Saturday, 9 May 2015

A sourdough to sweeten my mood

Had the most unusual family get-together last Sunday. My cousins and I spent the whole day baking bread using commercial yeast!

I was showing off my jar of starter and making everyone smell it when one of my cousins asked - "So when you keep this er starter in the same jar for weeks and weeks, don't you worry about (*slight shudder) fungus getting in?" Instantly guilty about my messy kitchen and ancient aprons, I started on a defensive, apologetic senseless ramble...

Like clever repartees and brilliant anecdotes, the right answer came to me way too late.  The whole point of a sourdough starter is to grow fungus, isn't it?

To apologise to my beautiful starter, I spent the next three days baking a sourdough.

Day 1 (night 1, actually): The leaven

50 g starter
250 ml water
150 g wholewheat flour

Whisked everything together and went to bed.

Day 2: kneading the dough, bulk fermentation and shaping loaves

The leaven was bubbling and smelling like overripe fruit. Terrible for fruit, perfect for a leaven.

Got to work on the dough with:
600 g flour (regular)
320 ml water
5 g coarse sea salt

Mixed everything together (except the salt) in a bowl and left it alone for half an hour. Added the salt and kneaded lightly with a spoon. Covered the bowl and left it in the refrigerator for a long rest.

At night, gave the dough a good knead and shaped it into two loaves. I lined two bowls with liberally floured kitchen towels, eased the loaves in, and sent them packing back to the refrigerator (covered, of course).

Day 3: the baking and the eating

The loaves had more than doubled in volume. I left the bowls out for a while and preheated the oven to 250º C.
Slashed the first of the loaves and slipped it into the oven. I have a tiny oven that can't accommodate two large loaves, so they couldn't bake together.
Used a spray bottle to spray the loaf and the inside of the oven liberally at least 5 times in 10 minutes.
The oven rise was quite dramatic.
Reduced heat to 180ºC and let the loaf bake for 40 minutes until the crust blistered.

The second loaf had almost reached room temperature by now, and had got a bit softer. I pulled at the ends a bit until it started looking like a baton. This is probably the kind of treatment 'real' bakers wince at, but guess what, it worked!
The remaining steps were identical to the first loaf.

The crust was crisp and crackled while slicing, and the crumb was airy and soft enough to make me want to weep with joy.
Things to do next time:

  • Add 10 g of salt instead of 5
  • DO NOT eat bread before taking pictures or you will get a ghastly gap that photoshop will not mend. Not the free version anyway :(