07 January 2011

Oops!... I Popped It Again

Sad face. A repeat of breadtastrophe. This time with a more complex recipe - Pain au Levain. This is a sourdough recipe, like the last few I've made, but I decided to make sure it rose by using the optional yeast in the recipe. Oops. It is supposed to be the hallmark of naturally-leavened bread - the starter is a mix of whole and white flour, and the final loaf is all white. Otherwise, it is a standard loaf (flour, water, salt, yeast). Edit: holy crap I just took a bite. This bread is good. Definitely don't need a jar of peanut butter to save this one.
Not as disastrous as it could be in the looks department, this bread was only lightly walloped with the ugly stick at birth, its parents reprimanded by the CPS but allowed to keep their child pending further evaluation and monthly visits by a sworn officer of the law; it will grow up and be lightly ridiculed in high school but still find a date to prom and the date will not be unattractive. Altogether, it will live a decent life, relatively unmarred by its appearance but forever a little insecure.

So, what went wrong? I'm guessing a few things. One, my schedule has been more than a little spotty this past week - the starter was prepped Monday and refrigerated overnight as the recipe called for. Tuesday morning, I mixed the final dough and plopped it in the fridge where it sat until Friday morning. The book says it can survive up to four days in the fridge; this I do not doubt in the least. However, it got rather cold in my fridge. Post-shaping, the loaf was too cold to hold. At this point, I should have known I was in trouble. The yeast was most definitely sleeping the entire time in the fridge, not rising in the least. It would wake up when warmed, yes, but it should have done that over the past few nights and when it was first mixed.
I let it proof in my apartment for around an hour and a half, at which point I checked in on it. It had risen a bit, and spread out quite a bit on the surface. Again, I knew I was in trouble but just said "bah, what is the worst that could happen? Full speed ahead!". The proofing stage is just that - you let the dough prove it is ready to be cooked. That it rises a little is expected, but once shaped it should mostly retain that shape (unless working with a very watery dough). This rose more than a little and refused to keep its shape.
You saw above what happens when dough that is still rising goes in the oven. It pops when cooked and lives a mundane life. I think there were a few things I could have done to save this. First, let it rise and then proof. At the 1.5 hour mark, when I saw it had risen and flopped out, I should have reshaped it and let it sit out a bit longer. Instead, I simply stuck it in the oven. If the dough is that cold coming out of the fridge, there is no way it was doing much of anything while sitting there until it had warmed. The starter also went direct from the fridge to the dough - this, too, could have been warmed slightly.

The way you go from per-loaf starter to dough is to combine the starter with some water to soften it, then mix in everything else. The water is supposed to be luke-warm to make sure everything wakes up, but given the coldness of the starter when I combined it with water, I think letting it warm slightly before mixing would do wonders.

There is always a next time.


  1. You should start posting at 12:30, so when I read these I don't get so damn hungry.