Again, I let my sourdough starter go hungry for far too long. I am a terrible mother. But I do have a pretty good excuse: the past month has been a whirlwind of packing, moving, and then unpacking. And the requisite IKEA trip. But the spacious new apartment is so worth it – especially considering the kitchen cabinet space! If you’re like me, deep drawers for bowls are one of life’s little luxuries.
But forgetting to feed my starter is just one of the things that fell by the wayside. (Be glad I’m not posting about my overdraft charges – though I’m vindicated by this New York Times article.) I gave the starter a peek last night. A gummy doughy base was submerged in gray liquid. The separation of flour and liquid is normal…but not that sickly gray hue. I assumed it was mold. Vigorously stirring the doughy mass revealed an air pocket that released inky liquid. Mold. Ick. As a scientific type I am sort of delighted that I witnessed a bakebook admonition come true. Several sources warn that starters must be well stirred, lest an air pocket or clump of flour provide a haven for mold to grow. In a healthy starter the yeast defends its territory against molds. There ain’t room for the both of ’em. But a dry pocket keeps the yeast out, giving mold a little foxhole.
So I’m running an experiment to see if my yeast can reclaim its territory. Last night I stirred it all together (dough, liquid, mold, and yeast) and added one cup each fresh water and fresh flour. Tonight I did the same, discarding a cup’s worth or starter. The starter is not looking so horribly gray now and the odor is kinda normal. I don’t plan on baking with it anytime soon, but I’ll be watching daily for signs that the mold is entirely gone and yeast is thriving again.
This summer I received two birthday gifts that will keep on giving for a long time. The first was a seltzer machine. I think my mother expected me to use that Amazon gift certificate for something essential, like a Kitchen Aid mixer, but with Joe purchasing 2 liters of Perrier almost daily, a seltzer machine seemed downright practical. The second gift was a cookbook, Kneedlessly Simple, from two very thoughtful co-workers. I’d heard of no-knead breads…I remembered but hadn’t tried that famous no-knead recipe in the New York Times, and I had also come across an English Muffin post on A Year in Bread that piqued my interest. Receiving this book gave me a perfect opportunity to try something completely different. While I’m patting myself on the back for sticking with the hearth loaf recipe, I and my eaters are a little bored with it. It continues to improve, but it is what it is. And whatever it is does not have big yummy gaping holes.
But no-knead Crusty White Peasant-Style Pot Bread does! The process involves several very long fermentation periods. After mixing the ingredients, the stiff dough went into the fridge for 10 hours (the recipe calls for a minimum of 3 hours). So that was Thursday night. When the dough came out of the fridge it sat for a 24-hour rise at a cool room temperature. This was during that heat wave back in August and I cringe to say I left the dough in front of a running air-conditioner all day while I was at work. It was the only way to maintain 67-70 degrees. I’m not even sure I could guarantee those temperatures during the winter! After a gentle punch-down I had options for the last rise. Since it was evening, I did another extended rise in the refrigerator overnight instead of a 2-hour rise at a warm room temperature. I could have left the dough in fridge for another full 24 hours, bringing the fermentation period up to 58 hours – whoa. The science behind all of this fermentation is micro-kneading. According to experts, the fermentation process mimics kneading on a molecular level. The secret is a long fermentation, and that must be at lower temperatures in order prevent the yeast from losing it’s vigor. So on Saturday morning I brought the dough back up to room temperature and placed it in a plain old sauce pan. I added a sprinkle of coarse salt, lidded the pot, and popped it in the oven. Keeping a lid on the pot created an ideal steamy environment.
The result was, dare I say, heavenly. I brought it to Caroline’s Restoration Farm potluck and in retrospect, I wish I had kept it all for myself! The finished loaf was golden-brown on top and riddled with large moist holes. When I tore off a slice the crumb separated in rough strips like string cheese. My only complaint is the unassuming pot shape: round with flat sides. I’m thinking next time I’ll try using a lidded oval ceramic mold I’ve yet to find a use for. And now that we’ve got cold weather on the way, I can forgo the air-conditioner!
The answers to so so many questions are buried in this treasure of a website! I can’t wait to try out the tips on maintaining a sourdough starter. And maybe I’ll sail right on past measuring ingredients by weight and tackle baker’s percentages!
I do still have a baking excursion to relay, but the real reason for my recent lack of posts is one, our August heat wave, and two, my newest kitchen hobby, canning. Joe and I spent last weekend in the Catskills and stopped at a farm stand on the way home, where I couldn’t resist buying a 25-lb box of canning tomatoes for $10.00! Now I have 13 rosy pints of tomatoes put aside. But please don’t ask me for one – I’d really prefer not to risk poisoning my friends with botulism. Besides, it took me 6 months to bake bread for a crowd. Canning isn’t the simplest process either. If you really insist though you can have a jar of dilly beans.
Well, you missed pita bread and caramelized onion foccacia. I would have written about pita but my photos were accidentally deleted! Suffice to say I was incredibly impressed with the “puff” that creates the pita pocket, and by cooking only 3 at a time, I was able to improve my technique over the course of a single batch! Next time pita comes to call I will give it a full post. Foccacia, well, foccacia is so much easier that I thought it might be a cheap post topic. But I love it to death all the same.
Ho-Hum, however, refers to another dogged attempt at the Country Style Hearth Loaf. While acceptable, this latest incarnation shares the same fault as the previous version: an incredibly hard, thick crust. Just cutting a slice creates a flurry of breadcrumbs. I’m thinking that during the next round I’ll try lowering the oven temperature or decreasing the bake time. I’m also noticing that the proofed loaves don’t hold their shape as I transfer them to the peel and slide them into the oven. As a reult they’re a bit flattened when they hit the oven which isn’t helping the crust situation. Next I’ll try more kneading – I could use an arm workout anyway!