Friday, August 8, 2008

Success is a Fickle Mistress

After reviving my starter from its sullen, vacation-ignored oblivion, I decided to stroke its ego by having another go at the Polish Cottage Rye from Local Breads. This was going very well--the liquid levain is back at peak--until I got around to the actual kneading.

Because rye flour contains far less gluten than wheat, the book offers many tips to strengthen rye taste without sacrificing all rising. The first step is the creation of a special rye sourdough, in my case a spin-off of liquid levain, where the starter is refreshed with whole rye flour exclusively. Then the entire batch that is created is added directly to the dough, an unusually high proportion of starter to flour in the final dough, at least by French levain standards. But this is Polish rye, so French standards are not under discussion.

I mixed up all the recommended ingredients (substituting a cup of whole wheat flour for one of white) and was about to turn the mess out to knead when I noticed that it looked suspiciously wet.

...we interrupt this post to report in awe that it has just gone dark in my office, at 10 am, except for the ominous glow of clear skies far to the west. Weather is so much more extreme out here on the harbor, and the rumble I just heard confirms my hunch that we are in for a mother of a thunderstorm...

Here's the thing: these days, common wisdom holds that bread dough should be wet, the wetter the better, that's what helps it rise high and be full of light irregular holes. This is good to understand, but in this case, it screwed me up. I refused to recognise an unworkable dough when I saw one, and wasted a lot of time scraping dough off my hands in huge clumps and cursing. I ultimately wound up under-kneading, adding more flour, over-proofing, and coming out with an ugly but very respectable loaf. In fact, a really good one (curse you, wet dough). It's done a lot of duty already as bruchetta base and sopper of tomato soup. Incidentally, Alice Waters' tomato soup? Excellent, don't bother to strain.

The rain has just started sheeting down. I want to curl up in an armchair and stare out over the harbor. It's incredible.

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