Updated: Jul 31, 2019
In New Orleans, this bread is kind of sacred. The key to good po' boy bread is a crispy, light brown crust that cracks but doesn't shatter when you bite into it. Achieving this result with your sourdough starter is very possible!
I wanted to take the simplest approach to make this bread so that I could achieve the desired traits: crisp, golden crust and a super soft and slightly sweet interior. When you eat a po' boy, you don't want the bread to stand out more than what's inside of it. However, I think that my fascination with sourdough comes from the fact that you can make things more flavorful and healthier without jeopardizing the integrity and purpose of the bread. This bread needs to hold the juices and weight of my sandwich and not break apart too badly when I eat it.
NOTE: This bread does not need to be baked on a hot stone or cast iron!
You can get an amazing result on a sheet pan with parchment paper. In fact, most po' boy bread institutions use rotating convection ovens. I use a pizza stone in my home oven.
What You'll Need For Levain Build (This build makes more than you need)
100 grams mature sourdough starter
50 grams King Arthur Organic Whole Wheat Flour
150 grams King Arthur Organic Bread Flour
170 grams warm water
What You'll Need (Final Mix)
500 grams King Arthur Organic Bread Flour
500 grams King Arthur Organic All-Purpose Flour
20 grams Kosher Salt
200 grams levain
700 grams warm water
50 grams white sugar sugar
The first thing to note is that I add sugar. In my experience, this allows me to achieve a golden brown and flaky crust. The sugar also adds a slight sweetness to the flavor profile which is already complex due to the levain.
First thing you'll need to do is build your levain by mixing together the above amounts for the levain build. Since I incorporate a lot of mature starter into the mix, it is ready to use in about 3-4 hours, when it is in its "young" stage. You'll know it's ready to use, not just because of the volume increase, but because when you pull at it you can see a web-like structure has developed. This is my cue to start mixing. Thus, you have to keep an eye on the structure and not just rely strictly on the clock. My ambient temperature is usually between 72-75 degrees Fahrenheit at home.
Here are the steps you need to follow:
Add all of the water into a bowl and dissolve your levain into it. It may not dissolve completely, which is fine.
Slowly add your flour with one hand while mixing with the other. You will, at some point, need both hands. Your goal is to incorporate the water into the flour.
Let the dough rest for an hour at room temperature
After an hour has elapsed, add the salt and a bit of water. Squeeze the water and salt into the dough, but don't tear at it. The water and salt will absorb with squeezing for about 5-10 minutes. Trust the process and be patient, as at first, it does not seem like the water will incorporate.
I don't perform any stretch and folds with this dough. Because of the protein content of the bread flour and the lower hydration of the dough, strength will be achieved without much effort and for this bread, letting the fermentation take over works best for me.
Depending on your ambient temperature, your dough may need up to 7 more hours to finish its first fermentation. Signs to look for are a smooth surface, bubbles, elasticity when you pull at the top, and a slight web-like structure at the bottom when you turn the dough out of the table. I like to let the bulk fermentation push as far as possible so that there is sufficient strength built-in for the shaping process. Dough without proper strength is very hard to shape into a tube.
After the initial bulk fermentation, it's time to divide and shape. If you are seeking a more complex flavor or cannot complete the process in one day, throw it into the fridge until you're ready to move on. (If you do refrigerate it, let it come to temperature before dividing and shaping.)
Flour your work surface liberally and turn out the dough. Divide into 400g rectangular pieces.
I prefer to pre-shape this bread because I want to bake it seam side up so that the natural score creates a good base for cutting the bread for sandwiches. I don't want to close the seam up too tightly, and without pre-shaping, you must close the seam tightly while finishing the shape. With a pre-shape, I have a base for the tube shape set and I can simply roll it out with tension but not as tight.
So, to pre-shape, take each rectangle and make sure the long sides are the top and bottom. Fold the top into the middle, add a little tension
You don't have to prove these in a couche, either. You can line a parchment paper, dust it with a little cornmeal, and put them to proof right on their baking tray. Make sure to put them seam side up if you want a natural, cracking score. If not, you can place the seam side down and get a nice, round and shiny crust.
Preheat your oven to 450 Fahrenheit after putting them to proof.
You'll only need about an hour to proof these if you're ambient temperature is between 72-75. As usual, though, watch the dough and know when it's ready.
Instead of steaming the oven, I mist the dough directly to also aid in attaining the desired crust type and color.
Bake for about 20 minutes. You may need to rotate your pan to keep the coloring even, and you don't want these to get too dark so keep an eye on them.
Let these cool and slice open when you're ready to make a sandwich. Check back for some delicious po' boy recipes soon! Enjoy!