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?


Jane McLellan said...

Wow, well done, I’ve made a lot of bread but not sourdough. Even with ordinary bread, it takes practice to get consistent. I give folk my recipe and they expect to get it perfect first time. Doesn’t happen.

Projects By Jane said...

Hi Jane, you know I never got around to attend the bread baking class after all. I was supposed to go last year but I was sick. Then this year, it was held too close to Chinese New Year so I thought I'll do it in July. Then COVID-19 happened. Anyway, I'm glad I kept trying at home. My family really enjoys the loafs I've been baking. I'm currently obsessed with finding a dark brown bread loaf recipe to try. The bread I've enjoyed eating most is a dark brown bread. So I'm trying to bake it. It's probably rye.

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