Imagine a roundish, shortish, little grandmother type, spectacles slipping down her nose, blue and gold apron strings bobbing as she jiggles a happy dance around the rectangular butcher block table. Yes! She shouts. Yes! Yes!
That’s me, ecstatic at finally getting a loaf that has varied size gas bubble holes all the way through, lots of them. Big ones. Little ones. Crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside, this loaf fairly sings with slightly tangy, deliciously aromatic, whole wheat goodness.
For the past few weeks, I’ve experimented with long, slow rising times, in the refrigerator and out. This weekend, before we left for a day trip down south, I fed my starter.
That night, after a wondrously fun day with two of our grandchildren, whom we brought home for a weekend overnighter, I measured out six ounces of that fresh, bubbly starter, added eight ounces filtered water, and ten ounces whole wheat flour. That’s my basic poolish recipe. For clarity, here is the ingredient list in bullet form.
- 6 oz. (on a food scale) stiff levain starter, broken into pieces
- 8 oz. filtered water
- 10 oz. organic whole wheat flour
- 1 t sea salt (to be added after the 24-hour refrigeration period)
Covering the bowl loosely, I tucked it into the fridge just before tucking those wee ones into bed for a well-earned rest.
Sunday was a whirl of making homemade banana mango pancakes, more grandkids coming to play with their cousins, baking a cake for a birthday party, then the party and all that goes with it. When the house was quiet again, all I wanted was to change into my jammies and watch the lovely Téa Leoni in Madame Secretary. I barely made it through the show. Never mind the poolish. YayYay was out.
Monday, wasn’t much better. I was out–of the house this time–most of the day. By the time I returned and took my poolish from the fridge, the yeastie beasties had been cooling their heals for a good forty-six hours. Not to worry. This is an experiment, right? What kind of loaf would we get?
I crisscrossed the dough with my dough scraper, sprinkled a teaspoon of salt over all, folded it all with the scraper, right in the bowl, enough times to mix the salt through, and turned it out on the board to knead.
Although a little sticky at first, the dough was spongy and responsive. Before long, I slapped and released the dough with almost none sticking to my hands or the table. The baker Babette is so right about this French kneading method!
After only ten minutes kneading, I had a beautiful, smooth baby-bottom-like surface on the dough. (I apologize for forgetting to take a photograph.) I tucked it into a ball, dropped it into the rising bowl, covered it loosely, and set it in a cool spot to rise.
Curious whether this method would change the rising time, I checked every hour. The dough behaved as it always does, rising noticeably, but slightly in the first hour, nearly double in the second, and finally doubled in the third. If anything, this dough was slightly less risen than I usually see after three hours. Would it be enough?
Turning it out, I shaped the dough quickly into a rough ball, laid the bowl over to prevent drying, and set the timer for twenty minutes. Meanwhile, I dusted my banneton. After the rest period, I gently rolled and tightened the ball, as the folks at King Arthur Flour show us in their video, and dropped it gently into the banneton.
One hour later, the boule had doubled, so I fired up the oven, pizza stone in place, and set a cup of water to heating on top of the stove. Thirty minutes later, my pizza stone in the oven sizzling hot and ready, I turned the boule onto my cornmeal-dusted pizza peel, slashed it with a lame, and poured the hot water into the even hotter cast iron pot on the bottom shelf of the oven.
That’s always the scariest step for me. No matter how carefully I pour, burning hot steam billows up, completely clouds my glasses, blinding me, and I struggle to keep my hand steady so I don’t spill hot water on the glass in the oven door. No mishaps this time, and before the steam stopped fooshing through the oven, I slid the boule onto the pizza stone, quick as a lynx, and shut the door.
Fifteen minutes later, I reduced the heat from 450º Fahrenheit to 400. Through the glass, I could see the boule had popped up nicely, if a little side wonky. For the last five or so loaves, every time I bake, the boules re-shape themselves in the oven. In hopes of getting a round loaf this time, after turning it out on the peel, I had gently shaped it a bit, alas to no avail.
If any of you know why my round loaves are reshaping themselves, do tell, please! This journal is all about learning how to make a good loaf of wild yeast sourdough bread, and I’m open to suggestions.
Here’s the misshapen round this morning, completely cooled, just before I cut into it.
And here it is, sliced, toasted, slathered with fresh-ground peanut butter, and topped with slices of crisp, Fuji apples–a favorite lunchtime snack.
If I hadn’t already eaten the evidence by the time I loaded these shots into my computer, I’d probably replace those two apple slices that have the brown spots. I didn’t even notice them on the plate, but they surely do show up here! Have to say, they tasted mighty fine.
Next time, I bake, I’ll stick to my plan of a 24-hour autolyse period, rather than the 46-hours I inadvertently left the dough this time. We’ll see if it makes any difference in the kneading time and outcome.
What’s baking in your kitchen today? I’d love to hear.