Sourdough bread-making methods, The Sourdough Journals
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Fourth loaf ugly loaf

This loaf is edible, but boy is it ugly! It is dense in texture and not the most satisfying to eat. Thank goodness, I’ve documented every step of the way, so I can learn from my mistakes.

My refrigerated starter weighs 193 grams, so I add exactly half that in both water and flour. The scale flips back and forth between 96 and 97 grams when I measure the water and flour. Close enough, since we need exactly 96 1/2 grams.

I need just 210 grams starter for my bread, so I weigh out that much and put the rest back in the fridge for next time. I set the starter in the oven with the light on for warmth, and head out to play. It’s Sunday!

Oh, oh. Gone too long. After five hours resting and gurgling, the starter doubled all right, but it also collapsed. My bread might turn out more sour than I would like. As we discover later, the flavor is strongly sour, and a little bitter.

It's Sunday, and I've played away too long. My starter has risen and fallen.

It’s Sunday, and I’ve played too long. My starter has risen and fallen.

At this point, I’m not too worried. I measure and weigh ingredients, and discover something new. Starter loses weight when we feed it. Remember all those gases the yeastie beasties burp out? Apparently, they have weight! I’ll need to do some research to learn for sure. What I do know is, I now have a few grams less than the 210 with which I started. I make up the difference from my refrigerator stash.

Using a silicone spatula, I mix up the dough by hand, then set the mixer speed to 2 and knead for three or four minutes, adding one tablespoon flour, because the dough is quite sticky. Once the dough pulls away from the walls of the bowl, I give it a five-minute rest, as Mike on Sourdough Home advises. He says this rest period helps whole wheat flour absorb more of the water.

After the rest period, the machine sounds sluggish, so I increase the speed to 3. It whips and tears the dough, and I soon change it back to 2.  About five minutes later, the dough seems smooth and tacky to the touch. I do the windowpane test. The dough stretches fairly easily into a partly transparent film. My dough is ready to rise.

I grease my small stainless steel bowl with two teaspoons olive oil, then work the dough into a ball, stretching one end long around the other, which Mike says stretches the gluten so it can form bubbles more easily. I lay the ball upside down in the bowl and roll it around to the top, to grease all surfaces.

Popping the lid on the bowl, I turn on the oven light, set the bowl smack in the middle, and set my timer for three hours. When I return it’s not half risen, so I set the timer for two more hours. As with earlier loaves, though, it takes a little  more than five hours for this first rise.

Five and a half hours after setting dough to rise, it has doubled in size

Five and a half hours after setting dough to rise, it has doubled in size

Punching the dough down gently, I make a ball again and set it to rise in the oven once more. This time, the dough more than doubles in just two hours. Woo hoo!

The second rise takes only two hours

The second rise takes only two hours

The color is off in these two photographs because it is night-time and the artificial lighting in my kitchen makes for weird colors on my iPhone. The good news, of course, is that the dough is ready to form a loaf.

Rough looking loaf in cast iron pan, ready for final rise

Rough looking loaf in cast iron pan, ready for last rise

It’s twelve and a half hours since I took the starter from the refrigerator this morning. I’m tired and do a pretty sloppy job forming the loaf. Some of the surface bubbles tear. I lay a bit of waxed paper loosely over the top and set the loaf in the fridge to slow-rise overnight.

After 13-1/2 hours in the fridge, it’s barely risen half way. I place it in the oven, once more with the light on, and four hours later, we’re ready to bake. But first, I have to slash the  top.

The ceramic knife I bought to slash the tops didn’t work out so well last time, so I try another recommendation I’ve seen on one of the sourdough web sites: A serrated knife. I manage to do a truly nasty job with it, and the bread deflates.

Grimace grimaces on my loaf on my loaf

Ragged grimaces on my loaf

My last loaf turned out okay–best one yet–but the bottom was a little dense, and seemed not to have baked completely. I’ve decided to lower the heat to 325 degrees Fahrenheit from the get-go this time, in hopes that a slower bake will do the trick.

After 30 minutes, I check the temperature. Barely 200 degrees and the loaf is pale.

After 30 minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit, the internal temperature is barely 200 degrees

After 30 minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit, the internal temperature is barely 200 degrees

Back in the oven for fifteen minutes more, and we get nearly 210 degrees.

Fifteen minutes more brings it to nearly 210 degrees

Fifteen minutes more brings it to nearly 210 degrees

I remove the thermometer and place the bread back in the pan, but not in the oven, for five more minutes, letting the pan’s heat do the last bit of baking.

The loaf looks sad, but we are still hopeful it will taste good

The loaf looks sad, but we are still hopeful it will taste good

Late in the afternoon, we slice and taste it plain, without butter or olive oil. Right away we notice the flavor–strong, I’m talking strong with legs. It is also quite dry.

We have some varied sized holes this time, and some are rather large!

We have some varied sized holes this time, and some are rather large!

As an experimental loaf, it’s not all that disappointing. I’ve learned a few things, and will make adjustments with the next loaf. One bright note: Holes of varying sizes pepper the loaf. I’m on the right track!

As for the taste, we eat the bread toasted, slathered with butter and honey, covered with creamed vegetables, but in the end, about a third of the loaf lands in the compost bucket.

Looking back on this process, I suspect the strong taste has to do with letting the starter deflate the first day, and perhaps with the very long third rise. As for the dryness, the slow bake in the 325 degree oven may have done that.

Next time: I’ll watch my starter carefully and use it sooner than later. I will also try baking the bread in a 375 degree oven. Oh, and I’m not going to slash it either. Bake and learn!

 

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