On Friday morning, I did a rather large refresh of my starter, thinking that it would be the makings of a levain for something to bake this weekend. There was no specific plan, mind you, just the notion that I needed to bake something and that sourdough would be preferred. In taking stock of my pantry after a late dinner Friday evening, it became evident that whatever I made wouldn't contain rye--I needed to restock. That may be good news to Nico and the rest of the crew at Eureka Mills but it did steer my considerations out of one path and down another.
What to bake, then? After riffling through some books, the bread that looked most appealing to me was the Pain de Campagne from Leader's Local Breads. Yes, it wants 30g of rye flour, too, but I substituted WW and was happily on my way. My starter was at, or just passing, its zenith. Since I keep a firm starter, I needed to add water to achieve the hydration of Leader's liquid levain. Before doing that, I made sure to set some starter aside to refeed and put back into storage. It's no fun to find out you've baked up all of your starter and need to start anew. Even worse, there are no T-shirts after you've been there and done that.
In reading the formula, I found that I had just about the same quantity of levain (after adding the requisite water) that would be required for a double batch. Good! One mess and four loaves instead of one mess and two loaves. That would yield two for us and a couple of loaves to give to friends. Leader recommends mixing the water and flour for a 20-minute autolyze, then add in the levain and salt. I varied by mixing the flour, water and levain for the autolyse and left it for 25 minutes, on the presumption that the coarser bran particles of the WW flour would benefit from additional time soaking.
Upon returning to the now-autolyzed dough, I found it to be wonderfully elastic even before adding the salt. I worked in about half of the salt using a stretch and fold in the bowl process, then patted the dough out on the countertop and worked in the rest of the salt. Leader directs the baker to knead the dough for 10-12 minutes. For once, I followed directions. The dough was a joy to handle. It verged on being sticky at the beginning of the knead. Per Leader's directions, I did not add any bench flour. Instead, I would dust my hands with flour occasionally. As the kneading progressed, the stickiness reduced to a light tackiness (and I mean that in a good way). The dough left very little of itself on the countertop even though it was quite capable of latching on if left to sit for more than a few seconds. It was able to produce a window pane at the end of the kneading, something that I don't usually check for, especially in a dough freckled with flakes of bran. In spite of the addition of some WW flour (and rye, if you have it), this is essentially a white bread. And I suspect that the dough felt so responsive to me because my previous bake was a 100% rye. Two different worlds!
By this time, it was already close to 9:00 in the evening, so I had to consider my next step. Should I stay up late through two fermentation cycles and baking, or should I retard it in the refrigerator? Since I was dealing with a sourdough, I opted to leave it on the counter for about an hour more before placing it in the refrigerator. My experience with sourdoughs is that they are rather slow to develop and I did not want to sacrifice that much sleep. Imagine my surprise at about 7:00 this morning when I opened the refrigerator door to find the dough well above the rim of the bowl, straining against the plastic wrap! It had at least tripled, perhaps quadrupled, in roughly 9 hours in the refrigerator. I've never seen a sourdough bread do that before. It must be that this starter, even though only a couple of months old, has a potent strain of yeast!
So, I divided the dough into four pieces and shaped each piece into a boule. I only have two bannetons that size, and only two loaves would fit on my stone at one time, so I opted for using two half-sheet pans with two loaves on parchment on each. While I can fit those into my oven, it does not leave any room for a steam pan. When the loaves had doubled (visually) and the poke test indicated that they were fully risen, I scored them and brushed their surfaces with water before putting them in the preheated oven. Leader recommends baking at 450ºF for 15 minutes, then dropping the temperature to 400ºF for an additional 20-25 minutes. I opted to use the convection setting, with temperatures that were 40º-50º lower, supposing that I would get a more even bake. I also planned to rotate and switch the pans at the 15-minute mark. When I opened the oven, I found that the lower loaves were pressing against the rack above them. Instead of the planned switch-and-rotate maneuver, I took all four loaves off the pans and placed them on the top rack, with the paler pair at the rear, to finish the lower-temperature last segment of the bake.
Here's how they look:
As you can see from the crackling in the crust of the left-hand loaf, they sang as they cooled. Two of the loaves suffered small blow-outs along their bases, indicating that they weren't as fully proofed as they seemed to be (or that I really did need more steam in the oven). I'm very happy with how they expanded upward more than they did outward, since I was careful to get a tight gluten cloak while shaping. I'm less happy with the scoring; it's a skill I need to develop further. I anticipate some good eating from these. We'll see how the crumb looks when I've cut into one. That much kneading could lead to a fairly even and close crumb, even though this is a moist dough.