It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature…

Back in the ’70s, there were a series of commercials for Chiffon margarine that featured “Mother Nature” and how she could be fooled by the margarine being butter. Her tagline was, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” Here’s one of the commercials:

Well, you might be able to fool Mother Nature with margarine, but you can’t fool Mother Nature with bread making. She’ll make you pay. Badly.

Last night, I was excited to start a levain for some high-hydration whole grain loaves I wanted to bake today. I made an overnight levain and as of 7 AM this morning, everything was great. I mixed the final dough, placed it in my trusty Cambro container, then went through four stretch and folds the first two hours, before I’d do the final bulk fermentation of an hour-and-a-half. At which time I thought it would be a good idea to go to Home Depot.

I returned home just before my timer went off, checked on my dough and saw that it had doubled in my container. Nothing seemed abnormal. So I set up my shaping board and got my bench scraper ready and went to get my dough…

Which I then literally poured out as a liquid mess onto my board. F^&k!

To be honest, I actually laughed when I saw it come out. I knew there was no way to salvage the dough. It stuck to everything. And frankly, I didn’t feel like making pancakes out of it, so I just tossed it out. Oh well.

So what’s the lesson with Mother Nature? It’s simply that there’s no escaping her laws, especially the law of doubling. The job of the microbes is not to feed but to reproduce. They feed on the sugars in the flour, then split. That’s their nature.

Our job is to catch them before they consume all the fuel. But here’s the kicker: Right before they completely consume all the flour, they’ve only consumed half. That’s Mother Nature in action and you see it in the world.

Eutrofied pond

For instance, there’s a process called eutrofication that occurs in ponds and lakes where algae completely infests the body of water. Each day, the algae doubles, and the day before the body of water is completely eutrofied, it’s only at 50%!

The point is that with yeast and bacteria it’s the same principle. The point of no return comes fast. Very fast. Which is why you can’t rely on time because the yeast and microbes double at their own rate, so you have to physically check dough progress.

Had I not gone to Home Depot, I would’ve caught that the dough was rising really fast and shaped the loaves far earlier and all would be well. But I relied on experience that dictated that I had time. After all, I’ve made these rustic loaves dozens of times.

But looking back, I was using a different starter than what I’ve used in the past. This particular wild yeast has been super-active. But the thing is, I actually used less starter for my levain because I knew just how fast-acting this wild yeast is. Looks like I’m going to have to either use less to stick to my regular schedule, or adjust my process altogether and do things in shorter intervals.

We live and learn. Happy Baking!

Over-Proofed Dough… Argh!

I can’t seem to get the timing down for cold proofing shaped loaves. I do overnight bulk ferments (or even longer) a lot. But shaped loaves? I’ve only had success with them a few times.

It’s annoying! To say the least…

I baked the loaves above just last night after they spent just a few hours in my fridge. I wasn’t planning to bake them at the time. In fact, I was planning to leave them for 16 hours. I shaped them at 2pm, went to band rehearsal for Mass at 4pm, then when I checked them at 6pm, I saw that they had risen. Significantly.

And fallen.

So I turned on my oven and heated it up for an hour and in that time, the dough went from just beyond ready, to well over-proofed. I knew I was in trouble when I tried to remove the loaves from their bannetons and both stuck a little.

And it’s not that my retarding fridge is too warm. It’s set to 38° F and it works great for long bulk ferments. But for some reason, when I try to do long final fermentations, the yeast kind of goes haywire!

I suppose looking at it from another perspective, it’s a good problem to have. At least I know my starter is super-active. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a pain in the ass when I over-proof my bread.

Oh well… I’m going to keep on trying to find the right time.

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah… Fails Make Us Better… BS… Coffee Helps Avoid Them!

It is said the only way to learn is to fail. Bullshit. Especially if you know what you did. So this morning, I was all set to bake a batard I had sitting in my fridge since last night for a cold ferment. I got out of bed, performed my morning ablutions, then went into the kitchen to preheat my oven.

Coffee was ready, so I poured myself a cup, then set about to make myself some breakfast. After preparing my simple meal of a toasted sourdough sandwich with some charcuterie meats and cheese, I sat down in front of the TV to watch the talking heads have their post-election discussions.

My oven signaled that it had come up to temp, and without a second thought – and mind you, I hadn’t finished my first cup of coffee at that point – I got up, went to my dough retarder fridge in the garage, pulled the loaf, stuck it on my board, scored it, then popped it into the oven. Then I got some hot water and poured it into the broiler pan I use for steaming.

About ten minutes into the bake, and coincidentally having finished my first cup of coffee, it dawned on me that I probably didn’t give my baking stone enough time to come to temp. So I got my ass up off the couch and checked the loaf.

Expletives immediately issued from my mouth seemingly of their own volition as my eyes beheld the fly saucer shape in front of me. It was like looking at the silhouette of the Jupiter 2 from Lost in Space but in bread form! My potty-mouth soon turned to laughter as I mentally kicked myself for this rookie maneuver.

Is there a lesson in any of this? Obviously, I need to be more mindful. That’s a given. But to be honest, I doubt I would’ve made this mistake had I been a bit more alert.

Coffee helps…

ARGH!!! I Hate When I Over-Proof My Dough!

Flat bread… Ugh! You’d think that I’d have learned my lesson about baking in a hot kitchen. Times are MUCH shorter! But NOOOOOOOOOO! I let my dough rise for too long. The hell of it is that it tastes wonderful, but it’s UGLY. It’s like in high school when your friend is setting you up on a blind date and tells you, “She has a GREAT personality!”

My wife cut a slice and told me that it tasted incredible. I was expecting that because I really let my poolish develop for almost 30 hours. I just wanted to have that great taste with a great look! The picture above doesn’t really show just how flat those loaves are. But they’re pretty flat. And mind you, I’m not really pissed off; I’m more amused than anything else, mixed in with a bit of disappointment.

Pre-shaping, the dough was great. But it was hot, and frankly, I probably should’ve only proofed for about 15-20 minutes tops. But I let it go for a full hour and didn’t bother to check. By the time I got to the loaves, they had collapsed. Ugh! Pissed me off, but in a humorous way.

Failure is part of learning. They all can’t be perfect every time. I just have to be more vigilant next time!