I recently wrote a column about bread making and the history of same. I spoke of making sourdough bread, and at the time, I had cultured yeast already growing to create my first loaf. Before that column was published, I had eaten half of my first yummy loaf. I just couldn’t keep my hands off it. Heated in the toaster oven and drizzled with honey, the taste was heavenly. Oh, it wasn’t a perfect loaf. The crust was a bit harder than I preferred. The dutch oven I used was larger than recommended, so the dough had spread out more than it should have. A properly-sized dutch oven had been ordered, but I was impatient, and used the one I had on hand.
My second attempt at the “perfect loaf” should have produced an excellent result. I made adjustments to make the crust softer. The proper pot had arrived, so there should have been no excuse. When I took it out of the oven the internal temperature showed the bread was not done. I put it back in the oven, verified the oven setting, and baked another 20 minutes. When I checked the loaf again, to my dismay, something was off. The loaf was still not fully cooked per the thermometer. The bread turned out tasting good, so it wasn’t the ingredients.
Perhaps I am a bit OCD, but I couldn’t rest until I solved the mystery of the underdone loaf, despite following directions for the 18 hours of steps it takes to create one. I’ve been cooking since I was a teen and baking bread from scratch since I was in my twenties. I started out successfully baking 100% whole wheat bread, using an ancient El Molino brand cookbook. For anyone who has made whole wheat bread, you know to make a perfect, light loaf with that flour is something of a challenge.
I fretted until I finally located the problem. I discovered my oven was not reaching full temperature. Apparently, after my first loaf, it died a silent but partial death. It was an old range and I realized it was high time to replace it. I researched ranges for the ability to maintain an even oven temperature, at a cost I could afford. During the time it took from oven breakdown to delivery of my new range, I used the gas range in the barn kitchen and baked two loaves each week.
I’ve always preferred home baked breads, cornbread, waffles, pancakes and biscuits. I vary my flours and meals, but my biscuits are made with only white flour. I’m steadfast in my love of my “unhealthy” biscuits made with plain old white flour and butter. They have crusty bottoms and tops and are not fluffy inside. I like ‘um hard! My wife calls them “sinkers”
My 60% whole wheat sourdough bread has beat, hands down, all the other baking I do. I’ve created some with white flour and rye, and though those are good, my 60% whole wheat with unbleached white is the best loaf yet. I enjoy it toasted with butter or jam in the morning, or with homemade tapenade or cream cheese at times, but mostly just plain. I slice and freeze any bread I won’t eat within three days to preserve freshness. Lightly toasted, it comes out as tasty as freshly made.
Sourdough bread, made properly, is very labor intensive, but the result is healthier and more delicious than most bread I’ve eaten.