Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"Woostah!" Sourdough

Welcome to Woostah, home of the 'bubblah' (water fountain) and many other weird and wonderful things. Did you know that we are credited with inventing candle pin bowling!

'Woostah' Sourdough

In Hamelman's book Bread, this formula is entitled Vermont Sourdough. Seeing as I am not in Vermont, I felt it necessary to change the name to Worcester (Woostah)Sourdough. This is the first formula in the wheat sourdough chapter. I have not made this bread in a long time and I could not remember what it was like to make and eat, so I decided to bake it this week. The last time I made it, I forgot to make an autolyse, so I made sure to highlight that in the instructions in my book so that I would not forget again. (My poor book is falling apart from over use) Guess what? I still managed to forget something....The salt. Thank goodness that I remembered to add it just before the dough was finished mixing. I will explain my mistake in further detail below. 

First let me explain the starter and the feeding of my culture. This bread is made with a liquid levain culture, which is hydrated at 120 percent. This culture is very loose when compared to a stiff levain which is typically about 60% hydrated. Hamelman tends to prefer a liquid levain in most of his sourdough breads. It is certainly easier to mix, so I am a fan. I was hoping to make this bread a few days ago, but when I looked in the fridge to make my sourdough build, I noticed that I had very little left, and I had no choice but to spend a few days building it back up for baking. I spent two days feeding the sourdough starter. Since my move back from Ohio, I went from having three starters: rye, liquid levain and stiff levain to just having two: rye and stiff levain. So I had to initially change my stiff levain to a liquid levain. It is certainly more convenient to have three, but it is not totally necessary. I am currently living at my parents' house and I can accomplish everything without having two wheat levains. With a little bit of planning, you can convert one to the other in less than two days. When I move back into my own place I will go back to having three starters on hand, which will make things a bit easier.

Once the liquid levain was ready to go, I prepared the build the night before. It called for 4.8 ounces of bread flour and 6 ounces of water and about an ounce of liquid levain. This is allowed to make love to itself over night for about 12-16 hours. I had to mix this dough after only 12 hours. I would have liked it to sit longer, but I wanted to retard the bread, which would added 4-5 hours to the baking timeline. The bottom line is that I did not have the time. 
I like to see more bubbles on the surface of a levain, but I had to work with it
Let me take a brief moment to talk about my retarding. Retarding is the process of taking a dough and placing it in an environment which is cooler than ambient room temperature. This slows down the fermentation process, which in turn, allows the bread to achieve a stronger flavor. This is particularly important for many sourdough breads, because it enables them to achieve a greater sourness. This increased sourness typically results in a longer shelf life. This can also be done with non-levain breads, but is not as common. I typically prefer the nuttier flavor with non-levain breads, so I tend to not retard my breads. Retarding is a rare practice for me, I use it only when I have an obligation, and I can not provide a full bake for the bread, so I wait, and bake it later.

This bread does contain whole rye flour, which helps with the fermentation by providing sugars that are more easily broken down by yeast. And it gives a nice addition of flavor. Most levain starters are started with whole rye flour for this very reason. 

The autolyse in this bread is a bit non-traditional. Typically an autolyse will include everything except  the salt and the levain, but the levain is included in this one. This is mixed until a shaggy mass is formed and is then allowed to sit for 20-60 minuts. I gave it an hour, because I knew that the levain build could have gone for a little longer and I wanted to give the bread as much of an advantage as possible. 

Just as a reminder: Autolyse: Developed by Professor Raymond Calvel:  A method for mixing certain wheat breads and sourdough breads, in which the flour and water are mixed very lightly, after which the dough rests before the remaining ingredients are added and the final mix begins. Extensibility, dough volume and potential improvements in aroma and flavor result from this technique.

Now for my big mistake. After the autolyse, I started mixing the dough on second speed, but I forgot to add the salt. It was not until the dough had been mixing for two minutes that I noticed the already scaled out salt sitting in a small bowl. I said "shoot", and promptly threw the salt into the mixing bowl. I then brought the mixer back to first speed to prevent over-mixing. Due to my error, I had no choice but to give the dough at least one minute on first speed. I actually I gave it two minutes because the dough needed to be thoroughly assaulted! (I could not help myself, what is a New Englander with out a pun?) This dough was very wet. Its hydration percentage is 65% but it felt more like 70-75 to be honest. 
Dough after mixing, notice how wet it looks and how loose it looks. 

After the bread was mixed, I gave it two folds, spaced out in fifty minute intervals. The first fold was a bit of a disaster. This bread is really wet, due, in part, to the use of home-grounded rye berries. Rye usually has a tendency to absorb a good amount of water, but it it did not in this case. I have no idea why it did not. I did use a significant amount of flour during both folds, but for some reason the first fold was bad news bears. The second fold was much better.
After the second fold
After the bread had bulk fermented for 150 minutes, I placed it on a very well-floured bench and divided it into two pieces roughly the same size. Roughly is a loose term. They were not the same size, but I did my best. I then made batards, to the best of my ability because the dough was so wet. I placed each batard in a 9 inch bread pan, covered them with plastic as best I could, and placed them in the cooler for four hours hoping that it would achieve a more sour flavor. I have noticed over the past two years that sourdough bread really does change considerably as it rests. Especailly, rye sourdough breads. A rye sourdough bread will change flavor even in the course of a few hours, especailly the really heavy rye breads that are prepared with huge amounts of pre-fermented flour such as 100% ryes and even 66% rye breads. 

As you can tell this bread is very loose, and it is not clear why, Significant flour was added in both the mixing bowl and during the two folds. 
I baked these breads at 460 degrees for 45 minutes before removing them from the pans. Then I placed them in a 460 oven for an additional ten minutes. I like my breads well done, I like the flavor that is added to the crust by making sure the bread is baked fully. The trick is to know and to dance the fine line between caramelization and carbonization. Carbonization means burnt, and that is dreadful.

Here is the final product. The bread is much darker in color than it appears here, do to the lighting in my kitchen and the flash. This bread was baked completely through. I was pleased with the coloration it achieved.
As always, this bread was a learning experience and a trip down memory lane. I almost forgot to mention that this bread was almost impossible to score. It was too wet and I tried everything. I tried my favorite $3 red serrated knife (I always use it. It cost three dollars, and I would never sell it because I simply love it) I even tried using my Japanese bonzai tree trimming knife (which I always give to people for gifts because it is awesome, versatile and inexpensive). My last resort was to use a bamboo skewer as a docker and that did not seem to work either. I said "Well, I hope this works out" and threw them in the oven. I was very pleasantly surprised when both loaves opened up beautifully. I was very pleased with the results. I can not wait to eat them tomorrow and to watch and taste them as they transform over the next few days!
A Excerpt from Bread: "Bad bread should be eaten warm, even hot. The heat helps to mask the defects. Good bread does not begin to taste like itself until it has ample time to cool. In fact, naturally leavened bread in general tastes better a few or even several hours after they have cooled. The crumb firms up and the flavors come together. And for days the bread is good to eat. It is true that the lovely contrast between crust and crumb becomes muted as the bread ages, but other parts of its personality begin to develop. Old bread does not necessarily mean stale bread."

I have just taken my first bite of this bread, after letting it rest for 18 hours and it is pleasantly sour, but still a bit nutty. The crust is thicker than I would like, but that is partly due to baking in pans and also partly due to these new modern ovens, that release steam immediately. I am very pleased, and I know that as this bread sits it will only get better!   

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