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Sourdough is a pretty wide classification, often known as Sourdough, Artisan and Hearth Bread Recipes. The breads get their name from the fact that both the dough and bread have a pronounced acidity, wheatiness, and other characteristics produced by a pre-ferment, known as a Sourdough Starter, created over time, from a recipe of essentially flour and water you cultivate in your home kitchen. It eventually becomes propagated with wild (natural) yeast and bacteria (lactobacilli), is maintained over time, and continued for the purpose of leavening.
A portion of Sourdough culture is added to the rest of the bread's ingredients and produces bread has an interior crumb and exterior crust that are unique and has a tangy or wheaty flavor that is multidimensional and complex. Sourdough bread may or may not have a sour flavor depending on the acids produced by the specific strains of lactobacilli that are involved in the fermentation process. We usually think of the classic sour San Francisco style sourdough bread as the quintessential type, but the Pain au Levain (French), has a has a rich, complex flavor and is generally not sour. It is generally fermented at cool temperatures. The firmer consistency and cool temperature fermentation of a levain promotes the development of lactic rather than acidic acids.
SARAH SAYS: The San Francisco Sourdough is a made from a starter that contains a specific strain of bacteria (Lactobacillus sanfrancisco), found only in the San Francisco Bay area. It is responsible for the bread's unique characteristics, found nowhere else.
The crumb of bread made with a Sourdough starter in unique, too. It can be almost spongelike, filled with irregular air holes laced with a network of thin strands, with a cavelike coolness to it and is moist but does not mold readily. It can be surrounded by a crackly outer crust, where most of the caramelized flavor and the tang of fermentation lie, or with a smoother, less-crusty one, with wheatier, or sometimes with fruitier flavor notes.