Sunday, August 7, 2011

Starting the seed culture

Here's what I'm doing to make a seed culture for a sourbread dough starter...  It's a pretty involved process but, what the heck, I've got plenty of time :)    Oh, so you know, I purchased a digital kitchen scale from Amazon.  Turns out,  that in order to do make bread precisely, it's best to do it by weight rather than volume.  This makes perfect sense if you think about it....  Here's day one so you can follow along:

28.5 grams or 3.5 tablespoons of flour  (whole wheat, rye or unbleached bread flour)  I'm using unbleached all-purpose so we'll see what happens...

56.5 grams of filtered water (or unsweetened pineapple juice).  I'll explain the reason for the juice option later...

Whisk it all together until all of the flour is hydrated, wrap it in a bowl and leave it at room temperature for 48 hours.  Two to three times (each day of this process), you need to mix the culture in order to aerate it (so it doesn't spoil).  You shouldn't see any activity (bubbling) during the first 24 hours but you'll probably see it in the next 24.  This is what it looked like after mixing on day one:

What is all this doing?  The flour mixture will be fermenting over time.  Various strains of bacteria will metabolize the sugar and convert it into acetic or lactic acid.  This is what gives the "sour" taste to the dough.  Interestingly though, the low pH of the dough inhibits the growth of commercial yeast but allows for the growth of the preferable or "wild" yeast that gives this bread its distinctive flavor.  Geez, I sound like Alton Brown :)

#4 was the charm :)

I felt I corrected everything that I'd done wrong in the previous batches.  In addition,  I ended up with a dough that was pretty "tacky"; something I'd come to learn was actually a good thing  (I'll get to that in my next blog).  The one thing I did differently (than this video) was adding just one teaspoon of yeast.  The more I'm reading,  I think I only need to use enough yeast to get things going.  For future batches,  I'll be slowing down the fermentation process by refrigerating the dough overnight (something that should make for better flavor in the finished product).  For this particular batch,  the dough doubled in around an hour and a half.  I punched it down, flattened it out, rolled in and sealed the corners and formed the boule (or ball) so it had a nice tight "skin".   I let this double in size and lightly scored it (in retrospect, I might have scored it just a little deeper).  I tossed some water into a pre-heated pan before I closed the door to the oven.   I gave the bread 30 minutes at 450F, reduced it to 375F and gave it about 20 min more.  The end result was a fairly dark colored bread (I thought I might have left it in too long) but the crumb, the crust and the flavor were pretty darn good (in this newbie's opinion).  A pat on the bottom yielded a nice drum-like hollow sound.   Nice!  Here's the end result:

I'm now in the process of reading Reinhart's Artisen Breads Everyday.  Tomorrow, I'll post my attempt at starting a seed culture for a sourbread dough.  It's going to take a couple of days, but hopefully, I'll be able to make a whole wheat sourbread dough :)  Looks like I'll be able to keep the starter for a very long time.  From what I've read,  there's a bakery that's used the same one for 100 years :)

The Third Attempt

I started to do a little more research, read more and watched a bunch of videos on bread making.  I stumbled upon one that seemed to remove the mystique from the bread making process.  The emphasis on exact measuring and kneading was dismissed as "not needed" and, since his results were (obviously) good, I was very much encouraged and decided to give this one a shot (with a little tweaking).

I had read that french baguettes went stale very quickly because of the zero fat content.  So, I decided to continue to add olive oil (1 tablespoon) to this batch.  In addition, because I was looking for the darker color, I also added a tablespoon of honey.

All in all, because I staged everything prior to the actual mixing, it all went pretty smoothly.  Unfortunately, when I scored the boule after proofing, I thought I scored it too deeply and the dough seemed to droop...  it appeared to spread out rather than up, so I punched it back down and started over again.   Once again, after the fact, I felt that I should have left it to rise just a little longer.  The other "mistake" I think I made was not leaving it in long enough and taking it out after just 30 minutes.   I went with yet another "recipe" which said to bake it for 30 minutes at 450F and reduce to 375F for 15 to 30 minutes "until golden brown".   I guess I panicked because the bread was coloring so quickly and took it out a little early.   (I also needed to work on what rack to place the bread on in my oven).  Still, I was encouraged by the results and thought that I was finally on the right track.  I really felt that #4 would be much better.  Here's what #3 looked like:

I really can't complain about the end result.  I made a couple of great sandwiches on toasted slices of this and some incredible french toast dusted with powdered sugar and drizzled with maple syrup :) 

The first attempt

My first attempt was a total disaster.  I looked at the first instructional video I found on a YouTube search and followed the instructions (or so I thought).

Unfortunately, I should not have poured the proofed (rapid-rise) yeast directly into all of the flour.  I tried to mix it by hand but it appeared to be way too dry and un-mixable, so I tossed it and tried again.   This time, I left out one cup of the flour, used it to flour my table top and incorporated the balance into the dough while kneading.  Wait a second...  did I count the right amount of cups of flour?  Hmmm... I THINK I did :)  The dough felt a bit mushy and was still sticky (is that OK?) so I added flour until it felt like I thought it SHOULD feel like.  Oh &*%$, !  I didn't add the salt!  (Note to self:  stage the freakin' ingredients before you start) Oh, what the heck,  I added the salt to the dough and kneaded it until it felt like it was all incorporated.   When I was done, I put it in an oiled bowl, covered it with Saran wrap and let the dough rise for almost 2 hours (until it was doubled in size).  Wow!  It looked (and smelled) pretty good after all!  I punched it down and attempted to form it into two loafs (like an Italian bread) and scored it three times across the top.  (Darn.... I should have scored it after the proofing) To be honest,  I was so anxious to get this going,  I didn't wait long enough for it to rise the second time and popped it in the oven (after I brushed some water over the top of the loaf in order to form a crispy crust).   The end result was a rather pale looking bread (not high enough temp or the rack too low in the oven?) with a dense crumb (not a lot of airy bubbles inside).  However, it didn't taste too bad and I managed to turn the leftovers into some incredible garlic / parmesan croutons :)  LIke my Mom would say, if you put good things in, it will taste good :)


So there is no misunderstanding, I'm no trained chef by any stretch of the imagination, but ask anyone who knows me and they'll tell you that I just love to cook.   Now that I'm unemployed and in a "semi-retired" mode, I've got plenty of time to try something I've always wanted to do and that's learn how to bake bread!  I don't have a fancy Kitchenaid mixer or a Blodgett oven, but I figured I could do just fine with what I have.  Po Jo needs to make do with what he has :)  I've started this blog to document my experiences in beginning bread making with the hope of inspiring others to give it a shot.  As I recently told my wife, "Nothing says lovin' like somethin' from the oven" :)

Bring on the carbs!!!