It's official: San Francisco style sourdough based on Dan Lepard's recipe is the tastiest, loveliest and liveliest sourdough of all. It's my definite number one.
My number one sourdough is San Francisco style loaf. Here it is, made from scratch, and it is an absolute beauty.
You might be familiar with the technique of making the San Francisco starter which involves making a dough ball, letting it crust up, breaking the crust and scooping out the insides, of which there will be very little, and I don’t recall what you subject the poor flour and water to next, but it sure resembles witchcraft doctor’s practice.
The best San Francisco sourdough recipe
This is completely different: the only unusual are several ingredients not common in ordinary sourdough like apple juice, yoghurt and raisins.
The recipe comes from ‘Baking with Passion’ by Dan Lepard and Richard Whittington. I’ve scaled down the original enormous amounts to make it work for two loaves as I never like to chuck out perfectly good surplus starter.
It's the kind of recipe that makes people's eyebrows go up incredulously: what? apple juice, milk and yoghurt? I was certainly like that at first. But the proof of the sourdough is a slice slathered with butter making you immediately cut another one. In a nutshell - it works extremely well.
San Francisco starter
It is a little troublesome because I wouldn't skip the fifteen minutes' beating with a mixer, or a large wooden spoon and a very strong arm. Also, it might be sluggish on day one, but don’t let that discourage you. It will still go crazy on day two unless you're very unlucky.
The refreshment is yoghurt and milk, plus more flour. At this stage the raisins need to be discarded, bar one or two. Dan Lepard says to sieve it through a colander but the dough is too thick for that: you risk an awful mess and losing some of the mixture on and around the colander. It's best to use a slotted spoon and patiently scoop out the raisins a couple at a time.
Maintaining the starter
The refreshment also works to feed the starter kept in the fridge, and it doesn't need feeding very often. A couple of days before planned baking scoop 100g of the old starter from the fridge and beat in 200g bread flour and 200g milk and yoghurt mixture at room temperature, thus allowing to have surplus starter to keep going.
It needs about 5 hours to ferment and develop but I usually leave it overnight in ambient temperature, a colder room for instance. There is enough to occupy me while making dough so whatever can be stretched over two days is a good plan.
Starting with a very runny mix of half the flour and no salt, if using a stand mixer you tackle it with a paddle attachment and beat the living daylights out of it. I must admit I never tried doing it by hand but it must be quite a challenge.
After adding the rest of the flour and salt, it's kneading as normal: with a dough hook attachment or those very strong arms I mentioned earlier.
But the best is to come: stretching and folding this dough is pure pleasure.
Stretch and fold
It is a little diffreent to the mechanics of S&F those conversant in sourdough know. The dough, once kneaded into smoothness, rests on a floured tray covered with a damp towel, somewhere warm.
After an hour all we do is fold it once in half and twice in the opposite direction; like a freshly washed towel folded by an obsessive (me!). Next it's sent to rest again for an hour and the exercise is repeated twice again so the dough gets three S&F sessions every hour.
Every time it looks and feels more and more marvelous, billowing and warm, like a live creature. It is my all-time favourite sourdough moment!
How to bake San Francisco loaf
I'm presenting below two different baking methods, each works well. One: the loaf proven in a banneton for a relatively short time goes into a preheated Dutch oven (a cast iron dish with a lid). Placing it in the baneton seam side down eliminates the need to slash the top of the dough when handling really hot container: the seam will split naturally, albeit not beautifully.
The second method is baking the loaf on a bread or pizza stone, or a heavy baking sheet.This time I let the loaf rise twice in volume before tipping it gently directly onto the stone/sheet, or onto parchment which then slides into the oven. This time the loaf top wants to be slashed and the oven sprayed with water.
What of the outcome – bread baked in the cast-iron dish is perhaps slightly less crusty and chewy than the open baked one. On the other hand the shorter rise saves time and the loaf is better formed.
And the final word – it does taste incredible.
Can it rise in the fridge overnight?
This bread is absolutely best when made all on one day: kneading, folding, shaping and baking. If you retard the dough in bulk in the fridge overnight, or shaped loaves, or both, the oven spring will be much smaller and the crumb not as open. The technique that works so well with Tartine sourdough, making it over three days, is of the last resort in this case.
Can you use wholemeal flour?
Again, yes but with not such a good outcome. Sourdough hardly tastes like white bread anyway and the fermentation makes it nutritionally beneficial so stick to white strong bread flour.
Can you use the starter in other sourdough recipes?
Absolutely! It's gorgeous and will work in any recipe that requires starter at around 100% hydration. And a tip: add a couple of raisins to any starter or refreshment you make. The fermentation will love the sugars from them!