It’s been an eventful last 24 hours or so. I had one day to play post-vacation catch-up on sleep and laundry, unlike my hard-working other half who got a mere 12 hours before being forced back into his draining commute schedule. Since Wednesday morning, I’ve been trying to concentrate on one thing at a time, going through rotations of tax prep, dreading jury duty which was ultimately canceled, the list of errands which grows faster than it ever shrinks, learning how to code website functionality, and some baking.
We’re eating from the freezer all week (see menu below), which, as much as I’m anxious to get back to chopping and grating, is a life-saver. It leaves me time for activities like…attempting my first sourdough. Francisco the sourdough starter, begun over a month ago and stabilized in the fridge, demonstrated the right smells and appearance, without any of the undesirable ones, since I said goodbye to him for “vacation” last week. He’s probably getting bored sitting in the fridge waiting for his weekly feeding, when he’s clearly ripe for some action.
All the bread I’ve been using lately (and by all, I mean maybe two loaves a month) in gratins, crostini, and that glorious stuffing got me thinking about my usual ingredient philosophy–why can’t I make it myself? Compound that with more flexibility when it comes to gluten consumption, in exchange for all but nonexistent meat eating (my week in Dallas and OKC being the exception), and it’s possible a bread-baking obsession is mounting.
It’s clear I’m going to knead need some help, though.While my sourdough starter looked right, and I’m pretty convinced it was (and is–of course I saved some for rebuilding), I had been feeding it with inconsistent ratios (of flour and water), so I couldn’t tell you, relative to the recipe, whether I needed to bulk it up or thin it a bit in the pre-baking feedings. So where, exactly, did I go wrong?
- Kneading. If you call using the Kitchen Aid and dough hook kneading. My recipe, from the Joy of Cooking (which I recommend for almost everything except baking bread with wild yeast), was vague in describing how sticky the dough should or shouldn’t be. One pinch of it fresh from the dough hook didn’t quite stick to my fingers, but later it was clear I needed more flour.
- First rise. I think, over six hours, the dough nearly doubled, although I couldn’t be sure because I didn’t mark the bowl. I used a glass bowl (points for me), and I could see air pockets forming in the dough, but the final baked bread was quite dense with air pockets scattered only sporadically. The dough probably would have appreciated additional rising time.
- Loaf formation. Round loaves + beginner + fluid dough = disaster. This is the point when things really started to go downhill. I knew the dough was too fluid; I had a similar experience with this bread, coincidentally one of my most frequently repinned. Regardless, I followed the prescribed free-form loaf-shaping technique, rising the loaves briefly on the countertop, then again on floured baking trays. In both places, they promptly pancaked. I actually had to take a nap during the last rise of the dough to both avert tears after a day of presumably wasted rising time and to keep from sitting and watching my sad loaves “rise”.
- Scoring and baking. This was my fault, at least partly. I didn’t score deeply enough, but then again, scoring the flat loaves the prescribed 1/2 inch would have nearly cut through them. I got anxious while the oven preheated and added water to the extra pan below the baking rack before I even put the loaves into the oven, disregarding the instructions and failing to produce steam at the right moment, not that it could have saved the project. Finally, to my credit, I followed instructions to flour the baking trays, but this clearly isn’t an effective method, as the exposed extra flour burned, ruining the redeeming smell of the bread and nearly, also, my prized baking sheets.
The ciabatta-like loaves browned to a nice golden on top and released from the baking pan just fine, but some funky greenish spots appeared on the loaf tops. They were heavy and hollow-sounding when tapped on the bottom–another good sign–but, as I said, the crumb was super heavy and dense. It took all my willpower not to angrily chuck the loaves during the second rise, but I persevered for the sake of learning experience, which I’m hoping will advise my future attempts. In case you were curious, the bread was (and is) edible. It has a faint sourdough smell, but none of the characteristic flavor, and the crust is very tough. I’m thinking it could go unnoticed in some butter-smothered French toast.
Quitting activities that I don’t immediately excel at has always been a trademark of mine, but not this time. I’m going to make sourdough at home, it just probably wasn’t a wise starting point for this amateur bread baker. So I’m backtracking. Getting a book on bread baking (I have this one picked out on recommendation from The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which I just finished). Starting at or near the beginning, and diving into the world of stories, recipes, and obsession around home-baked bread.
I’ll keep you updated on my journey with Facebook and Instagram updates, and periodic future blog posts. In the meantime, if you have bread advice or a favorite bread cookbook, please do share (I beg you).
Also, here’s how we’ve been doing freezer dinners this week (next day’s leftovers are my lunch, plus eggs in some format):
- Monday (got home late): cheese
- Tuesday: eggplant lentil stew with sour cream and homemade harissa, both from the fridge
- Wednesday: a vegetarian variation on Ina’s winter minestrone, with kale and russet potatoes, served with the sourdough trial
- Thursday: gluten-free pasta (from pantry) with this red pepper sauce, plus puree of white beans and pesto, using a little homemade veg stock
- Friday: my first cooked meal all week–flageolet bean, leek, and artichoke gratin, with several ingredients from freezer or pantry
Note: This page contains affiliate links. It does NOT contain sponsored content. Affiliate links (to products I recommend, on Amazon) offset my ingredient and website maintenance costs, so I can, eventually, bring you a foolproof sourdough method.