It’s not humble to say so but, man, is my bread good!
I’m truly impressed with my latest loaf. It ended up tasting pretty much like baguette, although I didn’t shape it as a stick.
As with beer, coffee, and food in general, I tend to make bread on whims. So it’s hard to trace back the “recipe.” Shouldn’t be too hard to reproduce it, though.
I started with the working version of a sourdough culture which was given to me by a friend and former student who works as a professional baker at a Breton bakery in the Eastern part of town. I dare say, this culture does wonders. I really hope I’ll be allowed to bring it to Texas because I’d hate to lose access to it.
Process is simple. I mix in a few tablespoons of sourdough starter with a cup and a half of filtered water. I whip this mixture to be quite frothy. I then mix in a cup of flour in the frothy mixture. I never forget to feed back the jar of starter with some flour and water.
After an hour or so, I prepare the actual bread, adding flour, salt, and occasionally oil and/or other ingredients. This time, I added two tablespoons of olive oil, a few teaspoons of sugar, and half a tablespoon of salt along with a cup and a half of flour. On several occasions, I merely added flour and forgot to add salt. The results were decent enough but not as intensely wonderful as this time.
I then knead the dough, adjusting the amount of flour. This time, I added a good three-quarter cup of flour to the dough. The resulting dough was on the thick side of things but I like to vary in this way. With this sourdough culture, and with only white flour, it’s quite easy to knead the dough and get a good consistency. Usually, I don’t worry too much about the dough being a bit sticky. I kind of play it by ear for the consistency.
After kneading the dough, I placed it in a really large bowl (greased with more olive oil). I expected this particular dough to rise more than it did but after a few hours, I decided to shape this dough. While kneading it in a significant amount of flour, I found this dough to be, erm, stringy. It didn’t ball up really easily. For some reason (probably the amount of oil I put in), it reminded me of pizza dough. So I did with this dough what I tend to do with pizza dough. I split it in smaller portions and put a part of this in the fridge. I kept about one third of the dough in the greased bowl for the second rise, overnight. It probably spent about eight hours in that stage.
When I woke up, I heated my oven to 450°F with the pizza stone on the rack and brewed some moka pot coffee. Once the oven was ready, I dropped the loaf directly from the bowl unto the pizza stone and sprayed the walls of the oven using a very powerful mister from the dollar-store. After about ten minutes, I sprayed a bit more water on the oven’s walls but I could notice that the bread looked pretty good already. I only gave it five more minutes and put it on a plate to cool off a bit.
The resulting bread really is a tasty creation. Complex in its simplicity. Simple in its complexity. A thing of beauty, if I may say so myself.
The crust is very crispy and very fragrant. This crust reminds me of bread I’ve had in Switzerland. While this bread was made only with white flour, it has the crust of those farmhouse breads which have some other flours in them.
The crumb structure is relatively dense but not at all heavy. Moist but well-baked. Elastic yet somewhat tough. Very fragrant. Reminds me of the almost-mythical bread from the Pagé bakery in Saint-Sauveur. At least, the one I remember from my childhood. Contrary to several loaves I’ve done recently, it’s not at all sour. I do like sour breads on occasion but it seems that the main fermentation for this loaf didn’t result in a sour bread. It’s kind of reassuring because I like the possibility of baking both “clean” and sour breads with the same culture. Probably because of the olive oil and sugar, it’s a bit brioche-like in crumb structure but it doesn’t taste sweet at all. It doesn’t taste salty either though the amount of salt in the dough was rather significant (especially when compared to my unsalted batches!).
All in all, this bread almost makes me weep.
- Don’t forget the salt!
- Olive oil and sugar can be your friends.
- Smaller loaves are easy to bake.
- Thick doughs are ok.
- Proofing doesn’t need to be extreme to be effective.
- Stringy dough after proofing is ok.
- Even a long rise after proofing may produce a “clean” bread.
Most of these I knew already. But this is a kind of learning which, for me, requires reinforcement.
The thing which is kind of funny is that I’m quite convinced that some bread experts would criticize this bread for one reason or the other. Not fluffy enough. Too dense. Crumb structure should have bigger holes in it. Too yeasty. Too much sugar. Etc.
But I don’t care. I like it and that’s the only thing which counts.
It’s just sad that I wasn’t able to share it with someone. Next time.
Meanwhile, I’m a happy camper.