Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sour Dough Nirvana

    A few years back I read a book entitled 52 Loaves. Its the story of the author's voyage of discovery to learn how to make good sour dough bread.  I found the book to be a pretty good read, especially for a "How To" book. The most important thing I took from the book was the author's instruction on how to capture a wild yeast culture to make a home grown sour dough starter. I successfully did that using two apples from our little orchard. I made a few attempts to make sour dough bread which were less than fully successful. My first efforts didn't turn out terrible, but it was obvious that I had some skills I still needed to learn. That wasn't really the author's fault as I got busy with other things and wasn't able to devote the time to learning all the skills that the task required.  I have kept my sour dough starter alive over the past two years. I've mainly used it to make sour dough pancakes and waffles, which in my opinion is a pretty good use for a sour dough starter..

     I never lost the desire to learn to make good sour dough bread. That continued to percolate under the surface of my busy life.  It bubbled back to the surface recently when I checked out another bread book from the library.  The book in question, Artisan Breads Every Day by Peter Reinhart, uses the concept of refrigerating the dough to allow better gluten development. The propagation of the yeast is slowed by refrigeration while the gluten keeps on developing.  I tried this out this past weekend and was amazed at the results. My first effort resulted in a satisfactory product.  I don't mean to damn with faint praise by using the term satisfactory. I was not merely satisfied. I was very happy with the results.

    I prepared the dough on Friday, let it rise, and then put it in the fridge.  I divided the dough into two loaves on Saturday afternoon after I got home from teaching an all day beginning beekeeping class. Preparing the loaves and proofing the loaves in preparation for baking was a four hour process. Not that it required four hours of work on my part. It just took a certain amount of time for the dough to warm up so I could shape it into loaves, then some more time before the loaves were ready for the oven. I did two loaves because I was anxious to bake one loaf in our fireplace insert and one in the oven so I would be able to compare the results.

    As the time was approaching to bake the loaves, I preheated the oven to 550 degrees and started a fire in the fireplace insert.  I have a little temperature gauge that sits on top of our insert. In the past I've gotten it up as high as 750 degrees. This particular time I ran into problems. I was using poplar wood instead of maple and the highest I could get the insert was 420 degrees. That just wasn't hot enough to bake the bread so I ended up baking both loaves in our oven.  I didn't bake them both at the same time as I was trying to get the insert hot enough and it just wasn't working. It was pretty satisfying to produce a wonderful product. It smelled like sour dough, tasted like sour dough, and it had a wonderful texture.  It rose better than I expected and the original yeast culture was captured in our orchard about 100 feet away from the oven where the bread was baked.  Now if I can only manage to grow my own wheat...
Authentic Snohomish Sour Dough Bread


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