Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Sweet Sourdough

Lately I've been happier than normal. The reason? My bread baking has improved. Since I started baking bread, I've had one dream. To be able to bake a Pullman loaf of non-sour sourdough consistently. I do believe I've finally nailed it.

Last year I pretty much stopped baking bread because my bakes were sometimes ok, sometimes inedible. Yup, inedible. After all these years, I should have improved, right? I totally neglected my sourdough starter which had been gifted to me (sorry CL) and one day I threw it away because something scary was living in it. I know people say it's possible to resurrect but no thanks. Not going to touch anything that has black spores. I thought I had a backup in the freezer but someone (could be me) must have thrown it away. So I had to start from scratch. Except my new starter would not double. It would increase just a tiny bit and that was it. I googled here and there and finally I threw in some wholegrain flour. Believe it or not, that was all it took to make the starter double. I've since maintained this starter religiously. It's considered a young starter as it's under 1 year old. Her name is Susan. 

Anyway, with the help from a good friend of mine, I started baking sourdough bread again. I managed a few successful bakes and that gave me confidence to bake more and explore techniques and try new recipes. Currently I have a few go-to recipes and techniques which I know will give me a successful sweet sourdough Pullman loaf. I've listed the factors which I believe, (correct me if I'm wrong) are critical to my success. And remember, I live in Singapore which is mostly hot and humid.

1. The starter. It needs to be active. As in, after feeding, it should at least double in 4-5 hours in Singapore climate. I've never achieved triple before. At most, 2.75. Anyway, I'm good with double or 2.5. Also, the starter lives in the fridge when not in use, not on the table top. Another thing I've observed about my Susan is that if I use her after one feeding, I might not get a great bake. She works best after 2 feeding. One feeding the night before and one more in the morning. One day I hope to be able to get a fantastic bake after one feeding. 

2. Temperature. In the past, I would bake without thinking about the temperature. Like if the day is super hot, over 33 deg C, and I let my dough proof on the table, after baking, the bread will have this weird texture and taste. So now I either bake on a cooler day or proof in the fridge. This year, there were a number of weeks when the temperature was cooler like 26, 27, 28 deg C and I made sure to bake on those days. My bread turned out great despite proofing on the table all day long.

3. Sufficient bulk fermentation. Under fermenting was the biggest issue with my past failures. How long do you bulk ferment your dough? For me, I've learnt to rely on one method which is idiot proof. I know from experience how much dough goes into my Pullman tin. So I get the dough weight right. And I bake only when the dough reaches the top of the tin. That's my way of knowing the bulk fermentation is done. Usually it takes about 5 to 6 hours. If whole grains are in the mix, it'll definitely take a lot longer. As I haven't worked with whole grains much, it's still an area I'm exploring and learning. If I were baking buns, I use the poke test. I poke the side of the dough and if the dough bounces back quickly, it's too soon. This method is very subjective. But so far my buns have turned out well although a bit on the small side.  

4. Reliable recipes. Some recipes suck. Fact.

5. Sugar. This is the magic ingredient. Feeding sugar to your sourdough starter will take away the sour in your bread. Try Autumn Baking Diary's non sour sourdough bread recipe (15th June 2020). She uses this ratio - starter:flour:water:sugar 1:1:1:0.5 which work for me. (For some starter which continue to taste sour, she has an alternative ratio - 1:3:3:1 This ratio I've not tried.)

The result of adding sugar to starter is a loaf of soft and tasty bread without any sourness. The dough is a bit wet so in the beginning it's quite horrifying but let your mixer keep kneading until you hit windowpane stage and you'll get a shiny elastic dough. 

6. Milk and sugar. Yup, feed your starter milk and sugar. I stumbled upon a private fb group (you need to request to join) which uses "Herman starter" and it turned out to be a sweet sourdough starter. The flour fed to Herman is plain/all purpose flour. Herman is a surprisingly strong starter. It is more liquid than a regular 100% hydration sourdough starter. After feeding, it rises and falls, rises and falls, rises and falls. You can use it anytime after its show of power. The result is a loaf of soft and tasty bread without any sourness. There are lots of Herman starter recipe in the internet. If you're keen to try the ones I've used which are suitable for Singapore/Malaysia climate, join the fb group and you will be able to access the recipes. Or you could use Autumn Baking Diary's recipe and substitute the starter with Herman. It'll work. I've tried it. 

