During my vacation I wanted to tackle the Next Big Thing in bread. Namely, natural levain. I tried making a sourdough starter once before, but didn’t keep up with feeding and didn’t know how to use it. This time I stuck with the Peter Reinhart method of using pineapple juice for the first two days. I was sure it was a failure. It smelt of pineapple juice and flour. But lo, on the fourth day, after regular feedings and stirrings, it had bubbles and a sourdough aroma. Huzzah for Saccharomyces exiguus and Lactobacillus soutowoodensis! Okay, that last one is made up, but could exist, based on the unique mix of wheat bacteria in my kitchen. I fed my starter and put it in the fridge to become the next component of the Aurora bakery arsenal.
As is now family tradition, there was a non-standard weather week when my family arrived. Last year we had a friend come to town sold on promises of Southern California sun and warmth. It was unseasonably cold and damp all week. Then my mother came to town in early Spring. “Bring a jacket!” I told her. We had Santa Ana winds and 90-100 degree days all week. During Staycation, we had the longest sustained heat wave I’ve experienced in my five years here. It was in the upper 90s and 100s for almost six days straight, and our normal house-cooling method of open windows in the evening and night with AC only running in the later afternoon was abandoned for all-day AC. Well, at least we had the pool and central air conditioning.
Early in the week I finished all my old flour, and ceremonially recycled the bags of the first hundred pounds. My brother and I drove out to horse ranch country to the bakery supply place to get another hundred pounds. Though I’m sticking with the All Trumps high-gluten flour, I got another General Mills flour, Harvest King, for my all-purpose. Bread-making ahoy!
The extreme heat, though, made the proposition of baking bread and heating the kitchen a major concern. For my wife. I went ahead and baked five loaves of ciabatta, three of cinnamon raisin, two Irish soda, one heavenly sandwich, one Rieska, and finally…
One rustic sourdough! It came out much better than I could’ve imagined. Proofing times were longer than I am used to, so I gave it plenty of time and lots of heat. Oven spring was quite good, and the crumb was almost as open as the ciabatta, which astounded me. I think I’ve finally discovered my rustic bread recipe: it needs to be naturally leavened. This loaf had a great crispy crust, excellent flavor profile, open holes, strong gluten webbing, and lasted longer than commercially-yeasted breads. I shall call it the San Diego sourdough, made specifically from local bacteria.
One final note about the Team USA ciabatta. I’m sorry, baby, I strayed from you and regretted it. I’m now back with Team USA for good. It was the most popular bread of the week, requested for breakfast toast and pre-dinner num-nums alike.
Tomorrow’s episode of Staycation: Return of the Cursed Gauntlet!