This was one of the other challenge recipes in the Daring Bakers December challenge, which I made soon after I’d been successful with the rye bread. It was a little more complicated and, I’m finding as I try to make more loaves and monkey around a bit with the timings, a lot less forgiving than the rye bread but oh my, it was ever so good. My first attempt at the recipe (find the recipe PDF here), came out exactly as it was supposed to. This is important to note, because it is possible you would otherwise look at the photographs and assume the worst. The intended results of the recipe, as borne out by countless other DBers, was a large, flat, round loaf, with wonderful big airholes throughout, a crisp crust and a chewy texture, not unlike ciabatta. I’m not kidding when I say it was a flat loaf – look:
Flat it may have been, but only in shape – the flavour is another story. It’s easy to forget, when you taste this bread, that it’s only made of four ingredients. There is so much flavour from the sourdough, it seems that there must be some kind of secret addition to the dough, possibly added in the dead of night by the light of the full moon. There is not, unless someone creeps into my flat in the dead of night with the sole purpose of messing with my sourdough starter. I’m fairly sure they don’t. If they do, they could at least take out the bins while they’re at it.
The mix of wholewheat and plain flour obviously boosts the flavour of the bread, and boosts the virtue level, too; anything with wholewheat in is good for you, everyone knows that. There is also a nice tang in the aftertaste, which I think will get stronger as Louie the starter gets older, which is yet another reason that sourdough bread is so exciting and imagination-firing to me. As long as I keep looking after him and feeding him a varied diet, my bread will keep growing in flavour. It seems like a fair exchange to me. He seems to be quite happy and healthy, as of the last time I checked, although I do have this nagging feeling that I should be making more of an effort to really track the amount of flour and water I’m putting in. If you’re being proper, you do this by weighing the flour and water that you’re putting in, and make the amounts relative to how much your starter weighs. For example, if your starter weighs 50g, you should add 100g each of water and flour – this is called a 100&% hydration starter. If I fed Louie at this rate he would be eating me out of house and home before you could say ‘what’s that creeping out of the fridge?’. So far I’ve just been feeding when I use some of the starter in a recipe, and feeding in small amounts and by volume – eg two tablespoons of flour and two of warm water. This seems to be enough for Louie to snack on, and he grows when left at room temperature after he’s eaten, so I feel like he’s still doing OK. I’m taking this approach partly out of convenience – it’s convenient to measure both flour and water by volume, and it’s inconvenient to have a sourdough starter that is big enough to be charged rent – and partly because there was so much information about maintaining a sourdough starter that my brain short-circuited and so I’ve just decided to make it up as I go along. I think what I should really be doing is throwing some of the starter out before feeding it, but I don’t want to, I feel very protective over Louie.
Edit: this post was written and scheduled ahead of time, as with almost all of my posts. That nagging feeling was justified. Last night I had a peek at Louie in the fridge. He didn’t look good. In fact, he’d gone purple. I feel like purple is as bad a colour for sourdough starters as it is for human people. He also had a strong acetone smell, and this coupled with his change in hue made me think I’d better take some action. I removed 100g from the middle of the tub, where it wasn’t discoloured, and mixed this with 200g each of hot water and buckwheat flour. The smell was immediately much nicer – nutty and yeasty – and I left him wrapped in a towel near the heater overnight. This morning, nothing much was happening; I gave him a stir, added a little more hot water and wrapped back up again. I hope he is OK. I will possibly have a further update before I publish this post…)
Once my loaf was ready, I made some cheese on toast with left over Christmas cheeseboard cheese. I had a smoked cheddar and a gouda with nettle – nettle! I bought it because I’d never heard of such a thing before, and it was lovely though, dare I say it? I couldn’t taste the nettle, just the gouda. It was nice to look at though, a dash of colour is never a bad thing in my opinion (except when it’s purple in a sourdough starter). I grated a mix of these cheeses while the bread was toasting on one side, under the grill. I flipped the bread over and piled the cheese on top, trying to be careful and not lose any (but ultimately failing), ground some salt, pepper, chili, garlic and fennel over the top and put back under the grill until melty and a bit bubbly. I didn’t get those classic, browned on top bubbles because I couldn’t wait any longer for my fix. I was right not to wait, it was the best toasted cheese ever.
My top toasted cheese tip is seasoning – I know that cheese is already salty, and if you’re using something very strong like a pecorino then maybe you’ll want to leave well enough alone, but for milder cheese an extra bit of salt and pepper (and garlic, chili and fennel…) really takes it off the chain.
This particular loaf worked really well for me when I followed the recipe exactly – where the recipe asks for a bannetone (proving basket), I used a cake tin lined with a floured tea towel. It rose beautifully, like a yeasty cloud, and baked into the lovely loaf you see above. As I mentioned, trying to mess with the timings hasn’t yielded very good results – I’ve tried leaving it overnight at two different stages, but so far no joy. I think if I want a taller loaf that’s better for sandwiches, I’ll have to try a different recipe. Thank heavens it’s the year of bread, eh?