Hi! I have been lurking for a few weeks, ever since I subscribed to this
interesting and informative listserv. The sourdough starter "lore" is
especially fascinating, and I have my own two-cents to add to it.
Regarding increasing the sourness of a starter through various techniques
of feeding it, etc.; I understand that one good way to increase the
starter's sour flavor is to keep it at room-temperature and use it (or
discard a cup and replenish it again ) relatively often, like every
three-four days. (This agrees with those who suggest feeding and using the
starter often, but adds the variable of not allowing it to go dormant in
the refrigerator.) Since all starters get more sour with age, this would
tend to speed up the aging process. Obviously, one would want to keep an
eye on the starter in very hot weather to be sure it doesn't use up all its
nutrients and die.
Regarding getting that elusive "San Francisco Taste"--I agree with Jackie
Link that the best way is to buy San Francisco-type sourdough bread already
baked. The temperature of the ovens, the way steam is injected into them,
and above, all, the particular starter these professional bakeries use seem
impossible to duplicate. I also have three starters, one given me by a
friend, that is three generations old, one that I purchased from the King
Arthur Flour catalog over a year ago, and one that I bought over the
internet a few weeks ago. The flavors of all three are only very subtley
different. I tend to use them all in rotation. A "yeast expert" told me
that every home bread-baker's kitchen has its own individual wild-yeast
spores flying around, and that eventually all the starters will begin to
taste somewhat alike, as these spores mix and match.
I don't have definative scientific proof of this last fact, but it might
explain why my starters end up tasting so similar.
I buy my dried yeast in bulk from the KIng Arthur catalog. They have a
special one formulated not only for bread-makers, but for sourdough breads
in particular. But I really can't tell the difference between this one and
the regular bread-machine dried yeast that they sell.
By the way, thanks for all the great recipes and cook-book recommendations.
- --Emily Woudenberg