Finally, the first batch of the sourdough bread is now ready. I'd no idea there is so much work around it, but I'm guessing that once you have a ferment, things get easier. Still, I don't feel I'm getting things right.
Yesterday morning, I measured up 790 g strong white flour, 650 g water and 20 g salt in preparation.
I then added 400 g of my starter to the flour and the book said to mix it in and shred the ferment in doing that. Well, the ferment certainly had a honeycomb structure, which was very pretty and I regret that I didn't get a photo of that.
When I started incorporating the ferment into the flour, I noticed how stretchy and pliable it was, I hadn't expected that. Yet it wasn't at all sticky, so shredding it wasn't too easy, it just kept stretching instead. Once that was done, I added the water which resulted in a pretty wet and sticky dough, with quite a few lumps in it - bits of ferment that is. I kept mixing in the bowl, until I couldn't get it any smoother, then I turned it out on the work surface and worked the dough for about 10 minutes, then added the salt and worked it for another 20 or so. It still kept sticking to my fingers, but came off the surface quite nicely and also went very elastic, almost tough.
I shaped it into a ball, with some difficulty and let it rest for an hour, then folded and rested for a further hour. I prepared a basket and a bowl with linen cloth and loads of flour on them. I had serious doubts if I should do this, since I've never had any luck with this type of rising before, other than having to pick bits of dough from the linen cloths, not to mention that separating the cloth from the dough meant deflating the dough substantially. But these were to proof for at least 17 h, so I added even more flour to the cloths, divided the dough in two, shaped it and carefully placed it in the basket and the bowl. Then instructions were to keep it cool and at the moment our upstairs is very cool indeed, since we're getting our loft insulated.
This morning, I switched on the oven, placed a baking tray upside down, and went to fetch my two dough containers. Well, the one in the bowl certainly had bulged out, the other one didn't seem to have moved at all, yet they stood next to each other. I'd covered them with cling film and then a tea towel and a good thing too, because the cling film had stuck to the dough. I'd sprinkled lots of flour on top of each and there was no trace of it whatsoever, so it must have been absorbed.
I sprinkled a lot of flour on a baking sheet to use as a peel to transfer the dough into the oven, however, by the time I'd turned out the first boule and had liberated the towel, it had spread well over the edges of the "peel" and it seemed to have no structural capabilities at all! Still, at least the dough came off the towel fairly easily, but the towel was soaked through and again, no trace of all the flour I'd sprinkled in. So I performed two emergency folds so that it would fit in the oven. I also spread a lot of flour on top and slashed it with my sharpest knife, but it wouldn't budge from the "peel" so into the oven it went as well. I kept spraying water every other minute for the first 10 minutes, then let it bake for another 15 when I remembered to turn it down from gas mark 9 (260 degrees C) to gas mark 6 (220 degrees C). I let it bake for another 20 minutes and then it had a very nice colour on top, so I took it out. It wouldn't come off the baking sheet and I had to prise it off with a knife - it hadn't baked enough underneath, so not sure what the inside will be like, it's still cooling now.
The second boule was from the basket, which I let rise a bit longer and in the warm kitchen. Again the same procedure as before, though this time the towel had only a few wet spots, I'm guessing some evaporated through the sides of the basket and a lot of the flour was still visible. But I had to fold it again and this time it visibly sank in, when I slashed it. To be sure, I baked it for almost an hour and still it was stuck to the baking sheet. Bah!
Thus so far, I'm not too impressed with this method, but perhaps it requires tweaking. I'll watch the DVD that accompanies the book later today to see if I'd missed some important bit. Perhaps the fact that Richard Bertinet used a part spelt flour makes such a big difference, that skipping it caused it to not go entirely right?
Doesn't matter, I think it'll be edible either way and on Wednesday I'll repeat the process with the remainder of the sourdough and use a bit more flour for the dough and make it stiffer. Surely I won't need to bake before Christmas after this is over.
Well, I had a couple of slices for lunch and the breads had baked through, though the first one could have done with 5 more minutes perhaps. The overall flavour was fairly neutral, but there's a distinctive and long lasting aftertaste of sourness, which is quite nice. So not too far off from the mark.
I also took the opportunity to watch the DVD that accompanied the book. And apart from not using spelt flour, all the previous steps that I did seem correct. But what I failed at is the shaping of the boules, I was much too reluctant to tuck them in, so I'll keep it in mind later on this week when I make the next batch.
It's quite cool to have made bread without fresh yeast, though I'm not sure the flavour warrants all the effort, but perhaps it is easier once you have a ferment going.