See that loaf above? Beautiful right? It has a nice, sour taste to it that’s perfectly balanced with the rest of the flavor profile. To most people who’d eat it, they’d think that it’s a loaf of sourdough bread. But it’s not. It was started with a poolish I made the previous day. So technically, based on the accepted convention, my bread really isn’t sourdough… or is it?
Traditional sourdough is made from a culture where wild yeasts and bacteria work together to leaven a dough. The result is that the bacteria produce both lactic and acetic acid which provide the sour taste. Bakers yeast, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as tolerant to acidic environments. But it can leaven a dough all by its lonesome.
So given that my poolish bread was started with bakers yeast, how does that account for the sour taste of my bread? The only thing I can think of is that since I do a long ferment of my poolish – like 18 to 24 hours – the wild yeasts and lactic acid bacteria have time to develop and make a contribution to the fermentation process. And given that I literally start my poolish with less than 1/2 gram of yeast (literally 0.4 gram), there’s plenty of room for the wild yeasts to do their thing, which in turn help to feed the bacteria.
And this is where it gets a little interesting. The bakers yeast kicks off the process, but the environment may become too acidic for it. I’m kind of wondering if it actually gets killed off when the dough becomes acidic. The reason I say this is because a notable trait of a traditional sourdough is that fermentation takes a long time. My poolish bread takes several hours to go through bulk fermentation. The dough for the loaf above took almost six hours to get through bulk fermentation! That’s right in line with using a sourdough starter.
So this gets back to the question: Is sourdough a taste, or is it a technique? Or maybe I’m just full of crap. After all, I did recently write that I just want to make great bread. I love the fact that my poolish bread imparts a distinct sour flavor to add to the overall flavor profile of the finished loaf. And I’ve done it enough now where I can reproduce it every time. But in the end, what makes it a great loaf is the process. So yeah… technique…