I've been absent from the site for the past week or so for a number of reasons. First we were out of town at a place with a not terribly good internet connection. Then we got back and the whole family got leveled by a nasty cold. We're finally recovering, but I still can't taste much of anything. Even the tablespoon of Sriracha I put in my coconut chicken soup last night was hard to taste.
To top it all off, I accepted a new job this week. Begining in March, I am going to work for Mercy Corps, a company that does good work all over the globe. Disaster relief, fighting poverty, microfinance, truly a noble company that works hard to help the least fortunate and forgotten. I'm honored to have a chance to use my technical skills to make a difference in the world.
What does that mean for The Fresh Loaf? That means that in February I'll try to spend a couple of days getting the upgrades that I've mentioned recently done and get the site to a better place. It probably means that in March, at least while I'm ramping up at the new job, I'll be less active here. I'm certainly not abandoning the site, but I may not be able to spend as much time during the week working on this site and responding to questions as I typically do. The community has been doing a great job keeping discussion going here and helping each other out (hats off in particular to JMonkey, who has been particularly helpful... mountaindog has made some great posts too). I hope we'll be able to keep that kind of momentum and community spirit going here even if I disappear for a few weeks.
Hmmm... yes, well... baking on the road seemed like a good idea.
My starter made it fine, but I guess I didn't really think about how many little things I take for granted in my home kitchen. Yes, I knew I was going to be without a baking stone or my lame, but those were the least of my problems. Not being able to find a warm enough spot in the house for the loaves to rise enough set me back a bit. Not being able to find semolina flour or regular corn meal (only course ground) didn't help either, and I was unwilling to damage someone else's iron skillet to make the necessary steam, so the crust was going to suffer. But it was the oven that set me back the most. Well, that and the smoke detector, which screamed like a banshee as soon as I opened the door to put the bread in the oven (I guess they don't turn their oven up to the max as often as I do). In the end, the bread got tossed out. The bread may have been salvageable, but after airing out the house for 20 minutes to get the smoke detector to stop I wasn't in the mood.
I'm chastened. If I try to bake again this week I'll bake something simpler in a loaf pan.
We're housesitting for my parents up on Puget Sound for the next few days. Before leaving, I fed the pets, watered the plants, and, of course, fed the starter. While doing so it dawned on me that I could take a pinch along and try baking something up here; homemade sourdough would go great with the fresh seafood (like the clams we picked up on the way up). I figure if the pioneers could keep a starter culture alive for weeks on a wagon train, I could keep one alive for four hours on the interstate, eh?
It'll be interesting to bake in another kitchen. No baking stone, no scale, an unfamiliar oven. I'll definitely blog the results.
More interesting than the scoring, to me, was the dough. I made a strange one: last night I made a real wet poolish with a cup of whole-wheat flour, much water (didn't measure) and about 1/4 teaspoon yeast. I also built up my AP flour-based sourdough starter. This morning I then threw them both together with another pound or so bread flour, an ounce of rye flour, a couple of teaspoons salt, and a bit more flour. So I ended up with a slack, rustic-like dough leavened with sourdough and a teeny bit of yeast. I haven't tasted it yet, but it seemed to perform real well. I'm curious to taste what combining the sweetness of a poolish with the tartness of a sourdough does.
This was basically like Hamelman's Olive Levain: 10% whole wheat, no yeast, just starter. I loved it:
Delicious, but not cheap (well, at least by bread baking standards). The olives alone cost as much as... what... thirty pounds of flour and a pound of salt. I can bake an awful lot of regular sourdough bread for that much money. Yes, ok, to put it in perspective it is still cheaper than a drinkable bottle of wine, but still... baking bread, one gets spoiled by how inexpensive a hobby it is.
I baked some whole wheat rolls for our Christmas dinner and a couple of sourdough loaves for the next few days. They were quite good.
As I Christmas gift, I got the latest version of the Joy of Cooking. Perusing the bread chapter, I was blown away to see it now includes information on using a sponge starter and ceramic tiles as baking stones. There are recipes for rustic French bread, sourdough rye bread, focaccia, even brioche. True, the Joy of Cooking isn't the greatest book for a serious bread baker, but it interesting to see how artisan bread recipes and techniques have entered the mainstream.