New World Sourdough: Birote + Muffuletta Rolling with the Punches

New World Sourdough is a 2020 cookbook by Bryan Ford. I will not be reproducing Ford’s recipes in my blog. Read his blog, buy his book, support his work.

This round of New World Sourdough explored a bread I am very excited about: birote. A product of Napoleonic imperialism, birote infuses the French baguette with Latin American flavor. Watch this video of a birote bakery in Guadalajara and see if you aren’t itching to mix up some beer and sourdough and get to baking.

The traditional use of birote—the torta ahogada or “drowned sandwich”—is my nightmare. I have a low tolerance for spicy foods, I hate eating with dirty fingers, and I don’t like any dish with soggy bread (think French toast, tiramisu, or bread pudding). To those for whom a wet, spicy mess of a sandwich sounds good: Godspeed.

Plate with torta ahogada, soaked in red sauce.
Hard pass.

I made the birote and a batch of muffaletta rolls simultaneously, which led to creative starter math and breaduling.

Open notebook with facing pages each listing out the steps for the two breads in two different schedule styles. Various calculations, times, and events are scattered about.
Even though I don’t refer to these while I’m baking, writing it out helps me settle down and get started.

I needed a total of 300g starter for both recipes. The levain build in NWS always leaves lot of excess starter, and I didn’t want to have way too much left over, so I calculated just enough to leave a good amount to build on. I also wanted to counteract my soupy starter problem, so I fed Bradley with slightly less water than flour. I ended up using 50g mature starter + 160g AP/WW flour + 140g water.

Open mason jar full of sourdough starter on a kitchen scale on a counter. Various kitchen implements are all around.
Bradley reporting for duty.

The two recipes start remarkably the same, with 500g white flour, so I labeled the Cambros to minimize error. The two recipes end remarkably different, with strong flavors like beer, lime, garlic, and olives, so I took care to keep the work spaces, tools, and ingredients separate (or at least clean).

Two plastic tubs seen from above on an oven rack. The left tub's lid has a To/From sticker with a beagle and reads "MUFF." The right lid has a similar sticker with a lion and reads "BIROTE."
Organization is key.

The birote recipe calls for light beer but I used what I had (New Belgium Mountain Time Lager). When the beer and lime juice combined in the dough it smelled incredible.

Plastic tub with dough and sourdough starter, sitting in a liquid made of beer and lime juice.
Find your beach.

Things Fall Apart

I approached shaping the birote with confidence. I am relatively comfortable shaping baguettes, and I anticipated a comparable experience. Of course, this birote dough did not behave like my baguette dough. It was wet and sticky (a theme with my bakes lately), and it was all I could do to pry it off the counter, form it into a tube-ish shape, and place it on the floured couche.

Counter with lumps of dough being divided. A kitchen scale reading 195g weighs a plastic lid and a lump of dough.
Trouble brewing.

I don’t like using a lot of bench flour, but I had to dredge the dough in flour to have any control over it.

Five loaves of birote dough side by side in a couche.
What I lack in uniformity of size and shape I make up for in *individuality*.

Even so, the loaves stuck to the couche and the transfer peel after proofing. I attempted a single score on each mess loaf and baked them on a stone.

Five loaves of unbaked birote dough on a cutting board. They have been scored and the lame is on the counter near them.
This isn’t what it looked like when the Guadalajaran dudes were making them….

The result was flat, misshaped tongues of bread. One friend (?) likened them to “lamb legs at the butcher.” The knobby brown loaves made me think of sweet potatoes, personally.

Five birote of various shapes and lengths on a wire rack on a baking sheet.
Pardon us, ma’am. We’re just simple country breads. We don’t mean no harm.

I ate one while I was still warm. It actually tasted pretty good with a wonderful zing of lime. Within hours, however, they were too hard to eat.

Two small pieces of birote, sliced open showing an even, medium crumb.
Plenty of air pockets, but not enough height.

They did serve my general purpose: to be the “baguette” in my Parisian Halloween costume.

Me standing in black overalls with a red beret and scarf, holding a Lush brand paper bag with a birote sticking out. There is a cocker spaniel beanie babie in my pocket.
There’s a lot of backstory here, but I promise two people thought it was great.

Take Two

I was displeased with my first attempt (also I’m considering this weird notion that I don’t do everything perfect the first time) so I decided to try birote again. Based on my experience I executed the following tweaks:

  • Instead of 20% bread flour I used 50% bread flour. This may help build strength and structure.
  • Also for strength and structure, I added a thorough stretch and fold at the point of mixing all the ingredients (before adding salt).
  • I used specifically 2 tbsp lime juice, instead of “the juice of one lime.” I didn’t measure the juice in take one, and measuring is the only way to establish control over hydration.
  • I used a rubber mat instead of the kitchen counter for shaping. The counter looks smooth, but in practice I realized how bumpy it is. If there is one easy problem to eliminate, it’s unnecessary surface turbulence.

I was able to shape these loaves much more effectively than the first time, but I had the same problems with dough sticking to the couche and transfer peel. It was such a mess that I didn’t bother to score. (Really wet doughs will absorb the scoring slash pretty quickly, like the pumpkins from my last post.)

Close up on a wooden slat baguette peel, with lots of dried dough stuck to it. Behind it is the cover of New World Sourdough.
My beautiful bespoke peel, besmirched by sticky dough.

Take two was a marked improvement over take one. The bread rose into what would be perfectly sized sandwich loaves. I found only two downsides to this batch.

Five darkly baked birote on a wire rack in a baking pan.
Less sweet potato, more yucca.

First, I immediately noticed a lack of lime kick. I don’t know if the overt lime flavor is traditional to birote, but I since I experienced it I was disappointed to not get that citrus sensation. Maybe next time I’ll add more lime juice and reduce the water slightly.

Two halves of a birote slice open, showing a big airy crumb.
Not too shabby, crumbwise.

The second downside was simply how hard the crust was. As Ford instructs, I intentionally baked these loaves dark, resulting in a tough shell. If they were in fact drowned in a spicy sauce, the hard crust would be perfect to keep the sandwich in one piece. Without the salsa saturation it just hurt my mouth. If I made these again, I would take them out of the oven when golden brown to enjoy a chewier crust.

Muffuletta Rolls

In another case of dashed confidence, my muffuletta rolls did not do well this time around. Instead of an airy crumb, the interior was dense and gummy. My research tells me they were under proofed; completely the result of my amateurish impatience.

13 rolls covered in sesame seeds on a wire rack in a baking sheet.
Don’t be deceived by their looks from this distance.

While not fit for immediate consumption, these rolls were all right when thinly sliced and baked for about 10 minutes at 400°.

Hand holding a sliced open muffaletta roll. The olives and other add-ins are visible. It is very dense.
C’est la vie.

Next week: New Orleans French bread

One thought on “New World Sourdough: Birote + Muffuletta Rolling with the Punches

  1. Pingback: New World Sourdough: Toasty Seed Sour + Pumpkin Shaping | Put It In Your Hat

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