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Generally Recognized As True: Georgetown Sourdough: fin

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Georgetown Sourdough: fin

Yesterday, I finished the first sourdough loaves from the sourdough palaver I started last week.

First, here's how they look:

Not bad! The loaves look large in the picture, but they are actually not much longer than my fully outstretched hand, which is about 8 inches from the base of my palm to the tip of my middle finger. They are batards.

You can tell by the air bubbles in the cut surface that the wild yeast were quite active. I already knew they were, though, because the dough had formed some large surface bubbles during the final rise, indicating that the dough was not only properly kneaded (since it could hold air to the extent that a translucent bubble was able to form within the dough -- the dough is loose enough to allow a bubble to form and strong enough that the bubble holds) but also that the yeast were active and alive.

The doubt about whether the wild yeast were sufficient had always been in the back of my mind, even though the scent of the dough clearly said that there was some activity going on. If it had failed on account of the yeast, a week's worth of work building the culture. would have been wasted.

Anyway, this was an unbelievably drawn-out process. I started in the morning and didn't actually bake the loaves until after 9pm at night! It might have taken a bit less time if I kept my house a bit warmer than I do, but I keep it at under 20C in the winter. Here's what was involved:
  • reactivate the starter (12 hours): since the stiff dough levain had been in the fridge, I took it out the night before and prepared the recipe starter, leaving it out overnight to become active
  • mix and hydrate the initial dough (30 minutes): white, rye, and whole wheat flours were combined with water and left to stand to hydrate
  • add the starter, knead the dough (20 vigourous minutes): the starter was added to the hydrated dough and kneaded for 15-20 minutes until the windowpane test was passed (the test is to stretch the dough until you can form a thin translucent window without tearing it)
  • fermentation (2 hours): let the dough ferment in a covered bowl
  • folding and rising (5 hours): flatten and fold the dough, and then let it rise until the volume increases by 25-50%
  • dividing and shaping (10 minutes): divide the dough, flatten and fold, and roll into batards
  • couche and proofing (2 hours): the couche to support the rising loaves is formed and the formed loaves are left covered to rise until volume increases by about 50%
  • scoring, baking prep, and baking (1 hour): the oven is prepared with a baking stone and empty broiler tray; the oven is preheated to 450F about 30 minutes before baking; the loaves are scored; water is boiled; just before putting the loaves into the oven, the boiling water is poured into the broiler tray to create steam; the loaves are baked for 15 minutes at 450F and a further 20 minutes at 400F.

The loaf tastes very nice, and it has a definite sourdough flavour but it's a complex one. It is dense, as sourdoughs tend to be. It is very good toasted. It's good untoasted if warmed first.

Was it worth it? It's hard to be honest with myself with these things because of the amount of time and effort I put into it. But, really: no... it wasn't worth it. The main product is that I know I can do it. But when you consider that you can get an equally-good loaf from the local bakery for $3, unless you really enjoy it then it's very hard to justify. The amount of resources consumed for a single pair of small loaves, too, is painful to try and justify -- all of the cleanup, oven preheating, plastic wrap, etc... these things are much more efficient when done in the context of mass production.

On the other hand, if you can get your bread machine to turn out a good loaf -- which requires advance planning, too, and a biga and soaker -- then it's justifiable. The cleanup is minimal and the prep time is insignificant relative to the quality of the end product. I've come up with a good bread machine recipe/technique of my own for a 100% whole wheat loaf that I can do in my Zojirushi BB-HAC10 bread machine. It is (heavily) based on one of the methods in Peter Reinhart's "Whole Grain Breads" book, adapted for the fixed behaviour and size of my machine, and it tastes really good.

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