Saturday, April 10, 2010
I suppose I should face up to it. As long as there is internet, there will be recipes to discover and experiment with. I keep finding new ones or twists on old ones. One that it intrigues me is sourdough. I had discovered that a sourdough culture is necessary to have a sourdough bread or pizza dough. So I googled sourdough starters and a whole new science was there to be explored. I had never heard of such a thing. I guess the conversations at a tailgate meeting with employees or standing 30 feet up on a ladder aren't conducive to 'what does anyone knows about sourdough starters?' Now remember, I'm the same guy who didn't know yeast was a living thing. These cultures apparently were highly guarded and very secretive. Some of these cultures have been kept alive for hundreds of years. When the 49ers came to California in search of gold not superbowl rings, some were called sourdoughs. I never knew why I just figured they probably smelled like sour dough. Indeed they did! On a cold night these sourdough miners would sleep with their cultures to keep them alive and warm. Myths were perpetuated about the sourdough cultures to protect them. Stories are told that the flavor comes from the water in that region and specifically I'm talking about the most famous cultures of them all, San Francisco. The fact is that it comes from the air. That's where the cultures are most likely blown in from the ocean that gives San Francisco its own unique taste. A bread cannot be called San Francisco Sourdough unless it is actually from an authentic San Francisco sourdough culture. Much like wines from Napa must be of Napa grapes, not from another appalachia.
Back to pizza though and you can see where this is going. Introduce an authentic San Francisco sourdough into my nearly perfect pizza dough and I think Nirvana would be within reach. However, I still need an authentic sourdough culture of San Franciscan origin, not style, as there are fakes, but you would want it from the mother lode of San Francisco sourdoughs themselves. I know you can hear the theme song to 'Mission Impossible' in the back of your head. Not anymore! This is beginning to sound like an ad for Google but there they are: Authentic San Francisco Sourdough yeast cultures right where you would expect to find them, in Idaho. We called the aging Ed Wood in Idaho. Not the same Ed Wood that made famous Hollywood disasters like 'Plan 9 From Outer Space', or at least I don't think he is. Anyway, we bought some Italian yeast as well as the authentic SF sourdough yeast cultures.
This is where it starts becoming scientific. We built a couple of these proofing boxes from styrofoam ice chests with a light bulb, a dimmer switch and a thermometer probe. When you receive the yeast it's in a dry form. You have to activate it by feeding it regularly with mixtures of flour, water red meat, shoe leather and moustache wax. OK, the last 3 things I made up but you do have to feed it and it grows into a blob under controlled conditions. You split it and feed again. I had read stories about people cutting their vacation short to jet home to feed their dough starters. I'm not that crazy yet. Others have named it and call it their pet. Remember it is a living thing! Our first bread experiment is happening as I write this. We are baking our first Italian sourdough to practice before we tackle the holy grail of sour doughs and anxiously waiting for a success. If it is, then my pizza dough is the next thing to be converted and I believe I can truly call the dough recipe mine.