Machines do the mixing; you craft the loaves

Our daily bread: easier than you think!
James Carrier
Our Centennial Sourdough bread.
Bread machine recipes:   In 1993, we made our first sourdough in a bread machine, producing a good loaf baked in the machine’s pan. Today’s machines with dough cycles give even better results. The machines can mix and knead sourdough’s hard-to-handle wet dough to perfection ― the secret of resilient, springy bread. Then you can hand-shape the dough for baking.
Sunset has been covering the tangy topic of sourdough since July 1933, starting with recipes for bread, biscuits, pancakes, and muffins. During the next few years, articles included recipes passed down from Gold Rush miners and accounts that blended fact and fantasy. Every reporter held an opinion. “Sour dough flapjacks,” wrote a poetic 1943 commentator, “work better in the open, particularly in the high mountains. When you bring them down into civilization they pine away like a sheep dog.” Early recipes were charmingly vague, and authors brazen: “Notice the indifference I have for exact measurements!” and “Sour dough is an art, not a science.” Such cavalier approaches often resulted in a highly hostile sourdough starter, then the bread’s sole leavener. “Listen to the hissing noise, and when you know the mixture is working ‘good,’ keep it from acting like an atomic bomb as you stir appeasingly every day,” cautioned a writer in 1947. No doubt those early stories produced luscious loaves ― some of the time. But more than a quarter of a century ago, Sunset food writers realized a quality starter was vital for foolproof results and turned to UC Davis food technologist George K. York, who had pioneered research with the USDA for commercial bakeries to determine what made sourdough, well, sour. In the process, he debunked a few popular myths. For example, good sourdough is not unique to San Francisco ― even though the city is renowned for sourdough bread. And most important, sourdough is not activated by wild yeasts captured from the air. In reality, sourdough’s action and flavor come from bacteria. York found that the bacteria in early starters actually came from the flours brought by Italian immigrants. He then identified similar bacteria in yogurt that produce a reliable sourdough starter. This triumphant breakthrough was published in Sunset in 1973. But our food writers continued to fiddle with starters, learning what they like to eat and how to keep them happy. Findings published in 1988 included the dramatic resuscitation of a starter neglected for a year and a half. And so we introduce Sunset’s  Centennial sourdough bread.
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