This is not my first foray into breadbaking.  I had just gotten up to speed going before we moved to Seattle, got really busy and didn’t bake a single loaf there even though we had a great oven… pity.

So,  now I’m committed to perfecting the sourdough.  Having grown up in the S.F. Bay Area, there really isn’t any other bread that’s worthy IMHO.  Still, here in the valley, and especially for the amateur baker, the Great Good Sourdough is elusive.

So, I bought some starter, got it mixed up and started the first batch.  For those of you committed to making something other than bread machine wonder bread, you know that time is your friend not your enemy.  Even so, once you’ve started, you can’t delay baking indefinitely.

The mother starter seems to have taken off appropriately and smelled wonderfully barmy.  I let it go for a few days before I created a baby for baking.  I was a little rusty on my technique and timing, so I didn’t really have my kneading dialed in.  Still, I think I was close enough.  I didn’t windowpane (not my video, but good though) the dough, but got close enough.

I let the dough rise covered in a bowl overnight and then put it in the fridge in the morning.  I was fully intending to let it do a second rise the next evening after work (and maybe bake late that night) but got busy so it sat in the fridge an extra day.  As I said, those of you who have learned that retarded fermentation adds greatly to the texture and complexity of the loaf, might actually plan on doing this.

I learned my lesson experimenting with a basic white bread recipe some time ago.  Basically, I did a single rise, punched it down, kneaded and formed 3 loaves.  I let loaf 1 double in size and baked it that night.  I let loaf 2 go another 24 hours in the fridge and loaf 3 go 2 days in the fridge before baking.

There wasn’t much difference in the crumb, but the crust was wildly different.  Loaf 1 was a uniform, flat, tan color– almost pie crust like.  It had no shine, blisters or bubbles.  Loaf 2 started to have some gloss to it with a warmer carmel color developing with some minor blistering.  Loaf 3 was what I thought crust should be:  glossy, deep carmel brown many blisters.  The flavor in the later loafs was vastly superior.

So, my delay in getting the loaves formed wasn’t alarming to me.  On day three I formed the loaves and let them rise in the fridge.  They didn’t do much, so I had my wife take them out of the fridge to come up to temp in the afternoon.  By the time I got home from work, they were still fairly cool, so I let them go a while later and finally baked that night.

I was afraid they might not have enough push left, but they seemed to do ok.  Here is loaf 1 in the oven:

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Note a couple of things about this set up.  First, I have a pan of water on the bottom rack which I filled when I started preheating.  Additionally, I spray a mist of distilled water into the oven every five minutes or so during the first 10-15 minutes of baking to keep the oven nice and humid and the crust moist while blooming.

Next, I have a 1/2″ pizza stone which acts as a great heat moderator.  The additional height is part of my space problem though.  Next, I have a thermometer in the oven– do not trust your oven’s thermostat or temperature readout.  Note also how deeply I scored the loaf (which I did only moments before popping it into the oven.  Everything I’ve read and tried says do it deeply and just before you put it in the oven to maximize the “bloom” of the loaf in the first few minutes of baking.

Finally, note how crowded this small oven is.  If the loaf were much bigger, it would almost touch the top element.  I considered flip flopping the set up, but thought I try this for round one, even though the top of the loaf would be at the hottest part of the oven.  I started at 475F and dropped to 450 after 5 or ten minutes.  Even so, it cooked very quickly.

bakedloaf1.jpg

You can see that the high heat at the tippy top of the oven got the best of the top of the crust, but look closer at the sides and bottom:

crust1.jpg

Finally, here’s what the crumb looked like:

crumb1.jpg

Not too bad.  Nicely irregular, but still plenty of room for improvement.  How did it taste?  Wonderfully chewy crust, but a little light in the sour department.  Everything I read says go for more rises and longer to foster the most sour flavor you can stand.  I think I’ll easily go another rise or two on the next batch.

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