Sourdough bread-making methods, The Sourdough Journals
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America’s Test Kitchen recipe, Loaf 2

the starter is active and bubbly. I’m making bread!

 

Starter is happy, bubbly and twice its original volume

Starter is happy, bubbly and twice its original volume

This time, I’m making only one loaf, but wouldn’t you know, right off the bim-bam, I forget to halve the sponge recipe. I don’t realize this till later. Oops.

Here’s what I do. Following the Cook’s Illustrated (CI) recipe linked to above, and substituting organic whole wheat flour for unbleached, I prepare the sponge. To four-and-half ounces refreshed starter, I add four ounces filtered water and five ounces organic whole wheat flour. I start with four ounces water because last time I had to add more just to moisten the flour.

I measure the water into a glass bowl, then remember I might as well start with the mixer bowl. One less bowl to clean! Dumping the water into the steel bowl, I clear the tare weight on my scale to net zero  and add starter until I have four and a half ounces. Then I clear the scale to zero again and add five ounces flour. Easy-peasy all in one bowl.

As I had to last time, I mix the soon-to-be-sponge with my hands because the mixture is not liquid enough to stir with a silicone spatula. Should I add more water to get that “pancake batter consistency” the recipe calls for? The sponge matured just fine the other day, so I decide against it.

I cover the sponge with a reusable plastic-lined sandwich bag because I don’t buy plastic film any longer. We’re doing what we can to cut back on the amount of one-use plastic in our lives. Then I set the bowl in the oven, with the light on for a little warmth while the yeast develops.

I forget to set the timer and get so involved in another project that I also forget all about the sponge. When I finally come back to it more than six hours later, it has doubled and fallen back on itself. The texture is fluffy and full of holes, and it smells sweetly yeasty, so I measure out the ingredients for the bread and set the machine to kneading.

Since I’m making only one loaf this time, I cut the ingredients in half: Six ounces water, twelve ounces flour. After five minutes kneading, I do not have a ball, and the dough is crawling up the sides of the bowl and over the top of the dough hook, just as it did when I made two loaves the other day. The dough looks and feels dry, so I try adding one more ounce water, but the problem persists.

Once I get a fairly decent ball, I set the dough to rest for fifteen minutes  and try to find an answer to this problem. I find nothing on America’s Test Kitchen that helps with this. Maybe KitchenAid has an answer. I pull out my machine manual. Turns out this is a symptom of too much moisture! Rrrrrr. I’ve just made it worse.

When the timer goes off, I add a tablespoon flour to the dough and return to kneading.

Btw, I should have double checked the recipe before resting the dough, because I’m supposed to let the dough rest twenty minutes, not fifteen. Another mistake. Old brain! I don’t realize this until later, when I check the recipe during the rising period.

When the dough starts to climb the bowl again, I add one more tablespoon flour. That does the trick and I soon have a not-too-sticky, smooth ball.  The first time I do the windowpane test, the dough stretches easily without tearing. Hooray!

Windowpane test is a success on the first try

Windowpane test is a success on the first try

That one spot looks like a tear in the photograph, but there is actually a thin film there too.

I turn the dough out onto my board and knead it by hand for about a minute until it is nice and smooth, then I stretch it into a ball and roll it in my pre-greased bowl. Just in time, I remember to take its temperature: Nearly 80 degrees.

After re-shaping the ball, I cover it loosely and set in the oven to rise. Three hours later, the dough is twice its start volume and ready to fold out onto the board and shape into a loaf. I decide to make a long, Vienna-style loaf this time.

One thing is certain. This dough feels alive. It is light and responsive in my hands, stretching easily and forming just as quickly into a nice, fat oblong shape.

I cover the loaf and set it to rest on my pizza peel, over a sheet of baking parchment for ease in sending it into the hot oven.  Half an hour later, the loaf is nearly doubly in volume. I fire up the oven, preheating it to 500 degrees for thirty minutes.

When the oven is ready, I slash the loaf three times with a single-edged razor blade, spray it lightly with water, and slide it off the peel onto the hot pizza stone. Thirty minutes later, removing it from the oven, I take the loaf’s internal temperature. It registers less than 170 degrees. Back it goes.

Two more times I pull the bread and take its temperature, when at last it creeps up to 203 degrees, Right side up, the loaf looks pretty good, and I get a  nice hollow sound when I thump it on the bottom. Once again, it’s late at night, and I’m tired. I dub the temperature good enough and head for bed with a happy smile on my face, anticipating a yeasty crumb full of wholes under that crispy, crunchy crust.

 

Freshly baked, this loaf looks good!

Freshly baked, this loaf looks good!

In the morning, fully awake and rested, I’m more aware of that giant hole on one end of the loaf. Did a big bubble burst in the baking? More likely, I may not have kneaded the dough enough before forming the loaf.

When I slice the loaf, I discover irregular gassy holes in the top two-thirds of each slice. Woo hoo! The bottom third, though, is slightly raw and quite dense. Once again, I have not let the dough rise appropriately, or I’ve not baked it long enough, or both. So many factors to consider!

The first several slices are tender and not too chewy. The flavor is good too, with a strong sourdough bite but not so much that it overpowers the wheat. Almost, they blend just right.

By the second day, the loaf is difficult to slice and tough to chew. My bread-loving granddaughter, takes a couple of bites and runs off to play. This is totally unlike her. Usually she eats an entire slice, unbuttered, and asks for more.

Five days later, we still have a good three inches of the loaf on hand, and it’s too tough to slice. I chunk it and make bread crumbs in my food processor.

I’ve a long way to go on this bread-making trek. One step, one loaf at a time, right? I came so close with this loaf: the top two-thirds had a lovely crumb, and the flavor is much improved.

Next, I’ll change just one thing. I recall that when I was making the sandwich loaves, I discovered I needed to raise my oven’s temperature 25 degrees. Next loaf, Instead of lowering the temperature from 500 degrees to 450, I’ll lower it only to 475 and see what happens.

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