So one of my resolutions each year is to pick a new skill, something I know very little about, and learn to do it as well as I can. I've been learning to cook over the last five or so years (after my daughters kindly informed me that alternating spaghetti noodles with Ragusa poured on it and overcooked chicken breasts with microwaved veggies were no longer satisfactory), but I've always been fascinated by baking bread. I can do the basic bread recipes, albeit badly, but I wanted to learn the technique from starter to loaf. I picked up a few books (Flour Water Salt Yeast, and Tartine Bread), and began a starter on New Years Day.
At first, the blisteringly cold winter here led to a sluggish start for my burgeoning yeast colony, but the discovery of a warm spot in a closet solved that issue, and in a week, I had a enthusiastic starter bubbling away. Once it passed the float test, I came up with a schedule for a recipe from one of my books, and whipped up my first two loaves of bread!
They were a total disaster. The good news is, I know what I did wrong. The bad news is, it was pretty much everything.
- Worrying that the preferment was taking too long in my cooler kitchen, I put it in our oven on the proof setting. It was supposed to rise 15% to 20% in two hours. It tripled in volume in one.
- On the folding steps, I was way too rough with the dough, and tore large chunks. I now realize I was tearing the gluten before it could form.
- I slashed the dough way too deeply, which I realized when one boule collapsed into a flat pancake instantly after the first cut.
- I miscalculated the temperature, forgot to lower it down after putting in the bread, and burned it fairly badly.
The end result were two dense, lumpy, flat loaves of bread with a black exterior.
With all that said, I'm actually kind of thrilled. It's pretty cool that I managed to make dough rise using microorganisms I pulled out of the air. I'm going to keep trying, and figured I could share my findings and results here. Any advice would be lovely.