No, I didn't have time to make the most beautifully posed picture, with the nice soft lighting, and the artistic arrangement, or any of that. You see, I was too busy eating three whole pieces of this loaf covered in butter.
It was so. Good.
I've come a long way from my brick of a couple weeks ago, and I wanted to share a couple more things I've learned since my last post about sourdough.
Let your dough stay nice and wet and sticky. Put just enough flour to get it to the point where it would like to stick to itself a little bit more than to the bowl--then stop adding flour.
I used to read the description in many recipes that you needed the dough to "clean the bowl" and thought that my dough had to be a ball that wouldn't stick to anything but itself, or something. I have since learned differently.
I actually figured this one out by accident. I had just enough flour in the house at the time to make one loaf of bread, and when I added the last of my flour it still looked stickier than I was used to making my dough. And I said, well, that's the last of the flour, I guess it will have to be good enough. And it was.
Who knew that I was making my dough too dry all this time? My bread before wasn't bad, but it wasn't quite as soft or fluffy as I'd like. Now I know why.
You will be more aware of subtle changes in your dough's texture if you knead it by hand, rather than using a mixer. Also, kneading is fun.
Maybe nobody but me remembers this, but one of my goals this year was to find types of exercise that I would, you know... actually do. And dough kneading is now the first on that list. I love the texture of the dough, and feeling it gradually grow stronger and more elastic. And I've found that the difference between dough that will pass the windowpane test and won't could be the difference of just a few fold-and-pushes.
So even though I have a kitchen aid that could do the kneading for me, so far I've done it all by hand. I'll probably be singing my kitchen aid's praises once there are little Perkinses running around wreaking havoc, but while its just me and Mr. Perkins, I like getting my hands doughy.
You can knead your dough on a floured surface, or on a watered surface, or on an oiled surface. Or you can be hard core like me and knead it without any of those things.
So, that time I ran out of flour? Obviously I still didn't have any when it came time to knead. But since the dough was already stickier than I was used to I didn't want to make it even more sticky by adding water, or oil. So I decided to just slap it on the counter and see what happened. And you know what? It made surprisingly little mess, requiring cleanup probably comparable to flour or water or oil. (Of course, at that point I still didn't know how my stickier-than-usual loaf was going to turn out, so I had a sort of "well if its already ruined, who cares?" attitude.)
Now, its possible that this was because the point at which I've now trained myself to stop adding flour (with about three batches of dough, but you know, its a start) is exactly at the point where the balance of flour and water is just right. Other bakers may train themselves to take it out a bit more sticky and need to knead (haha) a bit more flour into it to get the ratios right. Or others might overdo the flour a bit and so knead in some water. Or I could just be crazy and making all this up and its not a big deal.
Which basically brings me to the last point, which is this:
Trial and error, my friends. To learn anything, ya gotta get your hands dirty (doughy?) and just try things out.
Because there are so many variables in bread making, especially sourdough baking, that reading really can't get you that far. You just have to try things out and see what works for you.
Which is hard when its food and you don't want to waste it or ruin it. But that is part of learning.
Thats all for now. :-)
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