Girl with magnifier

Friday, March 31, 2023

The proof is in the bread


Matthew 6:11 - Give us this day, our daily bread.

We all have this bucket list in our lives, places we would like to explore, things we would like to do, tasks we would like to accomplish.

One of the things I have always felt deficient in is feeling comfortable cooking.

My mother and brother were excellent cooks, I just never felt confident in the kitchen, although I think I have a very good palette.

I made bread a few times in my twenties but have always wanted to tackle a sourdough. 

Haven't baked since.

I decided to devote some time to making one yesterday.

Actually, the process started the night before.

I had watched hours of sourdough videos on Youtube and decide to roughly follow this one. Mike Greenfield - Pro Home Cooks.

Watched it too many times. 

Was in constant text and phone communication with my two bread mentors, Gina and Renée.

My journey towards the perfect loaf started on Wednesday night at ten o'clock.

I had been feeding a borrowed starter for about two weeks and it looked and smelled ready. Passed the float test.

I weighed out my ingredients, 400 grams of all purpose flour and 100 grams of bread flour, 385 grams of room temperature water.

I stirred them together with a dough whisk. 

Covered it in plastic at room temperature and went to bed. 

Did not use ice water as was called for.

This process of initially mixing flour and water is called an autolyse

Salt changes the flour hydration and I would not add the 75 grams of starter and 10 grams of salt until the morning. 

These amounts that I am using are based on a formula called baker's percentages.

I woke up at six in the morning and went to work mixing. At six thirty I started a series of operations called stretch and folds for two and a half or three hours, every half hour, giving the dough a nice workout and gluten structure.

After this process was accomplished I stuck the dough in a plastic container and waited for the bulk rise. And waited. And waited. 

The three to four hours suddenly was now over seven hours. And waiting. 

Sadly, my dough would never rise considerably, although the bubble action was amazing. 

I knew the starter was active and powerful but my house was too cold in this weather for much volume increase to occur. 

Or at least I think that is what happened.

I ended up sticking the mixture in the oven with the light on. 

Did not appear to make a measurable difference.

Finally I decided to cut my losses and just say go for it. I didn't want to be doing this at midnight. It would either be good enough or a spectacular failure. I wasn't sure at this point.

I preshaped my dough, then let it bench rest and finally did my final shaping.

This type of sourdough is what is known as a wet loaf, with very high hydration. 

It is very tricky to work with. I did my best. You don't want to overwork it either.

I could tell that my dough was very wet.

I stuck the finished mixture in a floured banneton covered with muslin, and let it rest at room temperature.

Many prefer to proof in the refrigerator, or overnight in the fridge, it is said to accentuate the sour dough flavor.

I didn't have that option, my fridge is full.

At about 6:30 last night I preheated the oven, with my large dutch oven inside at 500°.

I turned my loaf upside down on a piece of parchment paper coated with corn meal. Probably should have brushed some excess flour off the loaf but really didn't have a suitable brush. Oh well. I didn't have a razor or lame and made do with the tip of a sharp knife. Scoring is important, bakers want a nice ear. Next time.

I cooked at 475° for 18 minutes, then took the lid off the dutch oven and gave it another 20 or so, after sliding a baking dish under the enormous heavy pot.

It is recommended that you use a five quart dutch oven, I used the seven, having a choice between it and the three and a half. The bread spread out a lot with the 28cm width.

After the bake, I turned off the oven and left the door open, to cure the bread as the YouTuber suggested. 

This is said to help crisp the crust.

Finally, my bread was done. 

My nascent voyage over the sourdough sea was complete.

I did not get the spring I had hoped for but I have seen worse.

The crust was delicious, the inner crumb, light and airy.

It certainly was not a thing of beauty but I am told it is a fine result for a maiden effort. Nice, honest and delicious loaf. Toughest thing was waiting for an hour to cut into it. We used our french butter and it accompanied an excellent caesar salad for a late dinner. The most important thing? It tasted so good! Could not fault that one bit.

Am I satisfied? No. I can't wait to perfect it and give it another crack. I want lift. I might try a new recipe, one with a levain or a different flour mix. There are so many ways to go. Is it worth it? 

That is a very good question. I had, what, over 20 hours in this single loaf, an inordinate amount of effort for so little return. But it is a challenge and a fun one for me, to perfect  and create a beautiful loaf of bread. I deconstructed this one with my bread mentors at length this morning. How can I improve it?

I told Leslie I was thinking about getting a new refrigerator for the garage.

She told me to stop thinking and that it was not going to happen. I didn't say another word. You have to know when to pick your battles.

I am going to hold off on the next sourdough for a moment. I think I see a granny smith apple pie with homemade crust in my near future. Any great baking recipes gladly accepted.


Sharon said...

Looks good to me…I love it just the way you described. Chewy crust and light inside.

Blue Heron said...

Love peach cobbler! Go Robert!! Love Aztecs! Go go go !


Linda said...

I LOVE to cook, Robert. And I like to bake (don't love, but like). 20 hours to make anything sounds like the time is better spent on apple pie for sure!!!! No extra refrigerator needed. I made rice pudding ONE time and it took many steps and a long time to make. Now I buy it at good Indian restaurants and make my own Paneer Tikka Masala. So pick your fights and pick your food/time balance.

Blue Heron said...

I think that sourdough bread making is reserved for a particular type of obsessive which I could easily be. But I got you.

Blue Heron said...

Hey, I just read your blog about the bread. My wife uses hundred year old starter from San Francisco. Pretty good stuff.


Blue Heron said...

Fabulous effort on the sourdough. I agree looks great! My all time favorite - great, crusty sourdough. Bravo to you!! You are a man of patience and skill!!


Liz said...

I used to make sourdough, but mg doesn’t like it. I don’t need the carbs. You come from a family of good cooks, even if I don’t cook that much anymore. Been making lots of chopped liver

Blue Heron said...


You did great. I have some long ago professional baking experience (modest) and a degree in Nutrition and food technology so I understand the concepts. And I've been watching Pla master this the last few years. Some thoughts:
Yes, temperature for the yeast is a biggie, could explain all
Pla took several attempts to capture wild yeast, and then had to learn how best to take care of it. Ended up with a vigorous culture and relative ease in keeping it going, just keep paying attention.
That stretching and folding with the very wet dough is tricky as hell. Pla quickly mastered it but she has years of developing dexterity as a therapist. Good for you to not end up with a hilarious sticky mess, you will get better and the bread will improve a lot just on that front.
When you get it feeling more comfortable, try some other flours. Sourdough flavor seems to go well with some of the Northern and old historic flours.

Enjoy, and thanks for the blog


Blue Heron said...

I talked to a very experienced bread baker today who said that this is the shape that you get with an oversized dutch oven. She calls it a rustic loaf and likes the shape.The yeast was quite active, obviously, it was just that the loaf didn't rise like I had hoped it would. I am going to use Lena's 5 quart french oven next time and see what happens.