These days it seems I seldom bake bread comprised of only a single flour. Usually my mind busily weaves together a formula of disparate flours after I decide on an end goal. The end goal is my compass, dictating the direction as I work backwards to make it happen: the flavor from this flour, this one is extra nutritious, add some extensibility with this one, perhaps a bit of color with this other, and perhaps some added strength, if necessary. Lately, though, I’ve been focusing down on a formula comprised in total of ancient einkorn wheat flour. I’ve baked with einkorn many times in the past at less than one hundred percent of the total formula (and my einkorn miche is always my go-to for large dinners), but pushing the percentage of einkorn results in a unique sourdough bread.
A splendid, gentle top-curve from dough that’s proofed just enough. Just enough to still have “energy” to expand upward in the oven, but not so much that it causes an erratic fissure due to the lack of scoring. A balance. Add to that a striking exterior color from a bold bake, the enticing aroma from the use of fresh milled flour, and a speckled oat topping — all contributing to a truly wonderful bread. But beyond all this, it’s one that’s meant to be eaten in thick slices carved from the loaf with a spread of soft butter, toasted and topped with fresh preserves, or used to cobble together a sandwich piled a little too high. When baking this whole grain wheat and spelt pan bread I could have sworn the kitchen smelled of honey… Or perhaps it was my eagerness to eat the result. When you go the distance from raw berries, to fresh milled flour, to baked bread — all the while controlling each part of the transformation1 — it’s easy to get a little antsy, a little impatient, and frankly, a little hungry.
Or as much control as we’d like to think we have over fermentation.↩
Our sleep was always broken by a small, three-wheeled cart scurrying down the stone streets with a large megaphone strapped to the roof. Political ramblings poured unrestricted out of that speaker, echoing off buildings and stone-paved streets as it ran down the length of each avenue — faster and louder than I’m sure anyone in our family’s hometown in Southern Italy cared for. Without the desire for air conditioning1, every single house had their window open overnight to let in the cool breeze. And the opportunistic man in the speedy cart was keenly aware of this situation. As a kid traveling to visit family, waking early wasn’t nearly as bad as going to bed early, after all, it just meant you’d get to play sooner. But probably my favorite thing of all, and the reason I secretly hoped that man would drive by even earlier, was it meant heading out early with my brother and dad the local baker for fresh bomboloni.
Back then I didn’t quite appreciate the lives these bakers led. For them to sell fresh baked goods first thing in the morning they likely worked through the night: mixing, folding, shaping dough, and finally baking in the old ovens just as the sun streamed through the city streets. We’d walk in oblivious to all of this, instead focused acutely on which pastry to buy and devour on the walk back. I like to think our enthusiasm for their baked goods somehow validated their long night of hard work. I do know they were there every morning ready to discuss a recent soccer game, wrap the pastry in paper, and send us back on our way.
Naturally leavened bomboloni are essentially sourdough doughnuts (with no sourness). They’re also known as berliner, krapfen, ballen, pączki, donut, and many more names all over the world. It seems everyone at some point figured out that frying enriched dough was incredibly delicious. I’m sure glad they did.
I still don’t understand this! But then again, I grew up in the US where air conditioning is everywhere without question.↩
So many intangible inputs get mixed into our sourdough starter each day besides the raw, physical ingredients: the time needed to mix, attention, observation, and perhaps a little worry now and then — all the resources constantly tugged at, and contributed to, by daily life. At first glance this list might seem like a lot of fuss needed to keep a small, bubbling culture going. But really, it’s a smidgen of time in the day and, I think at least, the resulting bread is always justified. There’s undeniably a lot of value in maintaining a healthy and regularly fed sourdough starter, but sometimes we do need a vacation, don’t we? Luckily for us a starter is not only incredibly resilient, but it also can be sent into “low power mode” by following a few tips on how to store a sourdough starter for a longer period of time.
In the past I’ve talked about placing a starter in the fridge for around a week to reduce required maintenance, and this is always a valid option. However, what if we’re going to be gone longer than a week? Or two weeks? Or a month? I’ve experimented over the years with ways to store my sourdough starter and have found the following methods to all be effective means for storage and quick revival.
Baking bread at home certainly comes with challenges (or as my enigmatic college calculus professor used to tell me, opportunities for continuous growth). Baking bread at home with a consistent outcome has even more. But there’s a crucial facet of baking that can help us bakers increase consistency that isn’t always immediately apparent: the importance of dough temperature in baking.
Because temperature is one of the main contributors to vigorous fermentation, it’s key that we maintain a sufficiently high, and stable, dough temperature through the entire baking process. Of course, this does become more difficult when ambient temperatures begin to drop (hey, winter!) — and sometimes we don’t even realize it’s happening. Continue reading