Monday, 29 November 2010

A tale of two loaves

I've recently perfected my own little sourdough recipe. It's nothing mind blowing, but it's something I came up with all by myself. So I'm pleased. I'll post about this another time since I can't remember proportions and I've got it all written down at home in my little book.

The recipe - the one, let me make it clear, I made up myself - makes two loaves. I recently made a batch and put both loaves in the fridge to prove overnight. Except it was really late when I put it in and I got up early, so in fact the loaf that I cooked the next morning had only had about seven hours' proving at 4 degrees. Really I should have proved it at room temperature for such a short period of time.

Anyway come the morning I put it in the oven and when I took it out a whole little baby loaf had burst out of the side. Unfortunately I wasn't able to take a picture of it. Despite slashing the loaf it still burst out of the side at the bottom.

This used to happen to me a lot, but nothing as dramatic as this. I'd researched why it could happen and it seemed one of those things (an 'OOTT' to give it its official name) that can happen for a myriad of reasons but the two that kept coming up were underproving and bad shaping.

Now I'm rubbish at shaping a loaf. Or rather I'm not bad but often by the time it gets to the '10 min rest' before you shape it it's late, so I have just shaped it crudely and cast it into a proving basket. And, despite what the professionals say, honestly I've not noticed a difference. I thought the bursting could also be due to a too sharp change in temperature too quickly (i.e. putting bread straight from fridge to oven). But that doesn't seem to be consistent either. I definitely think underproving is a main cause, and I rarely underprove.

So the loaf, once I'd amputated the rogue bit off, was okay. But not great. For one the bit that I'd cut off was doughy - like you could scrunch up a bit and it would go to dough. This never happens to me with sourdough and it wasn't cos it was undercooked (it wasn't). The crumb was dense and not very exciting at all. I cooked the other loaf about two days later. It was completely different. Much larger air holes, waxy crumb, delicious. Same dough, different loaves.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Making sourdough whilst drunk

A few days ago I started making some white sourdough, in large part to take to a friend's house and also because I fancied a change from our usual largely-wholemeal sourdough. It turned into a long process. I kept taking out the starter, meaning to get the dough going, but somehow never finding the five minutes I needed to do it.

On Thursday of last week (it's Monday as I write now) I weighed out my starter, refreshed it in the bowl to make it up to the weight I wanted (400g of starter), refreshed the starter in the Kilner jar and put the latter back in the fridge. However, in between me doing this and the starter in the bowl becoming active, my partner had made a loaf of yeasted-bread (no doubt fed up at having no bread..) and used up some flour. Because I needed a lot of white flour - 1k of the stuff - there now wasn't enough.  So the dough became a mishmash of white flour, wholemeal and whatever else I could bung in. It ended up being 500g of white, about 430g of wholemeal and 70g of barley flour.

I started it off. Knead, rest, knead, rest. Somewhere along the line, that magic, nebulous hour of evening came, the one that tells you it's socially acceptable to have some wine and thus it was that I poured myself 'un dito di vino' (a finger of wine): it really doesn't take very much to make me feel merry. I started chatting to my partner, had another dito di vino, la la la la. Suddenly I remembered the bread. It had sat there for hours (it was at the '30 min rest' stage, some 30 minutes that ended up being).

I kneaded it, slung it in a bowl and put it in the fridge, thinking "fuck". Over the next few days I kept doing this - taking it out, kneading it and then putting it back in as I kept running out of time. Look, I'm a very social, busy person when I'm not being a hermit. To cut a really long story short, it wasn't til last night that I put the dough into some bannetons and put it in the fridge for what I planned to be the final rise.

I had no idea what to expect, so we'd made some 'normal' bread for eldest daughter's sandwiches this morning, just in case (I say 'we' it was of course entirely not of my doing).

What I really didn't expect was to get some bread that was - is - just delicious. It's far more aerated than a normal loaf (which usually contains 60/40 white to wholemeal; this loaf as you see above was 50/50. This is because it had a higher hydration than my usual loaf (65% instead of 55%), whilst having less starter (40% instead of 50%). I have no idea what any of those numbers really mean, but for once, making a mistake whilst cooking has led me to a happy discovery. Not only has it got far bigger holes than my usual 60/40 loaf, because I made it over four days, it has a wonderful taste to it.

This is, perhaps, how people invent their own recipes. My knead/rest cycle went something like this, for those interested:

Knead, rest for ten minutes.
Knead, rest for ten minutes.
Knead, rest for ten minutes.
Knead, rest for four hours.
Knead, cover guiltily with a cloth and put in fridge for 14 hours.
Take out of fridge and ignore dough for an hour or so.
Knead, put back in fridge for a day, or so.
Take out of fridge, knead. Put back in fridge for another day.
Take out of fridge. Knead. Rest for one or two hours - who can remember. Shape, put in bannetons, cover, put in fridge for 18 hours.
Cook. Eat. Enjoy.

When I said sourdough was the most forgiving of breads, I wasn't lying.

A very good sourdough me thinks.