Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Project Sourdough: Pain De Campagne Semi-Fail

We baked our first loaf of sourdough today, that was 3 days in the making, and it was, um, ok. Not a raging success, not a total failure. I can't say I'm disappointed exactly, as I didn't expect to be turning out perfect artisan loaves on day one - here's what happened, and where I think I'm going wrong:

To start with, I don't have a bread baking manual or cookbook, so I've been using advice from the internet. For our first attempt, I decided to use this recipe from the blog The Bread She Bakes. It has good comments, and I love Pain de Campagne - it's probably my second favourite sourdough loaf after San Francisco Sourdough, and it looked easier than most of the San Francisco-style recipes I'd come across. Also, it called for a mixture of flours including whole wheat and rye, and I really want to be baking whole grain breads. I'm going to go through the steps, but I won't reprint her recipe - it's there on the link though if you're interested.

Day 1. First you need to make a starter, from your starter. This is also called a preferment. I keep a stiff rye starter, not a poolish starter, so this recipe was perfect for us. I made it after the babe went to sleep, then left it to pre-ferment (get it?) at room temperature overnight. It's worth noting that my homemade starter from the fridge had been fed a couple days earlier, and was smelling pleasantly sour, like yogurt. New air bubbles would appear within minutes of feeding, so I was fairly confident that it was healthy.

In the morning, my new starter looked like this:

You make your dough the morning after, then leave it to rise for an hour, before shaping and refrigerating for the second rise - this is called a cold rise, and it slows down the yeast and concentrates the sourdough flavours. Her recipe calls for a 12 hour cold rise, but I had read others that call for a 24 hour cold rise, and it was going to be much more convenient for me to bake in the morning, so I opted for a full 24 hours. 

Day 2. Making our dough in the usual way - first knead in the mixer, second by hand.

My helper.

After the bulk rise (in the mixing bowl), the dough is folded a few times and placed seam-side up in a proofing basket for the cold rise. Now, I don't have a proofing basket (or any other specialist kit), so I just used a bowl - it worked ok, but not brilliant. For one thing, this is a very sticky dough, and it's not possible to evenly flour the smooth surface of a mixing bowl, which gave my loaf floury patches rather than attractive rings. I also wonder if it isn't TOO cold. Thinking of getting a proofing basket at some point, but I don't know. My dough also sort-of spread out into a disc shape, rather than a lovely boule like I was hoping for.

Day 3. A full 24 hours later, we were ready to bake. It had clearly risen, and the recipe said to transfer to your baking tray and leave at room temperature for another hour or so. The flour patches were cracking, and I could see air bubbles in the dough - I was pretty confident that my starter was working! The only other deviation I made from the recipe was to use steam while baking - just hot water in another baking tray underneath the bread. Steam in the oven gives that incredible chewy crust - give it a try even if you're using quick yeast. 40 minutes in the oven, and our loaf was finished, although far from perfect:

What's wrong with it? Well, it just didn't rise as much as I'd hoped; it was much flatter and denser than a Pain de Campagne should be. As you can see, the slash marks did expand, but not as much as they should have. The crumb is dense, almost gummy like Pumpernickel (which had me suspecting the rye flour), but, infuriatingly, I can see air bubbles throughout, including some huge, beautiful ones. I could put my whole thumb in one.

What's right with it? The flavour is beautiful, the crust sublime. It's more than edible; it's delicious. There's no heavy-handed 'yeasty' flavours like with quick yeast - it's just fresh, gorgeous, whole-grain goodness. And the crust - the crust! Chewy and perfect.

So, what happened? Short answer is that I'm not sure. Probably a combination of rookie mistakes. It could be that my starter doesn't have enough raising power, even though it clearly has SOME. Is that possible? How do I remedy that? Any bakers out there with advice? It could also be the 24 hour rise - did it rise and then fall? That would explain the presence of all the bubbles. What about the rye flour, is it a coincidence that it is so similar to other (very good) rye breads? Should the slashes be deeper?

Overall, I'd say that the result was just good enough to prove to me that it's worth continuing to try. Next time I will follow a recipe to the letter, and will probably get a few books on the subject from the library. I may invest in a proofing basket. It's a start, anyway, and the little one certainly didn't turn her nose up at it. Live and learn.

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