Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sourdough: The Complete First Series (photo-heavy)

So I mentioned that I picked up this book.
And I mentioned that I'd started a starter and planned to make sourdough. The starter now lives in the fridge, by the way.  I named it Keith.
Then came about a week of trials and a whole lot of errors.

Episode One: The Trusting Home Chef
I am a person who follows a recipe very faithfully the first time I make it.  I made my starter from my other starter (two starter process - odd I know) the night before and left it to get all fluffy and yeasty. It was beautiful, stretchy and sticky, and there was more than enough for two so in the morning, I saved the extra second starter and popped it in the fridge with Keith.
Son of Keith
Then I measured out my ingredients, dissolved Second Starter in a little warm water and dumped in my flour and salt.

It felt dry.  However, this author is an award-winning breadmaker with international credentials so I trusted that he wouldn't steer me by the wayside. Bah!
It's not a tumah...
Dough did not relax during its initial pinch-knead-rest cycles.  Dough did not rise in the first hour in the bowl stage.  Dough did not rise during its 3-6 hours in a colander lined with a floured tea towel stage.  After a few hours, I grew desperate and popped it in the warming drawer of the oven on the dough-proofing setting.  Dough did not proof.  Dough dried out.  Dough was a brick. Dough ended up in the garbage never having realized its destiny. Bah!

1) I need to use my kitchen scale for bread ingredients - don't know why I didn't.  Really foolish. But 2 cups of flour and 8 7/8oz can be dramatically different things.
2) The kitchen is too chilly for rising.
3) My warm water was too cold in the beginning.

Episode Two: Scale Away With Me
This time I weighed my ingredients. I ended up using almost 1/2cup less flour (from 2 cups total!) Professional bakers always use weights instead of volume, right?  Hmm.
A little like old chewing gum
Dough felt better but still stiff. It didn't rise a lot in the first stages but I figured in the colander stage, this time it would work. Bah!  Once in the colander and covered with the tea towel, the top of the dough again dried out. Disgusted, I left it sitting on the counter as I whipped up another second starter.

1) I have often heard that Canadian flours are harder and you need less of them for most recipes that aren't developed in Canada.  Weighting or not, the amounts are going to be off.
2) I'm not getting the dough enough moisture or warmth. When using a two-bowl covering system (the book recommends covering the dough in the first couple of stages with the bowl that held the flour), probably shouldn't use a plastic bowl to cover.  They don't collect condensation on the inside and don't absorb the warmth in the air.

Episode Three: Jungle Fever or The Sun Rises Faster
In the morning, I had a fresh batch of Second Starter. For those keeping track, this was my SECOND Second Starter, which overnight, had outgrown its container and was slipping out underneath the lid it had managed to pop off.  Don't care, I'm using it anyway.  I plop that starter into some very warm water and whisk it until it's all dissolved and the kitchen smells like a brewery. I also discover that Dough Two, that I abandon on the counter and forgot about, has managed to do some rising underneath the dried out top.  Hunh.  Well, I figured, set it on a pan, cover it and we'll bake it with Three, just for sh*** & giggles.
I measure the flour by feel.  I add only as much as the dough can handle and still look like the picture. I'm okay with it being a little sticky if it's still elastic and pliable. It has a little give to it. The first pinch-knead-rest cycles feel awesome.  I'm thinking that I might have nailed it this time.  I start plotting bakery takeovers like Daniel Day Lewis... There will be Bread! I even have a bit of a crazy old prospector jig in the kitchen. (There Will Be Blood - Anyone? No?)
Getting closer
This time, I mist the inside of the covering bowl and place warm towels over it.

And it barely rises.  I give it 7 hours and it barely gets bigger. And it's starting to dry out. I know the recipe said small loaf but COME ON!  Two rose higher and its half-crusty already. Bah!

