The saga of the sourdough continues. So I tried my mother's "tried and true" recipe and it seemed to turn out fine. In fact, I gotta bake another loaf soon (and she loaned me her treasured French bread pans to use!). But I also wanted to try a sourdough with natural leavening--wild yeasts. I found a recipe in the Fields of Greens cookbook. As usual, it was very involved. The first step was really fun--get some organic raisins and soak them uncovered at room temperature for several days.
The result is supposed to be either a little moldy (one would scrape off the mold) or a little effervescent and bubbly. Mine went bubbly--it was so cool! If I shook the bowl a little bit, a herd of bubbles came pinging up between the swollen raisins. The idea is that the yeasts that naturally cling to grapeskins will start to multiply and feed off the sweet grape juice (you squeeze the raisins a bit beforehand to create this juice).
There were many more steps before I got to bake. I started soaking raisins on a Sunday, and a week after the following Thursday (that is, 11 days later), I was finally ready to bake. In the interim I followed various directions about draining off the yeasty raisin liquid, mixing it with flour and water, letting it sit at room temp and in the fridge, and other complicated things I didn't really understand.
Here's what happened the first time I put it in the fridge. Not sure why the starter was doughy, not runny. And looks like I chose a container that was too small, eh?
Days later I got to prep the sponge and it was supposed to rest covered with plastic for 12 hours. Here's how it looked when I got home. This yeast seems vigorous!
Finally baking day, my loaves are resting on a floured surface ready to rise.
And here's the result after baking. Look at those rustic holes in the crumb! The cookbook did have me spraying the loaf with water during the first 15 minutes of baking. I think this accounts for the dark crust.
I thought this was fairly successful for a first attempt at a naturally leavened sourdough. I guess this recipe was used at the famous Tassajara bakery in San Francisco, so they must know what they're doing with all the mixing, sitting, refrigerating, putting damp cloths on rising bread and so forth.
But I wanted to understand why I was supposed to do all these things. Enter my new favorite baking book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread by Peter Reinhart.
I feel so lucky to have found this book on my first foray into reading about bread. It is exactly what I wanted. Reinhart has a good writing style. I'm reading this cover to cover because it's that interesting. He also has a great philosophy about baking, which is that he wants the reader to learn "spirit of the law" baking and not "letter of the law" baking. That is, don't just follow recipes by rote and don't just concentrate on the technical stuff. If you learn the crucial steps of bread baking, then you can riff and adapt them as you like, becoming a "romantic" baker rather than a technical one. I like that. (He also has tips for getting around the need for a banneton--for instance you can use an oiled bowl and an oiled cloth that has been floured. Frugality=awesome.)
I'm submitting this to YeastSpotting, an online weekly showcase of breads and yeast creations. Hooray for yeasts!