San Francisco is widely regarded as the mecca of sour-style bread, though that reputation really has more to do with the culture of bread baking, the high concentration of great bakers, and the stiff competition than any sort of magical bread-baking climate (despite occasional claims to the contrary). What's the state of the scene today? We tasted a dozen different loaves available in San Francisco to get a lay of the land.
'Sourdough' on Serious Eats
Pain d'Avignon is the great New York City bakery hiding in plain sight. It doesn't advertise or otherwise toot its horn. Yet its delicate, crispy rolls fill the breadbaskets at many of the city's top hotels and white tablecloth restaurants. Not bad for three guys from Belgrade who arrived here a little over 20 years ago with only a few dollars in their pockets.
New York has only been baking sourdough for about 40 years, but in that time the artisan bread revolution has given us some wonderful loaves.
The goods that come out of the Scratch Bread ovens are the baked equivalent of one of those Robert Rauschenberg paintings that combines found objects with carefully haphazard splashes of color. Bite into one of their sweet and greasy plantain bread cakes, and you could discover surprises like a whole dried chili pepper or a coffee bean.
The beauty of using starter for waffles is that the starter doesn't have to be completely active to still make a nice waffle. It's used for flavor more than anything else, so a sleepy starter from the fridge or a fiercely bubbling starter on the counter, or a new starter that's not quite ready—they're all just as good.
Have you been cultivating a sourdough starter? Then here's another bread recipe for you. Using more starter as the foundation of your bread will speed up the rising time. You'll also get a little more of that sourdough character in the finished loaf.
If you've been following along with the Starter-Along series, you have a starter at 100 percent hydration in a jar, and you've harvested 4 ounces of that starter around Day 9. At that point, we added 2 ounces of bread flour and 1 ounce of water and let the mixture sit, covered, at room temperature overnight. We'll call that our prepared starter.
So you've got your sourdough starter. Here's how to make pizza out of it. The process takes three days, but it's worth it.
Last week, Eric Asimov’s weekly column in the New York Times and corresponding blog post on The Pour extolled the greatness of one of the most underappreciated wines in the U.S.: sherry. Not only do Americans not drink much sherry, they don’t know much about how it’s made, either. I certainly didn’t until a few months ago, when I was a guest of Bodegas Osborne in Spain and had the chance to visit their vineyards and cellars in El Puerto de Santa Maria south of Seville. After I saw the indigenous yeast at work fermenting the grape juice and the solera system of blending wines from different vintages, I realized that sherry, like a good loaf of sourdough bread, is...
Photograph by Robyn Lee Via Jason Kottke, here's Nelson Minar's take on sourdough bread: It's sour because in the US, particularly in San Francisco, it's hard to buy good bread. About 75% of the decent bread in my grocery store, both fresh baked and industrial, is sourdough. Consumers think sourdough is shorthand for quality. It's not. In fact, sourdough is seldom the appropriate bread for a meal. It makes lousy sandwiches, lousy breakfast, it clashes with cheese. It's good with creamy soups, and it's good plain with butter. But the premium bakeries all push sourdough, and so sourdough becomes synonymous with "good", when it's not. So, serious eaters: What do you think of sourdough? Personally, I side with Minar....
Carl T. Griffith gave his 1847 Oregon Trail sourdough starter away for free to anyone who asked or sent a self-addressed stamped envelope; he passed away in 2000 but his friends are keeping the tradition (and the sourdough starter) alive. If for some reason you'd like your sourdough starter younger or slightly more international, this site will sell you cultures from twelve different countries from Finland ("The wonderful and distinctive flavor and aroma it imparts are truly "indescribable".) to Egypt ("The bakery where this sourdough was found dated straight back to antiquity and was literally in the shadow of the pyramids. This culture could be the progeny of the one that made man's first bread and is similar to the...