Little by little, I am completing the 100 bread recipes on Pains du Monde à Faire Soi-Même, which I bought at a really good price about six months ago. So far 93% of the recipes I tried worked fine -so much so that I keep repeating them (Split Tin, small milk loaves and Anadama are my favourite so far).
But about a month ago I tried something more challenging: a rustic country bread, which involves preparing my own sourdough. I started one day and fed the leaven (homemade yeast) frequently as recommended in the recipe. It didn’t seem active at all, but I kept going, after all, I was expecting it to behave differently than bread made with dry yeast. The result was a total failure. Of all the loaves I baked so far, this was the only one we didn’t finish eating. It was as dense as lead, somewhat raw in the middle and very sour.
Shortly after this failed attempt, I received an offer from Amazon to get the Kindle edition of Tartine Bread for a dollar or so. I prefer my cook books in that vintage media called paper, but I decided to give it a go to have a reference. Upon reading it and seeing how detailed the instructions for a homemade leaven were, I took advantage of the holidays to try making my leaven again.
From the beginning, I could see the difference between recipes. After the first feeding, the starter was already bubbly. When it came time to work the dough it looked very much like the pictures on the book (or as much as I could make out from the 5-inch screen); and this morning, I baked it.
It still looked a bit like the pictures from the book, except that I did not bake it using a Dutch oven, but rather a pizza stone (I know the instructions mention the Dutch oven, but I want to make sure I get the leaven right before investing in new gadgets). I put it to rest then snapped the picture above.
Right after that, I went to turn it around and knock on it to check for the hollow sound to make sure it was ready, but one of my fingers went right through the crust into a huge air bubble. I started looking for more big bubbles and found three more. I knew this was not good, even though the bread had risen.
When I cut it open, again the dough seemed very dense and raw in some parts. Moreover, the flour did not seem to be fully integrated to the dough, so besides huge air bubbles, I had flour bubbles.
I did not want to waste all this work, so I tried the bread, but it was awful. The previous one was bad, but we ate good part of it. Looking back I appreciate the effort we made to eat it; although this time, I accepted defeat and threw it out. Luckily, there is a new artisan baker just around the corner from my house and yesterday I had bought a delicious Khorasan bread. New Year’s breakfast was saved!
To wrap up, I still have the leaven and I’ll keep feeding it daily and see how it goes. I guess it will take a lot more practice before I nail a bread made with it.