Sour dough bread is one of the most distinct smells and flavors in the bread world. It is also an ancient baking method. Turns out, sour dough bread is about 3000 years old – the ultimate traditional method, right? Some would have us Americans believe it was “invented” in San Francisco during the Gold Rush, but that isn’t the case. As it turns out, since yeast wasn’t really popularized in baking until about 150 years ago, all breads prior to that were made with a sour dough starter of some type. Very interesting stuff! I have included some links at the end of this post for further reading, because there is literally a book that could be written on this subject.
One well known trait of sour dough is the starter can be saved and used for years. There is a lot of Gold Rush lore about sour dough and how it was used, shared and protected. According to legend miners would keep their starter in a pouch worn around their necks, leading to the nickname “Sourdough” for experienced miners. Enterprising bakers could make a fortune in bread, bypassing the gold digging altogether. Some bakers supposedly claimed that the climate of the San Francisco area was the only place sour dough bread could be baked, however we know that to be false. There is even a specific bacteria culture tracked to San Francisco, named L. sanfranciscensis. Sour dough bread being a staple of miners took it to Alaska during the Yukon Gold Rush and into Canada as well. People in the 1980s were sharing their starter with each other due to a Renaissance of artisanal baking and the fun of making bread at home. If you have ever baked bread of any kind, you know well that the texture of home baked bread is very different from the mass produced loaves available at the local grocery. Even bread baked at a bakery has a different texture from the square loaves. This is due to the absence of the many preservatives needed to mass produce long lasting bread. “Real bread” – as my husband would call it – doesn’t last more than a few days. His parents owned a bakery so he should know. :-) But he is right. Home baked bread and bakery bread lack the preservatives that allow mass produced bread loaves to last up to a month while retaining softness and flavor. Sour dough bread has a stiffer texture and can have air holes within the loaf brought about due to the fermenting of the dough. There is also some speculation that sour dough bread may be beneficial for people who are gluten intolerant due to the absence of gluten development in the dough.
So, here we have a recipe claiming to be sour dough, but it uses yeast. My best guess about that is that the chefs at Betty Crocker wanted to ensure a nicely risen French style loaf that had a kick of sour dough flavor. For a true sour dough starter, you can make it with boiled potatoes or simply flour & water that is allowed to ferment. I’ll put a couple links to starters at the end as well.
San Francisco Sour Dough French Bread (Betty Crocker)
1/4 c milk
1/2 c water
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 package dry yeast in 1/4 c warm water
2 tsp salt
2 1/3 c flour
Stir. Let stand in a warm place 12-18 hours
1/2 c milk
1 c water
1 1/2 tsp vegetable oil
1 package dry yeast mixed in 1/4 c water
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 3/4 c flour
2 tbsp starter dough
Put flour in a bowl. Make a well, add other things. Do not knead. Stir. Cover. Let rise. Sprinkle table with flour. Turn out 1/2 your dough. Do not knead. Roll up tightly, sealing edges and rolling to taper ends. Cut a few times across top. Let rise. Heat oven to 425º. Bake 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350º – bake 15-20 min longer. Brush top with white of egg mixed with 1 tbsp cold water. Bake 5 min longer. Cool in a draft.
Sourdough history via wikipedia
Boudin Bakery’s story of San Francisco Sourdough via SF Travel
The History of Sourdough Bread via the Sourdough School
The History of Sourdough via the Kitchen Project – includes a starter recipe
The Rise and Rise of Sourdough Bread via The Guardian
Sourdough Starter via King Arthur Flour