prefermented flour that will make my starter lose more of its potential tang, I think the secret is to let the final acid build-up get to the maximum in each build for getting that sour flavor to the maximum too.

Here is the levain after 3 days in the fridge. I used bread flour from the very beginning since it is better for long and in this case very long fermentation. It was very firm before fermentation but its now sticky with a wonderful whole structure. The smell was very sour enough to trigger a sensation at the back of my mouth. I used it directly from the fridge since things come to room temperature here quite fast. 

Given the sticky nature of the huge amount of prefermented flour and some gluten degrading, I used very little water for the final dough just enough to let it come together as a dough with the additional bread flour. I made a 30 minute autolyse at room temperature before adding the salt. I decided to go the dabrownman and alfanso route and gave the dough 300 slap and folds (with one hand since the dough is small enough) then 3 sets of stretch and folds 20 minutes apart. In fear of overfermentation, I refrigerated the dough after the second stretch and fold (after 40 minutes at room temp.) the complete the final one when dough is cold.

I gave it a preshape at night then into the fridge again until the following morning for the final shaping and proofing.

I shaped it directly from the fridge and to keep it from spreading because I was afraid of the vigorous microbial and enzymatic activities, I proofed it in a container taller than it is wide. Because of being overly careful about the fermentation time I made a huge mistake!

When I pressed it after 2 hours at room temp. I felt it was very soft and giving in without much resistance. I immediately fired up the clay pot and when it was ready and I turned the dough onto a banana leaf, boy it was way underproofed! It quickly springs back when pressed, not wanting to waste the fire, I slashed the dough and proceeded to bake it anyway.

The smell was very sour and vinegary before baking. Never have I encountered such thing with all of my sourdoughs. I baked it for a long time so long that I cannot remember. I also used embers for the most part because the pebbles packs a lot of heat.

Crust evenly browned with a few very boldly baked spots and full of blisters.

Crumb definitely underproofed to me but not underfermented. :)

My conlusions:

1. This bread can take slightly more water for an even softer crumb and better handling qualities.

2.  I can afford a little more fermentation time both during bulk and the final proof with no ill effects. I was surprised how strong the dough felt given the activities in the dough.

3. I can still up the prefermented flour.

In case you want to try this method. Here is a timeline of what I did:

66% of the flour was prefermented. Divide this amount into 12. (I am not very good in math so I will not write in simplest form to avoid confusion). You can do this at any hydration (this is closer to 62-65%) you wish and make your own adjustments especially with the timings.

23:45 W- Refreshment Build- Inoculate 1/12 of the flour with a teaspoon of stock starter. Knead with enough water to achieve a firm consistency.
11:45 Th- Intermediate Build- All of the refreshment build plus 3/12 of the flour and enough water to yield a firm dough.
23:45 Th- Souring Build- All of the intermediate build plus the remaining (8/12) flour and enough water to make a firm dough.
08:00 F- Retard the final build for 72 hours.
08:00 M- Add the remaining (34% of total) flour and remaining water. Autolyse for 30 minutes.
08:30 M-  Add the salt (perhaps it can take as high as 2.5%) and mix it in. Give 300 slap and folds.
09:00 M- Stretch and fold at 20 minute intervals.
09:40 M- Refrigerate final dough.
10:00 M- Give final stretch and fold and refrigerate again.
20:00 M- Preshape and refrigerate again.
10:00 T- Final shaping and proof for 2 hours in a cloth lined container dusted with cornstarch.
12:00 T- Turn onto a banana leaf, bake then cool completely before slicing.

Crust was crunchy but became a bit chewy after cooling. Crumb was soft like it was made with AP even though made with BF and was underfproofed. Very fragrant of banana leaves with a deeply caramelized aroma and notes of vinegar. Taste was complex, wheaty but with no perceived sweetness. The tang really came through; very very tangy with the desired tang profile of 40/60 acetic-lactic taste. It brushes the lower limits of mouth puckering when eaten alone. This is a bread that is not for everyone but only for sour bread lovers but this bread was also not meant to be eaten alone; it was made to highlight the taste of specific food items: peanut butter for me. I was so glad with how this one turned out. Had this bread been proofed right, the results would be even more outstanding. It's nice to know that I can manipulate the flavors of sourdough. I'm curious on how this one would taste with whole grains in it and what modifiers shall I add to the name of this bread because it will be even tangier.

My parents who do not like sour breads (in fact, they did not like this when they first tasted this but..) agreed with the peanut butter magic! The sourness of the bread complements the sweetness and slight saltiness of the peanut butter (Our first time also to try crunchy peanut butter. Where was this gem for many years?! Even better than the smooth one.) extremely well elevating the taste of each other to whole new levels for a sublime experience.

Toasted with a thick schmear of peanut butter.


Yippee's picture

Beautiful boule! Pal, 你很厲害喔!I'd like to see how increased hydration and fermentation would improve this bread. Keep us posted!

happy baking


PalwithnoovenP's picture

Me too! I'll make a bigger loaf nex time. I like to even try it with other baked goods that will benefit form the sour like bagels of course to be schmeared with peanut butter. :)

isand66's picture

Nice bake and great looking crust.

I think you're right about it being slightly underproofed.  I did the opposite today and overproofed the dough.

Happy Baking.


PalwithnoovenP's picture

I always think it's better to underproof but this time it was too much! :) 

dabrownman's picture

to make another loaf without an oven like you do all the time!  I've been wanting too after I scorched the bottom on the least one when the rest of it was so mice.  As fast as dough proofs there i would think that you could keep the fire going for another 15 minutes or so and that would be like a half hour proof here.  Well now you have a baseline to work with and get it just right next time.  Making bread as sour as you like when you want to is a real treat.  Lucy likes this one too.

Well done and Happy baking Job

PalwithnoovenP's picture

The crumb of that loaf was so open. I'm excited if you will give that bread another shot and improving it. Thanks!