Tuesday, July 7, 2009

it's not something you make, it's a lifestyle

It turns out, the weekend was very good for business. Not sure you noticed, but the rain held off, on the fourth, until we had returned from the farmer's markets. We sold out at GCM by 11am. We had a few communication problems Friday, that caused us to be short product. The Evanston market did equally well. As I said we pulled out of the Wilmette market. The store did well. We had a hard time predicting what we needed. I added a five or six dozen extra donuts and forty baguettes, and that's just about what we had left. Go figure. Ya never know when to leave well enough alone. Sold lots of cakes on Saturday. I never thought of this holiday as a "cake" holiday, could've been the cooler weather?

Yesterday, I put up the market numbers for tomorrow's markets. We always rotate two breads. Tomorrow we are doing white sourdough for both markets. We will do Olive sourdough for the Andersonville market, and honey oatmeal for the GCM. I spoke to Filemon, our resident sourdough guru, about fermenting the loaves longer. I think we got a little lapse, and instead of proofing our sourdough loaves, ten to twelve hours, in the fridge, they have been proofing two or three hours at room temp. There are two major issues, flavour and aesthetics. In that short of time period, the flavour doesn't get nearly as strong. The crust doesn't develop nearly as nice blisters either. The problem with baking sourdough, in the states is, if it isn't sour enough to make your mouth dry, people are disappointed. Most Americans believe that the stuff at the grocery store is what real sourdough should taste like. It prefer it have a very subtle sour flavour, but I am the minority.

Sourdough isn't something you make, it's a lifestyle. I think the terminology is what's confusing. The first thing to know about sourdough, is, if you got the mojo working, keep doing what you are doing. The real key to sourdough is the temperature that the starter is held at. It's a very simple process, flour and water. At 6am, twelve ounces of "chef" is mixed with one pound of flour and eight ounces of water. That is a ratio of 100% flour, 75% chef and 50% water. We refer to this as "stiff levain". This is mixed to a stiff dough. It is held at room temperature until 2pm. At 2pm, the same step is repeated. What you should realize is, that at 6am the formula yields 36 ounces of mass. At 2pm, we only need 12 ounces of it for the "refresh". The balance gets discarded, or tossed into another random bread dough. That little bit, 24 ounces won't have any effect on a sixty pound batch of rye bread, or an eighty pound batch of donut dough. Once the "levain" has been refreshed, it is held in a cooler that we hold at 55'f. We have a little fridge in the basement that has a special set of controls that is set at 55'f. This is a very broad overview of the "feeding process". What happens in production is, instead of discarding that 24 ounces in the afternoon, we alter the size of the batch. So instead of creating 36 ounces of yield, we would create 36 pounds. Or thanks to technology, we use a computer to calculate how much levain we will need the next day, and write a formula for that size batch. Most important, ALWAYS ALLOW FOR A FEW OUNCES EXTRA FOR THE NEXT FEEDING!!

the part that nobody likes to hear, this needs to be done everyday. Dairy cows must be milked, taxes must be paid, never miss a White Sox season opener, never go a day without feeding the levain. Now I know there are people, mainly home bakers, that let there levain sit a week at at time without feeding it. They keep it in the fridge at 38'f. It gets out of balance. It will still work, but the results are different. The levain is like a child. It must be fed or it gets cranky. It won't behave as you would like. Maybe you've heard it as a child yourself "misbehave, and you'll go to bed without supper". That would be considered a punshment, why punish your levain?

The subject of sourdough is something that can be blogged about for weeks. I'll do my best to clear up any confusion about the terminology. A trivia question for tomorrow, Why do they make "Irish Soda bread", why not Norwegian or Polish?


Blogger Laminatrix said...

Why don't they make Norwegian or Polish soda bread? Maybe because the world doesn't need more than one soda bread?

When you need a new topic, you might talk a bit about how to make doughs that have at least some of the flavor/complexity of sourdoughs without having to commit to maintaining a levain.

July 7, 2009 at 8:29 AM  

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