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.
Ok, so I possibly, accidentally, maybe did something right. Or maybe I’m just figuring this breadmaking thing out. It is shortly after midnight and I’ve stayed up late baking a loaf of sourdough that I’d timed a bit wrong: it was ready to bake when we got home from movie night. Ugh. And I was going to call it an early night, too.
I made this up as a full recipe because I was planning on bringing it to a party tomorrooooo– well, I guess later today — and I wanted a generous loaf. Usually I do a 2/3 recipe because we just don’t eat it fast enough… but, y’know… sharing.
It was also baked in the new dutch oven: the seven quart cast iron behemoth, preheated and smoking (literally) hot baked this sucker up so beautiful that when I set it on the counter to cool, the symmetry to the picture on the cover of the recipe book couldn’t escape my interest.
I just hope it tastes good too.
You forgot about my sourdough experimenting, didn’t you?
I don’t blame you. I nearly did.
With the kitchen in disarray for a couple months, making bread on a regular basis kinda fell by the wayside. Homer (my starter levain) hung out in the fridge and I offered him up a couple irregular feedings, but there was about a month there when we didn’t even have running water, so I kinda crossed my fingers and hoped for a quiet hibernation.
After our holiday tour ended and we got back home, I began anew this morning my efforts to revive my poor starter from his winter slumber. He was a little crusty on the top, but I warmed him up and stirred him gently. A fresh dose of flour and water, and a couple sets of crossed fingers later, I’ve been checking in over the course of the day to see how he’s faring.
I also tried to make a loaf of bread from the recently woken levain… which went about as well as you’d expect from anything you wake up and demand go to work for you.
While Homer has spent the day churning away on the countertop, and right now after a solid 12 hours of action seems to be ready for another feeding, my bread on the other hand… I’m going to proof it overnight, but I’m not holding out much hope for a fresh-baked morning loaf at this point: I’m just hoping it doesn’t revolt and take over the kitchen while I’m sleeping.
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 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?
I’ve been pacing myself. We can only eat so much bread, after all. So, I’m aiming for one good loaf per week.
The kicker being: a GOOD loaf.
This is apparently more complex than it sounds, and the experimenting continues as the house fills with the aroma of yeast and baking bread, and the dust pan picks up more and more stray flour from the kitchen floors.
Homer, my sourdough starter is moderately mature. He bubbles away in the fridge for most of the week, patiently blossoming as I ponder his feeding schedule. I was never quite sure what blend of voodoo and science would be involved in owning such a pet, but as it turns out it’s about as much work as owning a goldfish. A goldfish you can put in the fridge for most of the week before you bring him up to room temperature for a couple hours and then cut him in half and sacrifice his writhing corpse to the bread gods occasionally to… ok, maybe not the best analogy.
I also bought a book. This tome of a hardcover monstrosity called Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza which, in a very brief review, I’ll tangentially add has good bread-making advice but comes across a little bit elitist about it all. I bought this book and I’ve gone from kneading away at these dry-ish lumps of flour and water, to creating velvety mounds of butter-soft dough, folding it in a gluten-twisting minimalist effort.
The results have been varied. The variation comes from the fact that my kitchen is not equipped to the same standard as the dude who wrote the book, and until I buy commercial baking equipment I’ve been improvising everything past the “here thar be dough” phase of the instructions. My leavening has gone from too short to too long. I’ve baked lumps of bread so dense and inedible that it went almost directly into the trash. I blossomed another overnight and came downstairs the next morning to find a puddle of doughy goop all over the counter-top. What did stay in the pan baked up nice, if a little oddly shaped.
This book also has indoctrinated me into the baking-by-weight philosophy. Gone are my cups and measures. I’ve been weighing out precise grams of flour combos and drip-dropping water into a tared container on a scale. 500 grams of flour. 400 grams of water. 12 grams of salt. And a good wad of starter. Go.
I’ve also been swapping between a standard loaf shape and, uh, mound shape (I guess). The loaf shape goes into my cast iron loaf pan and seems to make a pretty respectable sandwich loaf… when I get the temperature right. Much easier has been to just let a wad of dough rise on my 10 inch cast iron skillet and bake the whole thing. It bakes a bit more evenly, but the resulting round loaf needs some creative cutting to fit into the toaster.
So far –and when it actually works– it’s been worth it. I made a loaf this past weekend and even Claire paid me an almost-compliment: “Dad, this tastes like it came from a factory!” I think she meant it in a good way. Though it did make just about the best damn grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever built.
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!)