lessons in baking san francisco sourdough

Sour flour dough development class

My husband’s gained a few pounds over the past few weeks. Sorry honey, but I think I know why–and it has less to do with the holidays than it does my new-found ability to bake homemade sourdough bread.

It began back in April when I started reading this amazing book on artisan bread. I read it, purchased every necessary item I could possibly need to start baking my own sourdough, and then never did.

Well, I tried, but I couldn’t figure out how to keep my sourdough baby–which some might call a sourdough starter–alive. RIP little yeast babies.

Then back in November, just before the holiday chaos began, I got a second chance. I had the opportunity to attend a Dough Development Workshop taught by a local sourdough diva, Cat Shimizu of Sour Flour, at a local bakery here in the city.

In the short 2 hour class, Cat explained everything from how to feed our sourdough starters (I took notes this time!) to the, albeit weird, science of flavor development. She shared her equipment essentials and then showed us the all-important mixing, stretching and baking techniques. We got our hands messy, threw a lot of flour around and at the end, had 8 beautiful loaves to devour. I think we demolished 2 entire loaves, along with half a bottle of olive oil, before stepping foot outside of the bakery that night.

With a fresh loaf in one hand and a living, bubbling sourdough starter in the other, I went home from the dough development workshop determined to bake bread. And based on the opening lines of this post, you can all probably guess how it’s been going. The best part is–well maybe not the best for our waistlines–I’m getting better.

I’ve started photographing a Sourdough Baking 101 series and plan to share everything I’m learning, loaf by loaf, on the blog, but if you have the chance to take a dough development class likes this, do it. Check to see if your local bakery offers a workshop, or get a bunch of friends to convince them to do it. If you’re in San Francisco, even just for a visit, take one of Cat’s workshops! You’ll love it. There’s something wonderful about sticking your hands into a mess of flour and water and learning as you go that you just can’t get from a cookbook–no matter how much those photos make you drool.

And now, 5 random things you probably don’t know about sourdough: 

1. Sourdough babies (i.e. starters) eat flour and are fed on a schedule. Kind of like real babies only less often, thank goodness.

2. Scoring the dough just before baking releases carbon dioxide from the wild yeast as they heat up during the first 10 minutes, something also known as “oven spring”.

 steam to escape and doubles as the baker’s artisan signature. Mine was a Z, not much different from Zoro’s, and I must say it makes one badass looking loaf of bread.

3. Yeast gives gas. Bacteria adds flavor. I know, I try not to dwell too long on that one either.

4. It’s best to bake with a young starter–6-8 hours from the last feeding. Sounds cruel, doesn’t it?

5. Before grabbing the bread knife, knock on the bottom of your baked sourdough loaf. If it’s hollow sounding, you’re good to dig in!

Sourdough bread baking: Ever tried it? Killed your sourdough baby too? Interested in a 101 series on the blog? Let me know!

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  • I’m just catching up on your posts – but I support this! Please share your wisdom, I need to make sourdough – my wallet begs me to.

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    • Awesome! Yeah the book is great but I definitely felt overwhelmed by all of the different recipes and methods… It’s helped sticking with one and playing around with the method a bit every time I bake!

  • Hey Elle! I found your blog over the weekend and fell in love with it! And I’m glad that I did, because I spent much of the weekend snowed in. Be glad that you’re in sunny California! I’ve never heard of sourdough babies…that doesn’t even sound real, haha, but I’m glad your baking lessons ended in success!

    • Hi Amy! So happy you found the blog! And glad it could keep you entertained while you were stuck at home this weekend. What freezing part of the country are you in? I’m heading to the mountains next week to get my fix of cold and snow. I’m sure you’d be happy to trade places!

      • I’m in Connecticut, so it isn’t as bad here as they’re getting it in Chicago, but it’s still been ridiculous! Enjoy the mountains – that’s the best kind of snow!

  • Every since I saw the picture of the sourdough bread on your IG , I have been waiting anxiously for this 101 series! So exciting! I didn’t realize there was so much to making sourdough bread! Can’t wait!

    • Don’t worry! If I can keep the starter alive now, you’ll certainly be able to as well. Stay tuned!