Lately I’ve been fancying myself a baker. I’m not sure why; the number of breads I consistently make successfully is three. But those are really the only breads I make, so my self-confidence may have been a bit inflated.
When the NFL playoffs began and I saw that the San Francisco 49ers stood a good chance of making it all the way, I instantly began supporting them. My mind instantly went to my blog, and the two things from the Bay area that I’ve always wanted to make but haven’t, for whatever reason. And when they won the chance to play in the Super Bowl I knew I had to make both those things, not just one.
As I said before, I’ve been thinking a lot about bread lately. So with San Fran in the playoffs I started thinking about sourdough. I went to the greatest experts I could think of: Google and my sister in law (who doesn’t really make a whole lot of bread, I was just lonely I guess). What I was searching for was an answer to a very (in my mind) good question: Can you make a sourdough starter in January? Are the yeasts and things in the air in large enough quantities to collect in a bowl of flour and water and make bread with in little more than a week?
The answer to that question is no. But in the spirit of my annual Super Bowl posts (or my annual blog posts, at this rate) I must tell you the story. But it must have some bearing on the game, no? Karen kept asking me “What metaphor works with this, exactly?” Honestly I couldn’t think of a thing. But I know this. The quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII has only started 9 NFL games in his career. Being so inexperienced and thrust into the world wide spotlight and a media intent on making this a big Ray Lewis retirement party, I imagine he might be getting some butterflies. So I submit to you this, my approximation of a stress-induced nightmare as Colin Kaepernick imagines getting flattened by the Baltimore Ravens’ defense.
There are many places you can go if you want to learn about making a sourdough starter. Usually for these Super Bowl posts I pick one from the internet that I can link to, but this time I didn’t. The first of many bad decisions. But there’s this guy. He makes cookbooks that are so nice. And the breads are so lovely. And he says things like “Don’t worry; not much happens after one day. It’s fine. Add more flour and water.” See how reassuring he can be? His name is Peter Reinhart and he’s originally from PA farm country, so I felt a kindred spirit with the man. So here’s step one of his sourdough starter, which he calls a seed culture.
It looked like, I don’t know, poo? Yes, poo. I left this in the plastic container and put it in the dining room so it would stay warm. Later that evening Karen and Isaac were in there and she asked him “Did someone poo in a tupperware container?” Mr. Reinhart says to use rye flour on day one of your seed culture because it makes the starter taste better, or something. I never got that far.
Now there were specific instructions for what to do on day 2, day 3, day 4, etc. And it usually involved discarding some of the starter and adding flour and water. I did all this and I even took pictures to document the process. It was all very exciting. Except for one thing. Nothing ever happened. I’m being told “It should have risen by at least half” or “It should have doubled in size, at least.” Um… no. So I’d be happy to send you pictures of the next three days, but they all looked the same. After day 4 I’m looking at this:
And I’m wondering “What does this mean for the Super Bowl? Certainly I can’t predict that the 49ers will forfeit or a horrible accident will occur and the game gets cancelled.” Except, this isn’t really a spectacular failure, since nothing is really happening. So it can’t be a horrible accident. It would have to go something like this:
BREAKING NEWS: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (BOOOOO!!!!!!!!!) has cancelled the Super Bowl because something better was on TV that night.
Anyway, unsure of myself, I left it for one more day. The book said that after 24 hours it should have doubled in size, but if it’s still sluggish leave it alone for up to another 24 hours. So here, with a rubber band as reference, is proof that after 48 hours nothing has happened.
At this point I gave up. Goodbye sourdough, see you in the summer. I knew going in that a week was a bit of a stretch to get anything decent, and I’m told that the real flavor of the sourdough doesn’t peak until you’ve had it for 2-3 weeks, because the bacteria that makes the flavor grows more slowly than the yeast. They obviously haven’t seen my yeast. One thing I will note. I thought it odd that everyone said to cover the container. Peter Reinhart, bloggers, message boards, everyone said to cover your starter. I thought we were trying to trap wild yeasts floating around in the air, and how are we to do that with a covered bin? Then I saw on one of these message boards people explaining why you cover your starter: it keeps the flies out. Yes, everyone else does this in the summer.
But for dinner we really wanted bread, so I went to a recipe that I’d used just a few days before and it was a hit. King Arthur Flour calls it the easiest loaf of bread you’ll ever make. Sounds perfect. I made buns instead. Here’s the recipe:
It’s a very wet dough, but I’m becoming increasingly comfortable with that. I’m not fond of getting ‘club hand’ while kneading, but the end product is worth it. This time I made some changes to it though, and I’m not sure I liked them. Here’s them heading to the oven:
This also looks like poo. But when they came out of the oven it looked like bread.
This is one I’m still working on to get right. One of the changes I made was to use a cup of whole wheat flour, and I’m not sure the bread was improved by that addition. Also, I’m working with the cooking temperature for the oven. With the first batch I used 400° because buns are smaller than loaves, but then they didn’t turn a nice dark brown like I wanted. So the second batch I baked at 450° and it was a little better, but for some reason those buns turned out a little flatter. I’m really starting to realize how important a cooking thermometer is when baking bread. At first you’re all like “The bread is really brown and it’s only been 15 minutes! HEEEEELLLLLLPPPP!” And then you check the internal temperature and you’re like “Oh. Wow. Cool. I hope nobody saw that and decided to blog about it.”
Okay, maybe it’s just me. So Colin, if you’re reading (and I’m sure you’re not) I’m sorry about the night you’re going to have on Saturday. Blame Roger Goodell for scheduling this game in February.