Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Sourdough Experiment #6 – The Ups and Downs, but mostly Ups

It really can’t be called an experiment any more.

We’ve made a different sort of sourdough bread, based on home-made sourdough starter grown right on my kitchen table, every week for a few months now. And, to my endless surprise, they turn out pretty damn good, considering I’ve never been very successful with yeast-based breads in the past. The sourdough starter bacteria really pump out a lot of gas, lifting the dough to great heights.

This is definitely the up side of the sourdough experiment. All it takes is patience. Warm days help, but are not absolutely necessary. Cold days just means more patience is necessary to allow the little bacteria time to multiply so that there are enough little gas passers to raise a dough. Eventually, this happens. And another couple of loaves of sourdough bread are ready for baking.

Another up is that the bread rises significantly as baking begins. So far in each of a dozen or so tries, the final bread has at least tripled in size by the time baking is done. Which makes for a nice, light loaf of bread.

Plus, I like the taste of the sour bread. A definite up, for me, in any event. Flavor that you cannot get in any bread from a store.

But there are the downs.

The main one being that, if you are severely mentally challenged like me, and you forget every time to save some sourdough starter for the next loaf, you really can not plan exactly when the next loaf will be ready to be baked.

So I wanted to make some of the rye and whole wheat sourdough bread for Thursday, that being Thanksgiving.

And in the weekend rush of high school sports events last Saturday, not only did I forget to save some starter before kneading the entire batch into a new loaf and popping it into the oven, but I forgot for the next two days to start a new batch of sourdough starter.

So, unless the little bacteria have a prolific non-stop three day orgy in their little bucket of flour and water, the starter I made yesterday will not be ready in time for Thanksgiving.

Maybe it is for the better. I’m not entirely sure the sourdough bread is ready for the ultimate judges panel- the relatives. These guys make Gordon Ramsey look meek. The barbs are always heated till red hot before they are slung across the table. Naturally in the guise of a pseudo-compliment. Laden however with layers of resentment and frustration and who knows what all before they are slid between the ribs and twisted, or jabbed viciously and deep during an apparent pat on the back. Maybe I can sit at the kids table during the turkey dinner. The kids haven’t reached this level of sophistication yet!

Anyhoo, last Saturday, we went for a whole wheat and oat bread with lots of molasses. Based on a pure whole wheat sourdough starter.

Though I personally prefer the natural sour flavor – i.e. sourdough bread without added honey or molasses, I am but one of many here, and my preferences usually get voted down quickly.

So we have experimented a bit with whole wheat flour based breads, which are not as sour as rye in the first place. And we have tried a few combinations of honey, looking to balance the sour flavor a bit and mollify the rest of the people who live here.

This time, I wanted to try adding oats. In the form of whole steel cut rolled oats. Supposed to be very healthy!

Plus, some super iron-rich molasses. Also highly recommended from a health perspective.

The molasses turned the bread a deep, dark brown color. And added a very striking flavor. Molasses being a more intense flavor than, say, honey. Sweet, salty, a little sulfury, all at once.

I think, however, that the addition of the oats made for a less soft crumb. The bread rose well, as the pictures illustrate. But the resultant bread was more crumbly than others. Maybe the oats interrupt the natural formation of the gluten fibers of the whole wheat flour as the bread is kneaded? Maybe I should have done something different with the oats before adding them to the dough?

I soaked the raw oats for a while in some boiling water. And then just mixed them into the starter, along with additional flour, prior to kneading. Although the oats sort of dissolved into the dough, I could tell while kneading that the texture would be a little different.

The flavor was great, however. Very rich and hearty, mainly from the molasses. Something we will certainly try again.

Recipe to follow shortly!

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Blogger Dick Margulis said...

You know I'm a big fan, so please don't take this the wrong way, but I'm not impressed by the bread. This may be an area where doing some homework will help you achieve better results.

The alt.bread.recipes and rec.food.sourdough news groups are good resources for learning about bread chemistry, particularly sourdough chemistry, and for learning techniques for proper mixing, kneading, moulding, and baking.

At first glance, just judging by your photos, I'd say you are baking old (that is, overproofed) dough. That's what's giving you the bubbly sidewalls and the sagging crown. This may be a result of mixing too warm or of proofing too long. But I think perhaps you are also having some trouble with kneading and with moulding.

If you were to enter the bread in a professionally judged contest, it would be rejected before the judges ever got around to tasting it, I'm afraid.

Hold onto your enthusiasm, but season it with some reading. I think you'll find you can get much better results that way.

5:25 PM  
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