I heat the oven with a small pan on the lower rack.  I place deformed and dried out Dough Two on the sheet with sluggish Dough Three.  When the oven is hot, I readjusted the temp, throw pour boiling water in the hot pan, slide in the sheet and bake.
That's Two on the left, tiny Three is on the right. Dark photos at 9pm - sorry!
Bread has good flavour.  It's a little too done on the bottom and man, it's dense, but it's enough of a step forward to keep me going.
1) In my growing impatience and familiarity with the recipe, I mis-measured the salt. Salt kills yeast.  Dead yeast=no rise.
2) My water in the beginning was too warm.  Hot water kills yeast.  See above.
3) The oven was too hot.  It has difficulty at very high temperatures so rather than crank it up and turn it down, set it to the lower temp in the first place.
4) The hot pan for steam was too close to the bottom of the baking sheet.  I should've set it on the very bottom of the oven.

Episode Four:  The Reckoning
I will lick this thing if it kills me.  This time, I use my wrist to determine water temperature. I measure the salt precisely before adding to the flour, of which I use just enough to arrive at that perfect tacky dough feel.  I cover with a metal bowl.  The pinch-knead-rest goes perfectly.  Meanwhile, I have turned on the fireplace in the living room.  It does its one-hour in the bowl near the fireplace in the warm living room.  I transfer the dough to the lined and floured colander.  This time, I place a wet tea towel over the top of the colander.  It returns to its set near the fireplace.
Four hours later, it's doubled in size.
I heat the oven to 425, not 475.  I place the steam pan in the bottom of the oven.  I add my hot water.  I move my too good to be true at this point Dough Four to the pan, which sticks to the towel a bit and mucks the top but I don't care. I cut the v's and I slide it into the oven.
Instead of a prospector jig, I'm holding my breath, like I'm defusing a nuke.  (Red wire? Blue wire?  Oh, no, they're all yellow!)

And it's beautiful.
And delicious.  
It's a small loaf but it's a decent size if you don't want it to get stale. And I have cracked it.  I own this recipe! Haha!!  Back to the jig.  Cue the butter!

Final comments:
1) I love that the starter is just flour and water.  It relies on wild yeast.  Therefore the recipe was remarkably cheap to screw up several times.  Flour, water, salt, starter.  That's it. Hmmm, chemistry and biology working together. Delicious and educational!

2) The book, though I have no doubt of the talents of the chef, is not written for the novice/average home baker.  If I hadn't made breads from scratch before, the first few attempts would probably put me off trying again.  It was MY experience with bread and Canadian flour that allowed me to tweak what was going on and not his advice.  However, now that I know that the flour measure will be tremendously off, I feel confident trying other recipes from it.  Find an easier recipe if you've never made bread before.

3) It makes great french toast.


  1. You have so much more patience than I do! Though, like you, I don't like being undone by a recipe. If there's chocolate involved, I'm likely to retry it a couple of time. But otherwise, um, no.

    The final product looks delicious!

  2. Yeah, I would have been frustrated after the first fail. And I have messed up a lot of recipes.
    Actually I have made bread from scratch several times but have used the same recipe each time. I feel ready to branch out but not this one, too complex for me just yet.
    I love that you named the starter Keith. Other than you OWNING this recipe, that is my favorite part of this post.

  3. You shut your face! The patience you have for your bread recipe is amazing... I'd have given up and gone to the shops.

    I name everything. I named my Mum's pimple Frank once. It was that big.

  4. Wow - bread is seriously magic! Well, and you too! I can smell that wonderful bread from here. Yum

  5. Yeeps! Sounds like it was a complicated process. Perhaps I will wait until I'm a little less busy before I give it a try. Way to overcome the sourdough!

    1. Lol. Probably less complicated than I made it sound. I'll let you know if I find a less-troublesome recipe.. :-)

  6. YUM. I really admire your persistence. I would've given up after round two.

  7. Kudos to you for not giving up! I had the same thing happen to me twice and I gave up and started looking for another recipe. Good to know this is not the book for a novice like me!


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