One of my experiments went awry a couple of days ago. I had some leftover buttermilk and decided to sub that for milk in my usual SD pancake mix. I've used buttermilk in traditional pancakes and it was good, but I found it wasn't prepared to socialise properly with the SD leaven. No matter how much buttermilk I added, the batter refused to thin to the consistency I like. Added milk in the end, and that made things runny, but alas - the batter refused to behave in the fry pan. While browning to a nice golden finish, it was like custard inside. No amount of extra heating would remedy this.
Moving right on, I decided against pancakes. Crepes were the go! So, swirled the batter quickly around the pan to keep it thin...fail.
Time to quit, so I sulkily dumped the bowl of batter on the kitchen shelf and left it there for the rest of the day. It could get as sour and nasty as it liked. Only one place that mess was bound - the compost.
Towards evening, I returned to the scene of the crime and made off out the back to dispose of the evidence. Then a thought struck me - wasn't this fermenting mess a sort of starter, or sponge, or whatever...? And if so, why couldn't I add flour and attempt to bring off a disaster rescue? I hate throwing out anything edible, especially starter, so promptly rationalised my way back inside with my bowl of trouble and set to work.
I left my premium bread flours alone, not wanting to waste them on something that was likely to be mediocre at best, and grabbed some plain (AP) supermarket flour. Threw in enough to get a good consistency. Thought better of ignoring my good flours, and tipped in a bit of organic wholemeal. And some milk powder - why not?
Since there was sugar in the batter, I figured sweet(ish) and spicy was the way to go. Chucked in some cinnamon, and lesser quantities of mixed spice, ginger, plus a bit of dry-roasted coriander/caraway mix left over from a cooking venture some days earlier. The dough was a bit sticky. A sprinkle more flour... Nice.
Recalling Sylvia's tantalising recent pics of her walnut and raisin bread, I chopped up some walnuts, then raisins (not golden ones - the large flat relatives) and a bit of candied spice. Folded them into the dough. Didn't worry about pre-soaking.
And so it went. No weighing, no recipe, working only by the light of instinct and experience - and it dawned on me that I was enjoying the freedom of it all! In fact, it was exhilarating!
Bulk proofed 3 hours with 3 S&Fs, rolled the dough in on itself lengthwise, bunged it into a bread pan, and retarded in the fridge overnight. Baked straight out of fridge next morning: 40 mins @ 185C (365F), no steam. I didn't even bother with a glaze.
The result was thrilling! A rustic-looking loaf that rose well and when sliced for a sampling 2 hours later had my partner and I raising our eyebrows. The crumb was even and soft, but well-structured and elastic. The only thing I might have done differently with the benefit of hindsight was brush a bit of milk on the top before loading the dough to slow down the browning of the crust. Got away with not pre-soaking the fruit - it wasn't at all hard or too chewy, possibly because I cut the raisins into smaller pieces. And the taste test? An A-grade pass!
So, what began as a failed experiment ended as an unlikely triumph. I'm a bit regretful I won't be able to duplicate this bread exactly, but letting go of recipes and weighing was a liberating experience. I do firmly believe in exercising some precision in bread baking as a general procedural principle and will continue to tweak and take notes, but winging it every so often is a buzz. I do that all the time in cooking, but for some reason have not felt safe removing the safety net with bread baking until now. Will be living a little more dangerously in future!
Best of baking!