Born April 2016… died September 2017. Sigh. For those who have been refreshing this page DAILY to read the next chapter in my sourdough bread making saga, I’m sorry to say it ended in tragedy. After a limp, bread-weak summer, we watched Homer the Sourdough (sour… d’oh!) starter goopify himself in the fridge. I’ll blame myself. It was largely neglect, and lack of due care and attention. But I hadn’t invested as much energy in the poor guy as I should have despite providing dozens of mixed-result loaves since we’d hatched him over a year ago. As far as starters go he was pretty solid, though I was never entirely, one-hundred-percent satisfied with his effort. I’m sure that was all my bumbling, novice opinion however and with a year and a half of sourdough experience upon which to draw I’m posting today as a marker in time of the bumbling counter-redemption. Last night I washed out Homer’s cage and set the trap for a new culture… and hopefully my yeast-hunting excursions will be fruitful. I should know by the weekend. My second-born starter may be announced in mere days. Stay tuned and feel free to suggest a name in the comments.
I have been remiss in reporting on my dough adventures lately, but they have been continuing. I’ve also bought a proper digital cooking scale, which has been helping with the ingredient proportions. And I’ve only missed a couple weekends of freshly baked bread (and have made up for it with double-loaf ordeals in between.) The starter, mon levain qui est appelé Homer –D’oh!– is now reasonably mature. The first couple months of sourdough were, well… so-so, to be honest. Good bread, yes, but but not what you’d describe as having that sourdough vibe I was looking for when I first set out to be un boulanger extraordinaire. The last month or so has resulted in what I might humbly suggest is sourdough awesomeness defined. The bread which appears from our oven each weekend has a distinct sourdough flavour, rich and tangy, twangy with that sourdough yum that you’d pay real money for from a real baker. Now, I just need to figure out how to make my own clam chowder.
June 12 – Something You Are Learning
aka. Post 12 of Those 30 Posts in June Blog-Every-Day Posts
Did I mention this already…?
Ha! You can admit it. You’re getting really tired of all these bread posts. But secretly you love it. Secretly you’re thinking of how wonderful it might be to have that fresh-baked bread aroma filling your own house each weekend. Secretly you’re pondering the joy of a crunchy loaf of delicious sourdough on your own counter top on a Sunday morning. You know you are.
The breakmaking continues and with each loaf it gets a little better, a little fluffier, a little more “Mmmmm!” and a little less “Hmmmm?”
I guess that means I’m learning right? I guess that means that somewhere, deep inside the hollow, bubbly spots of my brain knowledge is fermenting and blossoming into a usable skill that directly translates into edible food.
And that’s a good thing.
June 5 – Something You Have Eaten
aka. Post 5 of Those 30 Posts in June Blog-Every-Day Posts
Yes, another bread-making post. Honestly, I’m at the point right now where if I suddenly found myself unemployed, I’d probably just go find a bakery to work at for a couple years.
Or, alternatively, if you somehow feel you want to venture fund a geek-themed bakery… uh, we should talk.
The bread has been improving. I’m not going to say it’s perfect bread, far from it. But I’ve got a good handle on the basic, fluffy sourdough-like loafs now, well enough that we haven’t actually bought bread from the store in a few weeks.
And I’m eating a lot of bread. Probably an unhealthy quantity, to be honest, but damn… even mediocre homemade bread is really, really good bread.
You’d think it’s just a matter of mixing ingredients and letting it do it’s thing, but as it turns out making a particular quality of loaf, with a particular flavour profile, matched against a consistency of texture and lightness, and finding that place where you can grill or toast it without it turning into a much of oatmeal-like goo, as it turns out, that’s harder than you’d think.
For me, at least. Self taught by web and textbook, trying to bake a loaf at a time in my spare time.
And no, really… “Brad’s Bakeshop” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?
Another loaf, another WTF?
Quiet, Frankenbread is sleeping. The dough, I suspect, was a little on the wet side and the baking crust didn’t quite have enough strength to contain the still-rising mixture underneath.
We quickly put a pan below to catch any escaping dough, but fortunately it didn’t get quite that far.
That said, I prefer to think that this wasn’t a fail: more of a feature. After all, shouldn’t every loaf should come with it’s own tasting sample?
Speaking of cast iron (it’s an obsession now, honestly) about two weeks ago now I bought myself a cast iron loaf pan to assist with this whole bread-making experiment. (As a side note: the cast iron loaf pan is currently holding steady at a five star review from your’s truly.) This has focused my bready efforts into the territory of the classic sandwich loaf wherein I’m aiming to standardize and consistently produce a good quality breakfast toast-worthy bread. Overnight I leavened another 50-50 grain-white blend, and by morning it was a nicely risen ready-to-bake state. Problem: I got up at 530 am to bake it, planning to try some for breakfast. Another problem: I didn’t check my notes. Last week I made the same loaf and baked it at 425F. This morning, my pre-coffee brain was insisting my target temperature was 375F. Oops. Thanks to the cast iron, the crust was amazing and crunchy… it was just the too-moist & chewy inside that needed work. Drat.
