No, this is not about Tom Lehrer’s lyrics. But a couple of nights ago a friend explained his interest in (not-so) popular music by saying “It’s my hobby”. I don't really have a hobby, at least not as I understand them, although I do have lots and lots of things, too many, that interest me. So maybe I have lots of hobbies, things that deliver personal fulfillment. One of those is preparing food, and I suppose I could call cooking a hobby, but really it is only a subset of cooking that I would consider close to a hobby: making bread.1
Watching a Ted Talk by Peter Reinhart2 was partly a reminder of why I love baking bread. The sheer magic of it. The process. The stuff going on as it turns from flour, water and leaven into dough and loaves and bread and me. None of it was new to me, but it did get me bubbling again, rather like a fresh spoonful of flour to a sourdough starter. So I subscribed to Reinhart’s blog, noting that I had arrived just as some exciting things seemed to be winding down. Then I saw a passing comment about a method called stretch and fold, and I pursued that too, and read, and watched videos, and marveled at the wonderful stuff that is out there.
I decided to be more mindful of my bread-making. Starting with hydration. And keeping notes.
So last week I made a batch of sourdough at about 80% hydration, that is 500 gm of flour to 400 ml of water. It’s tricky, of course, because the flour itself can contain varying amounts of water, and the hydration of the starter is essentially unknown. The mix was very loose, like a no-knead bread. I let it rise overnight, then did the stretch and fold thing three times. The structure did change noticeably each time, and at the end seemed pretty good, if a little sticky. I removed 100 gm for the starter and made two loaves, baked in long tins. They rose well, but in the end a single loaf might have been better. The crumb was light and even, but ever so slightly sticky. Not uncooked, just sticky.
Which is why I have just made another batch, this time a little more than 60% hydration: 500 gm of flour with 300 ml of water, plus 150 gm of thick batter starter. This was a much drier paste, which I had to knead briefly to wet all the flour. Again, I’ll let it rise overnight, and this time I will bake a single loaf.
Questions remain, which is why this is interesting. Does a wetter dough need more time to cook? At a lower final temperature? Stay tuned.