Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sourdough Bread

So, here are the results of yesterday’s first-ever sourdough bread baking. Unfortunately, I was halfway through making the sourdough before it occurred to me to take pictures, but here’s one after the first rise:

The two indentations are from the tips of two of my fingers. When bread dough is done with its first rise, you should be able to make indentations in it with your fingertips that stay after you’ve taken your fingers away. Also, the dough should have doubled in size. Rising time varies by recipe, so I can’t give you a general approximate time; for this bread, it was an hour.

As you can see, after the first rise, you shape the dough into loaves and then cover it to rise again, also until double. With most breads I’ve done, the second rise is a bit shorter than the first. With this one, it’s also an hour. As you can also see, shaping loaves is a tad tricky. Because the dough is VERY elastic (a result of the yeast doing its yeasty business), it’s hard to divide it into equal parts (most recipes make two or three loaves). Once the pieces are unequal, you find yourself pulling a little off of THIS loaf to put over HERE, and then things get lumpy and bad. So I usually end up with one REALLY nice-looking loaf, one so-so loaf, and one pile of lumpy bad, as you see.

Something else that varies is at what point(s) you glaze the bread and what you glaze it with. Usually, it’s either melted butter or some kind of egg wash. For this recipe, it’s the white of one large egg and one tablespoon of water. For a recipe like this, you slash the tops of the loaves before glazing. This is tricky because you’ll be afraid of slashing too deeply, but you won’t; I find that I’m much more likely to make slashes that are too shallow because I’m worried about making them too deep. With this particular dough, the slashes were tricky to cut because the dough was REALLY puffy, probably because of the long second rise.

When I’m doing a recipe that calls for either just the white or just the yolk of an egg or two, I usually save the remaining portion to add to scrambled eggs or an omelet within 24 hours (shown here in a Ball un-canning plastic jar – like Tupperware, but with a screw-on lid, designed for freezing (I used them TONS for baby food when Danny still ate purees) but also good for refrigerating a small amount of something, like one egg yolk).

After the second rise and usually somewhere in there a glazing (either at the beginning or end of the second rise), the bread is ready to bake. You know it’s done when it turns golden-brown and sounds hollow when you tap it. Since I use at least some whole-wheat flour in all of my breads, the color is usually more brown than golden, but it shouldn’t look burnt, and to be clear, these loaves do look a little burnt, even though I took them out of the oven 5 minutes early because they were smelling very done.

Unfortunately, the smell is something I can’t describe with justice or post pictures of. I was about 8 minutes into baking these loaves when I could smell baking bread from my computer (at the dining room table). As you might imagine, different varieties of bread have different smells, and I’ve been enjoying the sourdough smells since I first put together the starter two days ago. I will warn, however, that enjoyment of the smell of sourdough starter – especially after it’s been sitting at room temperature for two days – is not for novices. Make sure you’ve grown to enjoy other yeast smells before leaning over a bowl of sourdough and taking a good whiff.

I also feel like I should apologize to all the gluten-free folks out there. I’m a huge fan of gluten-containing foods, and am lucky in that no one in my household has a gluten sensitivity so I can make lots of them. However, I do have a couple of dear friends with gluten and other grain sensitivities and there’s a whole world of wonderful recipes out there for the gluten-free set, many of which may be found here, at Gluten-Free Bay, which specializes in Kosher, Gluten-Free recipes and is written by a very old friend of mine (that is, I knew her in junior high – she’s not a very old person, in fact she’s younger than I am and I won’t be 30 for another … 7 days!).

I also feel like I should note that this is NOT a recipe, or even all that detailed a tutorial. As I noted in yesterday’s post, I’m using the Sourdough French Loaves recipe from Great American Home Baking, and I strongly recommend that you go look it up there; I’ve had great success with their recipes over the years. But I’m happy to tell you what I can about following a bread recipe; it was REALLY intimidating for me at first, as I’ve said, and so I’m hoping to make it less so for other folks if I can.

By the by, just to make clear that I actually don’t do ALL that much of the cooking around here and because I mentioned what I do with leftover egg yolks/whites above, here’s a picture of the beautiful plate of scrambled eggs and toast (from Honey Whole Wheat bread) John just put in front of me. He used the extra yolk from the egg wash into the mix, but he makes us a beautiful, hot breakfast pretty much every morning.

And on a self-flagellating note, I did not get to the satin blouse yesterday. However, John and I did pack our entire DVD collection in preparation for our move back to New York at the end of June; that, though, is another post for another day.

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