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The sourdough difference

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SOURDOUGH Bread PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF DOLLY DY-ZULUETA

Sourdough bread is one of the top food trends that emerged during the lockdowns — from the so-called enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to the general community quarantine (GCQ) periods. Forced to stay home, a lot of people “discovered” baking as a way of spending idle time at home productively and, aside from ube-cheese pandesal, sourdough bread became a baking goal that everyone wanted to — and did — try to make, despite the level of difficulty it presented. It is an impressive piece of bread to pull out from the oven because it looks, feels, smells and tastes sosyal. Round or oblong, crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, sourdough bread is a piece of art in the sense that the baker can actually “etch” a design on its surface with creative slashes of a knife.

Sourdough bread is made by fermenting dough with naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeast, as it uses biological leavening instead of cultivated baker’s yeast. It is the lactic acid in the lactobacilli that gives the bread a sour taste. It keeps well and is a healthier type of bread. For one, it has a relatively low glycemic index (GI), so it is good for diabetics.

The bread is made using a sourdough starter, which is a fermented mixture of flour and water that contains microorganisms such as lactobacilli and wild yeast. As Wikipedia puts it, “The purpose of the starter is to produce a vigorous leaven and to develop the flavor of the bread. In practice, there are several kinds of starters, as the ratio of water to flour in the starter varies. A starter may be a liquid batter or a stiff dough.”

Torta tenerina or sourdough chocolate cake.

The starter is like a “live” yeast that serious bread-makers keep and nurture by feeding regularly. It is used to make sourdough. And while it is serious business to own a starter and bake sourdough bread with it, many have accepted the challenge and happily baked away, either as a hobby or as a business venture. Some neophyte bakers and baking enthusiasts just started this ECQ-to-GCQ period, while others, particularly professional chefs and bakers, have been doing it for years.

One of those who have had a longstanding love affair with the sourdough happens to be chef Alvin Ong, whose Sourdough Café located at the corner of Tomas Morato Avenue and Scout Delgado Street in Quezon City has been churning out sourdough breads —and yes, pastries — from its kitchen every day. Not all breads that the café produces are of the sourdough type, but a lot of them are. It opened its doors to the bread-loving public on 30 July 2019 and has since become known not just for its flagship product, which is Basque burnt cheesecake, but for its sourdough breads.

Sourdough Bomboloni Brulee

Ong works with three sourdough starters. One is a white flour starter called Mother, who is one year and four months old. The other is a rye starter who answers to the name Rye-anna, two months old and born during the ECQ. The third one was created a week after Rye-anna was born. It is a wheat-based starter which goes by the name Wheat-ney. Ong already had Mother even when he was still based at home.

“I took care of it by feeding it daily and using the discard to make breads,” says he.

As for Rye-anna and Wheat-ney, Ong created them during the lockdowns to show his chef de partie how to start and sustain a starter, as well as to improve the bakeshop’s variant breads.

With three sourdough bread starters to work with, the bread-loving chef is able to create new bread variants that make use of each of these starters.

First on the list is the classic sourdough bread, of which Sourdough Café has two basic variants — the 12h and the 40h. The main difference is fermentation time, with the 40h being more lactic. It is made using the white flour starter, same as with Pandesour, which is Ong’s hybrid of sourdough pandesal. The Pandesour is fermented for at least 12 hours.

While the Pain aux Cereales is a blend of white and rye flour, it is made using the rye starter. This is also true with the bakery’s Pain de Campagne, and Rye-anna is also responsible for the production of Torta Tenerina. The latter is a sourdough chocolate cake, a classic Italian flourless chocolate cake made using rye starter.

Pain aux Cereales

Then there is the Sourdough Bomboloni Brulee, an Italian doughnut with custard filling and caramel crust. It is made using Mother, the starter, and is a new sourdough creation that Ong is truly proud of.

But while sourdough breads and pastries dominate Sourdough Café, the bakery also serves non-sourdough breads and food. Its flagship product is Basque burnt cheesecake. Your palate will also thank you if you try white chocolate strawberry scones, ube cheese babka rolls and streuselkuchen (butter rolls with streusel topping).

The place also serves hot meals, such as its famous SRF Wagyu Osso Bucco and Granchi e Gamberi (pasta with crabfat sauce).

The beautiful thing about it is that Sourdough Café delivers both breads and hot meals. Simply leave a message through its Instagram and Facebook accounts or call 0917-1859463 for orders and make delivery arrangements with the store and with a courier or delivery service provider, and freshly baked breads and freshly cooked food comes straight to your doorstep.

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