It’s still dark out when the loaf is ready to bake. I haven’t had much sleep, interrupting it with timers every hour or two to check on the rise. I grab a knife to score the dough, but it’s a bit dull and does not slice through the top evenly. The dough sags slightly. I’ve let some good gasses out.
Worse, apparently I tore the dough a bit when I shaped it for the pan. A gaping ragged gash rends one sector. Lesson learned: Avoid stupid mistakes; refrigerate the dough and wait till morning, when I’m rested and bright-eyed.
I bake anyway. Mike, of Sourdough Home, whose recipe I am following, advises baking at 350 degrees (Fahrenheit) for thirty minutes, removing the partially baked bread to check interior temperature and making adjustments in oven temperature, if needed. I don’t bother removing the clearly unbaked dough from the pan and checking its temperature, as he suggests. I know my oven thermometer is spot on true, so I return the loaf for the remaining fifteen minutes baking time.
Second big mistake. I should have checked the loaf’s interior temp, as Mike advised, and adjusted oven temp, if necessary, because according to Mike, it’s not just the oven temp that matters. Altitude and other factors can have an effect on baking temperatures and times, even here at sea level.
Reluctantly, I return the loaf to the oven and bake fifteen minutes longer. When I turn the loaf out this time, I do my old-fashioned, low-tech test: Tap the bottom. If I hear a thud, the bread is raw inside. If I hear a hollow sound, it’s done. Definite hollow sound on this baby. I flip it over and snap a shot, which I know will turn out weird in this artificial light.
Pathetic little thing! Pale, torn top, badly scored. Take heart all ye who have ever had a baking failure. You are not alone.
My main squeeze is already up, and salivating over the aroma. We wait the required thirty minutes and slice the bread. Third mistake. It hasn’t cooled enough. Should have trusted my senses and my gut on that one.
I tear a hunk off the slice, which reveals some holes. Despite the over-kneading, despite failure to follow directions about checking the temperature and adjusting, despite slicing too soon, here we see a teensy bit of encouragement: a few holes, and in varying sizes, in the outer corner of the bread.
Now to taste. We butter it warm, nosh it standing at the table, and both of us reach for a second small wedge. The sourdough tang is pleasant, neither overwhelming nor weak. The texture is way too chewy, of course, as we would expect, with this dense loaf, but the flavor is good.
I set the loaf on its cut end, to prevent drying out, and head back to bed for a few extra hours of uninterrupted sleep. Later, I will research my mistakes and decide whether to try Mike’s recipe again, or give a new one a go. I’m especially keen on learning why my dough never made the windowpane.
Daylight. Rested, I cut, then tear another hunk of bread. Hooray! More of the nice holes. Completely cool now, the bread is crunchy on the outside, moist and almost tender on the inside.
The sourdough flavor is a little strong. I would like a subtler taste. Perhaps I incubated my starter too long. I’m sure the extended rising time contributed, but in the past, when I’ve made sourdough loaves, rising times were expected to be twelve hours or more. So much to learn! Hence this journal.
Meanwhile, I have nearly two quarts excess starter discards on hand. I will start a sponge tonight before bed. Tomorrow morning, we will have fresh whole wheat English muffins for breakfast, the two-year-old grandchild and I. She loves them!