- Food & Drink
Thursday (day 39, 20th day cooking) was an important day. Nearly 2 weeks before I’d given birth to a sourdough baby, in the sense that I’d mixed 2oz organic strong flour with 2fl oz water, put it in a tub and left it to pick up any old yeasts it found floating around. From Tuesday until Saturday I fed my starter more flour and water and he foamed with joy at every feed. I looked into the frothy space where his face would be if he were a head in a bucket and I named him Mr Bubbles.
On Sunday I forgot to feed him, but Mr Bubbles is not so easily killed. So on Monday, he got his final little feed and he grew a foam beard. My baby had come of age and was ready to be turned into bread. To prepare him for this, there were 2 large feeds, some spooning out of starter for the next batch and then the adding of the final loaf ingredients.
By now, 9 days after the initial mixing, I should’ve had a kneadable dough. I didn’t. I had dough soup. The loaf ingredient’s list had included 3–8fl oz water, depending on starter. I thought I’d play safe and add 4fl oz water, but this turned out to be playing risky. I’d drowned the bread. It was a biblical flood in a mixing bowl and my sourdough slopped wetly from side to side.
But all was not lost, according to my teacher. We could try a technique for kneading really wet dough by slapping it down and using a scraper to hook it back up. “It’ll get more solid as we work it,” she said.
I poured the dough onto the work top and began scraping and flinging it around. I sprayed dough up the walls. I dribbled it down the front of my apron. I squirted it into my hair. After about 10 minutes my teacher said: “Is that dough actually getting wetter?” I looked at the pools of sourdough, the thin rivulets of bread running down the counter and dripping onto the floor, and in a small voice I said: “Yes.”
So we added more flour. This did result in a kneadable dough and another 20 minutes of pushing and pulling followed until, at last, I had sourdough ready for proving. I took it home wrapped in a bin liner to prevent a skin forming. On Wednesday morning I shaped it into 2 rounds and put it in napkin lined baskets. These went back into the bin bag and into my cottage’s fridge for slow rising. Foolishly, I didn’t look in on the bread again until Thursday morning.
When I did look, I saw my 2 baskets of sourdough in their bin liner and on top of them a massive ceramic salad bowl filled with lettuce and a dinner plate of chickpea salad. I’m not sure which one of my housemates thought that stacking salad on top of rising bread wouldn’t cause a problem, but I can confirm that they are wrong. Sourdough will survive many things but being repeatedly stamped on by wilting greens isn’t one of them.
I kneaded the dough again, shaped the loaves again and put them in the school’s proving cupboard for another 8 hours rising. It worked! The bread was peaking out of the baskets like shy, dough footballs.
Gently I slipped 1 loaf from its basket and lowered it onto a flour dusted baking tray. For a moment the loaf sat upright. Not particularly tall but, at the very least, alert. Then, as if it had been stuck with a pin, it deflated and spread out over the baking tray like a collapsed hat.
A weaker woman would’ve taken her entire knife set to the bread and stabbed it back into its constituent parts. But I am resilient and I did what anyone who’d spent 11 days slaving over 2 flat loaves of airless, soggy dough would’ve done. I baked 1 and rekneaded the other.
The result was something you could definitely describe as bread. In fact, it was delicious bread (the 1st loaf was a bit more successful than the loaf I baked on Friday). But you wouldn’t really have been able to make a sandwich with it, unless you like your sandwiches narrow and toasted (it was stale and hard within 6 hours).
Today I’ve taken Mr Bubbles out of his fridge-based hibernation and restarted him with more flour and water. Tomorrow, there may be kneadable dough. Or there may not. In the words of my teacher, as she looked at me and then at the flattest loaf of bread to ever come out of an oven: “Fucking sourdough, eh? This is why I make yeast bread.”