Sourdough lured me in.
The tangy taste and sour aroma make San Francisco style sourdough the all-time favorite of millions—including me.
Mabye I could make it myself.
I'm not a great chef, nor a baker, but I'm not a neophyte in the kitchen either and I learn fast. Maybe...just maybe....
So I tried, with modest success that, as expected, started improving the more I baked. But keeping a starter going, with a lifetime of weekly feedings that require copious quantities of flour, most of which gets thrown away, seemed too daunting, and thus my initial enthusiasm waned after a few---a very few---weeks.
My bread baking returned to commercial yeast loaves on an irregular basis, with most of my bread, and all of my quasi-sourdough, came from the grocery store. I use "quasi" because most commercially baked sourdough appears to be made with a combination of starter and baker's yeast, which delivers, at best, a hint of the tang and sour aroma that makes true San Francisco-style sourdough so appealing.
My interest in making my own sourdough languished (but did not expire) until a few years later, when I discovered a book that provided the impetus to give it another try.
This time, it stuck.
The book is Della Fattoria Bread, by Kathleen Weber.
It's not dedicated to sourdough bread baking. Rather, it covers a variety of breads from simple white sandwich bread to pizza dough to breadsticks and crackers, as well as prefermented and naturally leavened breads. It includes instructions for starting, maintaining, and using a starter.
It was the inspiration for my dive back into sourdough bread baking, and it is my current go-to recipe book for any type of bread. It includes 63 recipes, but more importantly it describes in clear, accessible language how an acclaimed artisan bakery makes bread.
I followed the book's instructions for making and maintaining a sourdough starter and for stretching and folding dough to develop gluten. I purchased a Pullman loaf pan so I could make the white sandwich bread the way the book described it (and, yes, it makes a difference; the book's white bread recipe produces delicious sandwich bread that bears little resemblance to what is available in the grocery store).
But then, just as I was becoming acclimated to the book's methods and recipes, just when I was starting to consistently produce good sourdough bread, just when I was getting comfortable with weekly feedings required to maintain a bowl of starter in the refrigerator, just when everything about bread making seemed to be coming together for me—life took two sudden, sharp turns, almost simultaneously.
This blog is one major result of the still-ongoing (as of the date of writing this, September 2019) recovery process.
The First Jolt
The first event that threatened to knock my bread baking efforts off the rails was the acquisition of a Mockmill 200, a kitchen-countertop stone-wheel flour mill.
This allows me to mill my own flour from whole wheat berries (that's what bakers and farmers call the wheat grains: berries).
Flour made by grinding wheat berries between two stones is significantly different from flour milled in a commercial flour mill, which in the modern era means a rolling mill. The main differences are touted as huge advantages in favor of stone ground flour: better nutrition, better taste.
But baking with stone ground flour requires adjustments to recipe quantities and cooking/preparation techniques. As an example, stone ground flour apparently soaks up more water than rolling mill flour. Hydration is an important element in the baking of bread. So the quantity of water needs to be adjusted. By how much? Don't know. My goal now is to continue to use the Della Fattoria recipies and techniques, but adjusted to the demands of the flour I'm now using.
I need to experiment.
Having a home mill brings up another problem: obtaining the wheat I need in order to mill flour. I'm still new to this world and I'm still searching out resources.
The Second Jolt
Not long after I unpacked the flour mill, the other event that has thrown my entire set of baking ways off kilter (not just bread baking) was the failure of my oven. After what I consider to be a very short lifespan of some 13 years, the control panel of my Maytag oven failed, and replacement parts are no longer available for it.
This required a new oven, but options for this model—a 24-inch double-oven built-in wall unit—are very limited. Remodeling the wall to accommodate a larger oven was out of the question. Finding a replacement presented its own set of problems.
There are apparently just four models available in that size, and they all seem to be manufactured by the same Chinese suppliers.
I opted for the KitchenAid version, with a convection option in one of the ovens, and a bread proofing feature in both upper and lower ovens. The bread proofing feature, while appealing in concept, proved to be less appealing in reality. The lowest temperature I can achieve appears to be a bread-hot 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
The convection feature, on the other hand, may prove to be a winner, once I adjust my cooking habits to the new, lower temperature range of convection cooking. Again, experimentation. Which leads to...
The Birth of the Blog
In order to manage the complications thrown in my bread baking ways by each of these two jolts, I have created this blog/app.
Over time, I hope to compile a detailed record of the many variations I make to the recipes from, among other resources, the Della Fattoria book.
I hope to be able to continue baking the Della Fattporia Pain de Campagne, Seeded Wheat, and Semolina breads, with flour I milled. But as I have learned and am learning, baking with home-milled flour is very different from baking with commercially milled flour.