Sourdough Science Saturday

My starter is a little over two and a half years old and as I alluded to in my previous post I’ve baked about two hundred and fifty-ish loaves of bread with it, pre- and during pandemic.

You would almost think I would understand it better.

About an hour ago I pulled my Thanksgiving loaf from the oven and it turned out great.

All around, I followed my basic twenty-four hour prep-and-proof plan, the process I’ve been fine tuning for years even before this starter, and which works for me fairly consistently.

Only it sometimes doesn’t.

Like this summer.

This summer we had a heat wave for a solid month where the temperatures outside rarely dropped below twenty-five degrees at night and routinely stuck in the mid-to-high thirties during the day. Also, it rarely dropped below twenty-five degrees in our house (including the kitchen) which was a nightmare, the waking kind, because I could hardly sleep in those conditions.

All the bread I baked during this month flopped.

Poor rise. Dense crumb. Edible … but not enjoyable.

And at the time I got it into my head that the heat was putting my yeast into some runaway proof and I was missing the window to bake it and get a good loaf.

However.

I’ve had a few months to think about this, and my nineteen degree kitchen (where I proofed today’s loaf to within one standard deviation of perfection) only added another layer of evidence to my theory.

“You’d think the yeast would have liked the heat.” Went the conversation with my wife. “But I think my yeast aren’t loving it.”

Not all yeast are created equally, after all. In fact, there are fifteen hundred known varieties of yeast, and the yeast that come in the little envelope from the grocery store may have very little lineage in common with the yeast I caught in my kitchen two and a half years ago.

The yeast from the store are bred to grow consistently, quickly and thrive at warm temperatures.

I’d be willing to bet that whatever yeast I found thriving in my kitchen air and trapped in my starter probably prefer, say, a dry central Canadian climate and do quite well in my nineteen degree kitchen. Wouldn’t it make sense, after all, that the most common yeast floating around my house were probably plentiful enough to be caught because they actually favoured … preferred … had maybe even adapted to … the conditions of my house?

So, back in June when my house was eight or nine degrees warmer than normal, those nineteen-degree-loving yeast … well, they made some garbage bread.

And today, when my thermostat is regulating the house to optimal conditions for both me and my yeast … well logically they made a loaf of awesome bread.

Short: Long Weekend & Floury Friday

In Canada, we celebrate our Thanksgiving in October.

The right way.

And as we prepare a large meal for Sunday evening, my wife is out shopping for a fresh turkey and I’ve spent Friday evening getting my sourdough started.

While making sourdough has become fairly routine around our house, I find myself usually making sandwich loaves. In fact, over the duration of the pandemic I’ve baked about two hundred and twenty sandwich loaves … but only four classic dome loaves.

So, Thanksgiving is a lot of things, but it’s a thankful opportunity to bake up a beautiful classic loaf of sourdough to enjoy with our Sunday dinner. I settled on a basic white flour loaf with about twenty percent organic spelt mixed in. Nothing beats sopping up some turkey gravy than a thick slice of buttered sourdough, after all.

And of course, the work starts on Friday.

Friday Yeast Fail

I banked my evening post on some cast iron skillet focaccia bread. The plan was to bake a zesty round of generously seasoned pan bread, a twelve inch disc of leavened goodness, baked to perfection in the oven and sliced up for some Friday night snacking.

I followed a simple recipe: some flour, yeast, olive oil, spices, salt, water… you know how this goes.

Mixed, I set it all aside to rise.

I waited.

I watched.

I put it into the proofing drawer of my oven.

I waited some more.

I think my failing was relying on store bought yeast. I would have gone the sourdough starter route, but I dreamed up this plan in the afternoon and was hoping for a Friday treat.

The darned thing never rose.

I turned into a cold, wet, oily ball of dough with so little going for it that six hours later I’m pretty much resigned to cooking it up and seeing what happens.

And whatever happens will definitely not be focaccia.

Apple Harvest

The local radio (yes, I still listen to the radio) was discussing apples this afternoon.

The public broadcaster hosts an afternoon general interest show where a pair or trio of hosts chatter about local news topics, update on weather and traffic, interview local businesses, and generally have a daily topic encouraging people to engage and discuss and drop comments onto their feeds to participate in said chatter.

Today the topic was apples.

I don’t know how it goes in your part of the world, but around here almost everyone has or knows someone who has an apple tree.

Mine is a magnificent fifteen year old baking variety apple. She stands nearly as tall as my two-storey house, and this year dropped roughly two thousand greenish-red orbs of tartly sweet goodness into bowls, pails, dirt, grass, the neighbour’s yard, and even quite nearly onto the dog’s head.

We made some pies.

We froze some sliced samples.

But in reality we just couldn’t keep up.

I posted online with pleas for friends to come pick… but again, everyone has or knows someone who has an apple tree, so no takers.

Next year will likely be a quieter year for fruit in our yard, the tree seeming to be a biannual giver of bounty.

I didn’t call in or participate in the radio program, not by tweet or by text, but I did pause to listen, aligning my own experience participating in the growing of the local crop right in my backyard with countless neighbours around the city. It was a moment almost as sweet as a fresh backyard apple.