Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sourdough Bread, Part 2

This is a follow-up post to one from last Spring. If you ever want a truly humbling experience in the kitchen, try making sourdough bread. Since last March, I have reached some amazing highs and lows with this ongoing experiment.
After getting some great bread in the early going, my sourdough bread became so dense it never seemed fully cooked. I started tinkering with the flour(s) that I was adding to the starter and to the dough. Nothing worked. I re-read some of my notes that I gathered when I first set out to make my own starter. Then I got what I thought was the "wrong" kind of flour delivered one day and I had to use it because I had nothing else. The starter seemed to REALLY like it, it told me so. Then the bread had better texture after a few days of feeding it to the starter. I was on to something. Then all of a sudden, dense bread again. I mean really dense! I hadn't intentionally changed anything. Back to my notes.
I read about some people letting their dough rise for 8-10 hours, or more. What did I have to lose? I made the dough around 1:00 PM and left it to rise in a loosely covered bowl in my kitchen. By 9:00 PM it had tripled in size. Then I rolled it out and shaped it into dinner rolls, covered it well and left it overnight. Bingo! The next day, around 1:00 PM I baked the rolls. They were nothing short of amazing. 24 hours after making the dough, the bread had a great sour flavor, light crumb and chewy crust. This was it. I had finally got what I wanted and it only took me a year! Then, after about 2 weeks the rolls barely rose. The dough gained size, but it went outward instead of up. I deflated too. The next day it was back to normal. Crisis averted. Then, a few days later, flat again. Boy this is fun! I realized that the dough needed to be a little stiffer. The point when I stop adding flour to the mixer is when the dough forms a ball and stops sticking to the sides. Since I make the dough with starter and high-gluten flour it has plenty of protein, as long as I add enough flour. Turns out this is REALLY important. This is where a recipe is useless and you just have to feel your way through it. I follow the same steps everyday, but each day the "right" amount of flour differs just a bit. Humidity is probably the variable. I'll let you know in a few years. Anyway, I now get consistent bread each day that I think I could sell in a bakery.
Last week I took a small amount of leftover starter and started feeding it whole wheat flour daily. Today I'll make a batch of dough with it and follow the same 24 hour cycle. The biggest problem with whole wheat bread is usually the texture so I'm curious to see if this method yields delicious results. Stay tuned.

Pots and Pans

Just a quick link to a piece in the NY Times by Harold McGee about buying pots and pans for your kitchen. Thought it was of interest.