I really enjoy baking. It has meditative and sensual qualities that make it very soothing. And, although I generally don’t do anything particularly original, since it’s a making activity it also gives some sensation of being creative. Then, of course, there’s the finished product. Most of the time I bake desserts, which probably isn’t the best thing for someone with an enormous sweet tooth to do, but then I can also share it with others (the baked goods, not my sweet tooth), which they seem to like.
But every once in a while there’s that little voice that says maybe you should do something more healthy, or at least some non-sweet things. Which is part of what led me to adopt a sourdough starter.
Although I don’t get the impression that she’s primarily a bread baker, there is a bread chapter in Joanne Chang’s Flour Bakery Cookbook. Many of the recipes call for a bread sponge, which she calls “a slurry of fermented water and flour”. Hmn… sounds kinda like the starter I have. Apparently it can also be called mother, biga, poolish, and levain, to name a few.
A sponge can be done for one batch of bread, or kept going and used in many batches. If you keep it going the yeast need more flour and water to eat. The sponge notes in the cookbook have a cute story that the sponge at Flour is called “Mom”, and it has to be fed every day, since they are making bread every day. So it is on the To Do list as “Feed Mom”. “When my mother was visiting one day, she noticed it on the list and got indignant. “I can feed myself, thank you,” she promptly told me!”
The use of a starter gives more flavor and texture, and apparently more shelf life. The notes say that French baguettes, which use only commercial yeast, are not supposed to be sold after 3 hours – they are considered to have lost their freshness. That was an interesting new tidbit to me.
My first use of Lev was in the Country Bread. The notes describe the bread as somewhere between a light French baguette and a hearty artisanal sourdough, “soft and fragrant and a little holey, with a golden crust and an ever-so-slight sourdough taste that elevates is from plain-white-bread status.” Pretty good description, although I may not have quite executed it.
The dough seemed a little on the sticky side, and then I got called away during the first rise so that went a bit long. So it may not have in the end risen quite as much as it should have and maybe the texture wasn’t quite right. But still pretty good.
My second attempt I mixed more flour in, and may have gone a bit too much to the other side. Ended up perhaps a tad doughy. And I didn’t slash it well enough, so it popped out at the bottom and got a foot. Well, you know it’s homemade.
I’ll have to try again, there’s probably always room for improvement with bread. Or lots to learn anyway. I’m also curious to see what this loaf is like using the sponge recipe given in the cookbook.