The Flour Chronicles : 2

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“Sourdough is the original, truly natural bread. We are talking biblical stuff here …” Jamie Oliver, Happy Days with the Naked Chef (p256)

Perhaps Jamie isn’t aware just how right he is, but for me, a long love of good bread, an appreciation of the benefits of traditional baking methods and a growing theological appreciation for bread’s role as symbol and metaphor were enough motivations to undergo a weeklong experiment. A week and a two loaves after my last post, I thought I would fill you in on my third, almost-beginning-to-be-considered-successful attempt at baking sourdough bread.

Monday – I mixed the 500g of rye flour through some water, enough to make a soft, but still moldable, dough. The dough enjoyed a spot of afternoon sunshine outside to soak up some natural yeasts.

Tuesday – it hadn’t started to bubble (it was meant to) so rather than leave it alone (I was mean to), I added some more water to moisten the dough. Rather than the pliable texture of Monday’s dough, it more closely resembled sticky, greyish mud.

Wednesday – as I had not used organic flour (I was meant to do that too!) I began to worry I might have put the whole dough in jeopardy, but to my great surprise and delight, I discovered bubbles in my dough on Wednesday!

Thursday – now I was about a day behind, I did the Wednesday ‘step’ on Thursday, ‘better late than never!’. I fed and watered the starter, adding a couple of handfuls of wheat flour and enough water to return the dough to the consistency of it’s remedied-Tuesday-texture.

Friday – I feared that disaster had struck when I found slightly frosted, cloudy bubbles on the top of the starter. I imagined these indicated an undesirable mouldy growth. Closer examination revealed that the surface had just dried out. I mixed the ‘crust’ through and the bubbles kept forming. Due to my lack of foresight, the poor starter had to survive a trip to Brisbane in my hand luggage, sealed in a glass container with a plastic lid. It survived nicely and continued to give contended signs of life.

Saturday – my dough happily adjusted to the warm Brisbane temperatures, I went ahead with the next step of kneading in 1kg of wheat flour and enough water to ensure a smooth, elastic dough. At this point I was meant to rest the bread for 14 hours before baking. Several issues became apparent. Namely, my lack of careful reading and addition skills. 14 hours from 1pm was 3am … not an ideal time to bake. I had hastily added the flour (and the salt, meant to be added after some of the dough was removed and reserved to become the starter for the next loaf, grrr), concerned to ensure the bread would have time to rise and bake before my 6pm Sunday flight. My joint fear of airport tardiness and difficulty in slowing down to do the maths both conspired against my need for sleep. However, it was not a concern in the end because the bread rose much faster than expected. In fact, only a few hours later I decided I had better punch the dough down and make two loaves. Even so, by the time we left in the evening for dinner (4 – 4 1/2 hours later), the bread seemed to have exhausted it’s rising power. The structure had begun to collapse. Our tickets to Wicked prevented us from attempting any sort of dough resuscitation at that point and when we returned much, much later the dough had slumped down into the loaf pan. Similarly fatigued, I left it alone till morning.

Sunday – the next morning I reshaped my worn out dough into two small loaves; one in a tin and one on a tray. Although I did give them one last chance to rise again, their efforts the day before had sapped their strength and both remained quite small. After the promising start and long journey (both physical and metaphorical!), it seemed a pity not to bake-and-see. After an hour in the oven at 190oC the loaves were golden and very acceptably bread-shaped. No sooner was it out of the oven and photographed than the bread knife emerged and slices were toasted, buttered and taste tested. Dense and chewy, the sour flavour was present but not unappealing. Ideally my loaves would have been home to a few more air bubbles but this batch was my best and most edible success to date!

Final notes:
– Jamie Oliver is writing from an English context and I imagine his raising times would be based on English ambient temperatures, not northern Australian ones … an important consideration for future loaves.
– the sour dough starter returned with me from Brisbane, it still has a few bubbles, not as many as last week, but I did add that salt too early so what can you do? I’ll just keep an eye on it and see how it grows. Maybe I’ll give it another afternoon of fresh air and sunshine and see what happens!

 

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