Learning the patience of bread
Learn the patience of bread (Courtesy photo)
No two loaves are the same and they will never fail to show you that as they are moved from the oven to the cooling rack. Crust, crumb and overall appearance can vary widely sometimes only from the fact that it was kneaded two more turns that day than the last time you made the recipe. So how does the humble home-baker overcome such glaring obstacles? Repetition and a relationship. Bread is a living, breathing thing that needs dedication and just the right kind of intimacy in order to achieve consistent results.
Sourdough is bread that is leavened by wild yeasts that live in the air all around us. The sour flavor comes from the lactobacillus bacteria that coexists happily with the wild yeasts. The bacteria feeds on lactose and other natural sugars present and its waste is lactic acid creating an environment that prevents other bacteria from taking over. These random captured yeasts work much more slowly than their sterilized and hermetically sealed cousins and studies are showing that eating sourdough bread has a beneficial effect on how our bodies process sugar because of the slower fermentation that takes place. This slower fermentation also results in a tasty and more flavorful bread. Whether you buy your sourdough starter from King Arthur Flour's website (www.kingarthurflour.com ) or you start your own (Google it, it's easy and only takes a few days) you'll need to build up a good quantity (4 cups or so) to start baking. Moving right to sourdough assists the beginning baker in developing a symbiotic relationship with their loaves. If you neglect the starter, it will respond poorly, and the feeding and care that sourdough starter needs to be productive plus the patience it requires to produce consistent loaves from it keeps your mind in the game 24/7. Is it so bad to have bread on the brain all day?
There are some pretty simple ways to help you develop those perfectly crusty loaves. Add a few ice cubes to your oven bottom prior to placing your loaf of bread in the oven, the resulting steam helps to quickly gelatinize the outside jumpstarting the cooking process. Those artistic looking cuts that you see in artisan loaves of bread are there to help the bread expand in a controlled way. When you make these cuts in your loaves prior to baking, use an old fashioned razor blade and cut a quarter of an inch deep and at a 20 degree angle. Baking on some type of pre-heated earthen ware will help to ensure thick crust development because of its inherent ability to radiate heat evenly. Be sure to name your starter; mine is Stevie Nicks. I sing "Landslide" every time I feed her, and we have a very personal relationship.
Through repetition and a high frequency of bread baking sessions, you will define your own style and learn the patience of bread.