After more than three months in lockdown, today we're finally having a socially-distanced meet with my mum and dad.
I was keen to take a loaf to get another opinion - and as a gift! - so continued feeding the remaining starter I had from an earlier loaf. It hadn't been back in the fridge, had been fed after it was last baked and should therefore be quite easy, right? Wrong.
I fed the starter at 8am and had it beside me as I spent the morning working. No activity. At 1pm, I fed it again. I wasn't sure if that was the right thing to do, but I didn't know what I had to lose. I discarded half of the starter and then mixed in 35g of flour and 35ml of water. Not the most accurate of feeds, I admit, but I just wanted to see some activity. I also decided to start a second starter culture in another sterilised jar using the discard, fed it and left that on the side just to see what happened.
Come 5pm, my starter still hadn't moved much above the elastic band I used to mark its starting position. There were plenty of bubbles, but it just wasn't coming to life, and certainly wasn't ready to bake. The backup starter also wasn't doing much so I had started to give up. We were seeing my parents the next day and I just knew I was running out of time. One more go, I thought. So I again fed the starter with 35g of flour and 35ml of water. I didn't bother discarding.
The weather hasn't been that great. It's a bit cold and raining every now and then. I thought this is likely to be a factor so decided to pop both starters into the oven and set it to proofing mode. That comes to 35C which is probably a bit too hot, so I let it heat to that and then switched it off but left the door closed. I really should learn to leave it alone, but at 6pm I came back to check. The starter had started to rise! Yay! I thought, why not feed the backup starter? So I discarded most of it and fed it with 35g flour/35ml water. Then I came back at 7pm. The first starter had now deflated, but what's this? The backup has come to life. It looks better than the main one and has already doubled in size. The backup is going to save the day! Let's make a start...
The building blocks...
I'm still using the method from this video, which basically consists of: a 45-minute autolyse of flour and water, add the starter and salt, stretch-and-fold every 30 minutes x 4, then bulk rise overnight, before a second proof in a banneton and then bake.
Usually, I would place the dough in the fridge for the bulk rise. I did this at first, but then thought: it's cold and damp, why not try leaving it out on the worktop? So at about midnight, I took it out of the fridge and left it covered on the worktop.
I came down at 7.30am to check on it. It looked great! I skipped the bench-rest step from the video, as the dough was already at room temperature. The dough was very light and airy. I'm not sure if that's good or bad, but definitely lighter than any of my previous bakes and it felt very fragile. Still, it happily folded into a nice smooth bun. I swiftly moved it to the floured banneton and set a timer for two hours.
After about 90 minutes I checked on it by completing a poke test. It looked good: it was springing back about half-way so was almost ready, if not already. So I put my Dutch Oven in the oven and pre-heated it to 260C. As the timer ended, I came to remove the dough from the banneton into the parchment paper. It didn't get stuck (phew!) but just seemed very flat. My instinct told me to fold it again and to leave it for 30 minutes more. I immediately regretted this as the dough just didn't want to be touched anymore and looked a bit ragged as I pulled it around. I left it in the banneton and came back 20 minutes later. Then placed it in the oven and baked with the lid on for 20 minutes.
Removing the lid, I was greeted with a tall, gorgeous loaf. Much better than I thought I would get, and definitely one of the best rises I've seen: it was easily touching the lid. I turned the oven down to 230C and then set another timer for 20 minutes. Then, turned the oven off with the door slightly cracked and left to rest for 20 minutes more. It looks beautiful. But, it's a gift so I can't tell you what it tastes like but these photos from my parents show it looks pretty good!