Wayward experiments with durum flour
I decided to debut Olivier’s flour at Utopiana, making sourdough with it for the dinner that we organized to follow Sandrine Teixido and Aurelien Gamboni’s presentation on Wednesday of their research project Maelström. Olivier had warned me that the flour made for a sticky dough, and ohhh he was right. I didn’t take any photos of the mess it created, hands being covered in dough and all. It was chaos.
Things started out fine. Shaped small loaves:
This I did because I could already tell as soon as I started working the dough after its proofing that my novice hands would never manage to shape such a big, unwieldy mass of dough into one loaf. But as the dough rested it expanded in size with an alien speed — I feel like I turned my back for all of five minutes and it was already creeping off the sides of the pan. And by the way, I recognize that the pan was way too small, but I’ve always been one of those people who does dumb things like put too much bread dough on a too-small pan in the name of getting it all done at once; like I always try to carry too much stuff in my arms at once and then wind up dropping half of it along the way. “Make two trips!” my mom used to say. (Actually, she still says that.)
I threw the six loaves back into the mixing bowl and started reforming them into a bunch of little rolls, and instead of smartly dividing them into two pans I put them all back onto the same pan. I’m not sure what law of geometry I was trying to break there, but I didn’t succeed. I put the pan in the oven, and five minutes later my friend Hannah squatted down to check its progress and shrieked. “Kate!! Is it supposed to do that??” No, no it wasn’t. The rolls had nearly doubled in size upon meeting the heat of the oven, but with no crust formed the ones along the edges had started to drip off the sides and onto the oven rack and floor, and I swore profusely as I struggled to yank the tray from the oven. Then I was standing there with a burning hot metal pan in my hands and like six people packed around me in the tiny kitchen, but somehow I managed to scoop the sough back into the bowl without burning anyone. I wasn’t really sure what to do next, so I did what one does in situations like these and opened a beer.
I decided finally that I was going to need to do this in shifts, and also maybe figure out a different form since the dough was already overworked and would possibly refuse to rise much after yet another shaping. So I made small, flat rounds and tried shaping them like fougasse, but with such sticky dough my “fougasse” wound up looking like lotus root gnawed on by rodents. By this point I was missing a lot of Sandrine and Aurelien’s presentation. Part way through the baking Anna (who’s Armenian) came into the kitchen to check how things were going, and when she saw the bread she exclaimed happily, “Oh! It’s just like the bread they make in Georgia!” I resisted the urge to act like that was what I’d been going for all along.
Then they stuck to the pan.
Let’s just … not talk about that.
In the end, when I finally got all the loaves in and out of the oven and I sat down with a thump at the dinner table, I was surprised to discover that the actual taste and texture of this very ugly bread was really not bad at all, and during dinner everyone kept saying how good it was. It went quickly, provoking a four-way argument over who got the last piece, and so I took that to mean that the appreciation was genuine. Though I have yet to meet anyone who’s not appreciative of any sort of homemade bread. That’s the beauty of bread, we love it even when it’s ugly.