Bread Failures

Normally, the Tartine method for sourdough that I use to bake at home is fairly foolproof. I’ve learned how it works and know how to make it fit my schedule, which is largely helped by how hands-off it is. As a result, I’ve gotten a bit… shall we say… lazy.

Baking, and especially bread baking, is equal parts science and art. Like art, I’ve ended up using more math than I ever could have anticipated. (Hey, another argument for STEAM education! But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today.)

I’ve got the third Tartine book in my kitchen, which is full of formulations that utilize ancient, whole, and sprouted grains. There’s a buckwheat loaf with toasted groats and creme fraiche that jumped out at me, and so armed with my trusty starter and another kitchen science experiment gone right, I got down to it.

Yes, I keep food service storage containers around. I work in two different restaurants. They tend to accumulate. I also love making labels as if the health inspector is going to come to my kitchen.

I discovered that one can buy buckwheat groats from the Whole Foods bulk bins. What I could not find, though, was buckwheat flour. I decided to skip it and mess around with some other flours instead.

This was my first mistake.

It’s not that I think I know better than Chad Robertson, almighty guru of the high-hydration slow fermented loaf. I just fell prey to the folly that many do when confronted with ingredients they don’t have, and assumed I could make some swaps. Bread, as it turns out, is not forgiving when you go making things up willy-nilly. Just dumping in rye, wheat, and high-gluten flour until you reach the correct baker’s percentage is not really the way to go about it.

I decided to take a spoonful of my starter and feed it with rye flour just for kicks.

Mm, appetizing.

It actually worked out pretty well. This was the last good idea I had in this whole experiment.

My next misstep was attempting to bulk ferment a very wet (as in, pushing 80%) seeded dough while having a baby who was in full Velcro mode. I mean, yes, you can strap your kid to your back (which I did) and forge ahead with stretching and folding at regular intervals, but here’s the thing with babies: they don’t have a concept of time. They don’t know that you’ve got to turn your dough every 45 minutes, time out a bench rest, or shape a batard before you overproof the whole mess. Babies only care about themselves. And because they’re cute, we go with it. I was lucky to get the loaf into a banneton for its final fridge proof before baking in the morning.

I know what went wrong. Other than screwing up on the actual contents of my bread, which I think could have been mitigated by devoting full time and attention to the ferment stage, I rushed through the final stages and failed to develop gluten. But I also somehow managed to get too much air into the whole affair, which, combined with a weak structure, made it collapse on itself.

It’s certainly edible, but not good for much beyond snacking on with a healthy spread of preserves or maybe dipping into a sauce. I mean, ultimately this is what the bulk of bread consumption amounts to in our house, but it’s the principle of the thing for me. Even if we aren’t making sandwiches, I want to be able to make them.

Most of the time, I’m a great baker, when I’ve got patience and a second pair of hands on my side. Until then, some lessons learned: don’t go messing with good recipes, get someone else to hold the baby, and pay attention to my bread dough.

Oh, and maybe just stick with the original Tartine country loaf for a while.

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