How about something different? Something totally out of the character of this blog?
Today and tomorrow I will be making bread. And not just any bread, but sourdough bread. Bread is a staple, but home made bread is also a comfort food for both Mrs. PolyKahr and myself. She loves it hot out of the oven, as do I. Of course, I can't indulge my fondness of bread too often or I'll get fatter than I already am. But my grand daughter likes it, and likes helping me make it, so I do so maybe once a month. I like baking bread, I like kneading the dough, the miracle of it rising, getting a real oven lift, and watching as people enjoy it.
I got the sourdough starter here (note to Internet spies, I have not benefited in any way from King Arthur Flour. The only relationship we have ever had was as a customer and vendor.) It is advertised to have been descended from a starter at least 200 years old. In any case, it works very well in my kitchen. If you have ever made beer, you know how clean and sanitized everything needs to be, and if you have made enough, you know that even that doesn't always keep your product from becoming infected. Sourdough, on the other hand, is fairly bulletproof. Sourdough consists of a culture of wild yeasts and lactobacillus that in tandem pretty much excludes anything else getting into it. I have kept mine, which I call Fred, going for two years now.
This time of year, when it is really hot outside, sourdough bread tends to rise quickly. I have air conditioning, but naturally we keep it on the warm side to save money. Even so, what takes several hours at 65 degrees in the winter can take as little as 45 minutes in the summer at 80 degrees. Indeed, since the flavor of the bread is affected by how much time it spends in the various risings, it becomes a challenge to slow it down, or speed it up according to the temperature and humidity on any given day. The net result is that no two sourdough breads are the same, even if made in the same kitchen, by the same person using the same starter. It's like wine that way.
I have been working on my classic sourdough bread for two years now, and I am getting pretty good at making a reliable loaf. My first loaves were misshapen, and cutting the slit down the top was a hit or miss thing. Getting the crust to have that nice brown look also took some figuring out. But, I have mastered these skills, to an extent. My next challenge is to make ciabatta. In order to make it, I want to acquire a sturdy stand mixer with a bread hook attachment, like this from Kitchenaid (note: I haven't had any relationship with Kitchenaid whatsoever.) Ciabatta dough is a sticky dough, to which one's first instinct is to add too much flour. The mixer with the bread hook on it allows kneading without adding additional flour, this making a nice, soft, slack dough. One feature of ciabatta is that it has really large holes in the crumb. Too much flour inhibits the making of those holes.
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