I don't know what I did to deserve this. For months, I've been feeding my little sourdough culture dutifully. I (almost) never poured the surplus down the drain, having found another way to deal with it. Batch after batch after batch, my loaves turned out tasty even if sometimes mal-shaped. And now this. If there are any gods of the crust and crumb, I must have offended them in a really terrible way. At least, this is the only explanation I can come up with after suffering not one but several set-backs during my recent bread baking adventures.
It started off with what seemed to be child's play. One should not have any trouble with reproducing one's own recipes, right? After several trips, I decided not to bother with sourdough just yet. Instead I turned to an old favourite, a buckwheat bread with sunflower seeds. Well, let's just forget about this one, ok? It was the blandest bread I've ever made and I'd like to blame rancid buckwheat flour - but truth be told, I don't know for sure. Maybe, this was just too easy? I set to work with another favourite, my pain de campagne. Well, it could have been okay, if I had been able to properly use my new bread peel which is hand-made by my father (thanks again, Dad!). Instead of sliding the loaf elegantly onto my pizza stone, it stuck to the peel and I eventually plunked it into the oven, top-down of course. The carefully water-brushed side baked to a very, very crusty bottom; and the top with the remaining polenta sticking on didn't bake to anything crusty at all. Needless to say, the bread didn't rise properly.
But the worst was yet to come: my sourdough culture is playing dead! Before leaving for overseas, I had frozen three portions of rye mother. The first one got defrosted and bubbled nicely on my kitchen counter - until I realized that it's getting already too warm in Sydney. The top was mouldy. I took out the second portion. Slowly, I was getting a little bit nervous. After all, World Bread Day was approaching fast - and so far, nothing photo-worthy had happened. I now kept the culture in the fridge but there wasn't much action going on. It smelled sour but that was it. Before feeding it for the umphf-time, I decided to at least try to bake something with some of the culture mixed in. Since the last library foray, I was reading Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Bakers's Apprentice" and if I wasn't able to tackle one of the elaborate recipes, I should be capable of modifying the easiest recipe of the whole book, his light wheat bread. I added 500g of my lazy sourdough culture, added another 150g of bread flour to make up for the increased water content and used an 8g-sachet of dry active yeast for roughly 1.6kg of dough. A little more salt, some pumpkin seeds, olive oil instead of butter, and off you go into the fridge for almost ten hours (instead of rising at room temperature).
At least, this time I got the loaves off the peel properly. However, after baking they stuck so stubbornly to the pizza stone that I almost ruined my new bench scraper trying to remove them. Again, not enough polenta... Currently, the (long ago broken) pizza stone and the baking sheet are soaking in hot water. And whilst my light rye bread tastes quite all right, it simply isn't the real thing. Maybe it'll all work out in a few days. Let me just go and check on my sourdough culture.
PS: This morning, I discovered mould on the second batch of my sourdough culture - while storing it in the fridge. I always thought that the wild yeast inhibits exactly that!?! Something must be seriously wrong with my culture. With now only one last batch waiting in the freezer, I will probably get the opportunity to try Dan Lepard's method of cultivating sourdough - much sooner than I had planned...