I ordered flour via the internet.
Nothing special. Just some multigrain bread flour. I was just too lazy and too busy to get over to the grocery store and buy it there. So, a box with a bag of flour arrived on my doorstep (and in a moment of parenting genius, I convinced Claire to haul it in because I told her it was full of… ahem… flowers. Flowers. Flours. Technically not a lie.)
Thus, my bread-making adventure has lurched into the realm of multigrain bread. Just flour, water & Homer, by the way. I concocted the beauty of a loaf on Thursday evening, giving it about five hours to rise before baking it at 425F for about 25 minutes. I’m still experimenting with converting the various recipes I have into convection oven recipes, but (and you can tell by the little puncture hole on the top of the loaf) I’ve made use of our digital thermometer to gauge the readiness of the baking.
The result (as my morning breakfast analysis told) was a fairly dense loaf. A little lighter than a bagel and not dense in a bad way either, just not the airy, fluffy bread I had imagined. I’m not sure if it’s my process, timing or if I’m putting too much expectations into my overworked starter.
My next attempt is going to be to duplicate this recipe, but to go for an overnight leavening. Twelve hours as opposed to five.
I’m not a baker, but sometimes I play one on home video.
I’m not exactly a foodie either, but I eat. And over the years, particularly recently, I’ve made a conscious effort to better acquaint myself with food. Sometimes this means cooking more (despite messy kitchens and seemingly squandered hours) and sometimes this means eating more (despite the threat of bigger waistlines.) The end goal has always been to better understand food and the act of eating & to perhaps eat better food in the process.
Sadly, the only topics more contentious as a subject of writing about than food, however, are probably religion and politics.
Many of us believe crazy things about the food we consume.
We all eat. We all have ideas, rightly or wrongly, about our food: about taste and substance, nutrients and styles, sources and rituals. Many of us eat out too much. Many of us believe crazy things about the food we consume. We believe nutty things about fat or carbs or gluten or toxins or industrialized food processing. Some of it may even be true, but then many of us can’t even explain why we believe those things. So many of us try to eat less — less in quantity, less of one particular ingredient, less of ethically sketchy products. Then too, many of us try to persuade upon others our ideas and thoughts and philosophies and notions about what we eat… and sometimes those others listen and sometimes they scoff at us.
Food is such a contentious subject that whenever I hear or read or watch some new bit of information or insight about a given food product, ingredient or style, I’ve often taken to digging through the internet in hopes of weighing that information against the mass group consensus (or not) of the crowds.
Or, better, I find myself inspired to uncork my scientific training (yes, from a real university) from where I keep it tucked away at the back of my brain, and experiment.
Perhaps it was just the documentary on bread that we watched on Netflix last week, or perhaps it has been a lurking thought in my mind for a lot longer — either way, I decided to learn more about bread.
Trail and error. Reading. Experimenting. Cooking. Eating. All of it together (hopefully) contributing to this notion I have of the deeply human and romantic notion that goes with turning flour and water into food.
I don’t know much of anything about bread, it turns out. I’ve made bread in the past, I’ve mixed ingredients and dutifully stirred in grocery packets of yeast and spices, cooked according to rigidly defined recipes. But I’ve never played in dough, crafted leavened foods from the heart or soul, never baked with a purpose other than a quick result.
“We’re actually eating cake.”
Watching that documentary, I think the point that stuck out most was this: in our effort to industrialize the bread-making process we’ve compressed a timeline that has withstood millennia of practice: the documentary suggested that we’ve sped up our yeasts, and we’ve cut back on fermentation processes by using chemical additives. And this is great if we want to make lots of bread, cheaply and quickly. We have lots of people to feed after all. But then life moves at a pace that can only be accelerated so much. Bread, before we cook it, is a living thing: living dough. Living yeast turning flour and water into a concoction that becomes airy and nutritious after time passes. Patience nets better results. The documentary suggested, maybe just maybe, that when many of us eat bread that we’re not really eating bread: we’re eating something closer to a cooked doughy batter. Not bread. Not strictly, anyhow. We’re eating cake. Unsweetened, and in the shape of a real loaf of bread with a nice brown crust and seeds clinging to the outside, yes, but cake all the same. And we’ve gotten so used to eating our bread-flavoured cake that we’re beginning to think it’s normal.
Think about that for a minute.
Now, I don’t know if any of this netflixian bread-making mumbo-jumbo holds water any better than a sourdough chili bowl, but then that’s where my analytical brain kicks in, right? And what if, just what if, it was possible to spend a few minutes each day –and an hour or so each week– playing: playing with dough, playing with heat, nurturing yeasts, better understanding this thing I think that I eat almost every day: bread.
So, I’m going to experiment. I’m going to bake bread. And I’m growing a starter. (I think I’ll name him Homer… y’know… because he makes D’OH!)