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Sourdough Bread: It’s All About the Dough
Sourdough just might have been the world’s first leavened bread. Go ahead and dig a little deeper into the crusty loaf’s history.
Arising from what was perhaps a millennia-old accident, sourdough’s unmistakable flavor has become a staple in bakeries and restaurants around the world. When baked, the dough releases a slight tang, the product of busy microorganisms, which also contribute to a flaky crust and the chewy, air-pocketed interior. Historians speculate that dough was mistakenly left out by a baker in ancient Egypt, who discovered a new and unexpected treat: the very first leavened bread. Though the specifics of sourdough’s origins are unclear, what is apparent is the importance of a good starter.
A sourdough starter, typically a blend of flour and some sort of sugar, is an ideal home for microorganisms found in the air. Naturally occurring wild yeasts collect and settle into the batter, and gleeful lactobacilli, the same organisms that give pickles their sour taste, set to work. Starter must be stirred and fed with more flour to sustain the bacteria, and a good batch can thrive for more than century, acquiring more tanginess over the years. “With all the variables at play in your kitchen and in your life, a trusty jar of sourdough starter may be that one thing that you can rely on: passed among kitchens and between generations, leavening bread after bread,” says Amy Scattergood, a food writer who described her own quest for the perfect starter in the Los Angeles Times. “That alone makes it magical.” This centuries-old method ultimately becomes the key component in crusty loaves of bread, tart confections, and even pancakes.