Baking bread takes time and therefore patience. It also seems to take some intuition, gusto, and a firmer touch than I previously thought. The process is frustratingly challenging at times and yet remains deeply fulfilling despite mishaps along the way, or even at the end.This morning I was excited to see my leaven pass the float test; that is, when I dropped a tablespoonful of the stuff in some warm water, it floated, confirming that my yeast was active enough to use in bread. This was already an improvement upon my last baking experience. A few weeks ago, the leaven sank (I used it anyway). When I went to make my leaven last night I added an extra tablespoonful of starter, which I believe is what caused the leaven to float today.
I think most of my challenges occurred while trying to divide and shape the dough, after bulk fermentation (see Michael Pollan’s Cooked for details on the process I am following.). I’m not sure if my dough was too wet, or if I didn’t let it sit long enough in bulk fermentation, but when I went to divide and shape the loaves, they just weren’t showing much surface tension and were sticking quite a bit to the countertop, despite my best efforts to keep my work surface and hands floured.
I did my best to roll the formless masses in some wheat bran and put them both in separate bowls dusted (albeit a bit heavy handedly) with rice flour to proof.
You’ll laugh, but I tucked one bowl in my daughter’s crib and pulled the covers over it warmly. The other, quite a different approach, went into the refrigerator so that the flavors could further develop.
After about a couple of hours I preheated my mom’s Princess House casserole & plopped the crib-dough inside. Then I was to score it with a straight-edged razor blade or a lame, neither of which I have, so I used a knife to the best of my ability. The dough pulled in a way that felt wrong, and yet I was reluctant to press into it any firmer, though I made myself do it anyway. I placed the lid on top of the casserole and put everything in to bake for 20ish minutes, after which I took the lid off and baked for another 20ish minutes.
I was pleasantly surprised, again! The bread filled the house with a light yeasty scent, the crust turned a beautiful shade of caramel, and best of all, it tasted wonderfully complex. The contrast between the crusty outside and the moist, fluffy inside kept me, my husband, and even our baby, wanting more. Maybe we are easily pleased, because there still was that matter of the unidentifiable score marks & extra rice flour that, sorry to say, made me think of those two-toned monkey bottoms (but in white, rather than red) when I looked at the loaf! I would really like to refine my scoring skills down the line, as I have seen some beautiful pictures online of really artistic loaves.
I realize that I must be more confident with my hands next time, firmer in my kneading & shaping of the dough, and more assertive in scoring the loaf. I want to say, this is work for the soul. As any worthy endeavor, it is frustrating at times because it tests us, making us feel vulnerable as it exposes those aspects of ourselves or our work that need some extra care. At least, that is how it has been with me. To foster confidence, trust, and intuitiveness while baking is in some way to foster the same within myself.