So much for beginner’s luck…

I’ve spent two weekends baking since my last post and I’m sad to report less success than my last sourdough. Here’s April 5th:

pain au levain pain au levain - cracked bottom crust

You can see that the base is cracked. From what I’ve read I think my cuts weren’t deep enough, and that my crust (again) hardened too quickly, forcing the bottom crust to crack open to let steam escape. The bottom crust is inevitably weaker than the top because when shaping the final dough you round the top and seal any flaps together on the bottom. Worse though, this loaf clearly didn’t rise all that much. I made the mistake here of trying a whole new recipe: Pain Au Levain from The Bread Alone cookbook. Pain Au Levain is technically a sourdough, but it involves a step that lessens that familiar sourdough flavor. To create the “levain” I mixed flour into my starter to create a dough and let that ferment for 8 – 10 hours. Then I added more flour and kneaded the dough. The recipe takes just as long my sourdough but the dough doesn’t spend time in the fridge, where the yeast slows down. So I think with my Pain Au Levain I may have tuckered out my yeast before the dough hit the oven.

After several busy weekends I finally had a chance to bake again this Friday. I returned to my previously successful sourdough but made a few unfortunate changes! First, I wasn’t expecting to have time to bake, so I didn’t “wake” the starter up ahead of time. I’d had it in the fridge for three weeks, feeding it water and flour only once a week. When I plan to bake I need to bring the starter to room temperature a day before and feed it every 12 hours. I really wanted to bake though so I decided to go for it despite my sleeping starter. As predicted, the dough was extremely sluggish to rise but I tried to be patient, hoping for the yeast to wake up at some point during the process. By the time I was ready for bed my dough still hadn’t risen so I put it in the refrigerator so that it wouldn’t peak while I was asleep. This turned out to be a pretty good call. I brought out the dough in the morning and left it on the counter to rise with a thermometer inserted. When the dough finally warmed above 70 degrees I started to see some action. By 9pm it had doubled so I punched it down and shaped it. But again I found myself up against a bedtime and decided to bake the shaped loaf after only 30 minutes of proofing. NOT a good idea! I keep hoping that oven spring will miraculously fix a sluggish loaf but I think I’ve proved it just doesn’t work that way.

a very sour sourdough

The other oddity you might notice here is the bubbly texture. Here’s a closeup:

close up of sour sourdough

Inspired by No Knead Bread, I deliberately added a bit less flour than usual to keep a wet dough. Comments I’d read about this loaf suggested that a wetter dough might give me those large irregular air holes. Eh, who can tell when your dough isn’t properly risen in the first place!

This bread has an very pronounced sourdough flavor. I’m wondering why that is. One guess is that either the rise (i.e. fermenting) time was longer than usual, and another guess is that my starter has actually become more sour as it ages. Well I killed my starter this morning so maybe I’ll never know! Perhaps feeling slightly vindictive, I left my starter out on the counter for three days without feeding it and this morning found a film of mold growing over the top of it. Eew. On a small scale this shouldn’t be a problem – just spoon off the mold and the yeast will kill off the rest. But I just didn’t feel prepared to tackle a whole lot of mold. And to be honest, I’ve resolved to return to humbler yeasted breads until I am more skilled.

I’ve had requests that I give away or even export my bread (thanks for the vote of confidence Cessi)! Sure, there’s plenty to go around, but seriously my loaves are still barely edible.

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One response to “So much for beginner’s luck…

  1. it seems to me the root of your troubles is all this sleeping (and the resultant “bedtime” of which you speak). you should probably just stop.

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