The Shady Baker

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The trouble with sourdough

I have been tinkering around with sourdough for around seven years now.  In that time I have tried countless experiments and different methods and recipes but my basic go-to bread has always been white loaves, proved in banettons based on a recipe from the Bourke Street Bakery cookbook.  There was a time when I could churn out twelve of these loaves in one big batch and be reasonably happy with the results.

But, somewhere along the way things started to change.  We bought another sheep property, our children got older and their schooling required more time and commitment. My kitchen started to fill up with other things.  

I have continued to bake through all of this but recently my bread has been misshapen, cracked and either over or under proved.  Bread requires a certain amount of rhythm and lately I have been trying to force that rhythm around too many other things.

Last weekend I went back to basics by mixing up my usual recipe, paying particular attention to each tiny step.  Half of the dough went straight to the freezer to be used for scrolls or pizza bases. I divided the remaining dough into three pieces and gave it plenty of time to rest before shaping. 

I took my time with the shaping, paying particular attention to the seams and ends.

My loaves quietly proved for most of the day before I put them into the fridge for an hour or two.  I find the fridge helps to firm the dough, making it easier to slash the loaves without having the whole thing collapse at that crucial stage.

Before slashing, I made sure my little knife was razor sharp, thanks Terry.

Half of our dinner had already been cooked in the oven prior to bread baking; I had planned this to take full advantage of the oven heat.  As many of you know, bread baking requires plenty of heat but preheating an empty oven always feels like such a waste of resources, to me.

In went the loaves with plenty of water misted on them before I closed the oven door. 

These loaves made my heart sing as they came out of the oven. I am not suggesting for a minute that they were perfect but they were the best loaves I have produced in ages and that made me happy.

Coincidentally, the same day I had a friend ask me for some sourdough starter.  I happily handed over a suspicious package of white, bubbly substance in the street after we had enjoyed friendly bread conversation over coffee.  It was then that I realised all is well in the world of bread.   Like everything in life, it ebbs and flows.  

Has your baking ever gone a little bit off track?  Did you get back on track?

I hope your loaves are delightfully golden and please tell me you have real butter in your house. 

Happy mid-week, friends x

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