Friday, March 21, 2014
My new obsession is sourdough bread. It's definitely the macaron of 2014 for me... to make the perfect loaf of sourdough rye bread that looks as good as it tastes.
What I've learned over the past couple years from taking on some difficult baking projects is that baking is definitely a science. It's frustrating and addicting and if you're developing your own recipe, often takes a lot of failed experimentation before the success you're looking for. Just when you think you've got it right, something else throws a curve at you. I used to think baking was the easier of the two between cooking and baking, but how wrong I was. I read someone post somewhere recently that cooking is an art and baking is a science and I can't get it out of my head.
I started by making my own starter and trying a recipe that I just couldn't get to properly rise, no matter what I did. It tasted amazing but it was always far too dense. I tried a new recipe that used water instead of milk and was generally a drier dough. It was good but not totally what I was looking for, so I adapted it myself using the advice of the internet and this awesome book, and came up with something that I am pretty happy with.
After faithfully making at least one batch of dough every two weeks when I'm home from work for the past five months or so and struggling through three different recipes, I think I almost have it. I can make loaves that look like this, without using any yeast:
It's still a very dense bread but dense in a good, chewy way, not a "this clearly didn't rise" way. The above loaves turned out pretty well, baked in a loaf pan, but the same day I tried another batch baked on a stone baking sheet. I didn't take any pictures but they are violently ripped open in various places - almost like macaron "feet" on a couple. I am guessing it's because the open baking sheet made the crust dry out too fast (whereas in the loaf pan the moisture is trapped a bit more). I have had some ripping happen in my loaf pan bread before, but nothing of this magnitude. One of the suggestions on the internet was to use a steam tray in the oven, which I've used before for making bagels (from the 5 Minutes a Day book - amazing) so I'll definitely be giving that a shot next time.
I've also made an incredible coffee cake and pancakes using the sourdough starter and while the bread is a very lengthy process, I enjoy it and I like learning something traditional. This is the way that bread was made before commercial yeast and it's pretty amazing what flour and water can do if you give it time to work its magic.