Thursday, August 05, 2004

It’s a Loaf!

I had thought I would be writing this post last night, but I was up until one in the morning waiting for my first sourdough loaf to come out of the oven. When it did, I put it on a rack and fell into bed. I cut into it this morning with low expectations. It is a dense, sodden lump within a chewy crust and is barely edible. Yet, I am inexplicably optimistic that next time it will be better.

I should explain that I am currently “on vacation”. I am off from work most of this week and Monday of next week, but I have no plans to travel. Instead, I am puttering around the house with different projects (including the sourdough) and just enjoying a slower pace.

Yesterday was Day 5 for my sourdough starter. It was bubbling, but not very vigorously. On Day 5 my instructions said I should discard half of the starter and feed the remaining part with ½ cup of water and 1 cup of flour. I took 1 cup of the discarded starter and added flour and water to form a sponge for my sourdough loaf. The sponge was to proof for at least 8 hours or overnight. Unfortunately, I hadn’t planned well. In fact, I couldn’t have picked a worse time to start. It was about 10:30 in the morning and I had a feeling it was going to be a late night.

There was no guidance in the recipe about how to judge when the sponge is ready. Mine had some surface bubbles, but I’m not sure how much it had increased in volume. After dinner, I decided it was now or never, so I added the salt and the rest of the flour, kneaded it, and put it in an oiled bowl for the first rising. It was supposed to double in volume, but I’m pretty sure mine didn’t. I gave it an hour and a half and then pressed the air out of it, shaped it into a round loaf, and put it into a basket lined with a floured kitchen towel. I think the second rising may have been less successful than the first. Again, I gave it about an hour and a half, but it was after midnight and I could barely keep my eyes open, so I wasn’t waiting any longer.

I did have one small triumph in this whole process – I successfully transferred the uncooked loaf from the peel to the baking stone. My earlier attempt at doing this was a disaster. This time I used coarsely ground corn meal (polenta) on the peel and the bread slid right onto the stone. It probably helped that it was a small, dense loaf.

I toasted a slice of the bread this morning for breakfast. It has that distinctive sourdough taste, but it is just too heavy and dense. I am hoping that the starter will strengthen over the next couple of weeks, so that when I try again it will be a little more vigorous. Also, I know now that I should start in the evening so that the sponge can proof overnight. I measured my loaf (eighteen inches around) so I will be able to gauge the relative success of my next loaf. Hopefully, more time, a stronger starter, and a little experience under my belt will result in a better loaf.


chuckless said...

Cathy, you are too funny! It looks yummy despite your unappetizing description...and, by the way, you shouldn't post about not being at's too demoralizing for the rest of us.
Back to work for me...bubble, bubble (hopefully), toil and no trouble for you.

Anonymous said...


I thought that bread looked pretty good myself! I'll bet it's better than you're letting on. What did you use in your starter? The picture of your starter and also the picture of the bread look to be made with whole grains, is that right? Also, mastering the peel is no easy feat, congrats on that!


Cathy said...

Hi Chuck! It definitely wasn't yummy, but maybe next time. Sorry you've got to work, but glad I don't!

Hi Alice - You're right - I used whole wheat for the starter and a mix of whole wheat and all purpose flour for the bread. Wish I could say you're right about how it turned out too, but it was bad, bad, bad.

Kelli said...

I'm sorry your bread doesn't taste as good as it looks. For the record, it looks a LOT better than my first attempt did! I ended up with something roughly the size and weight of a brick. It actually tasted OK, but I haven't had the heart to try again since then... =)

Cathy said...

Thanks Kelli - I'm going to give it one more chance. If it doesn't work out next time, the starter goes. I can sympathize with your reluctance to try again - it's a big investment in terms of time and ingredients and it's discouraging when it doesn't work out. There are also so many other kinds of bread that can be made without a starter!