Monday, May 18, 2009

Wild Bread

My sister gave me a great book for my birthday: Wild Bread, by Lisa Rayner. It's about sourdough bread, and it's pretty definitive. I've been making bread for thirty years, and I once had a sourdough starter that I liked in the seventies, but I lost it. Since then I've been trying to make another good starter, but the flavor was always sort of off.

Rayner explains in detail how to capture a good wild starter. One secret is: do it outside! I set up the "trap" once inside and once outside, and the outside starter worked a lot better. The trap is just a slurry of flour and water.

The other secret is to use pineapple juice as the liquid, the first few times you feed your starter. This inhibits the bad-tasting bacteria and yeast from growing in your starter and favors the good ones.

Also, I had never understood before the correct way to feed your starter when you take it out of the refrigerator. You have to feed it gradually, in stages, to activate it. Rayner recommends three feedings. The time between feedings varies depending on how lively your starter is. The last time I made bread, I fed it before I went to bed; then I fed it when I got up, and then again around noon. I made bread in the mid-afternoon, and it was baked by bedtime. I'm sure I could have speeded that schedule up a bit in order to have bread by supper time, because the starter was pretty bubbly by mid-morning.

Rayner uses the "baker's percentage" system in her recipes: that is, she gives the recipes by percentage weight (as well as by measure). I learned that whole wheat artisan bread uses a different baker's percentage than, say, a pan sandwich bread made with white flour. Whole wheat artisan bread has a hydration of 75%, which means that for every 100 grams of flour, you use 75 grams of liquid. White pan sandwich bread uses a 60% hydration.

My bread looked and tasted just like I wanted it to. It had the nice holes that artisan hearth bread is supposed to have, and it has the tang of sourdough, without that bad "whang" that my old sourdough used to have. It is wonderful toasted, and it has good keeping qualities.

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