Home Bread-Bakers v096.n063.8

SF sourdough

Ron Parker <rbparker@henning.cfa.org>
Mon, 2 Dec 1996 08:12:54 -0600
Leonard stein wrote:

>  Thirteen years ago I visited San Francisco and bought a loaf of fresh
>sourdough bread. It was one of the most delicious breads I have ever eaten.
>Since then I have tried to make it using starter from yeast, and a
>commercial (dried) starter from a company in Frisco. Unfortunately I have
>never been able to come close to the original product. Can anyone help me?

Indeed I can.  I have recently learned how to make a bread that is the peer
of the very best SF sourdoughs, and far better than the big bakery
versions.  You will need a good starter.  The dried SF starters are OK as a
beginning.  The starter I am currently using has evolved from a mixing
together of a commercial SF starter and a handmedown Amish starter.  You
will find that no matter what you start with, your starter will become
unique after a few months of use as it picks up new microorganisms from
your kitchen and old ones die off or hybridize, exchange dna and all that
good stuff.

This bread takes in the range of 36-48 hours to make, but most of that time
it is doing things by itself.  The actual baker input is perhaps 20-25
minutes. I make this entirely by hand.

PAIN AU LEVAIN - aka San Francisco Sour Dough bread
yield: one two-pound loaf or two one-pound loaves
Recipe from Ron Parker, rbparker@henning.cfa.org

first you need to make a 'levain' which is the basic sourdough mixture. 
To make a levain you need a 'chef' which is a piece of leftover dough from
the previous batch of levain.  The first time you will need a bit of
sourdough starter from someone else.

1) start the levain:
chef (1/4 C) or any sort of sourdough starter, including dried commercial ones.
1/4 C warm unchlorinated water (botled water or water drwan hot from the tap and
      let sit overnight will do)
1/2 C bread flour (hard winter wheat type - NOT all purpose)

Soften the chef in the water in a mixing bowl, cutting into tiny lumps with
a pair of table knives.   Cut with a knife in each hand with sort of a
scissor motion. Add flour and mix with a fork to form a stiff dough.   This
is step one of levain making.  Leave levain in bowl, cover with some
plastic wrap and let work in a warm place for 5-6 hours or until doubled.

2) finish the levain:
levain start from above
1/2 C warm unchlorinated water
1 1/2 C bread flour

Add water to the levain start,  and use the two table knives to cut the
levain starter into little pieces.   Add 1/2 C of the flour and stir until
fairly smooth.  Add the remaining flour, knead the dough on a floured
surface (or in the bowl) for several minutes until the lumps are gone,
return to the bowl, cover with the plastic wrap and let rise 3-5 hours or
until doubled.

NOTE: Step 2 rising can be done overnight in the refrigerator if desired.

Punch down the risen levain, and remove 1/4 cup as your chef for next time. 
Wrap the chef in plastic wrap and let ferment at room temperature for an
hour or two (until it shows a few bubbles) before putting in refrigerator.
I always have two chefs in the refrig to start a new batch of bread, using
the older one first.  They keep for many weeks.

3) making the dough:
levain from above
3/4 C warm unchlorinated water
2 t pickling salt or kosher salt
2 C bread flour

Chop the levain into pieces with the pair of dinner knives and mix with the
water, stirring to start it dissolving.  Add salt and 1 1/2 C of the flour,
and mix.  Knead the bread on a floured surface, working in the rest of the
flour.  The dough should be smooth and satiny when you are finished.  Don't
skimp on the kneading at this stage.  I usually knead for at least 15
minutes.  The actual amount of flour needed depnds on the humidity, and may
be less in dry indoor winter humidity.  Return to bowl, cover with towel
and let rise for 8-10 hours.

NOTE: This step 3 rising can be done in the refrigerator overnight if you
 wish instead of doing that in step 2..

4) final rising of loaves:

Gently cut into two pieces to make two 1 pound loaves or leave in one piece
for a crowd-sized loaf.  Form into round loaves (loaf) by patting inward
from the lower sides with both hands.  Place loaves (loaf) gently on a
bread peel generously coated with cornmeal.  Dust tops lightly with flour
from a sifter, cover with a dry, floured towel, then plastic.  Let rise
until loaves are doubled.  Slash top surface with a razor blade - a
wallpaperer's knife with the break off ends works great too.  Let loaves
rest about 5-10 minutes after slashing.   Slide off peel onto a baking
stone in a 450 degree oven for about 25 minutes or until loaves sound
hollow when thumped on the bottom and are golden brown.    The crust will
be crisper if you have a pan of hot water on the lowest rack in the oven to
generate steam.  You can also use a spray bottle to squirt water into the
hot oven.  San Francisco sourdough is generally less crispy than
traditional French pain au levain, so I generaly don't bother with the water.

Let cool on wire rack when done.

I usually do step 2 rising in the refrig all night.  Alternately you can do
step 3 rising in the refrig.  If you do, it will take a bit longer for the
loaves to rise, because they are cold to start with.  You will have to try
a few loaves to get your timing down right for your kitchen.  Even the
'imperfect' loaves will taste good, so eat them as you try the next round
of baking.  Also, the length of the rising steps affects the sourness of
the final product, and you can adjust to find what is just right for you
and the sourdough culture that you are using.

I suppose the loaves could rise on a cookie sheet rather than a bakers peel,
but I've never tried that.  I think the baking stone is important, but who
knows?  As for times, you'll have to experiment a bit.  Of course amounts
of flour are iffy too, depending on the humidity where the flour is stored.

If you don't eat the bread right away, store it in a freezer.  With no
preservatives it doesn't keep freshness too well otherwise.  I often
underbake the bread to a brown-and-serve stage, freeze, then finish baking
a short time before serving.

I think you will be amazed how good this bread is once you try it a few
times and get a feel for the steps.  I have received glowing compliments
from many French and French-Canadians who at first refused to believe that
I did not buy the bread flown in from Paris.  This bread makes the products
from Colombo, Parisian and the like seem like amateurish attempts.  Make
this stuff for guests and you will be a breadmaking legend in your own time

Ron Parker, 1996