Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Failure Loaf (days 4-9)

R.I.P. my first attempt at sourdough bread.

It's been a while since I've had a spectacular failure at baking bread. It's good for me, though; it keeps my baking ego from "rising" (see what I did there? Baking puns! Lolololo) too much. Experiments like this let me know that even I can fuck something up that even cavemen could do without even really trying. Apparently sourdough has always been the "old school" way of leavening bread without instant yeast and it's been done that way for thousands of years. And I failed. But that's okay! Because it means more baking eventually.

But let's go back to the beginning and break down what happened. We left off at day 3, where my starter was coming along just fine. Days four and five were also fine:
Day five, fermented goodness
Side view -- see that separation? Mmm mmm.
Which, THANK GOD, because if I fucked up the starter too? I'd start to seriously doubt my own intelligence, and I can't handle a life crisis like that right now.
After five days it seemed I successfully raised a good and healthy starter with limitless potential. It was the kind of starter that had an obviously bright future -- maybe it could be a doctor, or a lawyer? I could already see the "My starter is an honors student at xxx school" bumper sticker on the back of my car, the starter was THAT good, people. I'm not giving myself too much credit though, I bet cavemen probably raised starters that were smarter than them.
Into the fridge my starter went, mixed with one more half-cup of water and flour for good measure. I let it sit in there for three days, making sure to tell my roommates not to throw away that tupperware full of what looked like the oldest and most disgusting alfredo sauce ever left in the fridge for eight weeks.
This is that 'hooch' I read about -- an alcohol-like separation from the fermentation process. If the mix itself is too wet, I read to pour this stuff off, but the mix seemed kind of thick, like peanut butter, so I mixed it back in and was ready to proof my sponge.
I mixed my starter with another cup of flour and warm water and let it sit. You're supposed to let your starter sit for 2+ hours -- the longer you let your "sponge" (as it's called) proof, the more sourdough-y the taste. Well, I love that sourdough taste, so I was planning on letting this bitch sit as looong as possible.
Hour one:
Great, perfect, it was doing exactly what it was supposed to do -- foaming, frothing, bubbling, smelling like sourdough.
Hour two:
Somewhere between hours one and two, I murdered my sponge. I AM A HORRIBLE MOTHER. The mix just died. It started to separate like it did in the fridge; it formed a liquid on the top and the whitish mix sank to the bottom. All the bubble and froth went out of it and it just sat there, a cold, lifeless, slimy mixture.
I had a feeling I let my sponge get too cold, so I turned on the oven really low and transferred my death mix to a glass bowl. "Perhaps," I said to myself, "if I put the glass bowl on the oven it will warm the mixture and bring it back to life." Oh, how naive I was. Silly, naive Dorie, I laugh in your face.
Six hours later the mixture still looked the same, and I was at a crossroads: give up and start over, or forge blindly and ignorantly ahead, pretending that my sponge was something other than a cold dead mixture of dead things that I murdered.
So obviously I forged blindly ahead. Let me tell you, there is something supremely unsatisfying about kneading bread that you KNOW isn't going to rise. It's like making out with a dead person, not that I know what that's like, but I imagine it's probably a similar experience (of course, if you're kissing a dead person you probably like that sort of thing, so...okay, tangent). I took two cups of the sponge and threw in 2 tablespoons of oil, 2 teaspoons of salt and 4 teaspoons of sugar -- a very basic recipe. I then slowly added 3 cups of flour and kneaded the shit out of the dough, but like I said, it was like giving a massage to my denial. I already knew this dough was a goner, it was cold and yeah, it felt like dough...but there was just something about it that was off. I've made enough loaves of good bread at this point that I can tell when something is wrong. It's more intuition from knowing what works than anything measurable or recognizable. I just knew, my bread was dead. Still, I left the cold, hard ball of dough to rise:
I checked on it an hour later and it looked exactly the same, so I said fuck it, and left for work all depressed. Six hours later my dough looked like an alien out of a 50's b-horror movie:
So that's it, I killed my first sourdough loaf. Now I'm afraid to even use my starter.
Time to hit the reset button. Check back soon for attempt #2.


  1. "Six hours later the mixture still looked the same, and I was at a crossroads: give up and start over, or forge blindly and ignorantly ahead, pretending that my sponge was something other than a cold dead mixture of dead things that I murdered." hahaha this made me laugh out loud (for reals). Miss you!

  2. My condolences on the death of your child.
    Expect a call from child services within the fortnight.