Our first batch of bread using old dough, in the manner my Babcia used to do, is now done. I did mess up a bit, which I will talk about below.
Here is how the dough looked after the first rise. I had left it for about 1 1/2 – 2 hours, give or take.
That is just beautiful.
My mother described my Babcia as “punching down” the dough. I know exactly what she was talking about, since this is what she did with her bread baking. My mother used a huge, enameled bowl with a lid, which we still have, for one big batch of bread. She would get it ready for its first rise before going out to milk the cows in the morning. By the time those chores were done, the dough was overflowing the giant bowl, knocking the lid askew. She would put the dough back in, scraping dough off the lid and adding it in, too, then literally punch it down with her fist. She would then put the lid back and leave it for a second rising, which would also overflow. She would gather it up again and punch it down before continuing on to form loaves and buns.
For such a small batch, I just took it out and gave it a light kneading.
The dough felt beautiful! Soft, light, fluffy and elastic. I probably could have skipped a rising, but I really want to recreate what my Babcia did as much as possible, so back into the bowl it went.
Both times, I set the bowl into a warm oven with the heat off and the light on.
This is possibly where I made my first mistake. The dough did not rise as much the second time. Usually, dough rises faster during a second rising, but after an hour, it really hadn’t risen as much as I would have expected. I probably should have left it for another half hour, at least.
I didn’t do that.
With this batch being rather small, I formed just one loaf out of it (after removing a portion for the next batch), then giving it another light knead.
In my starter batch, the two round loaves I shaped had puffed upwards quite a lot, so this time I pressed the loaf flat, then set it aside, covered with a tea towel, to rise while the oven preheated to 425F.
Which may have been my second mistake. I probably should have let it rise for a while, before preheating the oven. Not only am I too used to how quickly yeast bread rises, but our new oven preheats faster than the old one!
Meanwhile, I used the piece of dough I’d set aside to pick up the bits of dough stuck to the bowl and table top, as my mother described my grandmother doing, kneaded it enough to incorporate it all, then buried it in our canister of flour. I took out slightly more dough this time, as in the next batch, I intend to increase the quantities of flour and water.
When the oven was ready, I scored the loaf and put it in, checking it after half an hour, then adding more time.
I’m certainly glad I flattened the loaf as much as I did! It still became very much a ball!
This was taken out at about 40 minutes.
Which was most definitely a mistake.
Though I made sure to do the “thump” test to check if it was done, when I finally cut it open, the centre seemed slightly underdone. I probably should have left it in the oven for at least 5 or 10 more minutes. I am really bad for taking bread out too early, as I am constantly thinking they are going to burn! 😦
What to do?
I cut it into pieces, laid it back on the baking stone, and put it back in a 350F oven. After about 15 minutes, I flipped them and put them back for another 10 minutes.
Here is the end result!
It looks really great, at least! It still felt a bit heavy and dense, though.
The first taste test was with a plain piece.
The flavour is a bit milder than the starter batch. This makes sense, since that one used a commercial sourdough yeast. The sourdough yeast included rye, which I could taste in that starter batch, but I am not getting any rye flavour with this batch. There is, however, a very slight sourdough flavour. I expect this flavour to develop with every batch we bake. Overall, though, the flavour was very neutral.
The texture was slightly dense and chewy, but not under-cooked and doughy, as I feared it would be.
The one thing I had an issue with, was the crust. It had a thick, crunchy crust that crossed over to that “watch you don’t cut your mouth up” level. This may have been exacerbated by “toasting” the bread pieces again, but from what I saw when I was cutting it, I could see it was already going to be an issue.
The second taste test was with butter and, of course, that one tasted better. Fat is flavour, after all!
I found myself thinking this would be a very good bread to dip in an herb infused olive oil! The neutral base flavour would make a great carrier for other, more strongly flavored things. That neutrality will likely disappear over time, as each batch should develop a more distinct “sourdough” flavour.
So this first batch of bread using old dough was both a success and a not-quite-success.
The use of the old dough in place of yeast or sourdough started worked very well. There was plenty of yeast activity in there. Even without the use of sugar in the bread, the yeast did its job – when I gave it the time to do so!
The other success was reducing the amount of flour. It did mean making one loaf instead of two, but the dough itself turned out much better for it.
The not-quite-success part of it had more to do with my not giving it the time it needed, I think. I’ve made sourdough bread were I’ve left the dough to proof for an entire day, so it’s not like I don’t have the patience for that sort of thing. But I did see the signs and simply chose to go ahead, anyway. The end result was probably not as could as it could have been, because of it.
Plus, of course, I need to be concerned less about over-baked bread, and more about underdone bread, and leave it in the oven for longer! I should probably increase the oven temperature to 450F. That’s the temperature my daughter bakes her French bread in, and her much larger loaves bake up wonderfully.
I will leave the “bread egg” in the flour for a couple of days, then make another batch, tweaking things with what I’ve learned with this attempt.