After so many years of chasing sweet sourdough, I've come to discover I enjoy the sour in sourdough. Yup, ironic. My next quest? Sour sourdough? Or the right amount of sour in sourdough?

Sunday, July 19, 2020

May & June

So, we're no longer in semi-lockdown. We were "released" sometime in June. Dining in, retail, school, library, museum, etc were allowed in phases. Safe distancing and wearing of masks are still mandatory. There are also many restrictions pertaining to this and that and honestly, it's quite hard to keep track. Anyway, Covid-19 continues to be present in Singapore. The number of infections is in 3 digits, mostly from migrant workers living in dormitories. You would think that the number should be zero by now after all the effort by the government. But we're not there yet. Outside the dorms, the number of infections are low but again, not zero.

Singapore held a general election in July. No need to guess which party won. Yup, the People's Action Party which has ruled Singapore since forever. My son voted for the first time. My daughter couldn't because she's too young (by a few months). Voting went smoothly for us. At the polling station, we had to sanitize our hands and wear disposable gloves. Later we learnt that at some polling stations, the queues were long and the gloves became optional. Also polling hours were extended by 2 hours. 

What else happened? Oh yes, I was bitten by an Aedes mosquito and contracted dengue fever. It happened around early June, just as Singapore was leaving semi-lockdown. I was sick for 10 days. I had fever, rashes, pain and had to get my blood tested 5 times to check if I needed to be hospitalised. The doctor said there's no medicine for dengue fever. Only time and I suppose my own body's defense could heal it. I think I was lucky I never needed to be hospitalised. This year alone, 16 people have died from dengue fever. 2020 is also set to record the highest number of dengue infections in Singapore history. The infection took quite a bit of energy out of me. It took about a week before I completely bounced back. Sadly, I did not lose any weight during the 10 days of illness. In fact, I may have gained some. A short while after my recovery, a team of people from the Ministry of Aedes Mosquitoes (MAM) came to my home and asked if I wanted to have their team put oil drops to kill the mosquitoes. I saw that my neighbour had it done so I said ok. All four of us had to leave our flat and sit outside on the stairs, with masks on. Hubs and my son were both asleep and we had to drag them out. The sound made by the machine applying the oil drops was very noisy. The men using the machines were dressed in black and their masks were also black. So all in all, quite frightening. After that, we had to stay outside for a few minutes because I dunno, maybe the fumes could kill us. Later the men in black reappeared because they were fogging the whole block and so we had to run back into our flat to avoid being poisoned by the fogging. Anyway, we are all still alive so I guess the fumes only kill mosquitoes.

The dengue fever kinda put a stop to my knitting. The group photo shows what I knitted from April to May. The one legged doll above which I never managed to finish may also have contributed to my lack of interest in knitting. I discovered I really, really, really hate seaming in knitting. 

I sewed one blouse for my daughter to wear to work. Except she works from home so maybe she'll wear it when she needs to zoom. The pattern I used is Fancy Tiger Crafts Sailor Top. I made one for myself here and sadly my shoulders are wider now (not fatter) so I don't wear it anymore.

I'm afraid I haven't been vigilant about my weight the past few months. I used being stuck at home as an excuse to snack like crazy. Honestly, food was the best part of the day. It shouldn't be but it was/is. So I've gained a few kilos. Remember the Cleo skirt with side zipper I made that was too loose? It fits me like a glove now.

Here's a pair of pants I made in June using pre-Covid-19 measurements. It's super tight around the tummy area. I've kindly included a photo where you can see my BAH-BAH (meaty flesh). Hubs asked me if I made the pants for Halloween. I didn't. I wanted to make a muslin and Spotlight was selling this fabric very cheaply and that's why I bought it. When I cut into the fabric, it left lots of black dusk all over my table. Very disgusting. Maybe that's the reason for the cheap price.

Finally, for my birthday in June, hubs bought me a ping pong table. I was honestly quite irritated by the gift because it's clearly a gift for himself. Fortunately the 2 tables are foldable. Still, they take up room and currently when unused, they are placed leaning against the cabinets where I keep my beads. So every time I need my beads, I have to move the tables. We play ping pong at least once a week. The kids also became interested and started learning to play. 

Well, that about sums up my May and June. How's it going where you live? Mask, no mask? Weight gain? Anyone?

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