Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection

I have been accused in the past of being a perfectionist. I don't think the moniker fits, but I do try hard to do well in the tasks I take on. And I must say, baking a good loaf of bread is quite a challenge.  As I detailed in an earlier post on the topic, making good bread is as much an art as it is a science.  There are a lot of different things going on in sourdough, which is surprising given that it is as basic as a bread can be: flour, water, and salt.  No instant yeast, no eggs, no extras.

The essence of the bread's flavor comes from the starter.  The starter is a mix of flour and water that has had the good fortune of some wild yeast stopping by and taking root.  There are two kinds of bacteria that are at work here, and the two contribute a different flavor to the bread depending on their proportion.  I can't be assed to look up the details of what they're called, and which contributes to the sour flavor and which contributes to more rise.  But I do know that I wanted a little more sour flavor than I got out of Try #12.

So for Try #14, I took the same approach as Try #12.  To my half batch of Basic Country Bread from the Tartine Bread book, I did as before and built my leaven from only a half teaspoon of my starter that is now being fed twice a day (see here on why you want to use so little starter if you want more sour).  The smell of that starter has only the slightest hint of sourness to it after letting it reach its peak and letting it come down a bit.  But this time, I also added a half teaspoon of pretty powerful smelling starter from my discard container.  My thought was that I'd get the good rise I did on Try #12 thanks to the vigorous starter, and some extra sour flavor from the discard.  I also presumed that the discard wouldn't do much to change the rise time of the dough since it is pretty burned out by now.  In a nutshell, the fresh starter would give me rise and the old starter would give me flavor.

I whipped up a batch yesterday and otherwise followed the same guidelines as Try #12 (Try #13 was the disaster I had trying to push a 40% rise during the bulk ferment: let us never speak of it again).  My rise with this extra starter was actually a coupler hours longer this time than last time.  Remember, I am going for a 30% rise and will wait as long as I need to to get it.  Was the rise slowed somehow by the addition of the old starter?  I don't think so.  I think it is more likely that it was cooler in the house this weekend, so that just slowed everything down.

Let's cut to the chase, shall we?  How did it turn out?
Try #14
I got my best rise yet this time around with a crumb that is nice and open.  But did I get more of a sour flavor?  Indeed!  The 50-50 mix of the starters gave noticeably more tang to Try #14 than Try #12 without any old starter.  The bread went great with some eggs done over easy and some turkey bacon on the side.  It was stellar toasted in the toaster oven with some ham, old cheddar cheese, and grainy mustard on top.  It will be interesting to see how the flavor develops as well: we've found that the sour flavor builds a day or two after baking.

I might try even more old starter next time around just for grins, but I now think I'm at the point where I can call this bread a job well done.

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