The Sour Dough Story

by Jane Mason Cooking & Eating

Sour dough is just that:  dough that has gone off and is therefore “sour”.  You can use it in two ways:

1.  As a flavouring.

When you use sour dough as a flavouring, you use it as an ingredient to make basic, yeasted bread.  That is to say, you add about a tablespoon of old dough to the bread you are mixing up and you rise it and bake it according to the recipe.  When you do this, your bread has a pleasant tangy flavour, a more moist and close texture, and it keeps a wee bit better.  The sour dough in this example will not make the bread rise on it’s own.  It is an addition to a loaf that has yeast and, in this case, it is the yeast that causes the bread to rise.

If you want to try this, keep a tablespoon of dough back the next time you make an ordinary, yeasted loaf of bread.  It will keep in the fridge, stored in an airtight container, for a couple of weeks.  Then, when you next make bread, don’t forget to include this old dough.  You will notice a difference in taste, texture, and moisture levels.

2.  As a completely different kind of bread – one that requires no yeast.  It is this kind of sour dough that will be discussed in the “no yeast” section of my book.

I like to think of people who had no access to yeast, enabling themselves to make bread by using an active sour dough.  In my mind’s eye, I see them in remote communities, or travelling long distances in lonely places.  With a bit of flour and a bit of water, you can make a viable “starter” that, once mixed with more flour, water, and salt makes a delicious and satisfying loaf of bread.

The benefits of eating sour dough bread include:

  1. It’s texture.  Sour dough bread is dense and chewy.  You can sit on a sour dough loaf and it will not change shape!  These loaves are not all hot air.  In fact, there is hardly any air at all!
  2. It’s nutritional value.  Sour dough bread takes between 6-12 hours to rise, depending on the grain that is used.  Rye takes less time, for example, than wheat.  During this time, it is thought that the nutrients in the flour are transformed so they are easier for us to absorb, we absorb more of them and we absorb them more completely than we do with a faster rising bread.
  3. It’s flavour.  For those who like it, the distinctive sour flavour of sour dough is preferable to that of a yeasted loaf – or at least makes a nice change.
  4. It’s lasting quality.  Because sour dough bread, by nature, is “damp”, one loaf seems as fresh after 4-5 days as on the day it was made.

True sour dough is a kind of new idea here in the UK although it is a staple in other parts of the world (the Nordic Countries, Germany, Russia and San Francisco to name a few).  Through baking , teaching and blogging I hope to develop a sour dough culture here in the UK too.  Yum!