This week I baked a traditional boule loaf from The Larousse Book of Bread. It’s the first recipe I’d made from this book, and the first time I’d made bread using a sourdough starter. I ended up with a loaf, but I don’t think it was a particularly good one. It was flat and pretty dense. I definitely need more practice.
The starter took four days. I mixed rye flour with an equal weight of water (Éric Kayser, author of the Larousse Book of Bread weighs water, rather than measuring it by volume. He says that this is for accuracy). The water was supposed to have been 30°, I do have a digital thermometer but it doesn’t work particularly well and always seems to register 40° when I turn it on. I gave it a couple of minutes. It was still at 40°. I put it into the freezer. It went down to 22. I think I may have to get a new one. With no thermometer, I just had to guess. Warmer than body temperature, but not too hot. I doubt very much whether Éric Kayser would approve.
I added some honey to the flour/water mix, covered the bowl with a cloth and left it by the radiator. The starter was supposed to be left somewhere warm for 24 hours. The radiator in the kitchen is warm, but it’s not on for 24 hours and we don’t have a particularly “warm place”, like an airing cupboard. Our house just isn’t built for the cultivation of sourdough starters.
There were a few bubbles on the surface when I returned to it the next day, but not as many as on the pictures I found when I Googled “sourdough starter”. Oh well. I mixed more rye flour with more water (again at a very roughly estimated 30°) added more honey, then added the mixture from the previous day. I repeated on day three but without the honey. On day four, I added plain flour and water. At this point, according to the recipe, it should have the consistency of thick pancake batter, and should be ready to use.
There’s a small amount of yeast in the recipe as well as the sourdough starter (the book says yeast is used to complement the action of the starter, rather than replace it). The recipe uses fresh yeast, but I’ve never been able to find any. I sent a quick query to a local bakery about whether fresh yeast was worth it and they said they only use dried. Well, Bread & Co make lovely bread, so if dried is good enough for them…
I mixed my dried active yeast with some warm water and a little bit of sugar and left it on the radiator.
While it was there, I put the rest of the ingredients into the bowl of the KitchenAid: plain flour, water (which was supposed to be at 20° – I had no idea of the temperature) the starter and salt. Now, had I done more than flick through the preliminary pages of the Larousse Book of Bread I would have known that I’d made a mistake. In the Kneading in a Stand Mixer section, it says that the ingredients must be put into the bowl in a specified order. The yeast should have been in there before the salt. Too late. I added the yeast (which had bubbled up a bit, but not as much as I’d have liked).
I kneaded the mixture exactly as the recipe told me to. Four minutes at low-speed, six at high-speed. I ended up with a soggy mass.
I was supposed to be able to shape it into a ball at this stage. No chance. The only thing I could think of to do was to add more flour and knead some more. I did this several times over until I eventually had a dough that I could just about shape.
I managed to shape the dough into a ball. I covered it with a damp cloth and left it for a couple of hours. When I came back to it, it had flattened out considerably, and had stuck to the cloth it was covered with. I scraped what I could off the cloth (the cloth itself had to go into the bin) reshaped it, covered it (this time I used foil, and made a kind of roof over the top of it) and left it for another two hours.
To bake bread, the Éric Kayser recommends using a convection oven. I usually use fan, but ours does have a top and bottom heat setting that the manual says is good for baking bread. I set the oven. It filled with smoke. I let the smoke out. It filled with smoke. This cycle repeated itself a few times until, at last, I had an oven that was relatively smokeless. I put a roasting tray into the bottom of the oven to heat up, and scored the top of my, rather flat looking, boule loaf. I transferred it very carefully – it was still quite sloppy – onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper. I poured a cup of water into the roasting tray and put the loaf into the oven.
I took it out after about 35 minutes and put it onto a wire rack to cool.
My boule was flat, and really dense. Not at all like the picture in the book, which shows slices of very well risen, very light and airy bread. It did taste good though (although we were eating if after a couple of espresso martinis and it was fried and covered in very tasty stuff: broad beans, goats cheese, roasted peppers).
I had another go a couple of days later. This time, my starter was a bit more lively, and I left my yeast to bloom for a bit a longer. I also added the water in stages rather than all at once. This time, the dough was a lot easier to work with, although still on the sloppy side, and it rose a lot better. The crumb of the loaf was a bit more aerated but, to be honest, not that much. Here’s the two to compare (the one on the left is the second attempt).
I think I need at lot more practice to make a decent loaf (a thermometer that works would also be useful). That said though, we did eat all of it and the children really liked it. Practice makes perfect I suppose.