The two loaves of sourdough bread that I baked this week turned out unexpectedly. I prepared my leaven and bread mixture the night before I intended to bake. I noticed the first signs of trouble in the morning, when my leaven failed the float test — an indication of weak yeast activity. I’m contributing the inactivity to the temperature of our house — that night our AC kicked on and when we woke up it was 69 degrees, not necessarily ideal or what my starter is used to. Not what we’re used to, either — Brrrrr! Additionally, I imagine if I used an extra tablespoon of starter when making the leaven, it may have passed the float test after all, as I remember doing the last time I baked. Regardless, I was determined to move forward and so I mixed the leaven into the bread and let it sit for a while before I stirred a mixture of warm salt water into the wet dough.
After plenty of waiting and some kneading, the time had come to divide and shape the loaves. How I always end up with such a high hydration dough I do not know, though I do know that wet dough is extremely hard to work with and quite messy! After I shaped my loaves and coated them in bran, one went into the fridge and the other straight into a preheated Dutch oven within the oven itself (Michael Pollan’s tip). At the halfway mark I removed the lid as instructed. I had to laugh at the sight I beheld — two words came to mind immediately that readers of Madeline will surely appreciate: Bad Hat.
Yes, my bread had all the makings of a bad hat, both in the literal and figurative sense. What’s worse, when all the baking was through, the loaf stuck to my poor, lovely Dutch oven! What compelled me to then take a metal spatula and try to gently nudge it out I do not know. We think we can get away with a lot when we have yet to experience the consequences of an action, I suppose. I’m being somewhat tongue-in-cheek here, but really it felt like such a grave matter at the time — I had scratched my precious (Gollum voice) new enameled ceramic cast iron Dutch oven. Will finally got the loaf out with a wooden spatula, but I’m left wondering — can I still cook in this pot without imbibing ceramic along with whatever I’m cooking? The scratches are rather delicate, like little silver veins, and still I’m a bit paranoid. But wait — wait! The biggest surprise: the bread tasted delicious–very sour, even savory. I think bread will turn out more sour if you use a starter that hasn’t been fed right away or is older — perhaps such was the case with mine.
I did bake the second loaf the next day — this time in a glass casserole dish, the same piece I used the last few times that I’ve baked bread. Though I had more success with this second loaf, still I would have liked to see a crustier loaf with greater rise, which brings me to the next bane of bread baking for newbies such as myself: slashing the bread. I have seen the gorgeous photos of country loaves that have been artistically slashed so as to produce what they call ears. I have seen crusts like a rugged mountain landscape, with hills and valleys of various textures. I long to serve something as beautiful, but alas my efforts have all been in vain. I blame the high hydration dough, and my own lack of experience.
Instead, I sliced my bad hat loaf into pieces and coated them in melted brown sugar, toasted the cubes in the oven once more and dressed it all in roughly crushed raspberries (see the Sweet Panzanella recipe from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day). Now I’m sick of bread — I’ve eaten enough of it in three days to fill me for the next several months. I think I will freeze my starter again until the next baking fit overcomes me.
Until the next time – Wren (who is ready for a big bowl of greens and lighter fare all around).