The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Are the Gods of Sourdough Aganst Me?

phxdog's picture

Are the Gods of Sourdough Aganst Me?

Creating a sourdough loaf at home like the ones I enjoyed  from my days in San Francisco in the late 60's has been an on-going quest for me. A couple of weeks ago, I searched the forum and found a great recipe for no-knead sourdough bread. I've tried it a couple of times with decent results, but not exactly what I was after.

This last weekend I made another stab at it. Like so many of us, I always seem to 'freelance' a bit with recipes . . . adding or modifying a few ingredients here and there. Maybe that's why I have not completed my quest for the perfect sourdough!

I added abit of malt syrup and some of my rye starter to the mix. When I weighed and added the flour, I had obviously screwed-up in measuring the water. My dough was like soup. So rather than throw the whole batch out, I added flour 'till it 'felt' right then baked the now rather large loaf.

It turned perfect! Great oven spring, thick, golden, crispy/chewy crust, the open crumb and sour flavor I remember from my mis-spent youth! Then I realized that I had no way of exactly duplicating what I had done . . . I just stumbled into the combination of ingredients while trying to correct my mistake with the liquid. I made it to the mountain top but can't find the trail I took.

Anyway, I have not given up. But I can't help but wonder if there is some power somewhere in the universe that is enjoying messing with my head!

GrapevineTXoldaccount's picture

Seriously, those sourdough gods have no mercy.  We struggle, we plot, we scheme, we throw caution to the wind and then what?

Well, we have a great success, we get a bit taller, wiser, and more sure of ourselves, er... our baking skills.  It will happen EVERY time!  But fret not over not knowing the recipe that extruded those results.  Look at what you have gained:

Power!  I'm sure in the midst of that soup you must have been heard muttering something to yourself along the lines of, "OOPS!  What a mess; what am I to do now?"....yeah, I know.  This stuff is written dialog in the annals of all breadmaking notes.  Now you have the courage to move forward knowing that no matter what mess you get your dough into you have the strength to knead forward. 


Kudos to you!

leemid's picture

While I am as entertained as the next guy by the superstitious discussions that let us explain away the unexplainable, I am not in reality superstitious at all.  I wouldn't normally respond to this type of question but feel inclined to do so this morning.  I mean this in the best of ways and warn only so that if I say it poorly you won't take offense, because none is intended.

Who was it that said that insanity is expecting a different result from the same process? Well, a corollary would be to expect the proper result from the wrong process.  I include myself in the crowd that still, at least occasionally, insists that the wrong process should yield the desired result in some aspects of life, but I think I have given that up in bread making.  So here's my comment: you want SF style sourdough (which I love too) and you want to create it using an entirely different process than they use... It doesn't work (gasp!) to your satisfaction so by accident (using a different process) you create something much better than before.  I suspect that your accidental process/recipe is much closer to SF style process/recipe than no-knead (which they don't use).  While it may be possible to create the same taste and feel as traditional SF SD using some other process, it wouldn't be my choice as the direction to go first.  

My guess is that if you could watch the movie of yourself making the preferred bread, you would see a lower hydration level and/or much more gluten manipulation than in the no-knead recipe/process.  My memory tells me that the SD from Boudin's on the wharf in SF is about 57-58% hydration and it gets kneaded pretty thoroughly by machine.  I doesn't have very large hole structure, but rather a tight crumb.  It does have outrageously good flavor that comes from the starter and an over-night chilled retardation.  Watching them in the window as they manipulate the dough suggests it is not overly wet or delicate.

I went there to learn all I could about their bread and took the tour, watched for a long time outside through the window, tasted their bread, bought something in the store... all in the hope of learning how to make THAT bread. Unfortunately it was too early in my success cycle to have learned what I would if I went there now.  Or perhaps I learned what I needed to know and wouldn't learn much of anything now, I don't know.  But I do believe their bread cannot be duplicated without a starter from SF, using a process very similar to theirs; and doing that as closely as I could I did pretty well.  It tasted 95%+ like theirs but had a more open crumb due to a wetter recipe.

Ultimately I have settled on my own recipe and taste.  I make pretty much the same bread every week now and like it every bit as much as theirs.  Truly, I can't side-by-side test to see how closely mine matches theirs but I no longer care because mine is good enough for me and anyone I give it to.  I will say that it seems like it has been a remarkably easy journey getting here and it didn't take too long.  But the truth is I started nearly two years ago and there have been a lot of sad results along the way.

I think the best part of your comments is "'till it 'felt' right" which tells me you have the knowledge/skill built in to get where you want to go.  Trust yourself and practice.  Make bread every week and give away what you can't eat.  Some people won't tell you how it was, some will dutifully tell you it was good, some will tell you how great it is, when it is.  Someday soon you will be able to recreate what you love every time you try.  People will love you for your generosity, beg you to teach them how to make it, and world peace will be ushered in.  Now how can you resist a future like that?

That's my story,


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Mini O

phxdog's picture


Great comments. Believe me, I understand where you are coming from with regard to the folly of attempting to replicate Sourdoughs as made by Boudin's and the like using a method like no-knead. My goal is to capture the taste and texture of a 40-year old memory. So far I have not done it with ANY recipe, traditional or otherwise.

You said it best . . . "Ultimately I have settled on my own recipe and taste.  I make pretty much the same bread every week now and like it every bit as much as theirs." That's where I'm headed. I have made repeated attempts at dozens of recipes (with exactness, no 'free-lancing') and have not yet captured what I'm after. This has resulted in lot of good bread and a few bricks, sometimes from the same recipe! The variations are undoubtably due to inconsistancies on my part or the effects of my kitchen environment. I have adopted several, make them often, and can get repeatable results. Just not what I'm still looking for.

Regardless of what's traditional, or what others have done, If I can find what I'm after using a hybrid of a Sullivan Street Bakery No-knead recipe, one from, or one from The Fresh Loaf, I'll be happy as a clam.

Last week-end I stumbled upon the results I was after. However, because I did not follow a written recipe, I don't have great hopes of repeating those results. Not at this point with my skills, and not with sourdough.

I have a couple of types of bread that I bake everyday; 7 of my 9 kids still live (and eat) at home. With certain loaves, I can get the same reapeatble results, loaf after loaf without measuring. SOMEDAY, I hope to get to that point in my quest to duplicate a 40-year old apparition.

Until then, I will keep working on my sourdough skills and learning from those, like yourself, who are closer to where I want to be (and I will write down any deviations I make for future reference). Thanks for the input!

Phxdog (Scott)