It seems like time to return to this theme and document my experiences with Sourdough baking over the last 3-4 months. In general, it’s been a lot of fun, a lot of learning, and surprisingly few disasters along the way. I’m now up to loaf 31, and to snorts of derision at home, I plan a family event when, hopefully, I get to my half century loaf.
Along the way, a few things have evolved, quite naturally. I have now gotten to the point where I make two loaves at the same time. I do the whole process, doubling all the measurements, and then when I get to the last stage of shaping the loaf, I simply chop the dough in half and finish the kneading and shaping. I have two baskets, two iron saucepans to put them in, and effectively I get two loaves for the same amount of effort. And I only have to clean up once, even if (apparently) my cleaning effort is not up to the expected standard chez moi. Ah well, it’s a small price to pay.
What has been interesting has been the way that varying temperatures have affected the proving period for the dough. I have resorted at times to using the airing cupboard, but I also feel that sort of ‘forces’ the rise, so I try to let it happen naturally for longer periods at room temperature. I have also invested in multiple small bits and pieces as I keep discovering ‘new needs’. In summary, I have added a second proving basket (souvenir from Vietnam), second iron casserole pot, a scalpel for scoring the dough, a thermometer for my airing cupboard, some added kilner jars for yeast cultures, brushes to clean the baskets, and a bunch of teatowels. I have discovered that you can NEVER have too many tea-towels.
I’ve gotten better at not letting the dough stick to the tea-towels. I have gotten a lot better at the folding and injecting the air into the dough to get a better rise. I have discovered fresh yeast (in Polish shops) and a bit of that in the initial ‘mother culture’ seems to bring an extra vigour to the mix. I use bottled still water for the yeast culture, to avoid the chlorine and whatever else in the tap water. I have considered collecting (clean) rainwater to see if it makes a difference. So far, I have not actually done it, but it’s a possibility…I also use the best ‘strong white flour’ I can find. No point in cutting corners.
On the negative side, I forgot to ask someone to feed the ‘mother culture’ while we were away on a three week trip, so it…..died. I had to borrow a fresh culture from a friend to get going. That was my one total disaster, the bake I made when the culture was flat. It went in the bin. RIP.
And all in all, it’s been a lot of fun. I have started – on occasion – adding items like raisins and sunflower seeds into the mix. I have also put in milled Chia seeds, although they don’t really taste of much. Next time out I am going to pick fresh Rosemary from the garden, chop it finely, and see how that works out. I have a feeling it could be good, but time will tell. I keep meaning to read up more stuff online about other people’s experiences, and hints and tips. But so far I have, in general, tried to stick to building a coherent routine. I do struggle to fit it into my working week, but often I’ll start the ball rolling on Thursday night, and finally bake on Saturday. But longer term I think I will try to figure out a cycle that works within the work week too…
I give away a lot of what I bake, as I feel a) it’s sociable, b) my real fun is in the making and c) practice makes perfect, but if I/we ate all I produce, we’d be total blimps by now. So all in all, sharing makes sense. And finally, I have to say that the big kick I get from all of this is just messing around in the kitchen and actually producing something that (nearly always) tastes good. It’s quite relaxing, and I half-think I may be getting to the point where I actually can feel that the dough is becoming springy and ready to shape. Maybe it’s self-induced hysteria, but still… I also know a few other people who are on the Sourdough train, so comparing notes is a lot of fun. Sourdough banter is an evolving medium, but I’m well able for the comments.
Next report somewhere around Number 50, whenever that happens. I’m forecasting April, with any luck.