Plain, straight, white sourdough.
That’s all I wanted to make. Simple formula, levain, ferment, bulk and shape, proof, some nice bread. Nothing fancy.
But it was a tough, shitty week.
- Clients cancelling, or considering doing so, forcing me to watch the potential end of a business I’ve spent years building;
- Phone calls with lawyers regarding said clients;
- Obsessive spreadsheet noodling/budget crunching; and,
- Inevitably resulting mental/physical effects: anxiety attacks and back spasms.
My dough, like my week, was chaotic.
First, my starter was so active it practically exploded—it rose so quickly and was so bubbly it was like little volcanoes erupting on its surface. It may have even over-risen. Then, I misread my levain formula and had to do some on-the-fly baker’s math, which, given my lack of ability to even add in my head, required pen, paper, calculator, some hmmm and hahhhing, followed by my mathematically spry partner Better Burque stepping in to save the day.
Nonetheless, I could have really hosed up my ratios. The formula called for a 24-hour fermentation of the levain, but again, with Tribble as its base, it rose so aggressively I ended up cutting that short to 15 hours. The final dough, mixed according to the formula, was a wet, sticky mess.
I rarely use a mixer these days, preferring to massage the ingredients together and then stretch-and-fold by hand, but this dough was so slack I put it in the Kitchenaid and whirred it up to speed 5 while dumping flour into the bowl randomly and without measuring—fuck those formulas!—until the dough resembled something that could actually be shaped.
I didn’t weigh my dough, leaving the batard giant and boule petite. The dough wasn’t tight, and never really “got there.” The shaping was slovenly random. (Side Note: I love shaping—it’s my favorite part of the process. But by now I was so discouraged I threw up my dough-covered, flour-encrusted hands.) To literally cap it all off, the batard rose over the top of the banneton. By now, I had thrown in the tea towel.
This bake is a failure and so am I.
By Friday afternoon’s bake, I fretted deeply over how that batard was surely stuck to the banneton and how I was going to get that gigantic, bubbly, over-active thing in the oven without it flattening into an inedible pancake. It is perhaps not coincidence that by Friday afternoon I had also cursed and screamed and cried over my business for several days, had a bunch of good friends listen to me rant and pull me back from the edge with their loving and wise advice, eventually had talked my largest client out of cancelling (I think) at least for the immediate future, and felt that perhaps it was time to do something new anyway after 30 years.
That dark cloud had moved a bit; the sky was finally a tad brighter.
Meanwhile in bread, somehow I transferred that splodgy giant thing into a rectangular casserole, scored (sort of) and baked. While not the tastiest bread I’ve ever made (remember how I shortened the first fermentation?), it was serviceable and will make a killer grilled cheese sandwich. It did try to rise beyond the cover, and if I’d possibly done 15 minutes of covered bake instead of 20, I might even have achieved “oven spring.”
And that mini-boule?
It actually looks quite lovely. An almost perfect little roundness of sourdough love. Bread reflecting life, the week started out a sploodgy (like “splodgy” but with extra splodginess), fraught, overactive mess, yet ended in a nice, if not quite perfect, tidy, if somewhat blemished as life always is, boule.