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!