Friday, January 09, 2009

Salvage Operation

Sometimes you just know a recipe is wrong.

I was trying to make a Basque sourdough bread from my Wooden Spoon Bread Book. This is supposedly a bread that Basque sheepherders would make in a Dutch oven at the beginning of the day, bury the pot in the coals of the fire and have it ready to eat when they came home. The recipe described a stiff dough but what I ended up with was ridiculous. This dough was so crumbly, so dry, I couldn't even work it into a ball. So I threw it back into my stand mixer bowl and added another two tablespoons of shortening bringing the total to four tablespoons of shortening. This was a little better but still, I had to beat the dough into a ball shape. It was stiffer than Rose's Play-doh. And even though it was ball shaped, it was full of cracks and crevices. At no time would I describe my dough as "smooth and elastic."

Then it was supposed to rise in a Dutch oven, double in size in about two hours. I gave it overnight, maybe 18 hours. It got softer but never rose, never doubled.

Ok, this isn't me, no fault of mine. Even when I was making it I found it hard to believe that there was no call for any liquid. No water. No milk. No oil. Nothing but two tablespoons of shortening. I actually have two copies of this book, a first edition and a recent edition. I compared both books and both recipes are the same.

So I looked in my Basque cookbook. Yes, I have a Basque cookbook. No recipe for any bread though in that book.

So I turned to the Internet. There are a gazillion recipes for Basque Sheepherder's bread that are amazing similar, but not sourdough. Actually there is only one recipe that seems to have been copied gazillion times (one of my pet peeves with Internet recipes). So I did a search for Basque sourdough and two recipes popped up each calling for one cup of water.

Soooo, I like the word "so," so this morning I put the now slightly softer but unrisen ball of dough back into my stand mixer. I knew that if I tried baking it in the oven, I'd just end up with a round block of cracker. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I flipped the switch and the dough broke up very nicely in the mixer.

Now what I should have done was slowly pour water in with the mixer on and just add enough until I had a stiff dough that climbed the sides of the bowl. What I actually did was dump the cup of water into the bowl and mixed it into a paste. Damn.

I ended up adding an additional 2 1/3 cups of flour to get a soft but sticky dough. I kneaded it by hand until it felt good. It even passed a window pane test for me. I formed it into a smooth ball, popped it back into my Dutch oven and let it rest to double. It took longer than two hours but in eight hours I felt it had doubled sufficiently. I have found that every batch of sourdough I have made takes a very long time to double, often overnight, so I think that length of time was probably more correct than what the book called for. I would bet a yeast packet would have given me a dough that doubled in two hours.

I envision my little yeasties hung out in that dough ball all night and this morning were screaming, "feed me Seymour." That water and flour addition was the key.

Baked it covered in the Dutch oven for about 75 minutes and am quite happy with the results. I forgot to slash the top but that's a minor nit.

1 comment:

Dinah said...

It's great bread! A little smoother with a flaky crust compared to the loaves with a chewier, tougher texture and firm crunchy crust. I say it's good!